BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – The Green Bay Packers didn’t end their regular season quite right. They were plastered, 38-8, by the Arizona Cardinals in Week 16, then the following Sunday, they lost the NFC North title game, 20-13, to the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field to end the campaign.
Clearly that’s not the way you want to head into the playoffs if you’re the Packers and head coach Mike McCarthy. McCarthy says their 35-18 win over the Washington Redskins this past Sunday in the NFC Wild Card Game was the game that they had to have, not only from a standpoint of winning, but also for the fact that it helped their offense get their mojo back, after two paltry performances against the Cardinals and Vikings.
Green Bay had 346 yards of total offense against Washington – 141 of it coming on the ground. Their running game really woke up, after it floundered over the final two weeks of the season. They averaged 3.9 yards per rush against Arizona, and 2.9 yards per rush against Minnesota.
“It’s really the game that we needed, because Dallas (Cowboys) was the last time we really had the run (230 yards) and pass (205 yards) going the way we liked,” McCarthy said. “Frankly, you’ve got to take care of the football, which was very evident in our last game in Arizona (four turnovers) and the points (28) that came off of that. We’re doing a better job of handling the left tackle position, so those are the two biggest things I felt like we needed to overcome going into Washington (Redskins), and we accomplished that.”
Green Bay spotted Washington 11 points to start the game, which had to have McCarthy a bit concerned. But let’s not forget, he has arguably the best quarterback in the game in Aaron Rodgers, who’s always cool under pressure and never gets rattled.
Rodgers – with some help from a strong running attack – was able to pull the Packers out of a rough first quarter and some change, and put Green Bay in the lead at halftime, 17-11. The second half of the game spoke for itself, as Green Bay was able to race even further past Washington, and onto a big road playoff victory at FedEx Field.
“I just think that – all three phases performed and had production,” McCarthy said. “That’s what it takes to win, especially in the playoffs. The (Washington) Redskins are an excellent football team and playing in their home stadium, and then the next challenge is always bigger as you advance in these playoffs. Obviously, coming back to Arizona is going to be a great challenge for us.”
When the cameras catch Rodgers smiling and having a good time playing a kids game, then you know things must be going right for the Packers at that particular moment, and they were against the Redskins.
McCarthy says Rodgers’ attitude is infectious, obviously in a good way for the Packers, when he’s rolling like that and he’s loose and he’s having fun like he did in Landover, Md., this past Sunday.
“He’s (Rodgers) so competitive in everything he does, and obviously when he’s cutting it loose like that, it’s an energy that the rest of the team feeds off of,” McCarthy said. “He’s our quarterback. He’s our best player on the team and clearly one of the best players in the league. He’s definitely the man that we feed off of.”
Green Bay’s on a short work week, with the Redskins game happening just a few days ago, and the Cardinals game taking place on Saturday night in Glendale, Ariz. McCarthy says the team will have to condense a lot into the next four days, both classroom wise and field practice wise, plus hop on a charter flight Friday afternoon, and head back out to the desert for the second time in a little over two weeks to face the Cardinals, who embarrassed them two days after Christmas.
“Obviously, it was a one-sided game when we were out there a few weeks ago,” McCarthy said. “So, we’re focused on the things that we obviously didn’t do a very good job in and we’ve had a chance to apply that, not only to this game, but to the last couple games we’ve played in. We’re clearly going through our preparation; a little bit of a sprint today, coming off the night game and then a six-day week. But, everything we’re doing this week, we’re preparing to win and we expect to win when we get out there.”