GREEN BAY, WIS. - The Green Bay Packers gained fewer yards of offense than the Vikings in the first half Monday night. They also led 17-0.
That pretty much summed up the cosmic difference between the two teams right now. One is chasing perfection. The other looks as if it's running in circles.
As expected, the Packers won in a landslide 45-7 to remain perfect at 9-0, but it's the details -- one bigger than the rest -- that left them encouraged. Specifically, they showed they also can play some defense.
First, a caveat: The Vikings started a rookie quarterback and made enough blunders to fill a blooper reel. Their performance was beyond hideous. But the Packers defense deserves credit for that, too. For once, Aaron Rodgers and the high-scoring offense had to share center stage with the guys on the other side of the ball.
"We finally feel like we played up to the level that we were capable of," linebacker Clay Matthews said. "The offense is going to put up points. It's just a matter of the defense holding up their end of the bargain. We were able to do that, and we feel real good about it."
Rodgers stuffed the stat sheet as usual. That's a given these days. He passed for 250 yards and four touchdowns to finish with a 140.3 passer rating. (The frightening part is that he made it look so routine.)
What happened on the other side of the ball was even more impressive. Matthews turned up the pass-rushing heat and the defense made Christian Ponder's first trip to Lambeau Field something he would rather forget.
The defense's resurgence, if only for one night, gives the Packers a shot in the arm, because they already know very few teams can outscore their offense. If they get a consistent performance from their defense, the talk of a perfect season is only going to intensify.
The defense faced some criticism last week after surrendering 38 points against San Diego. Granted, when you're undefeated, everything is relative. But they just haven't lived up to their own expectations.
"We understand here we are halfway through the season and the offense has been carrying us," Matthews said. "It's time to really take accountability for each and everyone's actions. Everybody take care of their individual responsibility, and tonight is prime example of that coming to fruition."
The Packers are a classic bend-but-don't-break outfit. They entered Monday's game ranked 30th in the NFL total defense and 31st in pass defense. But they were 18th in scoring defense and tied for second in the league in takeaways with 19, including 16 interceptions.
They like to gamble in the secondary. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Theories abound for why they've struggled. Cornerback Charles Woodson spoke up last week, saying the defense needed to find a way to get Matthews free to the quarterback. Matthews had only three sacks in eight games as opposing offenses accounted for his whereabouts at all times.
Coach Mike McCarthy blamed some of the problems on a breakdown in communication. Whatever the case, the Packers got well against the Vikings, who managed only 266 total yards.
They held Adrian Peterson to only 51 yards rushing and gave Ponder fits with their constant pressure. Ponder completed only 16 of 34 passes for 190 yards with one interception.
The Packers sacked Ponder three times -- two by Matthews -- hit him six times and broke up eight passes. They swarmed and attacked all game.
The Vikings' lone touchdown came after Packers punt returner Randall Cobb gift-wrapped a fumble deep in Minnesota territory. That was it.
"You can see how much drastically it makes our team better when the defense is operating on all cylinders and the offense is as well," Matthews said.
Yes, that's a formidable 1-2 punch indeed.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org