The Packers went from on the brink of disaster to poised to make a run to the playoffs with one brilliant 12-game stretch in which they beat NFC rivals Dallas, San Francisco and Detroit. The calls for Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson to be fired have been replaced by an air of anticipation entering the stretch run.
"Yeah, I like where our football team is right now," coach Mike McCarthy said after Thursday's 34-12 victory at Ford Field in Detroit. "Probably like every coach in the league, you wish you were healthy. We'll have that opportunity. To win this game today, we knew when the schedule came out that we going to have the opportunity to have two bye weeks. We're treating this exactly like our first bye week, and our number one priority is to get healthy."
It's been a remarkable turnaround for a team that followed an emotional loss to Brett Favre and the Vikings with a down-and-out performance at previously winless Tampa Bay that, as receiver Donald Driver said in a meeting with his teammates on offense, had put everyone's head on the chopping block.
"Everybody on this team knows how they felt after that Tampa game," cornerback Charles Woodson said after his second three-turnover game in the three-week stretch. "It's a game we should have won but we didn't. You've got to look at yourself when it comes to those type of games and what you could've done better and what you did wrong and correct them. The last three weeks, we've had good production as far as practice is concerned. We're flying around in practice and not making a lot of mistakes in practice, and it's showed up on the field."
It's showed up on offense and defense in those three games.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was threatening to become the most-sacked quarterback in NFL history, has gone down just seven times – including three in the last two games. He was sacked once by Detroit after being hauled down five times against the Lions on Oct. 18.
Further underscoring the improved play of the offensive line, the Packers rushed for 343 yards in those games, including 158 against San Francisco's top-ranked run defense on Sunday. The Packers rushed for a speck less than 3.0 yards per carry against a Detroit team that was bound and determined to stop Ryan Grant. It worked in that regard, but it enabled Rodgers to exploit the NFL's last-ranked pass defense.
Rodgers is exploiting everyone lately. In the three games, he's completed 70.8 percent of his passes for 881 yards, with six touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 108.4. It probably isn't much of an overstatement to call his decision-making impeccable.
"I feel like I'm playing (well)," Rodgers said. "I feel like there's still things I can get better. I'm very critical of myself, even in a game like this where the stats probably look pretty good. There's still a lot I left on the field, and I made a couple of poor throws, couple poor reads. I'm still not going to have a very content feeling after the game."
Defensively, Green Bay allowed only 203 rushing yards in the three games, and as defensive coordinator Dom Capers has said time and again, if his unit can stop the run, then it can rush the passer. The Packers have 10 sacks in the three games after 13 in the first eight.
And, of course, the turnovers just keep on coming. After Rodgers threw three interceptions in the loss at Tampa Bay, the Packers won the turnover battle in each of the three games with a combined margin of plus-seven. The Packers forced five on Thursday, giving it a plus-three for the game.
"Stopping the run, generating turnovers has been the staple of our defense, and we need to continue to do that," McCarthy said.
"Anytime you have five takeaways," Capers said before changing his stream of thought. "Today was kind of a similar game to last week. Last week they had 57 yards at halftime and this week they had 78. I think going into the fourth quarter, they had about in the 120s."
Sure, it was only the Lions, but it was another good sign that the Packers overcame some adversity the last few weeks. Against Dallas, the Packers were trying to save their season and had to fight tooth-and-nail to hold off the explosive and surging Cowboys. Against the 49ers, it was the losses of Aaron Kampman and Al Harris and a late Niners comeback. Against Detroit, the Lions got a huge emotional boosts when injured stars Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson played, then got another lift when Jordy Nelson coughed up the opening kickoff.
"Yeah, those guys are friends," Woodson said of playing without Kampman and Harris. "Those guys, we've gone into games countless number of times. To have those guys down, especially season-ending injuries was tough. You never want to see your friends go down. But we adjusted, young guys came in and played well, and came out with a ‘W.'"
Added Rodgers: "We had to dig deep and we got a big interception, got down, got it tied up. There's a lot of resolve on this team. I'm confident in the attitude that we have moving forward, the confidence that we have. We lost a couple of great, dear friends and good players. Guys needed to step up and I think they did."