Packers at home on the road
For the third consecutive week, the Green Bay Packers will play on the road in the NFL playoffs as they travel to Soldier Field in Chicago to take on the Bears in the NFC championship game Sunday.
The road has been kind to the Packers the first two games of the postseason as they’ve defeated the No. 2- seeded Philadelphia Eagles in the wild card round followed by the No. 1-seeded Atlanta Falcons in the divisional round.
“The road doesn’t scare us,” said coach Mike McCarthy. “We feel we’re a very good road team.”
With a win over the Bears, the Packers would become the first team in the history of the NFC for a sixth seed to advance to the Super Bowl.
The 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers are the only other team to accomplish such a feat—and win the Super Bowl—albeit on the AFC side of the bracket.
In fact, the Packers would also become the first team in the history of the NFC to defeat No. 1, 2 and 3 seeds on their way to qualifying for the league’s game to be played on Feb. 6 in Arlington, Texas.
As the lowest-seeded team in the NFC, the Packers knew they’d have to take care of business on the road if they were to earn football’s ultimate prize.
“We feel comfortable on the road,” said linebacker A.J. Hawk. “We feel comfortable wherever we are. We love playing at Lambeau. But we knew getting into the playoffs that wasn’t going to happen. We knew that last home game against Chicago was the last one of the year here.”
The Packers compiled a disappointing 3-5 record on the road during the regular season, including the Week 3 loss to the Bears, although it’s evened out to an equal 5-5 performance when including the postseason.
McCarthy credits the routine he’s established over his five years as head coach as one of the primary reason the Packers have been able to be successful away from home.
In such hostile environments, the head coach also recognized the team’s ability to communicate as an explanation for why they’ve been effective.
“Offensively, we start day one in training camp, managing crowd noise, and so playing on the road is not that
big of a deal to us,” said
McCarthy. “I think our guys have done an outstanding job with the communication. It’s going to be a big part of playing in Soldier Field on Sunday.”
In previous weeks, McCarthy has lauded the communication between quarterback Aaron Rodgers and center Scott Wells as a reason the offense has operated so efficiently.
Perhaps evidence of that is the Packers’ three total offensive penalties in the first two rounds of the playoffs—two at Philadelphia and only one at Atlanta.
Wells, in turn, acknowledged the job the coaches do in order to function at such a proficient level in an opponent’s stadium.
“It’s tough in the NFL to go on the road and get wins,” said Wells, “but I think our coaching staff does an excellent job of keeping us focused not on what the opponent does or what the possible distractions are, but more focused on what we need to do.
When the Packers step into Soldier Field on Sunday, the road-game aspect will take on a whole new level because of the historical implications of playing a hated rival.
Wide receiver Greg Jennings says the fans help the players realize the significance of playing division foes such as the Bears.
Growing up in Michigan, Jennings was raised as a Barry Sanders fan and wasn’t exactly privy to the extent of the Packers-Bears rivalry. He even acknowledges having friends on the Bears, so it’s the fans that get him ready to play in enemy territory.
“Seeing the fans, how they react to the Bears and the Vikings and things like that, it’s probably more of a rivalry for the fans than it is for the players,” said Jennings, “and they really get us revved up and ready to go each time we play.”