It’s a strong word, and the Green Bay Packers, despite their season-long inconsistencies and the freshness of their 38-8 thumping at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals, have it headed into Saturday night’s rematch.
For quarterback Aaron Rodgers, that blowout loss conjured memories of the 2010-11 NBA-champion Dallas Mavericks. Late in that regular season, the Mavericks were pounded 110-82 by the Lakers in Los Angeles. In the Western Conference semifinals about a month later, the Mavericks swept the Lakers, including a 122-86 romp in Game 4.
“I think we’re all fans of sports, and it makes me think of Dallas,” Rodgers said. “Stuff happens all the time. We’re all fans of sports. We know how it goes. Anything can happen. We’re going in as the underdogs, we’re going to be loose and ready to go and it’s going to be their stadium, it’s going to be rocking, but the pressure’s going to be on them.”
That would be the second time Rodgers used the word “pressure.” And, certainly, there is pressure on the Cardinals. They are the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and have been a dominant force throughout the season. They entered this weekend’s games as the favorite to win Super Bowl 50.
Contrast that to the Packers. Considering their path this season and what happened a few weeks ago, they are being given little chance to spring the upset.
“The pressure's all going to be on them,” Rodgers said. “They're coming off a (36-6) loss at home against Seattle. Before that, they blew us out. They're the Super Bowl favorites and, obviously, the favorite team on Saturday night. So we've just got to go out, be loose, let it all hang out, because the pressure's all on that side.”
There’s a pride factor for Green Bay, too, in light of the previous outcome. Injuries aren’t an excuse for the nine sacks allowed, the offensive linemen say. Rodgers was uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball with an end-zone interception and three fumbles. The defense gave up 17 points in the first half, including a late 80-yard drive.
Now, with a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line, they get their chance at redemption.
“I think any time you get slapped in the face on national television, you take that personal,” guard T.J. Lang said. “Yeah, that’s a team that embarrassed us. It turned a lot of people against us, caused a lot of people to lose faith and hope in us. It’s nothing we can do about that now. That game’s behind us. There’s a lot of learning lessons we can take from that game and hopefully apply this week. It’s the playoffs, it’s a new season. It’s a lot of fun.”
When the Packers entered the playoffs on a two-game losing streak, the players downplayed that lack of momentum, with Rodgers saying momentum is built during a game. However, there’s an undeniable vibe in the locker room. If it sounded like empty words that the team could turn things around when it was struggling, there’s conviction in their voices when they say the outcome this week will be different.
Clearly, if laughter is the medicine, then a road playoff victory isn’t far behind. Suddenly, the Packers are alive and kicking and full of belief.
“The playoffs is all about momentum and hitting your stride and things like that,” guard Josh Sitton said. “With the past few weeks, a game like that was something that we needed. It builds confidence, it builds momentum, it just kind of propels you into the next week. Playoffs are different. It's win or go home. Everything’s different. So building that little bit of confidence and momentum is huge for us.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.