There's a reason why Mike McCarthy will soon be getting a big-time raise, and one is his ability to manage players through injuries. Earlier this year in a showdown against the Cowboys at Dallas, McCarthy opted to sit defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Charles Woodson out due to injuries that they sustained a week earlier in a Thanksgiving Day game against the Detroit Lions. At the time many, including this scribe, felt that the Packers needed to win that game any way possible, and McCarthy was second-guessed.
McCarthy said today that both KGB and Woodson could have played if the game was for the NFC Championship, but he sat them out anyway. As it turned out, the Cowboys went on to beat the Packers to gain the inside track on home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, in a league that is often full of surprises, the Cowboys fell to the surging Giants, 21-17, in a NFC Divisional playoff game today at Texas Stadium and, low and behold, the Packers are playing at home for the right to go to Super Bowl XLII with a much more healthy Gbaja-Biamila and Woodson.
Guess who is looking like a genius now?
"You put a player that's injured and not ready to come back at 100 percent in a big game – we're talking about Kabeer and and Charles Woodson down there in Dallas – you're risk is higher for long-term injuries," McCarthy explained. "That's really what the decision was based on. They both probably could have played in that game. If that was for the NFC Championship Game, they both could have played, but we had a lot of football in front of us. The second this is I believe in our other players. They have given me so much to believe in just the way they have progressed and taken advantage of their opportunities. That's why we did what we did."
Though the Giants (12-6) have won nine straight road wins between regular season and postseason, they enter the NFC Championship Game banged up, especially in the defensive secondary. Cornerback Aaron Ross, playing for starter Kevin Dockery (hip), injured his right shoulder against the Cowboys. Cornerback Sam Madison also sat out his second straight game with a pulled stomach muscle. The status of all three of those players for Sunday's game will be determined later this week.
Meanwhile, the Packers, who made adjustments in their training camp schedule to keep players as fresh as possible for the regular season, hope to get backup cornerback and punt return specialist Will Blackmon back for Sunday's game. He is the only player on the active roster trying to overcome an injury more serious than a bump or bruise.
Though the Packers have placed starting defensive tackle Johnny Jolly (shoulder) and backup Colin Cole (arm) on injured reserve this season, they have been fairly healthy all season. That has played a big part in their 14-3 record.
Before McCarthy took questions from the media after Green Bay's 42-20 rout over the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, he smiled and uttered two words - "No injuries."
"It's the healthiest we've been all year," said the second-year head coach. "To come out of the game with zero significant injuries is an extreme positive. To be going into the NFC Championship as healthy as you've been since I've been here is what we where trying to accomplish and we got that done."
In between the time that the Packers beat the Giants 35-13 on Sept. 16 at the Meadowlands and now, the Giants placed two notable players on injured reserve in December - Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey and running back Derrick Ward. Both sustained fractured fibulas.
In a league where the strong often survive, the Packers are in great position to continue their season all the way to Super Bowl XLII. The team has McCarthy and his medical staff to thank for making the right decisions. They may not have been the most popular decisions with fans and the media at the time, but they have proven to be the right decisions.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at email@example.com.