GREEN BAY—If there’s one most valuable trait of the 2012 Green Bay Packers, it has been resiliency, and they need it now more than ever.
The Packers have soldiered on through injury after injury, espousing the “next-man-up” mantra without fail. More important, they’ve endured losses of all sorts – unjust (Seattle), inexcusable (Indianapolis) and humbling (N.Y. Giants) – yet dug deep enough to rebound every time.
Now, they face a bounce-back situation of the utmost necessity. Six days after losing at the wire to a rival that prevented them from having this weekend off, they must find a way to beat that team to keep their season alive.
The ultimate test of resolve – Packers vs. Vikings in the NFC Wild Card playoffs – begins at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Lambeau Field.
“There’s no better way to rebound from a tough loss than to hit the field the very next week,” left guard T.J. Lang said. “I think it will be good for our team.”
The Packers and Vikings have met only once before in the postseason, in the 2004 Wild Card round at Lambeau, won by the Vikings.
This time, the third-seeded Packers are looking to advance to play at No. 2 San Francisco next Saturday. Meanwhile, the Vikings are trying to copy the Packers’ formula of two years ago, using a hot streak and win-to-get-in game against a division rival in Week 17 to become sixth-seeded road warriors. A Minnesota victory would send the Vikings to No. 1 seed Atlanta next Sunday, a familiar path the Packers have no interest in paving for their border foe.
“You can tell there’s a definite sense of urgency with the guys this week, flying around at practice, being very verbal in the meetings and stuff,” Lang said. “Everybody’s fired up.”
Urgency was the word the Packers used after blowing a 21-3 halftime lead to the Colts with a then-unbeaten Texans team up next. A decisive victory in Houston sparked a five-game winning streak.
That same word buzzed following a four-touchdown loss to the Giants, and the Packers proceeded to sweep all three NFC North opponents in consecutive weeks to snag their second straight division title.
Urgency is a given in the playoffs, so the resiliency this time will have to be rooted elsewhere.
One source will be the team’s experience. The Packers are in the playoffs for a fourth straight year, and only a handful of rookies who will take the field Saturday night are new to the NFL playoff scene.
“I just think there’s a lot of good leadership in this locker room and, hopefully, we’ll get another one of our big-time leaders back in Charles,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, referring to 15-year veteran Charles Woodson, who is set to return from a broken collarbone following a nine-game absence.
“If Charles can play this week, that would be great for our defense.”
Therein lies the other source – this team’s balance.
Last year’s 15-1 juggernaut was a one-sided squad, with a seemingly unstoppable offense upon which victory depended too much. A disheartening defense was opportunistic at best, unreliable at worst, and a return trip to the Super Bowl was unceremoniously denied.
This year’s 11-5 Packers have been hardened by circumstance. They’ve won games a variety of ways, with trick plays on special teams, stretches of dominant defense and long, fourth-quarter drives to extend leads.
“Our guys have responded. That’s what I really like about our football team,” Mike McCarthy said. “We’re a very well-rounded football team. One unit picks up for the other when the other one needs some help, and it will probably be no different on Saturday night.”
It can’t be any different, not at this time of year. There are no more opportunities to bounce back. Additional coverage - Jan. 4