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Packers’ red zone defense finally shows up in 24-10 victory over Washington

After historic ineptitude in the first six games, Green Bay’s D stepped up with four stops inside the 20 to help the Packers improve to 6-1 on the year.

Washington Football Team v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

As long as Aaron Rodgers remained upright, the Green Bay Packers had no trouble moving the football on Sunday afternoon. The Washington Football Team’s defensive line made life difficult for Rodgers early on in the game, recording three sacks in the first half, but the Packers adjusted and kept Rodgers clean after the break as his three touchdown passes led Green Bay to a 24-10 victory.

Rodgers hit Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, and Robert Tonyan for scoring passes, bringing his season total up to 15. In all, he completed 27 of 35 pass attempts for 274 yards on the day as the offense overcame a dismal rushing performance against Washington’s stout defensive line.

Although Rodgers had an efficient day through the air, the Packers’ defense also had a few highlights of their own and provided the primary storyline in this contest. In addition to a massive sack-strip by Rashan Gary early on in the second half, the defense managed to post back-to-back fourth-down stops in the red zone, marking the first times the unit had prevented a touchdown inside the 20 all season long. DeVondre Campbell led the way with another double-digit tackle day and forced a pair of fumbles, while Chandon Sullivan recorded an end-zone pick to seal the deal in the fourth quarter. All told, the Green Bay defense finished the game with four straight red zone stops, three of them coming without any score at all let alone a field goal attempt.

The first of those stops came with some absurdity, however. Taylor Heinicke dove for an apparent touchdown early in the third quarter, but his knee hit the ground before the ball crossed the plane of the goal line. That allowed the Packers to make a goal-line stop on fourth down, with Campbell punching the ball out of Heinicke’s hands and preventing him from extending it over the goal line before he was ruled down. All told, Washington went 0-for-4 scoring touchdowns inside the 20, with their only score coming on a long pass on their first drive of the game.

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Packers took the football straight down the field for an early touchdown after a 13-play drive. Aaron Rodgers’ legs were a weapon on the first series, as he converted a third-and-11 with a scramble up the middle then bought some space on another scramble on a 4th-and-3 opportunity from the 17-yard line. With Washington collapsing around Rodgers near the right sideline, he threw back over the middle to Davante Adams, who scampered into the end zone for the opening score of the game:

Rodgers completed seven of eight pass attempts on the opening drive for 56 yards and the score, but Washington would respond immediately. Taylor Heinicke would complete three passes to Terry McLaurin on Washington’s first drive, culminating in a 40-yard touchdown pass. Eric Stokes was in good position on McLaurin on the underthrown heave, but could not locate the football and McLaurin hauled it in for a tying score.

A third-down sack by Jonathan Allen stopped the Packers’ next drive, and the defense allowed a lengthy Washington drive into Packers territory. But Heinicke overthrew McLaurin on third down from the 24 leading to a field goal attempt from new kicker Chris Blewitt. T.J. Slaton made sure he lived up to his last name, blocking the field goal and preserving a tie game. Washington would return the favor on the next series, forcing a 34-yard field goal attempt by Mason Crosby. Crosby’s kick was low, looking like he mis-hit the ball, and went straight into Tim Settle’s giant hand.

On the very next play, Taylor Heinicke scrambled for 38 yards after escaping the grasp of Rashan Gary in the backfield. But the defense locked down afterwards, with Darnell Savage breaking up a pass on third down and Stokes knocking a ball away from McLaurin on a 4th-and-3.

That gave the Packers a chance to get a lead before halftime with a few minutes left in the first half. It was all Allen Lazard early on the next series, as he caught three straight passes from Rodgers for 31 yards, then added another 19-yarder to take the Packers into the red zone. Just before the end of the half, he tossed a ten-yard score to Lazard to finish off the drive with a touchdown and give the Packers a 14-7 lead at the break.

Coming out of the break, it was the Packers’ pass rush instead of Washington’s that made the first big play. On the second play of the third quarter, Rashan Gary stripped Heinicke of the football off the blind side, and the ball landed neatly in Dean Lowry’s hands for a fumble recovery. Three plays later, Rodgers hit Robert Tonyan on a beautiful corner route for a 20-yard touchdown. Big Bob beat 19th overall pick Jamin Davis in single coverage on the play for his second score of the year and a 21-7 Packers lead.

The defense would then get its first red zone stop of the season on the ensuing series, making a goal-line stop on a pair of Taylor Heinicke runs. On a third down, Heinicke dove for the end zone but his knee touched the ground with the ball short of the goal line. The call on the field was a touchdown, but an automatic review ruled him short. Then Heinicke tried a quarterback sneak on fourth and inches, but DeVondre Campbell stripped the ball out and although Heinicke recovered the ball and tried to reach over the goal line, he was ruled short. That call stood up on review, and Green Bay finally had a stop.

A quick three-and-out led to a nearly-blocked Corey Bojorquez out of the end zone, but his 53-yard bomb helped buy the Packers some field position. That evaporated quickly, with a 30-yard reverse by DeAndre Carter and an 11-yard Heinicke scramble putting Washington back at the ten-yard line. The Packers nearly had back-to-back stops as Campbell stripped the ball from Antonio Gibson, but Darnell Savage overshot his dive on the football and Washington center Chase Roullier recovered. That play was initially ruled as a recovery for Savage, but was reversed on a replay review. They did get the stop after all, though, as McLaurin dropped a touchdown on third down and Adrian Amos kept tight coverage on Ricky Seals-Jones on an incomplete pass on fourth down — the Packers’ third fourth-down stop of the game.

Davante Adams put one on the highlight reel shortly before the end of the third quarter, hauling in an incredible catch up the sideline over Kendall Fuller to get the Packers out of the shadow of their own end zone:

A big play from Tonyan up the seam and a pass interference penalty on Washington’s Benjamin St-Juste set the Packers up in the red zone, where they settled for a field goal and a 24-7 lead. The defense got their third and fourth straight red-zone stop on the next two series, with Chandon Sullivan picking off Heinicke in the end zone and sacks by Kingsley Keke and Rashan Gary forcing a field goal attempt to make the score 24-10 with just over two minutes left in the game. A late Washington drive ended the game with a slide by Heinicke to preserve the Packers’ 14-point victory.

Give some love to Bojorquez in this game as well, as he planted a late punt perfectly an inch off the goal line, bouncing it back a few yards to be downed at the three-yard line.

The Packers improved to 6-1 on the season with the victory, which pushed Washington down to 2-5. Green Bay will travel to Arizona on a short week for their next game, which comes against the Cardinals on Thursday Night Football.