The Packers posted two hallmark wins last season. They followed those wins with a combined seven consecutive losses.
Sunday's 17-7 victory over Dallas righted the Packers' ship and put them in a four-team deadlock at 5-4 atop on the NFC wild-card pecking order. But that season-saving performance would go down the drain if the Packers stub their toe this week against San Francisco (4-5) or next week at Detroit (1-8).
"That's my responsibility," McCarthy said on Monday about preventing a letdown. "I'm focused on winning and improving. You're probably tired of hearing about it. But that's the way we operate, so I'm not going to try to sit here and say it in different words and different statements. We need to win football games and we need to improve along the way, because you want to be playing your best football at the end of the year. The National Football League is very competitive. I understand the passion that our fans have and the importance of winning. But as far as what people think and their opinions, I can't really concern myself with that. My concern and focus is on our football team."
Last year, Green Bay got to 4-3 by upsetting Indianapolis at Lambeau Field. After beating the Colts, the Packers had their bye week, then lost in overtime at Tennessee and in the final moments at Minnesota. Green Bay bounced back by blasting Chicago at Lambeau Field, but rather than surge to the NFC North title like many expected, the Packers got routed at New Orleans and lost the next four games by a total of 14 points.
"We're focused on the San Francisco 49ers," McCarthy said when reminded of what happened last year. "That doesn't even enter our thought process. We had a very positive experience yesterday as a team. It's well-documented what's gone on the last two weeks. We were able to learn from that, carry it forward to our game yesterday, and we need to take that forward to San Francisco. That's what we're looking at."
To avoid a letdown against the 49ers — who will come to Green Bay in the same desperate situation as the Packers were in against Dallas — they need to play with the same passion as they showed against the Cowboys. With the muddled state of the NFC playoff chase and the likelihood that it will boil down to best record in conference games, the Packers can't afford to let their guard down against San Francisco.
"The best example is your own performance," McCarthy said. "To capture what we accomplished yesterday, but also be realistic and make the corrections as you prepare for San Francisco. That's what you have to do. Motivation comes in different forms and fashions throughout the course of a season, and that's definitely something in that victory yesterday that we can carry forward into our preparation for San Francisco, because there were obviously a lot of positives to come off the field yesterday."
The race for the two wild-card berths
Philadelphia: 5-4 (4-2 in NFC)
Atlanta: 5-4 (4-3 NFC)
Green Bay: 5-4 (4-3 NFC)
N.Y. Giants: 5-4 (3-3 NFC)
San Francisco: 4-5 (4-2 NFC)
Carolina: 4-5 (4-4 NFC)
Chicago: 4-5 (2-4 NFC)
1. Apply division tiebreaker to eliminate all but the highest ranked club in each division: That eliminates the Giants, with the Eagles' win over their NFC East rival in Week 8.
2. Head-to-head sweep: Does not apply since Green Bay doesn't play either Atlanta or Philadelphia.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference: Philadelphia leads at 4-2, with Green Bay and Atlanta tied at 4-3. That leaves the Falcons and Packers for the last spot.
4. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four: Because it's early in the season, this does not apply — but it will by season's end. The Packers are 2-0 against Chicago and Dallas while Atlanta beat Chicago but lost to Dallas. The Falcons have two games coming against Tampa Bay, which beat the Packers. The Falcons also own a victory over San Francisco, which is next on Green Bay's schedule. So, in reality, in common games, the Packers are 2-1 (beat Chicago, beat Dallas, lose Tampa Bay) and the Falcons are 2-1 (beat Chicago, beat San Francisco, lose Dallas).
5. Strength of victory: The Falcons own a six-game edge. The Falcons have beaten Miami, Carolina, San Francisco, Chicago and Washington, who are a combined 19-26. The Packers have beaten Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland and Dallas, who are a combined 13-31.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and 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 twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.