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Sunday a must-win for Packers

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November 20, 2013

This is strange, foreign territory for players inside the Green Bay Packers’ locker room. When they go to meetings, watch film, practice it’s all to the disturbing backdrop of three straight losses.

Wasn’t this sinking feeling reserved for other franchises? The Green Bay Packers’ season is nearing its breaking point. In November.

So coach Mike McCarthy made it clear to the team Monday: Treat Sunday like a playoff game. Treat every game from this point like a playoff game.

“We lost three straight tough ones,” right guard T.J. Lang said, “and we can’t really afford to lose any more. I think everybody understands where we’re at. Our backs aren’t against the wall, but we’re pretty damn close.”

So heck, yeah there’s a heightened sense of urgency, says McCarthy. The Packers’ MVP quarterback is down. The NFC North has become a three-team race. But in three straight games, the Packers finished in the fetal position. The time for talking, players say, is over. The time for soul-searching testimonials is over.

Players do talk to each other, James Jones assures. Every day. But this nosedive speaks for itself. There won’t be any immortalized speeches this week.

Urgency reaches Code Red on Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

“At some point, you just have to go out there and do it,” Jones said. “The talking thing is kind of over, you know what I mean? You lose three in a row, there’s not much more that you can say. You’ve said all you can say after the first one. Then, you say a little bit more after the second one.

“Now, after you lost the third one, you just have to go out there and find a way to win.”

The mood Wednesday was serious. There wasn’t any joking around through practice, Jones said. He sees a different look in players. He senses a different tone. Defensive end Mike Daniels, comically scrunching his shoulders upward, assures players aren’t too uptight. But he agreed there’s less humor this week.

Against the division’s 2-8 bottom-feeder, a team the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers should beat, everyone knows what’s at stake.

The last time Green Bay lost three games in a row was Rodgers’ first season as the starting quarterback, 2008. Only 13 percent of the roster was around then. As Jones said, “everybody in this locker room is used to winning.” Many players have, indeed, built a sense of confidence, maybe even cockiness, that fed a run of 38 wins in the 48 games before that Monday night nightmare against Chicago. They expected to win.

“When you start losing, especially when you lose three in a row, you have to depend on your veterans,” Jones said. “And some way, somehow, no matter who we take that field with, we have to find a way to get a win.

“No more excuses. Just find a way to get a ‘W.’”

The Packers have faced put-up-or-shut-up games before under McCarthy. In 2009, the 4-4 Packers knocked off the 6-2 Dallas Cowboys, 17-7, to recharge their season. They proceeded to win seven of eight games and made the playoffs. In 2010, the 3-3 Packers exorcised demons against Brett Favre at home. Then, at 9-6, they dominated the New York Giants to spark a Super Bowl run.

Lang was around for both seasons. There will always come a point when a season feels like it’s heading south, when, as he said, “you’ve really got to crack down and start playing your best football.”

In a sense, he’s surprised the Packers haven’t dug themselves a deeper hole. They’re one game out of first place in the division.

“But we understand that with six games left there’s really no more room for error,” Lang said. “It’s time to start playing our best football as a team and doing anything you’ve got to do to get a win because, like Coach said on Monday, this is really starting to turn into a playoff atmosphere. We can’t really afford to lose any more games.

“That’s kind of been our mind-set, going into these games feeling like the underdog, like it’s us against the world, and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to get a win.”

Added tight end Andrew Quarless, “Coach addressed it Monday. It’s a playoff urgency we need. Every single last one of these games count. So it’s kind of like we have to win all of them.”

The reason this swoon feels so different is that the Packers haven’t reached this crossroad before without Rodgers. He’s the one who led turnarounds years past.

Leadership doesn’t come from one individual inside the locker room. Players repeat it’s a collective effort. As Quarless explains, there is a player council composed of three offensive and three defensive players. So far, no one has called a players-only meeting.

Again, not much needs to be said. A loss to a team whose quarterback situation has reached weekly lows of discombobulation would be devastating.

“The way I look at it—it’s clear for me—you put the rest of the games, good or bad, in the past,” rookie defensive end Datone Jones said. “We have to take care of business this week. That’s my only focus.”

When a question of just how devastating a loss would be begins, Jones cuts it off.

“We’re not looking to lose,” he said. “We’re being paid to win. That’s our job.”

If the Packers were sleepwalking at all before, they can’t afford to anymore. Instead of racing ahead of the pack in the NFC, they’re in survival mode.

More than anything, players are tired of discussing injuries, discussing solutions, discussing anything.

Sunday, the pressure rises.

“It starts now. It starts today,” James Jones said. “We have to find a way to get a win.”



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