GREEN BAY—When it comes to playoff rivals for the Green Bay Packers, three teams come to mind.
The New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, and yes, Dallas Cowboys.
In the Mike McCarthy era, Green Bay has added new chapters to the playoff histories against the Giants and 49ers, and they haven’t been fun to read.
Now, the Packers get their chance to change a postseason narrative against the Cowboys that hasn’t seen a new storyline for nearly 20 years, and this latest edition will feature the first cold-weather playoff showdown between the teams since the Ice Bowl.
“This is a rivalry that’s been around for a long time,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “We know it means a lot to the fans and we hope to give them a good show.”
New York and San Francisco turned the tables on playoff plots Green Bay previously controlled.
Four NFL title-game triumphs over the Giants between 1939 and 1962 were long over by the time New York returned to Lambeau Field for the 2007 NFC title game and ’11 divisional round to record significant upsets.
The Packers also had won four of five playoff meetings with the 49ers between 1995 and 2001, the lone loss courtesy of a miraculous, last-second Terrell Owens TD catch. Then San Francisco bounced Green Bay from the playoffs each of the last two years.
McCarthy was just getting his NFL coaching career started in Kansas City when the Cowboys dismissed the Packers from the playoffs three straight seasons from 1993-95. Historically speaking, that dominance was payback for the 1966 and ’67 NFL Championship games won by Green Bay.
None of that will matter when the two teams line up Sunday afternoon at Lambeau. But if it’s time for the Packers to flip this script back in their favor, it will happen by playing McCarthy’s brand of playoff football, which is to say the kind of football that got them here.
“When you get to this point, you are who you are, and we like who we are,” McCarthy said.
That’s been the case often in January with the Packers. The problem is they haven’t performed to that identity regularly enough.
Three years ago, the last time the Packers earned a playoff bye, the offense had established a new franchise low with just 14 turnovers in a 16-game season. Then the unit proceeded to turn the ball over four times in the loss to the Giants.
Last year, an offense that had been money in goal-to-go situations with Rodgers couldn’t punch it in during the fourth quarter and could only tie the 49ers with a field goal. Then, a defense that prides itself on snagging interceptions when it gets its hands on the ball dropped a potential game-changing pick, and Green Bay lost on a walk-off kick.
Major opportunities were lost in ways the Packers didn’t normally lose them. That’s what made the endings so tough to take.
“I think you do cherish them,” receiver Jordy Nelson said of any postseason chance. “I realized that the year we lost to the Giants after the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl run was awesome, then how quick it was over.
“At this point in time only one team is going to be happy. That’s part of the business, and we understand that. I think if you go out and play good football, you’ll be able to live with the results. But in years past, we haven’t played good football. That’s the disappointing part. We just have to make sure we execute and play good football and we’ll be in the position we want to be.”
This year, the Packers lowered that 2011 turnover record to just 13, and while Rodgers’ calf is certainly a question mark, offensively the Packers are better built for January than they’ve ever been under McCarthy. They just rushed for 152 yards against the league’s No. 1 run defense, with Eddie Lacy becoming the only back all season to reach 100 against the Lions.
They also have shored up, beginning with Clay Matthews’ move inside, a run defense that was a major problem in the season’s first half. Those improvements must hold true against the league’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray.
Overriding all of that is the fact that the Packers have been the best home team in the NFL all season long.
“This is an opportunity this week to bring our game that we’ve established over the course of the season, and create an opportunity next week,” McCarthy said. “We feel like we’re going to go out and play Packer football and do what we need to do to win this game.”
They are who they are, and they like who they are. No more important time than now to play like it.
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