There was no way the Green Bay Packers were going to allow a bad NFC West team beat them at their house.
The Packers thrashed the San Francisco 49ers 34-16 Sunday at Lambeau Field, surprising no one. That is what playoff contenders do in December. They take care of business at home against inferior opponents, and move on.
The Packers are heading into the final quarter of the regular season in good shape, despite their No. 7 playoff seeding and second-place position in the NFC North.
It’s not so much where the Packers stand now, but where they can potentially end up in four weeks when playoff berths are decided.
For now, Packers coach Mike McCarthy refuses to entertain any postseason thoughts. “Until you get to 10 wins, you’re just wasting time, you’re wasting conversation,” he said. “You need to keep your focus on the next game.”
That’s a reasonable and less frustrating approach. Otherwise the Packers might worry themselves sick after winning five of their last six games, improving to 8-4 and yet failing to gain ground on the division leading and red-hot Chicago Bears, who are riding a five-game winning streak.
It’s better for the Packers to look inward at things they can influence rather then fret about outside forces beyond their control.
“Right now our focus is here,” said running back Brandon Jackson. “We have to continue to win and on Jan. 2, then that’s when we’ll focus on the Bears.”
That’s the date of the regular-season finale when the Packers and Bears collide at Lambeau. If the Packers prevail in that game and forge a division tie, they have a good chance of winning the tiebreaker over the Bears if it comes down to conference record or strength of victory.
Until then, the Packers must do what they can to keep up with the Bears’ torrid pace.
“We can’t help what they do,” said cornerback Tramon Williams. “Obviously they’re winning. They’re getting by.
“However they’re getting the wins, they’re winning. And their defense is good. So we just can control what we can do and that’s pretty much going out every week and hope to get wins.”
More victories are possible based on some promising signs against the 49ers.
♦ For the fourth time in five games the Packers didn’t commit a turnover, and if they continue playing clean football, good things will likely follow.
♦ Aaron Rodgers is playing in a zone that few quarterbacks have approached. He posted a fourth straight passer rating of 110 or above, something achieved only twice before in franchise history.
♦ The windy, cold weather had no bearing on Rodgers and the Packers’ passing game. With three cold-weather games remaining, the Packers will need their air attack operating efficiently.
♦ The Packers’ much-maligned rushing game erupted against the 49ers’ top-10 run defense. Rookie James Starks made an impressive debut with 73 yards on 18 carries, and the Packers pounded away with repeated success in short-yardage situations. Their 17-play, 74-yard game-sealing drive in the fourth quarter was accomplished with only three passes, an indication the Packers are capable of chewing up yardage and the clock on the ground when necessary.
♦ The No. 1-ranked Packers’ scoring defense was stingy again, forcing the 49ers to settle for field goals three times deep in Packers’ territory.
“We’re playing good football right now,” said McCarthy. “But good isn’t good enough, as we know. So we want to be playing our best football. That will be our challenge. That will be our emphasis.”
In December and January games under McCarthy since 2006, the Packers have posted a 12-6 record. That’s one more reason to believe the Packers are headed to the playoffs, even if they don’t want to talk about it just yet.
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Press-Gazette.