GREEN BAY – Injuries galore, young players thrust into difficult roles, four straight losses.
With everything that was happening to his Green Bay Packers through the season’s first three months, Head Coach Mike McCarthy liked one quality about this team more than any other.
“They never blinked,” McCarthy said.
Five straight wins later, this steady-as-she-goes squad is in position to win the NFC North title with a victory at Detroit next Sunday night.
The Packers will watch the Lions play Monday night against Dallas, and while Detroit can clinch a playoff spot of its own with a victory, the outcome won’t impact the division race at stake next week.
Meeting with the media on Monday, two days after the Packers improved to 9-6 to set up the NFC North showdown, McCarthy reflected on the makeup of the 2016 Packers.
He said he had no qualms about the character of this group of players when he stood in front of them at the start of the regular season. It was things like their demeanor, attitude and commitment he kept coming back to during the rough patch in November, when the progress McCarthy was seeing was unfortunately not translating into wins.
In “staying the course,” as McCarthy has so often talked about, the team’s positive characteristics became the foundation for the turnaround.
“This group, you could see definitely they have a little bit of an edge to them, and you have to have that,” McCarthy said. “You need a little tension in the culture. That’s healthy. You can’t grow without energy like that.
“I always liked that about them, but they don’t swing too high or too low emotionally, and they compete their (tail) off.”
That said, the Packers haven’t won anything yet, but the team should benefit from an extra day of rest after playing on Saturday. The Lions, meanwhile, will be on a short week after Monday night’s road game.
Health-wise, McCarthy didn’t have any updates on receiver Randall Cobb (ankle), cornerback LaDarius Gunter (elbow) or right tackle Bryan Bulaga (shoulder), but the two late sacks against the Vikings from clubbed-up outside linebacker Nick Perry were a good sign for him heading into Detroit.
So were the impactful plays from fellow outside linebacker Clay Matthews, who looked as strong as he has in a month in drawing a third-down holding penalty and recording a strip-sack, two batted passes, and other pressures.
Also, cornerback Damarious Randall was nearly a game-time scratch due to a shoulder injury but stepped in for Gunter and hung tough, particularly on a deep sideline breakup against Vikings receiver Cordarelle Patterson.
“I like the way our guys battled,” McCarthy said. “Our guys are scrapping away, and hopefully we can get healthy for Detroit.”
McCarthy also would like to see the ground game get back in gear. After a dynamite rushing performance against the Bears, the Packers managed just 27 yards on 13 carries from Ty Montgomery and Christine Michael, the only source of frustration on a 38-point offensive day.
“We didn’t run the ball very well against the Vikings,” McCarthy said. “That’s something we’ll correct today. You need to run the ball this time of year, regardless of who you’re playing and where you play them
“We’re going to spend a little extra time to make sure we’re doing the things right, the discipline of it, because obviously, it’s a one-game season.”