Green Bay Packers: 5 most important defensive plays

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Jan 11, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back

DeMarco Murray

(29) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Julius Peppers (56) in the third quarter in the second half in the 2014 NFC Divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

1. Peppers forces fumble and saves Cowboys touchdown (Divisional round in playoffs)

Finishing with a 12-4 record allowed the Packers to rest up during the Wild Card round of the playoffs and await either the Cowboys, Cardinals or Panthers. Dallas beat Detroit, and headed to Lambeau Field one week later.

Julius Peppers is a step away from knocking ball from DeMarco Murray in the Packers vs. Cowboys playoff game at Lambeau Field. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

And what a storyline we had heading into the game. The Packers were 8-0 at home; the Cowboys were 8-0 on the road. Something had to give.

Unfortunately, it was Aaron Rodgers’ calf that gave way against Tampa Bay in week 16, and aggravated it again a week later against Detroit.

The week off didn’t appear to help Rodgers much, as he struggled with mobility early and often overthrew receivers.

The Cowboys took advantage of a limping Rodgers and had command of the game. 

But with 11:11 remaining in the third, the Cowboys were 1st-and-5 on their own 41 yard line and Tony Romo handed the ball to DeMarco Murray …

Datone Jones jumps on the ball that was fumbled by DeMarco Murray. Raymond T. Rivard photograph

Murray, the leading rusher in the NFL, ran to his right before cutting into a wide-open hole left by the Packers’ defense. There appeared to be no way Murray would be able to be stopped should he break into the space left open for him and would lead to a certain touchdown and 21-10 lead for the Cowboys.

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  • Julius Peppers had other ideas.

    Peppers, the man signed by general manager Ted Thompson in the offseason to make big plays, to become a leader and lead by example, made a leaping effort to knock the ball away from Murray’s grasp.

    He was able to do just enough to beat his blocker and get his right hand on the ball, stripping it from Murray.

    Datone Jones was there to leap on the ball and give the Packers possession.

    A touchdown could have finished the Packers off mentally. Momentum was with the Cowboys and they were rolling.

    At a crucial moment, Julius Peppers showed exactly why Ted Thompson put faith in him, making the all-important play to keep the Packers’ season alive.

    The Packers rallied to win and went on to the title game. This play was by far the most important on defense all season.

    Next: 5 games the Packers must win in 2015