Putting the party on hold
Green Bay still not ready to celebrate its turnaround
Green Bay — There weren’t any balloons or streamers. No party hats, noisemakers or congratulatory banners.
Late Sunday night, Green Bay’s locker room didn’t have a New Year’s Eve feel to it — even though it was still Jan. 1.
Instead, the Packers were more business-like than festive after defeating Detroit, 31-24, and claiming their fifth NFC North title in six years.
“It wasn’t the best celebration we’ve ever had,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy admitted. “Our guys were tapped out.” There are two reasons for that. One, this “run the table” journey has been part exhilarating, part exhausting.
Green Bay’s obituary was being written when it was 4-6 through 10 games. In fact, between 1990-2013, just 7% of teams that began the year 4-6 eventually made the postseason.
But quarterback Aaron Rodgers pulled a Joe Namath, said his team could “run the table” and then delivered. Down the stretch, Green Bay caught fire and won its final six games, Detroit lost its last three games, and the Packers found a way to claim another divisional title.
“This is definitely big,” said Packers safety Morgan Burnett. “We can’t sit here and act like it’s nothing. This is really big.
“You’re talking about guys sitting 4-6. I said this before, until you judge a team off adversity, it’s easy to walk around when things are going your way, but the great teams, it’s how they respond to adversity. I feel like this team stuck together and responded very well.”
They did. And that’s partially why the Packers weren’t in the mood for celebrations Sunday night.
As McCarthy said, “We have bigger aspirations. So this is the first step.” Rightfully so. Remember, according to the wise guys in the desert, the Packers and Seattle began the year as co-favorites to win the NFC. In fact, Green Bay was favored to win every one of its games back in September.
In reality, Green Bay’s miserable start was probably a greater surprise than its sensational finish. Now that these Packers are back on track — and Rodgers is playing like the baddest man in football — celebrating a berth into the 12-team postseason tournament seems almost silly.
After all, this is old hat for Green Bay. And in the coming weeks, there are far bigger fish to fry — and behemoths to defeat.
Remember, this is Green Bay’s eighth consecutive trip to the postseason, the second-longest streak in the NFL behind only New England. In many ways, reaching the playoffs is simply old hat.
The Packers experienced the ultimate high in winning Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season. But no NFL team has experienced painful, cruel playoff losses quite like Green Bay has.
There was the January 2015 collapse in Seattle. Overtime playoff losses in Arizona after both the 2009 and 2015 regular seasons. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers ousting Green Bay in the playoffs after the 2012 and ’13 seasons. And a brutal home loss to the New York Giants in January 2012 after Green Bay went 15-1 during the regular season and entered the game as an 8-point favorite.
Now, the Packers face the Giants one more time. And while reaching the postseason is certainly a celebratory moment for most NFL teams, Green Bay isn’t one of those.
“Maybe that’s why we’re not doing cartwheels right now,” McCarthy said. “Our plan’s to try to win it all.”
That should be the plan as Green Bay tries extending this “run the table” mantra four more games. And here’s why.
First, Rodgers is playing better than anyone in football, throwing 15 touchdowns and no interceptions during this six-game winning streak. His accuracy, intellect, decision-making and ability to extend plays gives Green Bay an advantage over almost any team it would play.
Second, there is no clear-cut favorite in the NFC. While Dallas is the No. 1 seed, no rookie quarterback has ever led his team to the Super Bowl. And the Cowboys just happen to be led by rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
Second-seeded Atlanta had a terrific season and Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is playing every bit as well as Rodgers. But the Falcons’ defense is just as suspect as Green Bay’s, and the Packers have enjoyed playoff success in Atlanta (see 2010 season).
Third-seeded Seattle doesn’t frighten people like it did in recent years. The fifth-seeded Giants could be the scariest team in the NFC, while sixth-seeded Detroit is skidding.
Green Bay, on the other hand, has put things together at just the right time.
Rodgers and the offense have thrived thanks to the emergence of players like Ty Montgomery, Geronimo Allison and Davante Adams. And while the defense — especially the cornerback group — is in ruins, Dom Capers is doing more with less than almost anyone in football.
In a wide-open NFC — and really NFL — anything seems possible.
“Obviously, we’re in the playoffs now, and the goal is to win the Super Bowl,” Rodgers said. “But this is a new team. This is an excited group of guys that believe in each other, and anything can happen when you get in the playoffs. We know that. We did that (six) years ago. It’s a fun group of guys, though. It’s fun to win with these guys, and it’s fun to do it the way we did the last six weeks.”
If the Packers can do it four more, then they’ll break out the confetti.
Until then, it’s business as usual.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tackle David Bakhtiari celebrate a touchdown Sunday in the second quarter of their victory over Detroit.