GREEN BAY — When retracing the origins of the Packers’ second-half turnaround, many pundits point towards Green Bay’s win in Philadelphia in Week 12 as the beginning.
After all, that 27-13 victory is when the Packers snapped a four-game skid and began an eight-game winning streak that has propelled Green Bay to its fourth NFC Championship appearance in the last 10 years this Sunday in Atlanta.
However, Julius Peppers believes it started even earlier than the win over the Eagles. Echoing what Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently said regarding the Packers’ offensive outburst, Peppers saw a shift during the team’s 42-24 loss to Washington on Nov. 20.
The result can be deceiving, especially after Washington pulled away in the fourth quarter, but there was progress to be found in the performance.
“Before we even started the winning streak, I thought we were building that confidence,” Peppers said. “I thought we had it going into the Redskins game, honestly. I thought it was kind of the turning point in that game, where we went into that game with a lot of confidence. I think we thought we were going to win that game and it started building from there.”
Peppers, celebrating his 37th birthday on Wednesday, was steadfast in his belief that the Packers would turn things around throughout the losing streak.
After each loss, Peppers stood in front of the media and expressed confidence the team would solve this. His faith stemmed from what he saw on the practice field.
Players were still upbeat and positive around the facilities. Nobody on the coaching staff panicked. All parties were motivated to figure out what ailed the team during a trying November stretch.
Then, the winning streak started against the Eagles. The offense began clicking and the defense started taking the ball away left and right. After giving up a combined 89 points to Tennessee and Washington, the Packers held their next six opponents to only 112 points (18.7 per game).
Peppers said he’s still adjusting to the rep count the team has had him on this season, which includes not practicing on Wednesdays. However, he has seen his workload spike with five sacks over an eight-game stretch.
He finished the regular season with 7½ sacks, second on the defense to Nick Perry’s 11.
“I think we’ve grown a lot since the season has went along,” Peppers said. “We had a rough stretch back around the midpoint of the season where we were just in a funk and we couldn’t get things going right.
“I think that’s where the most growth came. We grew through that adversity. I credit that little stretch more than anything to the success and getting over that hump, so to speak.”
Speaking at the podium in the Lambeau Field media auditorium on Wednesday, Peppers fielded a bevy of questions regarding his future and quest for an elusive Super Bowl ring.
Neither topic is something he’s actively thinking about at the moment. Peppers says his focus is on the Atlanta Falcons and earning a return bid to the Super Bowl after going with the Carolina Panthers during his second NFL season in 2003.
Like many young players, Peppers thought he’d be back soon after the Panthers lost to New England 32-29 in Super Bowl XXXVIII, but he’s learned nothing is guaranteed.
While Peppers says it’s not something he’s concentrating on, his teammates want nothing more than to give one of the game’s great pass-rushers another shot at the Lombardi Trophy.
“It’s exciting that we’re able to get back to that and he’s a part of the journey,” said Perry on Monday. “Hopefully, we can get this win for him and get that hardware on our hands. It’ll be even sweeter. I think we had a tough road but it’s all coming to an end and I think it’s ending the right way.”
Peppers says the key for the Packers this season has been trusting the process and never abandoning ship. When adversity hit, the team stayed together and grew closer.
That mindset started with the loss in Washington and who knows how far it will take the Packers. As Peppers points out, however, there is no road to Houston without a win in Atlanta.
“I’m not thinking about it too much. I’m just trying to dive into the preparation,” said Peppers of a possible Super Bowl. “You can’t necessarily worry about the outcome too much.
“Preparation is what’s going to give you the confidence to go out there and perform. That’s what we’ve really tried to dive in and hone in on that because that’s the most important thing at this point, not any storybook ending and stuff like that.”