Three-and-whoa: Packers defense leads way to 27-16 victory over Broncos

Three-and-whoa: Packers defense leads way to 27-16 victory over Broncos

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Aaron Jones - Packers vs. Broncos

Green Bay running back Aaron Jones scores on a 7-yard run in the second quarter of the Packers' 27-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. With two scores Sunday, Jones has now recorded a rushing touchdown in five straight home games.

GREEN BAY — Tramon Williams has seen a lot in his two tours of duty with the Green Bay Packers.

He’s seen two Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks. He’s seen — and been part of — one of the NFL’s best defenses and saw how combining that with a great quarterback can lead to a Super Bowl championship. And he’s seen many a season go down the tubes because the guys on his side of the ball just weren’t quite good enough.

And so, as the Packers veteran cornerback, in his 13th NFL season and 10th as a Packer, surveyed the aftermath of the team’s 27-16 victory over the Denver Broncos at Lambeau Field — a triumph that ran the Packers’ record to a perfect 3-0 to start the Matt LaFleur era — Williams couldn’t help but wonder if something special might be brewing.

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“I always say, the first four weeks, you want to form an identity as a team. And I think we’re forming that identity,” Williams said after the Packers defense got six sacks and three takeaways while the Aaron Rodgers-led offense continued its search for continuity on that side of the ball. “I’m going to give it one more week before I tell you what it is. One more week.

“But we continue to make plays (on defense), guys continue to get the ball. And in past years, that’s when we’ve had a lot of success. Even when we did have good defenses, we always turned the ball over a lot, but defensively, we still weren’t consistent. We were consistent at getting turnovers, but we really weren’t stopping people that much. Now, we’re kind of doing both. And we still can be better.

“We understand that those guys (on offense) are going to continue to get better week-in and week-out. We’re not even dwelling on that. We’re dwelling on what we can do on our side of the ball. That’s the great thing about this team right now. It really feels like a team.”

It also feels like a winning formula — although the question now is whether it’s a sustainable one. LaFleur was hired as head coach for the offensive creativity he would bring — and his ability to get Rodgers back to being Rodgers after a couple of injury-plagued, below-his-standard seasons — but the 3-0 start has been built largely on the strength of a defense that has forced eight turnovers and registered 12 sacks in three games.

Offensively, Rodgers & Co. once again scored on the opening possession (a 40-yard free-play touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling) but really relied on a pair of short fields set up by the defense’s takeaways for their two touchdowns (both on Aaron Jones touchdown runs). That said, Rodgers went without an interception for the third straight week and the Packers have now turned the ball over only twice in the first three games.

“It’s complementary football. As long as we take care of the football and we’re doing a great job of creating turnovers, then that is a pretty good recipe for success in this league,” LaFleur said. “Now, I don’t think anybody’s satisfied in that locker room. I know I’m certainly not satisfied. I think there’s a lot more out there for us.”

Said Rodgers: “It’s good to be 3-0, it’s nice watching those guys get after the passer knowing we don't have to play against them. We'll keep getting better on offense. Again, there's a lot to be happy about. There's definitely a lot to improve as well.”

While the offense didn’t get out to the 21-0 start it did in last week’s win over the Vikings, Rodgers’ touchdown pass to Valdes-Scantling — on a free play created by Broncos edge rusher Von Miller jumping offsides — was certainly a delightful start for the crowd of 78,078. But the Broncos still tied the game at 7-7 and 10-10 before a pair of turnovers really did them in.

The first, a fumble by quarterback Joe Flacco on one of Packers edge rusher Preston Smith’s three sacks, gave the Packers the ball at Denver’s 5-yard line. Two plays later, Jones scored on a 7-yard run to make it 17-10 at the half.

Then, on the third play of the third quarter, Flacco completed a third-and-2 pass to rookie tight end Noah Fant that should have kept the chains moving. Instead, Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander ripped the ball out of Fant’s grasp for another turnover.

Rodgers followed that with a 9-yard completion to Valdes-Scantling and a 27-yard strike to fullback Danny Vitale, setting Jones up for a 1-yard TD and a 24-10 lead. The offense’s final four drives ended with a punt, a punt, a 41-yard Mason Crosby field goal and a missed field goal, but with the defense controlling the game, it didn’t matter that the offense couldn’t deliver a knockout blow.

“There’s no doubt that everybody can do better,” LaFleur said of the offense. “And again, it starts right here. It starts with me.”

The defense, meanwhile, got a third takeaway on rookie safety Darnell Savage’s first NFL interception, and the pressure just kept coming, with Za’Darius Smith (two sacks) and rookie Rashan Gary (first NFL sack) chipping in with Preston Smith’s three takedowns of Flacco.

And that was more than enough.

“I think we’re playing really well on defense, playing well-enough on offense,” Rodgers said. “You know, we had zero turnovers the first game. We had a couple in the second game, but we started off so hot and our defense got four of them. And then we had zero today. It doesn’t matter how you’re playing or who you’re playing, if you don’t turn the ball over, you’re going to be tough to beat.

“There’s an assumption here that along with not turning the ball over, there’s going to be some sort of production (on offense). That’s kind of how it’s been: There’s been some sort of production, we haven’t turned the ball over. So we’re winning with great special teams, great defense, and we’re taking care of the football on offense and being opportunistic. I think it is sustainable. (But) it’d be nice to get all three of those great. But I feel very confident in the potential of the offense.”

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