Hunt: Rodgers' return could spark Packers postseason run

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Michael Hunt
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Tuesday, December 31, 2013

At the risk of breaking the Hyperbole-o-Meter’s needle, Sunday seemed like Lew Burdette shutting out the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1957 World Series, Bart Starr sneaking into the south end zone at Lambeau Field in the Ice Bowl, Oscar Robertson finishing off Baltimore in Game 4 of the NBA Finals and George Carlin getting arrested at Summerfest all rolled into one delicious cheese curd.

It was the Bears. It was the Bears at Soldier Field. It was for the division. It was for a home playoff game at Lambeau. It was two of the Packers’ best players making The Play that saved the season in the closing seconds.

It was exhilarating.

But let’s slow down and take in a big, ol’ lungful of perspective now that it is time to move on.

The 8-7-1 Packers are facing another elimination game Sunday against one of the best four or five teams in the NFL.

The only question that matters now is if they can do it again and keep it going, because the only thing that matters in Green Bay is the number of Lombardi trophies in the glass case.

Of course they can.

Losers of five of their last games, the Packers also are the hottest team going into the playoff because of one important number.

And that would be 12.

Aaron Rodgers came back at precisely the right time. The last regular-season game, the one that has already found a prominent spot in 94 years of Green Bay football, knocked off the surface rust, got the interceptions out of his system and gave everyone around him the confidence that this second four-game season can be had.

Right now, the Packers are the worst nightmare for the other tournament teams. A healthy Rodgers, a healthy Randall Cobb, a healthy Eddie Lacy and a healthy offensive line should be enough to cover the holes that might prevent another team from running the table at the right time.

The Packers still do not tackle at a championship level. A leaky defense is missing Clay Matthews and Johnny Jolly. But one of the biggest myths in all of sports is the cliché that defenses win championships. Defenses put teams in the position to win championships. Offenses, especially 21st-century offenses, carry the day.

The 49ers had the second-worst passing offense Sunday before Colin Kaepernick went medieval on the Arizona Cardinals. Just as it was fashionable to anoint Kaepernick the quarterback of the future last season, it was just as trendy to write him off this year. As usual, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The Milwaukee kid who utterly destroyed the Packers in the playoffs last season is hot at the right time. He is capable of doing it again, but it is important to remember that San Francisco still leads with its defense. In what should be the most important matchup of the day, I’d take the full-strength Packers offense at home.

Ultimately, the worst thing the Bears did to the league was allowing Green Bay to recapture the momentum and confidence it had going after Week 10. Just before some guy rolled over on Rodgers’ collarbone, the Packers had it going to the point that they believed they were the most dangerous team in the league.

They just might be that team right now. As they proved with Rodgers in 2010, they are comfortable on the road in the playoffs. They will have a warmish-weather team in frightening conditions. Lacy is running downhill. Rodgers is fresh.

Residual euphoria doesn’t carry over in the NFL. That is for the fans. Making plays with playmakers in the playoffs is the thing, and the Packers are as ready as they’ve ever been.

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