GREEN BAY – The Packers got no outside help in their quest for a playoff spot on Sunday. The only thing that went right was their victory over the Seahawks.
To Mike McCarthy, that’s the only thing that mattered.
“We’re all about play style and production. We can’t control what’s going on around us in the league or in the division,” McCarthy said on Monday, less than 24 hours after his team improved to 7-6 with its third straight win.
“We have to play to our play style and play to our strengths and improve, and we’ve done that the last couple weeks. So, as long as we do that, everything else will take care of itself.”
McCarthy’s focus is on taking care of the Bears, a team he sees as one on the rise despite a 3-10 record. Over the last four weeks, Chicago has lost to the playoff-contending Giants, Titans and Lions by six points or less each time, with a convincing win over the 49ers in between.
In turning the Packers’ season around, McCarthy credited his team’s “resiliency and commitment” and its ability “to keep working and keep grinding” through injuries, uncertainty, and rough moments.
As the Packers have gotten a little healthier and young players have improved, they’re playing their best when it matters most.
“We’re getting ready to play an opponent that emulates that also,” McCarthy said of the Bears, who didn’t turn things around soon enough to talk playoffs but who aren’t the same bunch that bowed out meekly at Lambeau Field, 26-10, two months ago.
“Chicago is playing its best football of the year. They’re healthier than they clearly were when we played them last time.”
Backup quarterback Matt Barkley has settled into the starting role, rookie running back Jordan Howard has become dangerously productive, and rookie linebacker and first-round pick Leonard Floyd has returned from injury to spark the defense.
The Packers are much different, too, of course. McCarthy joked his team “didn’t have any running backs” for the first Bears meeting, and since, second-year pro Ty Montgomery has taken the reins in the backfield.
As close as he’s come to a formal position announcement, McCarthy declared on Monday that Montgomery is a running back and hasn’t been to a position meeting with the receivers in months.
That said, there will still be offensive packages for running backs James Starks and Christine Michael as well, and who’s featured will depend on how games unfold.
More critical on offense will be the health of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a subject McCarthy had no update on. Rodgers is dealing with hamstring and calf injuries now in opposite legs, but he had enough mobility within the pocket – even though he couldn’t flat-out scramble out of trouble – to be very effective against Seattle.
“I’ll see him here shortly,” McCarthy said regarding an upcoming QB meeting. “I’m not sure how he’s feeling today.”
The Packers’ defense is certainly feeling better about itself. A unit that surrendered 154 points in a four-game losing streak has now allowed just 36 in a three-game winning streak.
Getting healthy at cornerback has been the biggest difference, as Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins have returned from groin injuries to re-establish a pecking order that was in flux from the moment Sam Shields’ season ended in Week 1.
Five interceptions on Sunday, all from defensive backs, composed a surge of playmaking the defense had been missing for stretches this season.
“We’re getting some continuity,” McCarthy said. “We were challenged there in the secondary, about a month and a half, a position pretty much depleted in our corners. We were playing really, really young players.
“If we can keep players in the same positions, we’ll be better as we move forward.”
McCarthy actually feels his team faces a bigger challenge now, channeling its success in the right way, than it faced during the four-game losing streak.
“Four in a row makes you pull your character out of your gut and show everybody what you’re about, and I think our football team has illustrated that in good fashion,” he said.
“The reality is we have to improve from the contest yesterday. We didn’t do everything right now. We won, we won big, but there’s a lot of things there we can learn from.”
The last thing McCarthy is going to allow is any distraction from playoff talk swirling around the Packers, not when his team just got back above .500 for the first time since Halloween.
“If you get 10 wins, let’s talk about the playoffs. Until then, it’s all white noise,” McCarthy said. “We obviously know where we are. We’re 7-6, so until we get to 10 wins, let’s not even talk about it.
“With that, we’re going to focus on our play style and improve, and we’re going to need it. The Bears are playing very well. We need to stay focused on the Bears and we will.”