Once the Green Bay Packers’ team charter was wheels-down at Austin Straubel International Airport Sunday night, the process of moving on was underway. By Monday morning, coach Mike McCarthy was already using his favorite word – positive – to send his team in the right direction.
As disappointing as their 37-34 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday had been – especially since it cost them the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round postseason bye – the Packers had no time to feel sorry for themselves. With those same Vikings coming to Lambeau Field on Saturday night for an NFC Wild Card playoff game, the work week was underway.
“I mean, there’s nothing but positives right now,” McCarthy said at a 7:45 a.m. press conference, on a day when players were technically off but had an option lift and could come to the stadium if they wanted to.
“This is playoff football, and really, yes, we had every intention of winning the game in Minnesota (Sunday). OK, it didn’t work. I’m not just fluffing it by, but you have to, because the door is open for the playoffs to begin. We’re one of six teams that have the opportunity to fight to go to New Orleans (for Super Bowl XLVII), and that’s what we’re focused on.
“This is a whole different deal. This is the time of year that our players live for, work for. We have a high percentage of players in the locker room that have been there every year the last couple of years, so they know what this is all about.
“It’s the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who we play, where we play them. We feel confident that we’re going to get it done and do whatever we need to get it done.”
While the onward-and-upward theme was predictable – “We have no choice at this point,” defensive tackle B.J. Raji correctly pointed out – it was also necessary with the shortened work week. McCarthy said the team would practice Tuesday afternoon, then Wednesday and Thursday mornings, doing all of its normal installations. The players will have a mandatory weightlifting session on Tuesday morning, and the team will gather at noon to officially kick off their week.
“We’ve been through some adversity this year, moreso than probably in the past, and I felt like we dealt with it very well throughout the year,” left guard T.J. Lang said. “Knowing these guys, these players, these coaches, we’re going to be ready to go – get this game out of our minds and get ready to prepare for them next week.”
It will help that the Packers will be prepping for the Vikings for the third time in a month: The Packers won at Lambeau Field, 23-14, on Dec. 2.
“We know who our opponent is. The preparation for our opponent should be pretty clean,” McCarthy said. “We just got ready for the Vikings here last week. We’re obviously focused on (Sunday’s) game. We’ll make our adjustments to get our team ready to go. But this is about playoff football, and you’ve got to do all the little things all the time for four quarters, and that’s one thing we can learn from (Sunday).”
Whether or not the rematch is a good thing was a matter of opinion. In the visitors’ locker room at the Metrodome, opinion had been mixed.
“We’re in the playoffs now, so you play who you are seeded against. The road got a little tougher having to play on opening weekend, but we’ve got a home game and that’s why you win the division,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers replied when asked if he wanted a rematch. “You get to go back home and the game will be a different type of game. They won’t have the home-crowd advantage and hopefully that will make a difference.”
Others were anxious to get another shot at the Vikings and running back Adrian Peterson, who followed up a 210-yard effort on Dec. 2 with a 199-yard effort Sunday, which left him eight yards short of Eric Dickerson’s 1984 NFL single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards.
“As long as we’re in the playoffs, it really don’t matter who we play. Obviously, it’s a team we play twice a year so it’s going to be a lot of recognition out there,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We’ve got the Vikings next week, (so) bring them on. Bring them on. Obviously, they have to go to Lambeau and hopefully we can go out and put together a better performance that we did.”
Added inside linebacker A.J. Hawk: “We need to find a way to come back and use the momentum that we have built up from the rest of the season. Obviously, it’s not the way we would have liked to finish it but we’re not going to sit here and pout about it.
“It’s a different world in the playoffs. This is a true test of being a pro. To sit here and feel bad for yourself and get mad and point fingers at each other, then you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs, anyway. … Any time a team does that to you, you want to find a way to fix it. I don’t want to call it redemption, but playoffs are a one game season every time you step on the field. We’re looking forward to it.”
This isn’t the first time the Packers have faced their Week 17 opponent the following week in the opening round of the playoffs. At the end of the 2009 season, the Packers went to Arizona for the regular-season finale and knew before kickoff that there would be a postseason rematch the following week. Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt pulled his starters while McCarthy played his, and the Packers won the game that didn’t matter. The next week, the Cardinals won in dramatic fashion, advancing with a 51-45 overtime victory.
It’s also not the first time the Packers have faced an NFC North opponent in the postseason. In 2004, the Packers swept the Vikings in regular-season play but lost in the NFC Wild Card round at Lambeau Field. And in 2010, the Packers split their regular-season series with the Chicago Bears before beating them in the NFC Championship Game to advance to Super Bowl XLV.
In that instance, the Bears could have kept the Packers out of the playoffs by beating them in Week 17 at Lambeau Field. Instead, the Packers won, and the Bears lived to regret it. McCarthy’s task is to make sure the Vikings don’t return the favor.
“It’s different because there’s a familiarity. There’s a lot more tape. You’re watching it over and over and over again. You can call out the plays just as soon as they start,” McCarthy said. “Those are the things you have to be cautious of, but at the end of the day playoff football is about fundamentals.
“Football’s football. Like I tell the team, it doesn’t matter who comes out of that tunnel, I don’t care what color they have on. We’ll know what their tendencies are, we’re going to make them line up a certain way on offense, and on defense we’re going to line up the way they line up. It’s about fundamentals (and) matchups, and that’s what we’re focused on.
“We’re playing at home, it’s going to be a great environment. Fans, I know you’re going to be there. ... The Vikings obviously have done a great job to get into the tournament, and we respect that, but this is a different deal. This is what everybody’s been fighting for, and this is what we’re excited about.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.