GREEN BAY, Wis. — Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers front Chicago’s defense.
The Ravens start with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The Steelers with Troy Polamalu and James Harrison.
Erik Walden headlined the Packers on Sunday with 11 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries — all team highs — in Green Bay’s 10-3 win over the Bears.
“That’s all-star material the way he played out there,” All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson said.
Walden exemplifies this year’s playoff Packers as much as Urlacher, Lewis and Polamalu stand for the NFL’s three most-heralded defenses. Green Bay is the fourth team in three years for the former Middle Tennessee State linebacker. He had never started a game before the Packers picked him up in late October. He’s starting now only because three outside linebackers in front of him are hurt.
“We’ve had a difficult road we traveled this year, and we’ve met every challenge,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
That includes Chicago (11-5) surprisingly playing its starters the entire way despite being locked into the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.
“Nothing has come easy for us, and we wouldn’t want it any other way,” McCarthy said.
As hard as it is on the Packers (10-6), who are without five injured defensive starters, their battered defense finds a way to make it even harder on their opponents. Sunday was the sixth time in nine games that Green Bay allowed one or zero touchdowns.
“We’ve done a good job of standing tall,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “When you go back and talk about the great defenses, it’s always the 1980s Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens. They are not going to talk about the Green Bay Packers.”
They should. The Packers have allowed 240 points this year, second to Pittsburgh’s 232 (and 30 points ahead of the No. 3 Ravens). That’s their second-best defense since the NFL expanded to 16 games in 1978.
“I thought people thought we were pretty good,” Woodson said. “If they don’t, we’ll just keep riding with it.”
And riding the backs of super subs. Fill-in middle linebacker Desmond Bishop had six tackles and knocked down two passes. Charlie Peprah, who had one start in his previous four seasons, intercepted Jay Cutler in the end zone to keep Green Bay down only 3-0 in the third quarter.
“No matter who plugs in there, they wear the same G on their helmet as all of us,” Bishop said.
The avalanche of injuries hasn’t weakened the Packers’ defense. Somehow, it has made them even stronger.
“Someone told us, without adversity, you are not going anywhere,” Bishop said. “We faced a lot of adversity, and that showed us we are fighting for something.”
Sunday, they showed the Bears.
“That’s the way you want to get into the playoffs, beating a rivalry team,” said Nick Collins, who made a game-clinching interception at Green Bay’s 11 in the final 20 seconds. “They played their best and we played our best and we came out on top.
“I’m just glad it’s over. We got our ticket to the dance. Let’s go.”
It’s not over. It’s just beginning; the playoffs start next week in Philadelphia for Green Bay.
“Now the real work begins,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said.
And now the real defenses rise.
The Packers think it’s their's.
“We’re a very dangerous team,” Collins said.
Especially for a No. 6 seed.
“We’re one of the teams that are feared in this whole thing,” Tramon Williams said.
Even the guys who were out of football entirely in mid-October.
“I don’t see why,” Walden said, “we can’t be great and make this run.”
Why not. Erik Walden made an even more unlikely run just to become a Packer.Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.