Against the highest-scoring offense in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers decided they were better without linebacker A.J. Hawk in the middle.

In a concession they have hesitated to make with the longest-tenured starter on defense, the Packers put Hawk on the bench in favor of second-year linebacker Sam Barrington in all but the base 3-4 and some dime alignments.

Given all the nickel alignments that defensive coordinator Dom Capers plays, it was a significant drop in playing time for Hawk, who last week was pulled out of the dime in favor of Brad Jones. This time, Capers apparently thought Barrington could handle New England's power running attack better than Hawk.

For the most part, it appeared to pay off.

The Patriots averaged 4.7 yards per carry, mostly on the brute force LaGarrette Blount imposed on the defense (10 carries for 58 yards), but Barrington was only a part of those specific failures. He totaled five tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass breakup while helping finish off some gang tackles.

"Sam is doing an excellent job," coach Mike McCarthy said. "As we continue to talk about in here, we're trying to play as many different combination of players as possible. We're trying to utilize everybody on our team, specifically the defense.

"We're healthy. This is a good thing. Teams that practice together and play each week, they improve. Sam's earned his opportunities. I thought he did some nice things tonight."

Barrington played in the middle both with Clay Matthews and with Hawk. When the Packers were in nickel, it was Matthews and Barrington in the middle. When they were in their base 3-4, Matthews moved outside and Barrington lined up with Hawk in the middle.

There were numerous instances when Barrington had to be directed on which player to cover in the passing game, which almost never happens with Hawk. But after claiming they needed Hawk in the lineup to make sure the defense was set up correctly, they took their chances with Barrington and Matthews.