DETROIT – Aaron Rodgers made headlines with a “run the table” proclamation that will live forever alongside “r-e-l-a-x” in Green Bay Packers lore. Linebacker Julius Peppers also never wavered in his belief that the Packers would turn around their season.
The table has been run and the turnaround is complete. The Packers used a dominant second half to beat the Detroit Lions 31-24 on Sunday night. With a sixth consecutive victory, the Packers won the NFC North championship.
“I’m around these guys every day,” Peppers said as he walked out of Ford Field. “You guys are, too -- you guys see us every day -- but I see these guys work. I’m in the meetings with these guys, I’m on the practice field with these guys. I see the work they put into it and the effort. When you put so much into something, good things happen and eventually things all work themselves out. You can’t go to work every day and work hard and get nothing for it. In the end, I think you always get some type of return.”
With a fourth consecutive loss, the Packers were 4-6 and in 14th place in the NFC. Six weeks later, they’re the No. 4 seed in the NFC playoffs and will host the Giants on Sunday afternoon.
“Easy’s probably not the right word, but there was never any reason not to believe that we were going to be here today,” coach Mike McCarthy said, sporting a hat proclaiming his team “Champions” of the division. “This team, they’re different. Every team is different. I’ve been blessed to coach 11 teams for the Green Bay packers, but this team has an energy, has an edge, has a confidence that was evident very early in our preseason. And I’ve always believed in that and they believe in that. So, maybe that’s why we’re not doing cartwheels right now because our plan’s to try to win it all. We never lost sight of where we wanted to go. But these guys, the work ethic and everything they needed to do, they just kept plowing ahead.”
That energy and edge and confidence were personified by Rodgers’ proclamation that the team could win its final six games. It seemed like an outrageous thing to say, considering the team had just lost its fourth in a row a few days earlier. But Rodgers believed it – and then went to work on turning his belief into reality. He threw 15 touchdown passes against zero interceptions during the winning streak, including four touchdowns vs. the Lions.
“That’s what you have to do sometimes as a leader,” Rodgers said. “You have to (show) confidence even in a situation where it seems to the outside world that confidence shouldn’t exist. That’s kind of what I did. I believe in myself and my abilities, but I also believe in this team. This wasn’t just a shot in the dark. It was an optimistic belief in my teammates that we were going to start handling adversity better. I knew that started with the offense. We needed to play better, and I needed to play better. But I felt like if we can do that, it would start to give the defense some confidence. And then, ultimately, if we just got one, if we just got that first win, then things could get rolling.”
It hasn’t been easy, and it certainly wasn’t against the Lions. Detroit took a 14-7 lead just before halftime, but the Packers got a field goal on the final play of the half, took the lead on the opening possession of the second half and took command despite injuries demolishing their cornerback corps.
“This is definitely big,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “We can’t sit here and act like it’s nothing. This is really big. You’re talking about guys sitting 4-6, I said this before, until you judge a team off adversity, it’s easy to walk around when things are going your way but, the great teams, it’s how they respond to adversity. I feel like this team stuck together and responded very well. We got into the playoffs. We accomplished one of our goals. Now it’s time to accomplish the big goal.”
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.