GREEN BAY, Wis. – When Julius Peppers stuck out his right and stripped the ball away from Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray in the third quarter of Sunday's NFC divisional playoff game, it was just what the Green Bay Packers needed.
They trailed 14-10 at the time and if Peppers doesn't make that play, Murray – as Fox TV analyst Troy Aikman said on the game broadcast – "hits his head on the goalpost." There wasn't another Packers' defender between Murray and the end zone.
It was Peppers' second forced fumble in the Packers' 26-21 win that sent them into this Sunday's NFC Championship Game at the Seattle Seahawks.
"You've got to have guys make plays," Peppers said. "You've got to have everybody step up. You need all hands on deck right now, and everybody making these plays at crucial times."
It was reminiscent of the way the Packers won postseason games on their way to the Super Bowl XLV title in the 2010 season.
In the NFC Championship Game, then-rookie cornerback Sam Shields picked off a pair of passes, including one that sealed the game with less than three minutes remaining, and defensive tackle B.J. Raji returned an interception for a touchdown.
In the Super Bowl, safety Nick Collins returned an interception for a touchdown to give the Packers a 14-0 lead.
"Turnovers like Pep made with the strip of the running back, plays like that we need," Shields said. "Hope we get some more. That will help out our offense. Us getting turnovers and getting them the ball back, things like that we need, especially in the NFC Championship. Like in 2010, those plays helped us."
In the Packers' three playoff losses since winning Super Bowl XLV, they have combined for just three takeaways. In the four postseason games in that title run, they combined for 11 takeaways.
"That's why having as many guys that are capable of making those plays – you saw Julius, he had two caused fumbles and a sack – those are plays that good players make at the time you need them the most because now is when you've got to make those plays," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "You look at Seattle, and they're playing Carolina [in last Saturday's playoff game], and it's a close doggone game, and Carolina's got the ball down there in the red zone and [Kam] Chancellor makes that interception. What affects the game more than that?"
The Packers often have a positive turnover ratio in large part because quarterback Aaron Rodgers rarely throws interceptions. But the defense plays a part in that, too. In 2010, they had plus-10 turnover differential, fourth-best in the league. This season, they led the league at plus-14.
But it was plays like the ones Peppers made against the Cowboys that remind some people of the Packers' 2010 defense.
"You saw us in 2010 we had to win our last two games to get in, and then our run in the playoffs was probably about as good as you could ask for because we had interceptions for touchdowns in the last three games, including the Super Bowl," Capers said this week. "We had a helluva defensive battle with the Bears here [in the 2010 regular-season finale] to win 10-3 just to get into the playoffs, and there wasn't a lot of margin for error there, either, because if we screw up the next thing you know we're not even in. I'd like to think that with a good week of preparation we can go to Seattle and play our best football because that's what we did in the 2010 season."