As it turned out, the members of the Green Bay Packers defense didn’t need Jay Cutler’s well-wishes. What they did to the Chicago Bears quarterback in Thursday night’s 23-10 victory at Lambeau Field had nothing to do with luck.
“I don’t know if we took it personal, but we thought it was kind of funny that all of a sudden they’re the team to beat because he’s got a couple new guys,” veteran cornerback/safety Charles Woodson said. “(The quote) was everywhere. You know how it is – once you make a statement these days, it doesn’t take long for it to travel and get to you.”
The backstory: On Tuesday, someone brought to Cutler’s attention that the Packers’ cornerbacks prefer to play press-man coverage. Having added Brandon Marshall via trade and Alshon Jeffery in the draft, Cutler was feeling pretty good about his new wide receiver weaponry and how it would match up against a secondary that had allowed the most passing yards in NFL history last season.
“Good luck,” Cutler said.
Those words lingered at Lambeau Field for much of the night, as Cutler threw four interceptions, absorbed seven sacks and had innumerable moments of frustration, some of which he vented at his teammates for all the world (and the NFL Network television audience) to see.
“I care about this," Cutler told reporters afterward. “This isn't just a hobby. I'm not doing this for my health. I'm trying to win football games. When we're not doing the little things or things the right way consistently, I'm going to say something. If they want a quarterback that doesn't care, they can get someone else.”
Given how horrendous he’s been against the Packers in his career – a 1-7 record (including playoffs) with eight touchdown passes, 16 interceptions and 28 sacks – some Bears fans may agree with that notion. Cutler’s performance Thursday night – 11 of 27, 126 yards and one touchdown with interceptions to Tramon Williams (two), Woodson and Jerron McMillian – resulted in the second-lowest single-game passer rating (28.2) of his career.
For the Packers, who had seen some of their 2011 defensive problems rear their ugly heads against the San Francisco 49ers and quarterback Alex Smith last week, it was an abrupt turnaround.
“We want to play great defense, obviously. I just had that conversation with (defensive lineman) B.J. Raji at the hotel last night,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team has now won five straight against their longtime rivals. “We were talking about playing defense, and we're a team that's noted for offense. I said, 'Well, frankly, I'd rather be known for defense.' I've always stated that. I mean, we have a great quarterback and we have a very good offense, but we feel like we're building. We're something special with this defense.
“Like all of us, we got kicked in the ass four days ago and we were motivated to improve as a team. And I felt like we did that today. It's one win. It's a division win, especially not playing division games until later in the season, we feel good about ourselves – ‘til midnight."
Staring a 0-2 start in the face, the Packers (1-1) now get to enjoy a weekend off knowing that a potentially disastrous start has been averted. While that doesn’t mean all is right with the world – especially on offense, where the once unstoppable unit has remained just a smidge off after an uneven preseason – it certainly beats the alternative.
“Our backs were against the wall (for being) early in the season, and this was a game we needed,” veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “That’s the kind of defense we expect and we can have all year. We picked a good time to play well.”
As dominant as they were on defense – Chicago (1-1) finished with 168 net yards, with running back Matt Forte accounting for 80 of them before leaving with an ankle injury – the Packers only had a 3-0 lead to show for it when the 2-minute warning arrived just before halftime. After driving to the Chicago 11-yard line, back-to-back sacks of quarterback Aaron Rodgers left them facing fourth-and-26 from the Bears’ 27, leaving them to settle for a 45-yard Mason Crosby field-goal attempt.
Or so it seemed. Instead, McCarthy called for a fake, and it worked to perfection, with holder Tim Masthay flipping the ball to tight end Tom Crabtree, who ran untouched behind blockers Don Barclay and Evan Dietrich-Smith for a 27-yard touchdown and 10-0 lead. A Crosby field goal as the half expired after the first of Cutler’s four INTs made it 13-0 at the break.
“I mean, I was really surprised when I heard him call the play,” Masthay said of the fake. “I’m thinking, ‘It’s fourth-and-26. We know this, right?’ Great call.”
While getting a solid contribution from ex-Bears running back Cedric Benson (20 carries for 81 yards, four receptions for 35 yards), the offense never quite clicked. Rodgers and James Jones couldn’t hook up on a potential 23-yard touchdown late in the third quarter, and after Cutler’s third interception led directly to a 26-yard Rodgers-to-Donald Driver touchdown on the ensuing play, Rodgers threw his second interception in as many games when he and Jones weren’t on the same page with 8:04 to play, setting up Chicago’s only touchdown.
While McCarthy acknowledged that the offense isn’t quite in sync, the coach didn’t sound particularly worried that the problems will persist.
“That's where we are,” McCarthy said. “That's the good news. We've got a lot of work to do."
Not that the offensive inconsistency mattered with the way the defense was playing, led by outside linebacker Clay Matthews (3.5 sacks, giving him six on the season to match his 2011 total) and Williams, who not only had two interceptions but neutralized Marshall the entire game, not allowing a single completion to him (Marshall’s two catches for 24 yards came against Woodson and McMillian).
“I think anytime you can force them into four interceptions, get after the quarterback and hold them to (fewer than) 200 yards of overall offense, it’s pretty indicative of what we can do and what we’re capable of,” Matthews said. “We need to continue this and move forward in the right direction. A big win versus a good team, and hopefully that’s the theme this year for us on defense.”
The other theme during the short week for the Packers? Don’t panic. As it turns out, while Cutler was wishing them good luck, they were blocking out the outside concerns about their season-opening loss to the 49ers.
“We showed a clip in one of our meetings of the scene from (the movie) Semi-Pro, when Will Ferrell’s fighting the bear and the bear gets out of the cage and he’s yelling, ‘Everybody, panic.’ That’s kind of a joke, just because inside the facility, there wasn’t any panic,” Rodgers said, smiling. “Outside, I think people were worried (that), if we lose to Chicago, you’re kind of putting yourself behind the 8-ball a little bit.
“(It’s a) good win for us. We’re 1-1. Again, it’s one game. We need to get better on offense. But the defense played incredible.”