GREEN BAY—As the only defeat suffered by either the Packers or Seahawks since mid-November, Green Bay’s loss in Buffalo a month ago is a major reason Sunday’s NFC Championship is being played in Seattle.
Green Bay lost control of the No. 1 seed that day, ceding it to the Seahawks by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker from Week 1.
But the Packers may have gained something that day, too.
Roughly 24 hours after the defeat, Head Coach Mike McCarthy said the loss needed to make his team “better in the end.” Still needing at least one more win to secure a playoff berth, McCarthy had the players vote for six playoff captains prior to their next scheduled workout.
It was a bold move, even though the odds of it backfiring weren’t great given the Packers’ position and an upcoming game at two-win Tampa Bay. More important, McCarthy set the agenda for his team on multiple fronts.
First, there would be no lamenting the likelihood that the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC wouldn’t go through Lambeau Field anymore. Next, the expectation was that this team would not only get to the playoffs but stay on track to achieve everything it wanted to.
“I thought it was a great move by a great coach,” rookie center Corey Linsley said. “That’s the stuff you see great coaches do, not get hung up on the loss to a team we didn’t want to lose to.
“How much that loss meant is obvious now, but they don’t even worry about that. ‘Let’s move on to the next game. We’re going to the playoffs. Let’s get there.’”
The players bought in, in different ways. Linebacker Clay Matthews said straight out, “I don’t think it was premature.” Some took it as a confidence boost. Others took it as a motivating kick in the rear.
“We still had a couple games we needed to win, and for him to do it at that point in time, it was kind of like, ‘OK, we have to go now,’” running back Eddie Lacy said.
McCarthy referred to it this week as “creating opportunity for leadership,” but it wasn’t just about the fact that Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, Julius Peppers, Morgan Burnett, Randall Cobb and Jarrett Bush would be wearing “C’s” on their jerseys for as long as the season lasted.
It meant more than that. It helped the team turn its focus from what was lost to what could be won, which was a fourth straight NFC North title and a first-round playoff bye. It upped the urgency at a time it would have been natural to wallow temporarily in disappointment.
“It was trying to give us a little bit of a spark,” veteran kicker Mason Crosby said. “We knew what we needed to accomplish. We’re all very mature and aware of what the situations are.
“We could still control what our reality is. ‘Let’s take this now, we’re looking for the playoffs, but let’s play like we’re already there.’”
The Packers did that, taking care of business against the Buccaneers and then avenging a Week 3 loss to the Lions at home.
The maturity McCarthy trusted his team possessed notably shined through in a high-stakes Week 17 game, and in the playoff victory over the Cowboys last week. McCarthy has talked in the past about the Packers not handling the emotional swings of postseason games very well, particularly in the 2011 and ’12 divisional round losses to the Giants and 49ers, respectively.
Last week, they held fast against Dallas when they fell behind by scores of 14-7 and 21-13. Perhaps they were hardened emotionally by dealing with the ups and downs against Detroit involving Rodgers’ exit from the game and his uplifting return.
As a result, the Packers now are right where they planned to be, battling the defending champion Seahawks for the NFC title.
The consequence of the loss to Buffalo is that the Packers must play the game in Seattle. The immediate aftermath of that loss might be the reason they’re in the game at all.
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