Long-awaited win brings confidence back to Green Bay

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Michael Hunt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, December 9, 2013

GREEN BAY—The last time snow and the Atlanta Falcons simultaneously appeared at Lambeau Field, disastrous results befell the home team in the playoff loss that ended the 2002 season.

This time, with bitter cold and flurries again sweeping the tundra, the Packers might have made a postseason team of themselves.

For once in the post-Aaron Rodgers epoch, the defense made stops—two massive ones, as a matter of fact, by Jarrett Bush—when they needed them. And the offense finally made plays when they needed them with a quarterback not wearing No. 12.

The sum total of the 22-21 victory on Sunday against the Falcons should give the Packers enough confidence and momentum to overtake the backpedaling Detroit Lions in the last three regular-season games, especially if Rodgers comes back.

That’s what the first successful experience since Oct. 27 should do for a team that was never as bad as its 0-4-1 record suggested without Rodgers.

“I forget what it felt like (to win),” coach Mike McCarthy said.

The swagger is back.

“I like our opportunity in Dallas,” McCarthy said. “It’s great the Lions lost and we’re happy about that, but we’re all about the Cowboys.”

There is also the matter of the Chicago-Dallas game Monday night before the Packers venture into the Abomination of Arlington.

“We hope they beat the heck out of each other,” McCarthy said.

Matt Flynn, a backup finally worthy of Rodgers’ shadow with timely throws against the Falcons, is feeling it, too.

“We know we’re a good team,” Flynn said. “We know we can play with anyone in the NFL. Hopefully this gives us momentum moving forward. … I know (Rodgers) is itching to get back at it. He gives us the best chance to make this run.”

It was, as McCarthy said, a character win.

Just think about all the Packers had to overcome.

First, the weather. “Packers weather” is a complete myth. The Packers don’t practice on Lambeau’s winter-hardened turf. It’s 70 degrees in the Hutson Center, just as it would be indoors or out for a Southern team. Both the Packers and the Falcons coped well with the elements, all things considered.

Second, the breaks. Instead of kneeling with the ball near the end of the first half, McCarthy chose to throw with a 14-10 deficit. What happened next was one of those YouTube specials you could not recreate with a million tries. The ball bounced off a Falcons defender’s foot and into the arms of a teammate. While most everyone in the stadium assumed incompletion, Sean Weatherspoon was loping 71 yards the other way.

It was almost like the Franco Harris thing, except on defense and without the drama.

Which led to the third thing, being booed at home. I don’t blame the 77,500 who were predisposed to be grumpy with the weather and the fact that the Packers’ season looked pretty much over. McCarthy made it a point in a locker room that, by most accounts, was reasonably upbeat despite the bizarre turn that gave the Falcons halftime momentum.

“I liked this football team at halftime,” McCarthy said. “They were getting booed at home. But they never flinched and stayed the course. It was a character win and we needed it.”

After giving up 21 points in the second quarter, 14 of which were by turnover, the defense that has stopped virtually no one since Rodgers went down did not allow the Falcons to score again. And Flynn wasn’t in there to replicate Rodgers, only to be efficient enough (24 of 32) to move the chains and keep the ball away from Matt Ryan.

“It felt good to be able to move the ball and complete some passes, have some success in the passing game and get the victory,” Flynn said. “Personally, it helps confidence in myself and hopefully confidence in the team around me.

“This was a complete team win. You saw all the smiles coming off the field in the locker room, and I think that’s what we’re most excited about. When we had to have a stop, we got a stop. When we had to have a score, we got the score.”

The Bears, and most likely the Lions, have blown the opportunity while Rodgers was away. If he returns, the Packers will have a second chance to unleash the potential that returned Sunday for the playoffs.

Michael Hunt is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email him at mhunt@journalsentinel.com.

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