On a snowy, miserably cold day and with the Lambeau Field tundra actually frozen, the Green Bay Packers found themselves down to their last bullet, their last shot of any kind to have a prayer of making the playoffs.
They're still a long ways from making that a reality but, on this day at least, they reached down and found a way to win. And it was the much-maligned defense that slammed the door on the stubborn Atlanta Falcons.
After the Falcons piled up a 21-10 halftime lead, the Packers tightened the screws. They rediscovered how to make some big tackles. They forced two straight three-and-outs and gave the offense a chance to get back into the game. And, they delivered the big plays, first with Mike Neal sacking Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and forcing a fumble, which Johnny Jolly recovered at the Atlanta 21. That set up Green Bay's go-ahead touchdown, a back-shoulder pass from Matt Flynn to Andrew Quarless that put Green Bay in front, 22-21.
"We were in a pass rush and I didn't know who got the sack fumble but I just reacted to it," Jolly said. "I saw the ball go into the air and just reacted to it and dove onto it. I was just thankful that we got it."
"You look for those plays and you just want to be the guy who makes the play," added Neal. "I had the right opportunity to make it and it felt good. The ball fell into my lap and we were able to give it to our offense and they got us the ‘W' we needed."
While the Packers only sacked Ryan once, they did manage to get into his face several times when it mattered most. His longest pass play went 36 yards. The Packers also held bruising back Steven Jackson to 71 yards on 15 carries after he started off with a flourish, including a 22-yard rumble.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers' crew has taken plenty of flack in recent weeks but the players say they still have hope, they still believe.
"We've always had confidence, you know?" said Jolly. "We went into that slump but we stayed together. That was the main thing that we stayed together. We just did the things we do, playing smart and making plays. It's always tough, coming out and losing all through November. It shows a lot about our team because we pulled it out and we played hard, played together and had fun."
"One of the main things we focus on is we know who we are but there are mistakes we've got to eliminate," added Neal. "We play for each other. We're a young group of guys who stay together and believe in each other, no matter what. I just know my beard was frozen and the shield on my facemask was actually frozen, too. That was pretty cold out there."
The surprise hero of the game was defensive back Jarrett Bush, who came up with two huge plays. First, he batted away a fourth-and-5 pass to tight end Tony Gonzalez, ending a Falcons drive at the Packers' 38-yard line with less than 2 minutes to play. Then, with 11 seconds left in the game, he drove the final nail in their coffin by intercepting Ryan's pass to Harry Douglas at the Packers' 37.
‘You really have to give it up to Bush, man," said Jolly. "He made the play that ended the game. We really needed to have this win and when he made that play, everybody was jumping around and it really felt great."
"Jarrett's been making plays here for years," said linebacker Clay Matthews. "Obviously, he's predominantly a special teams captain -- and an ace in that regard -- but when we need him he comes in and makes plays. You can look back at that Super Bowl XLV fourth down. He came up with a huge play today and we needed it."
So, after going 0-for-November, the Packers finally got a chance to savor the sweet taste of victory. They also live to fight another day in their quest to make the postseason.
"It means a lot," said Matthews. "We haven't had this feeling in quite some time. I thought we rebounded nicely. It seemed like every break was going their way with the sack caused fumble and then the pick six off the dude's foot so. We had to fight back that's been the mantra this year and we're fortunate to have this victory, especially to have the defense respond the way we did. We've been giving up too many yards and big plays these past few weeks and we were also fortunate today that the Eagles won, too. We've taken a step back recently but only being a half game back provides hope and that's a powerful thing. We're feeling good and we've got to keep this thing rolling because that's how we will be known at the end of the year, how we finish this fourth quarter out."