GREEN BAY, Wis. ? The Green Bay Packers are going to go for it. And apparently, there?s nothing that?s going to stop them from trying. Certainly nothing that happened on Sunday.
Not seeing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the presumptive NFL MVP, absorb some wicked shots. Not watching Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings, his arms slung around the shoulders of Donald Driver and Randall Cobb, unable to put any weight on his injured left knee before leaving the field on a cart. Not having run-stuffing veteran defensive lineman Ryan Pickett and up-and-coming running back Brandon Saine both diagnosed with concussions.
So 16-0, here they come.
?Nothing?s going to stop this train,? veteran cornerback Charles Woodson said matter-of-factly. ?That?s our thought. We understand guys are going to go down. No excuses.?
The Packers routed the Oakland Raiders 46-16 Sunday at Lambeau Field, improving to 13-0 on the season and putting them three victories away from a perfect regular season. The victory clinched a first-round bye in the NFC playoffs and brought them one step closer to the conference?s No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the postseason, which would mean the road to Indianapolis and Super Bowl XLVI would go through Green Bay. A victory next Sunday at Kansas City or a loss by the San Francisco 49ers would do the trick.
And once that No. 1 seed is secured ? presumably next week against the Chiefs (5-8) ? it sure sounds like coach Mike McCarthy won?t sit the likes of Rodgers or any of the team?s other can?t-live-without-?em stars for the final two weeks of the regular season.
How do we know this? Because in the pantheon of memorable McCarthy quotes ? ?We?re nobody?s underdog,? ?We?ve got our foot on the gas, hands on the wheel, we?re looking straight ahead,? and ?We feel that this is our time, and Sunday will be our night? were the unforgettable ones on the road to Super Bowl XLV last year ? you can add this one from Sunday:
?We don?t play scared.?
Thus, even if the Packers clinch that No. 1 seed and have nothing to play for in their final two regular-season games against two division rivals ? the Chicago Bears on Dec. 25 and the Detroit Lions on Jan. 1 ? don?t expect McCarthy to play it safe.
?Like any decision that you make, you don?t fly by the seat of your pants,? said McCarthy, whose team has now won 19 straight games including playoffs, the second-longest streak in NFL history behind the 2003-?04 New England Patriots? 21 consecutive victories. ?You look at all the information involved, all the variables involved and you look at the options. And that?s what we do every week. This week it?s about beating the Chiefs and winning homefield advantage all the way through. That will be the mindset of our football team.?
With both the Bears and Lions fighting for a wild-card berth, there?s an argument to be made that the Packers need to keep their rivals out of the postseason, and it?s a valid one. The Bears certainly wish they?d have successfully kept the Packers out of the playoffs with a victory in the regular-season finale last year. If they had, Chicago might have been celebrating its second Super Bowl victory, rather than Green Bay hoisting its fourth Lombardi Trophy.
But this isn?t about anyone but the Packers, and how McCarthy ? who has said repeatedly that he has a plan for those games, a plan he won?t divulge just yet ? believes his team must go about its business.
?I think I can speak for coach in that he's going to try to go for this thing,? defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. ?I know Coach. You don't win a Super Bowl by being scared. You just play. That's the message he's preaching. Just play the game because it's the game. That's the way you're supposed to play it. You're not supposed to be playing a game and looking at all of these scenarios of who you want to play. That's not how football is supposed to be played. Generally, if you do things the right way, hopefully you get some luck in the injury thing.
?You have to respect the game of football. Obviously we're in a great position. We're 13-0. We have a lot of things wrapped up. But ultimately you never accomplish anything great by being scared. We have an option to go either way, but if you want to make history and do some things that haven't been done in a while, you have to take a chance.?
Other than injuries like the one suffered by Jennings, which had Rodgers hoping after the game to have him back for the first playoff game Jan. 14 or 15, it certainly appears that nothing can stop the Packers at this point. Certainly not the Raiders (7-6), who came into the game tied atop the AFC West with the miraculous Tim Tebow-led Denver Broncos and left town one game out of first place after falling behind 34-0 to the Packers.
?Obviously we didn?t play very well on either side of the ball or on special teams, and when you play against the best team in football, that is what is going to happen,? Raiders first-year coach Hue Jackson said. ?You can?t turn the ball over five times, commit 11 penalties and think you have a chance to win a game.?
As bad as the Raiders were Sunday, the Packers certainly helped make them look that way. On the sixth play from scrimmage, rookie linebacker D.J. Smith picked off quarterback Carson Palmer ? the first of Palmer?s four interceptions on the day ? and two snaps later, veteran running back Ryan Grant went 47 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead. Rodgers then got the ball back and marched the offense 80 yards in 10 plays, capping the drive with a 4-yard touchdown to rookie tight end Ryan Taylor.
It was over after that.
The Packers settled for a field goal on their third possession, then Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson on a 37-yard touchdown on their fourth series to make it 24-0.
But then, in about a 10-minute span of scoreboard clock time, the crowd of 70,524 and the CBS television audience was reminded of how injuries could derail a historic run ? even one by a team that set the standard for overcoming adversity last season.
It began when the Packers took over with roughly 8 ½ minutes left in the first half, as Rodgers was drilled for a 6-yard sack by Raiders defensive tackle Tommy Kelly. Two snaps after that, Rodgers went deep to Jennings on third-and-1 and was hit low by defensive end Jarvis Moss. Rodgers was OK, though, and the drive ended in Grant?s second touchdown run of the day.
Then, after the Raiders went three-and-out and their fake punt failed, the Packers had a first-and-goal play from the Oakland 8. Rodgers dropped back and linebacker Aaron Curry came unblocked from Rodgers? left. It was unclear whether left tackle Marshall Newhouse or fullback John Kuhn, who got a small piece of Curry as he closed on an unsuspecting Rodgers, was responsible for him.
Whatever the case, Curry blindsided Rodgers, and while the ball came loose and was eventually ruled an incomplete pass upon replay review, the hit was a prime example of how it only takes one play to potentially ruin a special season.
?There?s risk every time you take the field. We?re going to keep playing the way we?re playing,? said Rodgers, who finished the game having completed 17 of 30 passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for a season-low passer rating of 96.7. ?We have that next-man-up mentality, the guy who steps in needs to play well. Some of those guys who are getting more playing time than usual need to make sure they?re prepared to play and play well.?
Said McCarthy of the seven quarterback hits and three sacks Rodgers absorbed: ?That?s football. To think a quarterback?s going to go through the game and not get hit is not realistic?
And what is realistic? A 19-0 season.
?We?d like to win the Super Bowl, so if that means winning every game then so be it. We take the field to win games around here,? outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. ?We were able to do that tonight and hopefully we?re able to do that in the weeks to come. But at the same time, you have to be smart with your team, if you already have your goals locked up. We?re that much closer to having everything that we can as far as goals that are attainable with this regular season. I know the players on this team like winning, I like winning and hopefully we continue to do that around here.?
And that, apparently, is the plan.
?It?s the game of football. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves,? McCarthy said. ?We?ve got to prepare each week. We?ve got to get ready for the Chiefs.
?The script doesn?t change for us. We go out there each week and then by the time Friday rolls around we focus on ourselves, and get ready to play. As long as we?re taking care of things and keeping our focus on improving the quality of play, I don?t think we can be beaten. And you could ask me that six years ago I would have said the same damn thing. That?s the way we think around here.?
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