Road Woes Or Road Warriors?

Preparing for the lowly Buccaneers, the Packers are answering questions this week about their troubles in road games, which, when compared to their home triumphs, only look worse. But perception might not meet reality — that is, that the Packers have been a pretty darn good team away from home, too.

Juxtaposed against their home conquests, the Green Bay Packers look like an entirely different team when they play on the road this season.

At Lambeau Field, the Packers are 7-0, averaging 41.1 points per game with a differential of plus-145.

At opposing venues, they are just 3-4, averaging 21.1 points per game with a differential of minus-34.

Should this wide disparity be a cause for concern? Even going to Tampa to play the Buccaneers, a 2-12 team, this Sunday?

“This is an important game for us,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers this week on his radio show. “Every road game has a little different challenge because you’re going into a different environment and travelling and staying on the road, but we’ve got to focus in and get our fourth win on the road and then come back and get our eighth win at home and get this thing going.”

Going unbeaten at home and finishing at least .500 on the road have long been the benchmarks the Packers talk about each season. After all, a 12-4 season, under any circumstances, is a good one. And despite some uneven performances in 2014, including a 21-13 downer last Sunday at Buffalo, the Packers are right on track.

Since 2006, the year Mike McCarthy took over as head coach, the Packers are tied for the fifth-best regular-season road record at 39-32. In fact, only 10 of the 32 teams in the league during that span have posted records above .500. So, the Packers have done just fine.

“It’s tough to go on the road and win in this league,” said wide receiver Jordy Nelson. “I think across the league we’ve seen it. There’s not much difference between the top and middle of this league. Teams play better at home and we’ve just got to, I don’t know what it is, but I guess just amp it up a little bit more or whatever it is and just make sure we execute at a higher level.”

If the Packers can beat the Buccaneers, they will finish .500 on the road, marking the seventh time in McCarthy’s nine seasons they have finished .500 or better. In other words, exceeding their benchmarks more times than not.

Comparatively, at home, where the Packers have also been one of the best teams in the league, they have finished unbeaten only once (2011) in the last eight seasons. In other words, more times than not, they have fallen short of their lofty expectations.

Asked for the reasons why the Packers have done relatively well on the road over the years Nelson said, “I don’t know, I think we have a quality team here that’s won games year in and year out, so I think if you have a team that can win games, you’re going to have a good record overall, which means you’re winning games on the road. But I think we’re prepared – that’s first and foremost. If you’re prepared throughout the week, then you’re able to go out and be successful.”

Having one of the league’s best quarterbacks helps overcome road challenges, too. With good reason, the Packers rely as heavily on Rodgers as any team in the league does on its quarterback. So, perhaps it should come as no surprise that when Rodgers has performed below expectations this season (59.6 percent completions, three passing touchdowns, five interceptions and 238.5 passing yards per game in four losses), so too have the Packers.

The good news is that Rodgers and the Packers almost always bounce back. Two of Rodgers’ three-best games this season have come after losses, and the Packers have yet to lose consecutive games in 2014.

“(McCarthy’s) talked a lot about grit this year. I think actually around the league that’s kind of been a buzzword. I don’t know if there was some talk at the owners meetings that this was going to be the word of the year for all the teams,” began Rodgers in a kidding tone, “but I think it’s a mind-set of dealing with adversity in a positive way, pushing through it and when the going gets tough, like they say, the tough gets going. So, it’s mentally tough I think is the trait that allows you to overcome some rough performances. That’s what I rely on after a poor performance is my mental preparation and my mental fortitude.”

On the road, the Packers have not lost in consecutive weeks since 2010, when they lost December games at Detroit and at New England (with Rodgers sidelined with a concussion). Of course, after those losses, they ran off six straight wins — the last three on the road in the playoffs and then one in the Super Bowl in Arlington, Texas — to become champions.

“We’re really looking at this game as really the start of our playoff approach, playoff mind-set,” said McCarthy of preparing for the Buccaneers. “This is a road game that we have to have. We clearly understand the importance of winning in December but we feel like we need to take it up a notch as a football team to make sure we improve not only as a team but most importantly in the win column.”

Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com


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