Before a heaping helping of turkey, dressing and pumpkin pie, there was a heaping helping of optimism.
“I feel like we can run the table. I really do,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Before the biggest shopping extravaganza of the year, coach Mike McCarthy was selling hope.
“I can’t say this enough,” McCarthy said. “I know I’ve said this during the good times, I’ve said it during training camp: We have the right kind of men. This group of men, we’re going to get to where we want to go. I’m fully confident in that. The process, the approach, the preparation, we’re going to get this the way it needs to be. So, I’m fully confident in that. You just can’t keep doing things right and the result is going to stay the same. I truly believe in that. This locker room is awesome. We’ve got to win. We get that. It’s about results. But everything leading up to that, I’m very pleased with. So we’re just going to keep stoking our fire and we’re going to do everything we need to do this week and prepare to go beat Philadelphia.”
It’s the season of hope, after all, so we’re not going to play Scrooge today. (Or mention the defense and special teams.) And Rodgers is the reason for hope. He hasn’t always been great but he’s faced great challenges. Even going into Week 12, the offense is evolving. The season started with Eddie Lacy at running back and Jared Cook at tight end. Then Cook and Lacy sustained ankle injuries, with Lacy’s ultimately ending his season. For three games, the Packers didn’t have a real, honest-to-goodness running back on the roster. The backfield is full now with the return of James Starks and the arrival of Christine Michael. Plus, Cook is healthy. Other than guard T.J. Lang expected to miss a second consecutive game, the offense is something resembling full strength. And Rodgers has found his stride, with 15 touchdowns, three interceptions and 318 yards per game during the last five games.
“The quarterback gets so much credit when things go really well and, when they don’t, he gets a lot of the blame,” McCarthy said. “I think you have to be honest and realistic. We’ve kind of gone through some different variations of offense. You look at the way we stated the first two weeks, made the transition (away from no-huddle) there in the third game — that was productive. Then we went through the three or four weeks with the running back situation, so we’ve been able to work through that. Now, we feel we’re able to play with more of a flow and hopefully some more balance. He’s been consistent. He’s gotten us through this storm and I think we’re very, very close to being where we want to be.”
The biggest reason for hope, however, are the standings. Yes, the Packers started this week in 14th place in the NFC and two games behind NFC North co-leaders Detroit and Minnesota. (The Lions’ victory over the Vikings on Thursday gives them the outright lead and a 2.5-game edge over the Packers.) That’s dire, right? Well, in 2010, the Packers were one game out of a playoff berth with two games remaining. The Packers blew out the team ahead of them in the Wild Card chase, the Giants, then edged the North-leading Bears in Week 17 to get into the playoffs. The rest, as the say, is history.
“I don't think I've ever been part of a team here where we went into a game thinking there's no way we're going to win this game,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Even if our backs are against the wall. If you look at the year we won the Super Bowl and people were counting us out and, honestly, (people) were wanting to fire Mike back then when we lost at Detroit and went to New England and we lost and had to win out to make the playoffs. Every playoff game we've been in, every regular-season game we've been in, we thought we were going to win. I think that's just how confident we are. I think the things we've done in the past allow us to be that confident. We just have to go out and do it on the field.”
If the Packers can somehow close the gap to one game, they host Minnesota in Week 16 and travel to Detroit for Week 17.
“You just feel like it just takes one,” Rodgers said. “We get one under our belts, things might start rolling for us and we can run the table.”
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.