Football

Packers pull it together for fourth straight win

Their defense is on the rise, their offense is doing a better job protecting oft-hit quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have won four straight games to put themselves in solid shape for the playoffs.

But Monday night's victory over the Baltimore Ravens showed that a few of the problems that have hounded the Packers (8-4) all season might not be going away. They're still drawing an alarming number of penalties, and their special teams seem to choose the worst possible moments to melt down.

The Packers are running out of time to solve those problems before the playoffs, but they are getting much better at bouncing back from their mistakes.

"We didn't lay it down," tight end Jermichael Finley said. "Teams have known for us to lay it down in the second half, and we didn't do that."

The Packers came into the season with playoff expectations. But they got off to a disappointing 4-4 start, giving up too many sacks, drawing penalties, allowing long returns at critical points in games and not getting consistent pressure on the quarterback.

The Packers gave up only one sack to the Ravens on Monday night and have allowed just four in their last three games. And Green Bay's defense is clearly getting more comfortable with defensive coordinator Dom Capers' 3-4 scheme, playing dominant at times during their current winning streak.

But the Packers were called for a whopping 11 penalties for 175 yards Monday night. And they had two more setbacks on special teams, giving up a long kickoff return and missing a 38-yard field goal.

It wasn't perfect, but the Packers will take it heading into this weekend's game against Chicago.

"A win's a win in this league," center Scott Wells said. "You've got to find a way to pull out games like this. Each one is critical and to be able to come out in this environment and overcome our mistakes is huge. That's something we weren't able to do earlier this year."

Penalties have been a problem for the Packers under Mike McCarthy, whose coaching philosophy allows some leeway for so-called "combative" penalties that he believes are a byproduct of aggressive play.

This season, the Packers are worst in the league in penalties called (108), penalties accepted (98) and penalty yards (905).

"It's definitely tough," rookie linebacker Clay Matthews III said. "But our team has found a way to keep battling, keep fighting back. We do need to cut down on them, but we're going to enjoy this win and hopefully take it into next week."

Then there's special teams.

Mason Crosby has missed a kick in each of the Packers' last two games, a 43-yarder against Detroit and the 38-yarder against Baltimore. While there was a problem with the hold on Monday night, the pressure is mounting on Crosby.

"The timing felt a little bit weird, but we have to look at the film," Crosby said. "It's tough to break it down. Yeah, it did feel a little off, but sometimes that happens. I just didn't feel like I was able to finish through the kick."

A bigger issue is kickoff and punt coverage. After Rodgers' second touchdown to Finley gave the Packers a 24-14 lead in the fourth quarter, the Packers allowed Baltimore's Lardarius Webb to run the ensuing kickoff back 68 yards.

"We're shutting them down, shutting them down," Crosby said. "And then every once in a while, they break one out on us. ... I'm not worried. Guys are running hard, working hard, we just have to eliminate that big play."

An interception in the end zone by Packers cornerback Tramon Williams bailed the Packers out of trouble.

"It was a big win for us," Williams said. "It was great to get this win and show what we can do even when we don't play our best game."

If the Packers can't correct all their flaws in time for the playoffs, at least they're learning how to rise above them.

"Obviously there were a few hiccups here and there, things we're going to have to address -- penalties, giving up a few big plays," Matthews said. "But other than that, we did a good job. Good enough to get a win, and that's the most important part."

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