DETROIT – Now there’s another table to run.
As the Packers validated their quarterback’s belief that they could “run the table” over the final six weeks of the regular season, the attention immediately turns to how much longer the run can last.
As hot if not hotter than any team in the playoff field, the Packers earned a home game in the first round by winning the NFC North title on Sunday night at Ford Field. The Giants will be coming to Lambeau as the opponent that had represented the Packers’ most significant regular-season win until the home stretch.
When the Packers were 4-6, that win over New York seemed like ancient history, and it won’t really mean anything come next Sunday either.
What matters is how the Packers are playing now, and how the team has rallied behind Aaron Rodgers’ bold proclamation that “turned out to be a shot in the arm,” to quote one of his many references to the moment.
“Sometimes what you have to do as a leader is exude confidence when it seems to the outside world that confidence shouldn’t exist,” Rodgers said after another masterful performance that included 300 yards, four touchdown passes, and a 126.0 passer rating.
“I believed in myself and my abilities but I also believed in this team. It wasn’t just a shot in the dark. It was an optimistic belief in my teammates that we were going to start handling adversity better.”
The injury adversity continues to pile on these Packers, but there’s no better evidence that a deep playoff run is possible than the play of Rodgers.
Not only has he posted three of his four best passer ratings this year over the final quarter of the season, but it’s plays like his fourth-quarter TD pass to undrafted rookie receiver Geronimo Allison that generate real belief, not just hope, that this team is as dangerous as any.
With the Packers trying to add to a scant 17-14 lead and facing third-and-9 from the Detroit 10-yard line, Rodgers pulled a start-and-stop scramble drill to his left and finished by firing to a diving Allison in the back of the end zone.
How a defense is supposed to stop that is anyone’s guess.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy called it one of the best “extended plays” of Rodgers’ career, and it’s hard to argue. Just listen to the QB talk about it.
“I wanted to get all the way outside, but I needed to deke the defensive tackle there into thinking I was stopping,” Rodgers said. “After that, I tried to get outside, and I just tried to put it in a good place for Geronimo to make the catch. I didn’t see the catch.”
He didn’t need to. The Green Bay sideline reaction told him the result. Plays like that will make no one want to deal with Rodgers and these Packers in the postseason.
“The momentum of winning, it is contagious,” Rodgers said. “You have that feeling now when you get into a game, that you don’t have during a losing streak, where you expect to win. You expect to win when you take the field. That’s an energy you can feel in the locker room, on the field in pre-game.”
Rodgers said much of the difference comes down to “situational football” – converting big third downs, scoring touchdowns in the red zone, getting key stops on defense.
But the difference is also him and the escape jobs and heady plays he makes. He ducked under a dead-to-rights sack in the first half and snagged an unexpected shotgun snap that deflected off his leg in the second half. He completed passes on both plays to move the chains.
Rodgers reiterated on Sunday night the hunger and chemistry he senses in the locker room, and how proud he is “to go to work with these guys.”
No confirmation is needed that the feeling is mutual, and these Packers will go to work with Rodgers for as long as they can this winter.
“Mike stayed the path,” Rodgers said, crediting the head coach for his steadfastness through the tough times as well. “When the storm was upon us, upon him, about his job, his job security, and about myself and my leadership, and about our teammates and the way we would respond to a four-game losing streak, we stuck together.
“It’s been fun to do it the way we did it the last six weeks.”
A few more weeks could be even more fun.
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