First things first

Packers focused on beating Bears regardless of playoff scenarios

Who woulda thunk it? In Green Bay's roller coaster of a season, which included low points of 1-4 and 4-8, the Packers suddenly worked their way into the national spotlight game this Sunday night by winning their last three games.

The Packers have every right to be excited that they have yet to be eliminated from the postseason when many were throwing dirt on the team in early October and early December. They have every right to look ahead into the postseason at which possible teams they might play. Yet, to their credit, the Packers are still taking it one game at a time in a post-season that began for them after an embarrassing loss to the New York Jets at Lambeau Field.

"We've got to go out and cut it loose," said guard Daryn Colledge. "We feel that we're in an eight-game playoff run right now. We're done with three of them and we've got five more to go, so this is just the next step for us."

Sitting at 7-8, the Packers have a decent shot at making the NFC playoffs as a wild card as long as they beat the Chicago Bears (13-2) on Sunday night, and the New York Giants lose to the Washington Redskins on Saturday. Both are realistic possibilities, though, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he is not about to go stir crazy in his Chicago hotel room watching everyone else play on Saturday and Sunday before his team takes the field on Sunday night (7:15 p.m. CT kickoff) at Soldier Field.

McCarthy is doing his best to stay level-headed and keep his team focused on the Bears, and Bears only. He didn't go nuts after his team was humiliated by the Jets 38-10 at Lambeau Field and fell to 4-8. And he kept his cool after Brett Favre fumbled away a chance to beat the St. Louis Rams late in that Oct. 8 game at Lambeau Field. And he didn't stick his chest out after beating the Vikings for the second time this season last Thursday for the team's third straight victory.

McCarthy has refused to allow his team to get on an emotional roller coaster that has best summed up the Packers' season, so why start now?

"That's why you have a 16-game schedule," McCarthy said. "You can't get caught up in 1-4 or 4-1. There's a reason why you play 16 games, and it's a very easy mental trap to fall into every week. The shouldas, couldas, wouldas. You need to focus your energy on the present, prepare for the future, and learn from the past. That's been my message from Day 1 here. You cannot get caught up in that.

"We play one more game on Sunday night, and I am perfectly comfortable with the fact that we go out and play that football game, win that football game, and everything else will take care of itself. We're in this position for a reason. We need to focus on getting to 8-8 because that's all that we can control. I think you have to have that mindset every week. If you don't you're wasting a lot of energy on other things you have no control."

The Packers realize that they must first beat the Bears in order to improve any chance of earning a post-season berth, regardless of what other teams do on Saturday and Sunday.

"We've got to beat the Bears, first, take care of that, and then follow all this other stuff," said defensive end Aaron Kampman. "If we don't take care of business, it doesn't matter. That's our focus." "It's important for our football team to prepare like we have been," McCarthy said. "(So going forward) Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, taking one day at a time and going down to Chicago to win that football game, that's clearly our focus. Nothing else that we want to achieve can happen unless we do that."

McCarthy gave the players a long break for Christmas. They were off Friday through Monday and allowed to return home to spend the holiday with their families. All that was asked of the players while they were away was to devote 20 to 30 minutes a day to cardiovascular work.

The players were eased back into the practice week Tuesday, when they wore shells and had an extended jog-through as the game plan for Sunday was installed.

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