Packers Show 'Courage' in Season-Saving Rally

After a fluke pick-six late in the half, it would have been easy for the Packers to follow human nature and throw in the towel on Sunday. Rather than succumb to that "here we go again" mentality, the Packers did something they hadn't done since 2004 in keeping their season alive.

The Green Bay Packers were like a dazed and confused heavyweight fighter who had just been hit by a haymaker.

Against Atlanta on Sunday, a fluke touchdown on an interception proved to be a potential 10- or 14-point swing. For a team that had fallen from first place in the NFC North to the cusp of playoff oblivion in barely a month, the Packers looked like they were down for the count.

Instead, they got off the mat and kept swinging.

Green Bay's rally from a 21-10 halftime deficit was uncharted territory for coach Mike McCarthy. According to Scott Kacsmar of FootballOutsiders.com, McCarthy was 0-31-1 when trailing by at least two scores in the second half. Every other team in the league had won at least twice under those circumstances since McCarthy became coach in 2006, and the Patriots have earned four wins since Week 8 when trailing by at least 10 points at the half, according to Kacsmar.

"We know we're a good team," said quarterback Matt Flynn, who authored the win, as well as the tie two weeks earlier. "We know that we can play with anybody in the NFL. We've got talented guys. We've got guys who care and will leave it all out there."

Still, the challenge seemed almost overwhelming. The Packers were 0-4-1 without Aaron Rodgers and were coming off an embarrassing 40-10 loss at Detroit. The pick-six, which was deflected at the line of scrimmage and bounced off a linebacker's foot, seemed like a Cliff's Notes version of the Packers' season as a whole.

At 21-10, the boobirds were out in force and the vultures were circling.

"I told them it's lonely being a warrior sometimes," McCarthy said after the game. "And that's just the way games go. This is football. I really liked the energy with our players at halftime. I wanted to see how they responded, if they came in and if they were really affected by that because, offensively, you're driving and you feel like you've got the Atlanta Falcons' defense a little bit on their heels and they make a huge play with the tipped interception for seven points, so it definitely has a chance to take some air out of your balloon. But our guys didn't blink and we played our best football in the second half. As a coach, that's what you look for in your football team."

If there were questions about whether the players were still following McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers, those questions were answered during a second-half gut check.

"I think if we would have sat here and let it, we could've easily fallen into the trap of, ‘Man, what's going on? Are we cursed? What's happening?'" linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "And we didn't have any of that. I give Coach McCarthy a lot of credit, and Dom came in and we had a couple plays that got us down early that we had to kind of clean up and figure out how we're going to play it. But then we just talked about this being a whole new game. This was the second half and still we're only down 11. So, we're still in it. We knew we had the ball first. Mood was actually pretty good."

Capers credited the players for not succumbing to that "Here we go again" mentality, which seems like human nature.

"You have to fight it," Capers said. "I'm just telling you, life in the NFL is 5 percent of what happens to you and 95 percent how you respond it. You've got to put the blinders on and you've got to focus in on your job and you can't get caught up in all the periphery of things. It doesn't work that way. If you let that have a negative effect on you, you aren't going be very efficient."

The defense, which had been demolished in four of the previous five games, started the second half with back-to-back three-and-outs. Then Mike Neal made the game's biggest play with his sack-strip.

"It was like, ‘You know what? We've got to come out, keep fighting,'" Neal said. "You can't let those fluke plays deter you. Obviously, we were playing good up until that point but there were a couple of fluke plays that went their way. You know what? In the game of football, you know that in one half it can swing one way and the other half it can swing the other way. You keep playing and the situation can turn around."

Moments later, Andrew Quarless — part of a tight end group that had done next to nothing since Jermichael Finley's injury and had been challenged by position coach Jerry Fontenot to step things up — caught the go-ahead touchdown pass.

It was Green Bay's first victory when trailing by at least 10 at halftime since beating Detroit in December 2004, according to Kacsmar.

"‘How are you going to respond?'" Quarless said of McCarthy's message "‘As men, you've really got to step up, be accountable and professional and just play hard every play.' His biggest message was, ‘How are we going to respond?'"

The Packers, after failing to respond since Rodgers' injury, finally responded. Can they do it again with another season-saving game coming up at Dallas?

"I guess we'll see in a couple weeks," guard T.J. Lang said when asked about the potential impact of Sunday's win. "Obviously, it was a game we had to win. Our backs are pretty much up against the wall now. Today was a must-win game for us. We showed a lot of pride out there and a lot of courage to go out there in the second half and get the win. I guess we'll see at the end of the season what this win really meant."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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