It’s a quality that has served them well in multiple respects as they head into a potential playoffs-or-bust regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
First, the team has shown the ability to overcome as many if not more significant injuries than any team in the league this year. The Packers have seen 14 players go on season-ending injured reserve, including six opening-day starters and a handful of key reserves. Other starters, and even some of the replacements for the original starters, have also missed games here and there.
Statistically speaking, opening-day starters have missed a collective total of 77 games, not including the contests in which they got hurt. Over the course of 15 games, that’s an average of five starters missing each week. Reserves and fill-in starters have missed nearly that many more games.
That’s the 2010 obstacle with a capital ‘O’ that has required a combination of factors to overcome, keeping the Packers in contention all season long. The roster depth built by General Manager Ted Thompson and his personnel department, week-to-week coaching adjustments by McCarthy and his staff, and an unwavering no-excuses attitude amongst the coaches and players have all helped get the team to 9-6 with a playoff berth to fight for in this final week.
“It just speaks for the guys on the team, how hard everyone’s been working, just how everyone’s been staying at it and not giving up,” said rookie right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who stepped in as one of the new regulars following veteran Mark Tauscher’s season-ending shoulder injury four games in. “When a couple guys go down here or there, not everyone just puts their head down. The guys that are behind them step up and play good football.
“A lot of it is Coach McCarthy. He does a great job putting the offensive scheme together every week. He’s a great head coach. He helps put together the team obviously too, so he picks the guys on the team with Mr. Thompson as well. They put the pieces in place, and then it’s up to us to go out there and execute.”
And therein lies the rub. Because for as much as this 2010 season has been about rising above repeated misfortune in the injury department, at this point it’s being analyzed just as much, if not moreso, as one of missed opportunities.
All six of Green Bay’s losses have come by either three or four points, and whether playing shorthanded or not, that’s a lot of chances to win that have slipped away. There have been late-game turnovers and penalties, overtime failures, last-minute drives that don’t quite reach the end zone, and the list goes on.
“I wouldn’t say we’re too proud, because even with all the injuries, we still should have won some of those games we lost,” receiver James Jones said. “We put ourselves in this position and we’ve got to dig our way out. We still hold our own destiny, so we have to go out here and get a win, get in the playoffs.”
That’s yet another reflection of the Packers’ resiliency, albeit of the double-edged-sword type. This Green Bay team has been forced to bounce back psychologically from a number of tough defeats, but losses they see as ones of their own making.
“We feel very confident with the guys in this locker room that we’re going to be competitive every week,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “But you look at the games we’ve lost, it’s self-inflicted wounds most of the time.”
Still, the team rebounded from back-to-back overtime losses in Weeks 5-6 to knock off NFC North rival Minnesota in a down-to-the-wire game that jump-started a four-game winning streak.
Then after losing three of four games beginning in late November, the Packers came out last week needing a win to stay alive for a playoff spot and put together their best performance of the season in whipping the fellow Wild Card contending Giants.
Perhaps the previous game, at New England, said as much about this team as any and set the stage for last week. Traveling to play the hottest team in the NFL in a stadium where Tom Brady seemingly never loses and with backup quarterback Matt Flynn forced to take the reins from Rodgers, it would have seemed acceptable to take some pride in pushing the Patriots to the limit in a 31-27 setback.
But this team was downright frustrated, if not angry, it didn’t win that game, and psychologically it simply absorbed another tough loss from which to move on. It wasn’t about taking pride in anything, because the pride was left on the field with an admirable but ultimately unsuccessful performance.
The internal message the players took from that loss was they still weren’t playing well enough, and continuing to push ahead helped produce the dominant showing that followed upon returning to Lambeau. Now the message is that more of the same is needed, with everything in the big picture still there for the taking.
“We set a goal back in March as a team, no matter who’s out there, and we’re still fighting for that goal,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “I guess you could say we’ve done a great job based on injuries, but we don’t want any moral victories. We want to complete our goal that we set back in March.
“It’s a fun time. We all know our backs are against the wall. This is Game 2 of our playoff stretch, and we know it’s win or go home. With the guys we have on this team, with the character, this is a game we embrace. The animal instinct inside all of us, we’ll come to fight.”
McCarthy’s resilient bunch wouldn’t know how to react any other way.
“It obviously starts with your head coach and your leadership with the guys in the locker room, and he’s done a good job of keeping us focused each week on the different themes and things he wants to emphasize,” Rodgers said. “This is a group that has a lot of confidence in each other and plays well together.
“But unfortunately we just haven’t been as consistent for the entire season that we would have liked to. We’d love to be sitting here clinching a berth and maybe playing for the division. But the fact of the matter is we have a chance to still get in the tournament and do some damage if we can take care of business at home this weekend.”
Additional coverage - Dec. 29