GREEN BAY – It was the first thing Aaron Rodgers said when he stepped to the podium.
“We’re 4-4 and we’re one game back in the division.”
It wasn’t an attempt to put a positive spin on a 31-26 loss on Sunday to the Colts at Lambeau Field. It was simply a statement of reality, and after a deep breath and an intense evaluation of a disappointing home performance by the Packers, it’s a reality they need to embrace.
Yes, the Packers blew a chance to pull even with the Vikings at 5-3 and stay ahead of the Lions at 5-4. Instead, they’re in third place for the first time this season.
But regardless of the results through the first half of 2016, it’s a three-way dogfight for the NFC North crown, and the Packers are right in the middle of it.
“It’s one of those years in the North possibly,” Rodgers said.
It was also one of those games Sunday that left the Packers’ veteran quarterback searching for answers. The film will show the good and the bad as far as execution, but it won’t show the emotion.
Rodgers repeatedly addressed the team’s lack of energy in Sunday’s loss, and he couldn’t explain it.
“I have no idea. I don’t understand it,” Rodgers said. “This is what we get paid to do is to bring it every week. I hope the guys would say they bring it every week.
“I’m not a rah-rah guy, but I’m a focused, enthusiastic player. I don’t know what the lack of juice was. I felt that over the entire sideline. We didn’t have the same kind of encouragement we had the last two weeks. We have to look deep in the mirror. That’s not acceptable.”
Asked if the Colts returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown was a factor, Rodgers didn’t dismiss it but emphasized that was just one moment that needed to be overcome.
“That didn’t help, but we have to be mentally tougher than that,” he said.
This is when a team will turn to its veteran leaders, explicitly or implicitly. On offense, that’s mostly Rodgers, guard T.J. Lang and receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, who scored Green Bay’s final touchdown on his iffy hamstring after sitting out the first half.
On defense, among many it’s Mike Daniels, Morgan Burnett, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring problem, and his unit has missed him. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s performance on Sunday likely has elevated his status as well.
“It’s everybody’s job,” Rodgers said of bringing the needed energy throughout a game. “We all have to be mentally tougher.
“How you deal with adversity says a lot about the kind of players you got and the kind of team we got. We have to respond a little bit better.”
The response will have to start on the road, with three straight away from home starting this week. The talk now will be about becoming road warriors, the team galvanizing for this tough stretch.
With Rodgers at QB, the Packers haven’t lost two home games in a season this early since 2009. That’s also the last time Green Bay was 4-4 at the midway point, and back then a road loss to previously winless Tampa Bay became the wake-up call and the season’s turning point.
Veterans like Mark Tauscher, Scott Wells, Ryan Pickett, Charles Woodson and Nick Collins helped forge a 7-1 turnaround in the second half. They were the leaders, among others, the younger Packers turned to.
That team started a five-game winning streak with two home wins, but this one doesn’t have the schedule in its favor. What it does have is final shots at both the Vikings (at home) and the Lions (on the road) in Weeks 16 and 17.
“We have to put ourselves in a position to even have those conversations,” Rodgers said. “We have three tough ones on the road, starting with Tennessee. We have to bring more energy and more juice, and find a way.”
While Rodgers joked that the banged-up backfield needs to find someone besides himself who can get a rushing touchdown, the emotional issue is no laughing matter.
With Rodgers having taken it on like he did, it’ll be the storyline of the next week, and the quarterback didn’t seem to think that would be a bad thing.
“Hopefully it wakes people up enough that it’s important,” he said. “We feel it. It’s not something that’s some mystery. You feel the energy and the excitement and the focus, and it just wasn’t where it needed to be, and that’s on everybody, myself included.
“We have to find a way to get guys dialed in.”
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