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The Packers defense got just what it needed

Green Bay's defense has struggled down the stretch, but they found their way on a critical early goal line stand in their wild card win at Washington on Sunday.

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LANDOVER, Md. -- Who knew? The Green Bay Packers have difference-making receivers after all. They have running backs who can actually run and catch. The quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, has not become skittish and inconsistent as advertised. Looks like his offensive line really can block.

And here is the real shocker -- the Packers can play bling defense.

That is the sparkly gem as Green Bay heads to the Arizona Cardinals next Saturday night in NFC playoff action. They move on after pounding Washington 35-18 in a first-round playoff game here on Sunday at FedEx Field. Washington led 11-0 early in the second quarter. Green Bay outscored them 35-7 the rest of the way. The Packers offense turned it into a sprint. The Packers defense put the Washington offense into a headlock and kept squeezing.

Few expected it. Not like this. Green Bay had lost its last two games -- 38-8 at Arizona and 20-13 at home to Minnesota. The Arizona game was humiliating and the Minnesota affair, with the NFC North Division title awarded to the winner, made the Packers look like a team that had lost it. Its fire and its confidence.

Just a meandering team now with a broken offense and an average defense.

"Who said that!" Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said piercingly. "Who said we weren't a good defense?"

Well, too many to count, he was told.

"That kind of stuff puts a chip on our shoulder," he said. "But we don't pay attention to it."

Wrong. Of course they do.

"It's amazing the stuff that is out there, the talk, the doubt, the criticism, and it was time to take that conversation in a new direction," Packers dominant kicker Mason Crosby said. "Do we hear it? In stereo, I'd say, and pretty much all of the time. Football has its ebbs and flows. You have to create and take your own momentum."

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That is what the Green Bay defense did when receiver DeSean Jackson scored an apparent receiving touchdown, then was ruled out at the Green Bay 1-yard line late in the first quarter. The Packers defense then dominated the Redskins offense on three straight plays and forced a field goal. Washington had scored a safety earlier and the field goal made it 5-0 instead of Washington reaching 9-0.

"We really hung in there on that series," said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. "That was a really big thing for us. It was the start of us beginning to make them one-dimensional on offense."

Imagine that. The Packers' struggling defense creates a goal line stand. The Packers' rising defense gains six sacks off quarterback Kirk Cousins and hounds him all evening, also stripping him in the pocket and forcing a fumble. The Packers' defense allows only 84 rushing yards and plummets the Washington offense into ineptitude on its last five possessions of the game, which went this way -- punt, punt, ball over on downs three times.

"We needed it," said Packers outside linebacker Mike Neal, who gained two sacks, one of them a strip and recovery of Cousin's fumble. "(Packers) coach (Mike) McCarthy does a good job of telling us to keep the external, external, and the internal, internal. We did that. I think that's what you saw today. A defense that was able to finish plays, finish series, finish quarters."

Packers linebacker Julius Peppers asked what was the fuss?

"None of that feeling, that kind of doubt crept into here," Peppers said. "I'm sure there are perceptions on the outside but we know we have a good football team and ballclub that believes. We just played our game today and matched up and won those matchups. We won in execution."

McCarthy added: "When you get to the playoffs, you don't have to talk about the regular season no more. I don't know if you guys got the memo on that."

Funny coach. Clever coach. McCarthy was in a good mood.

But Rodgers knew the deal. His team's defense had issues. His offense had been floundering and he was sinking in it. It started that way again on Sunday, with Rodgers getting sacked early in his own end zone. But as the game proceeded, McCarthy and Rodgers sped it up. They began running lightning-fast no-huddle plays that sparked the Packers and befuddled their opponent.

Rodgers explained that by employing more three receiver sets, by continually mixing personnel and by increasing tempo, the Packers found their groove. He had no issue admitting it was lost.

"It was huge for us, it really is," Rodgers said of his offense rushing for 141 yards, of him throwing for 210 more and of the Packers scoring 35 points. "I talked the last couple of weeks about being able to turn it on and a lot of you probably thought that was lip service but we just needed a game like this to get our mojo back and get our confidence going."

Mojo? Confidence?

Nice things for the Packers to pack for Arizona. The Cardinals play very fast. The Cardinals score many points. The Cardinals just recently spun the Packers into circles. No team on either side forgets 38-8.

Capers knows. He offered this with a wry wink/nod: "I like our guys and everything we've got on defense. They're responding. We're headed to Arizona now. It's always nice to get a second chance."