All the difference

McCarthy has consistently prepared Packers for road where others have failed, says's Dylan Tomlinson

The last time the Green Bay Packers traveled to Detroit for a Thanksgiving Day meeting with the Lions was in 2003, and the game was a trap.

The Packers, who were headed for the playoffs that season, could hardly be blamed for looking past the Lions, who were one of the worst teams in the NFL.

In just about any setting the Packers should have crushed the Lions. But for a franchise that typically goes years and years between playoff appearances, the Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field is their Super Bowl.

It certainly appeared that way as Brett Favre threw three interceptions and Jason Hanson kicked five field goals in a 22-14 win over the Packers that was actually a lot worse than the final score indicated.

Lessons were learned that day. Playing in a short week is always difficult, but it is always much more so for the road team. In the NFL, when a team, even a good one, looks past an opponent, even the worst teams are more than capable of pulling an upset.

The Packers are playing the Lions on Thanksgiving Day again this season, but there are a lot of differences between this game and the one four years ago.

First of all, the Lions are no longer the NFC North doormat that they have been for the last several years. Granted, Detroit's 6-4 record isn't going to strike fear into any team, but the Lions have shown this season that they're capable of playing with and beating anybody.

The Packers are a much better team than they were four years ago, but the most important difference between this team and that team is not in the starting lineup.

The biggest difference is the coach. During his short tenure as the Packers coach, Mike McCarthy has turned his team into the ultimate road warriors as the Packers have won an impressive six straight road games dating back to last season.

Under Mike Sherman, the Packers ran face first into many games that could have been considered traps. Sherman had an impressive record during his tenure as coach, but usually once or twice a season Sherman's teams would dramatically underachieve against an opponent they should have blown out.

Under McCarthy, it's been the exact opposite. The Packers have won road games against a New York Giants team that will likely make the playoffs. They also won back-to-back road games over the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs this season. Granted, the Broncos and Chiefs aren't exactly among the NFL elite, but there aren't many teams that can win an overtime game at Invesco Field on a Monday night and follow it up with another victory six days later at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Packers will face a daunting task on Thursday when they go into Ford Field and face a Detroit team that can make its season with a win over the Packers.

But under McCarthy, it's a safe bet the Packers will be ready. McCarthy won't let his team look past this one to the Dallas game a week later that may determine home field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

It's a short week. The Lions have one of the best young receiving tandems in the NFL and a defense that has been nothing short of dominant at times this season.

But unlike Sherman, McCarthy's teams rarely underachieve and that's why there's every reason to expect the Packers to produce a Thanksgiving Day victory.

Dylan Tomlinson is a frequent contributor to and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at

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