For Chicago Bears rookie right tackle Jordan Mills, it doesn't get any bigger than this weekend's winner-take-all contest against the Green Bay Packers. With the NFC North title on the line, as well as a trip to the playoffs, the entire season comes down to one game.
Mills sat down with Bear Report to discuss the high-profile matchup that will take place at Soldier Field this Sunday afternoon.
"It's important to put the last game behind us as quickly as possible. Coach Trestman told us we're all going to have our ups and downs and that definitely was a down. Nobody here wants to stay in the past because professional football is all about forward momentum. We all wish we could have clinched the division last weekend but that didn't happen. Now we have another opportunity. Everybody here is focused now on Green Bay. It's a big game and it's our job to concentrate and be prepared for that.
"Studying game film, it really doesn't matter if you think you did everything wrong or everything right, there are still lessons to be learned and places you can find for improvement. The first year in football is all about the learning process. I definitely made mistakes last weekend and it is my job now to be sure that doesn't happen again.
"The holiday this week was no distraction. There is a big task ahead of us so distractions just aren't welcome at this particular time. Our families and friends understand that and are willing to wait to celebrate with us at a later date. We practiced on Christmas with a walk through, film study and had meetings. Some of the rookies had dinner together that night but that was about all we did."
What did you personally take out of the game last weekend?
"I've learned the value to sticking together and the importance of focus. Coach is very strong on the fact that we are all in this together supporting each other. There is no name-calling or finger pointing in this locker room. If we can help out each other in any way, that is what we'll do. A team that is not united like that probably won't be successful ultimately.
"It's OK to feel really bad after a loss like that but you can't let it eat away on you, not with a game as big as Sunday's coming up. What I personally have tried to do is study the game film and learn. I've been deconstructing and reconstructing my technique. I can never excuse myself if I'm doing the same thing wrong more than once. I need to learn and then correct my mistakes. I try to take things for what they are, then try to make those things better.
"The mood here is very positive this week. The coaches have done a great job of keeping us together and keeping us focused. People have been flying around on defense, on offense and on special teams. We know that it's win or go home, and certainly none of us are ready to go home just yet. Practices have been intense and up-tempo. We played Green Bay earlier this season so we understand their general tendencies and are building the game plan around that information."
How do you feel about Aaron Rodgers returning this week?
"Really, I'm so busy concentrating on my own stuff I haven't given that any thought at all. I guess I'd say if he plays, he plays. If he doesn't he doesn't. It shouldn't effect what I'll be doing all that much.
"Looking back at this rookie season, I am amazed that the time has gone by so quickly. I've been so busy that I guess I didn't notice. What have I learned? That playing in the NFL takes a tremendous amount of effort. You are working hard pretty much all of the time from early training camps through the games.
"But what I have to say is that I've enjoyed every minute of the experience. It's been harder than I ever imagined but also more fun than I ever thought it would be. So few people ever have the opportunity to be in the NFL. I feel so grateful for this and hope I have made the most of that opportunity.
"A year ago I never dreamed I'd be starting. I'd hoped I could but you never know about something like that. It was fairly intimidating at first to be across the line from guys you've only seen on TV. But pretty soon you learn how to work and be productive.
"The game speed slows down a bit once you know what you're doing out there. I've tried to smooth out my learning curve by picking up all I could from the vets in terms of technique and overall approach to games. I feel comfortable now and am enjoying every minute.
"There is a lot of pressure on us this week but it's something that we are trying to put out of our minds as much as possible. Going to a normal game-week routine makes everybody comfortable and more effective. It's a big game for us so were trying to keep things as low-key as possible.
"Green Bay is tough and can be a great team. But we're tough and great as well. Just to be a part of the oldest rivalry in the league is something very special. To be in that moment on the field playing the Packers, just as some of the great names in football history have done, is very meaningful to me.
"In terms of this weekend, I've been studying the game film and working to remember what was effective against them last time. Being on our home field should make the situation more advantageous. It's all about effort and execution to get that win.
"There's definitely pressure but that's always true. If you think about it, all games we have are must wins no matter when they are played during the season. You've got to focus on that result. As a team we've got to collectively make the plays and get things done. Everybody's going to be watching. We have to show our best, do our best. As coach says, it's a prime-time, pride-time game and I can't wait to kick it off."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.