GREEN BAY—Every year is different and every team is different.
It’s a phrase bandied about often in the NFL, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers had an interesting take on how that applies to this year’s Packers.
“This group seems to be a little hungrier,” Rodgers said on Wednesday, four days before the Packers host the Cowboys in the NFC divisional playoffs. “We’re a few years removed now from the Super Bowl, and there’s a lot of guys who weren’t part of that run who are big contributors for us.
“It’s fun to see those guys and their hunger to get there.”
Numerically speaking, 36 players on the current 53-man roster were either not in Green Bay or on injured reserve when the Packers won Super Bowl XLV.
Thirteen of them were starters two weeks ago vs. Detroit, when the Packers secured their first playoff bye since 2011.
That leaves 17 players, including nine current starters, who were part of the Super Bowl run four years ago. Rodgers, of course, is one of them, and he suggested they may be realizing that time is passing them by.
Players have spoken all year about how the right combination of youth and experience is present on this Packers team. It could be that same combination that will serve them well in the postseason.
“We have the same drive,” Rodgers said. “As a veteran who’s been there, it might be even greater than the young guys who don’t really realize how special these times can be. We’re one of four remaining teams in the NFC, and we have a great opportunity in front of us.
“There’s an expectation around here that it’s Super Bowl or bust, from our fans, and we don’t want to let them down.”
Rodgers put any doubts about his playing status to rest by declaring definitively that he’ll play despite a nagging calf injury.
It’s still up in the air how much, if at all, he’ll practice this week. Mike McCarthy said he’s mentally “on top” of everything and “into the game plan,” after Rodgers sat out Wednesday’s workout. The Packers opened the doors to the Hutson Center and practiced in a 22-degree chill, only slightly higher than Sunday’s game-time forecast.
While everyone, Rodgers included, would prefer that he could practice, his teammates aren’t concerned about any lack of timing or sharpness when Sunday rolls around.
“There’s been times in the past he hasn’t done much (during the week),” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “We’ll run our routes like we always have, he’ll have his timing down, and I think it’ll be pretty smooth. We’ve had a lot of years together that it won’t be an issue.”
The Packers are more concerned with a Dallas defense that ranked first in the NFC with 31 takeaways in the regular season. The Cowboys added three more in the second half of their wild-card victory over the Lions last week for a total of 34 in 17 games.
Fifteen of those takeaways have come via fumble, which the Packers’ film study has told them are the result of extra tacklers rallying to the ball to either get it out or be in position to pounce on it.
“You don’t want turnovers, period,” said running back Eddie Lacy, who lost the ball twice in Week 17 against the Lions, though on one he was ruled down. “Now, in these conditions, as running backs we’re looked upon to carry most of the load. Ball security is always at a premium, and that’s just what it is.”
The Packers are confident in their ability to protect the ball, as their franchise-low 13 giveaways this season show. They’re equally confident in their running game supporting a potentially immobilized Rodgers after rushing for 152 yards against Detroit’s league-best run defense.
A fresher Lacy has helped, as the second-year running back is healthier than he was down the stretch last season while also handling fewer carries, and hence less punishment, this year.
Lacy’s tackle-breaking, powerful style was in full force two weeks ago against Detroit, and the Packers look for that to continue in the playoffs. As much as anything, that’s perhaps a visible sign of the hunger to which Rodgers referred.
“Bouncing off guys and continuing to fight, especially when running backs take so many hits over the course of the season … when a guy can still do that in Week 17, it’s unbelievable,” rookie center Corey Linsley said.
“We’ve built a lot of continuity over the past couple months. All in all, I think our run game is at an all-time high in terms of confidence level.”
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