Mike McCarthy reminded his players of the scenario at the start of this week.
Two seasons ago, the Packers were facing a winless team coming off a bye. With Josh Freeman making his first NFL start at quarterback for Tampa Bay, Green Bay suffered a maddening 38-28 road loss to the 0-7 Buccaneers.
It might have been the worst loss in McCarthy’s six seasons as head coach.
This week, it’s the 0-4 St. Louis Rams coming off a bye and into Lambeau Field. The Rams have their up-and-coming quarterback in Sam Bradford, and a chance for a new start.
“Anybody in this league that has two weeks to prepare for you definitely creates a bigger challenge,” McCarthy said. “That’s the message and that’s the focus.”
The message appears to have gotten through despite the Rams’ woeful rankings of 31st in the league in total offense and 27th in total defense.
“What we’re watching on film, they’ve had a chance to sit back and watch themselves, as well,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “They’ve evaluated themselves and said ‘We have to fix these things.’ They’re going to come out with some fresh, new ideas. We have to be on high alert.”
McCarthy no doubt also reviewed with his club exactly how they lost to a winless team two years ago – via self-inflicted wounds.
Tampa Bay returned a blocked punt for a touchdown when a missed assignment allowed a punt-rusher to run free right up the middle.
Immediately after the Packers had taken a 28-17 lead early in the fourth quarter, Green Bay allowed an 83-yard kickoff return that jump-started the Bucs’ comeback, which featured 21 straight points to close the contest.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw three interceptions, one of which was returned to the Green Bay 8-yard line to set up a TD and another was returned for a score to end the game.
In other words, the Packers must be on alert with regards to themselves as much as with their rested opponent.
“They’re going to have a special plan for us,” Rodgers said. “I think our preparation, keeping that the same is how you prevent whatever you call it, a letdown or overlooking a team.”
Just for kicks, it’s interesting to note that the Buccaneers wore their throwback orange creamsicle-colored jerseys that day in Tampa. The Packers are wearing their 1929 historic replicas on Sunday.
For a throwback player, look no further than the one guy who may have a chance to slow down Green Bay’s prolific passing attack – former Packers cornerback Al Harris.
Recovered from a devastating 2009 knee injury that would have ended a lot of careers, Harris is back for a 14th NFL season as one of four former Packers returning to Lambeau Field. The others are linebacker Brady Poppinga, cornerback Josh Gordy and running back Quinn Porter, who was in training camp with the Packers as an undrafted rookie last season.
Harris is the one likely to have the biggest impact on this game. The Packers receivers know exactly what to expect from the bump-and-run technician.
“Lots of press coverage,” receiver James Jones said. “Watching him on film, he’s playing well, running well. His strength is bump-and-run, and he’s over there telling those guys he knows us a little bit and knows how we play.”
For more Packers-Rams stories from the past week, click here.