OK, so the mustaches aren’t exactly handsome. Aaron Rodgers looks like he should be co-starring with Dirk Diggler and Chest Rockwell somewhere, and Mike McCarthy can’t be happy with the amount of gray stubble that seemed to be sprouting in the same place where a dark, thick ‘stache once grew during his first tour of duty in Titletown.
Nevertheless, when they look in the mirror, the Green Bay Packers quarterback and head coach’s facial hair follies (follicles?) must seem like a pretty good metaphor for what their football team is doing right now.
The mustaches may not look good, but they’re accomplishing something important – raising awareness for men’s health through the Movember campaign. Their team’s victories might not be particularly stylish – the latest being Sunday’s rough-and-tumble 24-20 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field – but they’re adding up to a five-game winning streak, potential control of the NFC North and turning around what could have been a lost year amid a dispiriting start and injuries to key player after key player.
“We’ve won a lot of games here together,” Rodgers said after engineering a fourth-quarter come-from-behind victory, delivering a 22-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb with 1 minute 55 seconds to go “In the past, these are games that you probably come up on the other side, but because of the success that we’ve had, and (because we) understand what it takes to win, these games are now in the win column for us."
Indeed, just about everything that could have gone wrong for the Packers (7-3) Sunday did, and the Lions (4-6), in dire straits, failed to do the things that the Packers somehow managed to.
“Disarray probably isn’t the right word,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford insisted. “But obviously (we) just didn’t play our best against a good football team and didn’t come out with a win.”
The Packers, meanwhile, did, despite their long injury list, a rejiggered offensive line, an offense that looked out of sync for much of the day, an avalanche of penalties (nine for 80 yards) and kicker Mason Crosby’s worsening struggles (two missed field goals, including a 50-yard attempt he actually missed twice).
“That was a tough, hard-fought division victory. All victories are obviously good wins (but) division wins are special wins,” said McCarthy, who improved to 6-1 in post-bye games, 30-9 (including playoffs) against the NFC North (including 10 victories in a row) and 12-1 overall against the Lions.
“Really, our theme all week as a football team was about, ‘Just keep playing.’ Frankly, I didn’t tell the team this, (but) games coming off a bye week always make me a little nervous because you are out of the fire for 14 days. The bonus, obviously, is you’re well-rested.”
And now, they’re well-positioned. If the first-place Chicago Bears (7-2) lose on Monday Night Football to the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers and Bears will share the division lead, with the Packers holding the temporary tiebreaker by virtue of their Sept. 13 head-to-head victory at Lambeau Field.
“We won five in a row, beat some good teams along the way and position ourselves after tomorrow night, we could be in the driver’s seat,” Rodgers said. “Either way, we’ve position ourselves for a run here down the stretch. And we know our best football needs to be played in the next coming weeks.”
That could very well happen, with wide receiver Greg Jennings (abdominal muscle), safety Charles Woodson (broken collarbone), outside linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), running back Cedric Benson (Lisfranc foot sprain) and cornerback Sam Shields (ankle) all returning sooner or later, and the team finding a way to win without its “A” game week after week. While their Oct. 14 victory at Houston, which started this run, might’ve been a masterpiece, their victories over St. Louis, Jacksonville, Arizona and Detroit have been hard-fought.
“It says a lot about the character of the team. A lot of our best players are not playing, and yet we’re still finding ways to win games, guys are coming in and playing great football,” old veteran defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “That’s our motto, for real – next man up. We believe in everybody in our locker room, and they’re proving it. Players are proving themselves.”
And the tough-guy Lions are imploding. On Sunday, not only did they fall to 4-6 overall and 0-4 in the division, they also had coaches arguing on the sideline (TV cameras caught receivers coach Shawn Jefferson screaming at offensive coordinator Scott Linehan near the end of the game) as they blew leads of 10-7 and 20-14 in what certainly felt like a must-win game for them coming in.
“Anytime you’re not successful, nothing’s going to look good,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “I thought there were times when we hit on things really well, but we didn’t do enough to win. Anytime you don’t do enough to win, it’s going to look that way.”
The Packers, meanwhile, did the opposite, doing just enough.
“That’s why good teams win these kind of games. We’re a good team,” McCarthy said. “I felt that we grew as a team today, which frankly is my only focus. It’s about winning but also growing. I thought we definitely took a step in both directions.”
On their third offensive series, Rodgers (19 of 27, 236 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 106.4 rating) capped an 11-play, 81-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown to forgotten man Jermichael Finley.
Down 10-7 at halftime after Crosby’s two misses just before the break, the offense went nowhere on its first possession of the third quarter, but Jennings saved the day and gave the Packers the lead at 14-10 with his pick-six off a Stafford pass that caromed off of tight end Tony Scheffler’s hands.
When the Lions had a 17-14 lead and a first down at the Packers’ 10-yard line, the defense stiffened, forcing Detroit to settle for a Jason Hanson field goal that kept it a one-score game at 20-14 with 4:25 to go.
When the offense absolutely, positively had to deliver, it did – as Rodgers and Finley hooked up on a 40-yard gain to set up Cobb’s go-ahead touchdown catch with 1:55 to go.
And on the Lions’ last-gasp possessions, the defense got a four-and-out stop that set up Crosby’s 39-yard field goal with 19 seconds left, then made sure there’d be no Hail Mary, last-second miracles (or controversies) by securing the victory.
“It’s big for us. We’ve got so many guys out right now, (and yet) we’re able to still come out with a win,” Cobb said after catching a team-high nine passes for 74 yards and the decisive score. “Obviously, it wasn’t our best game, we didn’t play to the level we know we can play to, we didn’t execute our offensive game plan. The defense played tremendous with guys out. They made plays for us when we needed them.
“We overcame. That’s a big confidence boost moving forward, to know that we’ve been put in this situation and can come out on top.”
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.