Sunday, December 11, 2011
Packers 'going to try to go for this thing'
By Kevin Seifert
The Packers don't plan on letting up even if they secure home-field advantage in the playoffs.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- I know you. I know your name and I know what you were thinking Sunday.
My dear Nervous Nellie, you cringed almost as much as Green Bay Packers receiver Greg Jennings early in the third quarter of Sunday's 46-16 romp over the Oakland Raiders. You saw Jennings limp off the field with a left knee injury, watched quarterback Aaron Rodgers treated rudely a few times with the Packers comfortably ahead, and you proceeded to scream at the top of your lungs for the Packers to lock up all 22 starters and keep them off the field until the playoffs start next month.
I understand where you're coming from, Nellie. The Packers are 13-0. They've won the NFC North, secured a first-round bye in the playoffs and are one victory -- or one loss by the San Francisco 49ers -- from clinching home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Some Packer fans want to make a run at an undefeated regular season, but Nellie, you're not one of them.
Well, Nellie. This might not be good for your blood pressure, but I left the Green Bay locker room Sunday evening convinced that the Packers aren't planning any major changes to their starting lineup if they clinch home-field advantage. They'll be driven in part by a possible 16-0 record, but mostly by an approach that coach Mike McCarthy articulated quite succinctly after Sunday's game: "We don't play scared."
Jennings appeared to be in substantial pain immediately after the injury. He put no weight on the leg as he left the field. Teammates carried him from the sideline to an examining table, where Jennings put a towel over his head and eventually rode to the locker room on a cart. McCarthy tentatively termed the injury a sprain pending more tests, but no matter the severity, Jennings doesn't have much time to recover with the Packers' first playoff game five weeks away.
But neither an injury to the Packers' Pro Bowl receiver, nor three sacks and four other hits on Rodgers, will impact the Packers' thinking. Defensive lineman B.J. Raji, for one, said there is little doubt about where the Packers are headed.
"I think I can speak for coach in that he's going to try to go for this thing," Raji said.
Aaron Rodgers took a number of hard hits in the Packers' blowout win.
Later, Raji added: "You don't win a Super Bowl by being scared. You just play. That's the message [McCarthy] is preaching. Just play the game because … 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."
Nellie, you and your friends might consider those sentiments to be irrelevant bravado. But the Packers believe its part of their essence. It's why they won their final six games of 2010, culminating in their Super Bowl XLV victory, and to them it explains the extension of that winning streak to 19 games in 2011. They are on one of the greatest rolls in NFL history and don't appear interested in changing the formula.
"The script doesn't change for us," McCarthy said. "… 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 beat. If you had asked me six years ago, I would have said the same damn thing. … We expect to win every time we take the field, and I would think that every team thinks the same thing."
If I had to pick five players the Packers should protect once they clinch home-field advantage, Jennings would be among them. But in all reality, the elephant in the room is Rodgers. He has been a durable starter since taking over the job in 2008, but if there is one thing that could derail the Packers' 2011 train, it's….
I won't even say it. I don't want Nellie getting all worked up again. Sunday, Rodgers was playing behind an offensive line that featured a rotation of Marshall Newhouse and Derek Sherrod at left tackle, to mixed results. He took two hard hits from the backside, among others, before leaving with 3 minutes, 40 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
"It's football," McCarthy said. "If you think your quarterback is going to go through the game and not get hit, it's not realistic."
Said Rodgers: "There's risk every time you take the field. We're going to keep playing the way we're playing. We have that next-man-up mentality."
Rodgers was one of several players to reference that mindset, and cornerback Charles Woodson said: "There is not going to be any excuses on this team about why we can't win."
It might make you nervous, Nellie, but the Packers are full steam ahead.
I think they'll be smart with some of their injured players, as they were Sunday with linebacker A.J. Hawk -- who was in uniform but not needed Sunday and thus got an extra week to rest his strained calf. But it sure doesn't look like the Packers plan to mess with success. Their foot is on the accelerator, and they don't want to know what could happen if they release it.