Although the Packers' ascent into the playoff picture does signify the dwindling state of the NFC, Green Bay has unjustly been chastised on the radio, through the tube, and all over newspapers. One prime culprit was FoxSports.com writer Ian O'Connor who recently referred to the Packers as "a bad team with a washed-up quarterback stumbling toward the Hall of Fame."
While Michael Vick is worshiped after a loss against Dallas (where he took himself out of the game), Green Bay is laughed upon for grinding out a 9-7 win over Minnesota.
As January football remains a possibility, the Packers have scratched and clawed their way back to respectability. And it's that never-ending pursuit of respect that fuels the Packers' pistons. Losing 35-0 and 38-10 to New England and the New York Jets, respectively, could have derailed Green Bay's spirit, but Mike McCarthy's squad is resilient. Several instances during the Vikings game proved this.
After Brett Favre lofted an early Christmas present to former teammate Darren Sharper, Minnesota assumed complete control. Up 7-6, the Vikings now were in prime position to go for the jugular. Starting at their own 29, Minnesota had a golden opportunity to ice the clock into the fourth quarter and increase its lead. Instead, Bob Sanders' defense stepped up like it had throughout the game.
On first down, Aaron Kampman and Ryan Pickett stuffed 1,000-yard back Chester Taylor for one generous yard. The next play, Pickett and company collapsed the pocket, forcing rookie Tarvaris Jackson to sidearm a wayward incompletion. On third-and-nine, the D-Line flushed Jackson outside of the pocket, forcing him to throw on the run. Charles Woodson blanketed Travis Taylor step-for-step and converged on the ball, nearly wrestling the ball away for his second interception. And at that moment the momentum pendulum changed direction.
Small victories within the game like this textbook three-and-out consistently bailed out Green Bay's turnover-prone offense. On third down, the Vikings were a paltry 2-for-14 leading to 10 punts. The mobile Jackson posed an unknown threat to Sanders' defense and Green Bay collectively dominated. Once again Woodson and Kampman (three sacks) made the game-changing plays. But for once, there were no holes on the Packer defense as all three levels stifled the Vikes. Despite dropping a possible interception for six, A.J. Hawk (six tackles) played like a seasoned veteran as the game wore on. Fellow linebackers Nick Barnett and Brady Poppinga combined for nine, as safety Nick Collins pile-drove Jackson for a critical fourth quarter third down tackle.
But it was those subtle three plays in the third quarter that rejuvenated Green Bay. Any team with postseason aspirations must be able to quickly reverse momentum like this.
Green Bay's resiliency wasn't subjected to the defense, either. Even after his INT total swelled to 17, Favre made the key throws when needed to register his 36th comeback victory. Rather than erratically unleash prayers into the deep secondary in crunchtime, Favre relied on poise to prevail - a direct indicator on his improvement from last season.
With four minutes left in the game, Favre noticed that Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield was in bump-and-run position on Ruvell Martin ... with Sharper and two linebackers stunting to blitz. Rather than forcing a pass to Donald Driver, Favre barked an audible and Martin went vertical. Unlike earlier in the game when Jennings adjusted his route incorrectly, the result this time was a 36-yard gain that led to Dave Rayner's game-winning field goal.
Earlier this season, the Packers panicked in situations like these two. Against St. Louis, in position to win or at least tie a 23-20 game, Favre fumbled and Daryn Colledge became overcome with Jeremy Stevens-itis as the ball slipped off his chest. At Seattle, everybody from Mike Holmgren to the Qwest Field vendors knew Shaun Alexander was getting the ball yet the hobbled vet rambled for 201 yards on 40 carries to finish the Pack.
Side-by-side with their arms extended, Gilbert Brown and Grady Jackson could've fit through Seattle's holes and over the Pack's passive sieve that night. Last Thursday, former 5-6 returner J.J. Moses wouldn't have found a crease in Green Bay's defense. Also, do you think Favre would have trusted Martin on that audible in October? Green Bay has come a long way, even if they're the butt of sarcasm this week.
The Green Bay gods have aligned a Nathan Poole-type of script for the Packers. But instead of needing a dramatic fourth down catch from an Arizona Cardinal, Green Bay's playoff hopes are very logical. First and foremost, McCarthy must keep his team focused on Chicago. The Bears would love nothing more than to sweep Green Bay again, even if it's with Brian Griese and Adrian Peterson.
That being said, don't expect Green Bay to suddenly lay an egg, either. Aside from their playoff lives, no Packer team wants to be swept by the Bears two seasons in a row (especially No. 4, who had won 11 straight games in Chicago before last year.)
An improving Washington team hosts the reeling New York Giants (losers of six in their last seven games) on Saturday. After losing 37-31 to the Rams in overtime, the Redskins may be playing with a chip on their shoulder. Ladell Betts will be gunning for his sixth consecutive 100-yard effort against a 23rd ranked Giants' defense that just surrendered 100 yards each to Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister.
A little help from Minnesota, or an upset win for Carolina/Atlanta, and the Pack is suddenly back in the wild card with an emphasis on wild. Brett Favre has started 20 playoff games. Tony Romo and Jeff Garcia? Three.
Tyler Dunne is a student from the Buffalo, N.Y., area and frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.