Green Bay Packers punt returner Tramon Williams cuts back against the New England Patriots' Rob Ninkovich during the second quarter at Gillette Stadium in Foxboroug, Mass., on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010. Even after the loss, Williams insisted he was ready to head right back out onto the field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The sting of the Green Bay Packers’ 31-27 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night at Gillette Stadium was still fresh as players sat silently in the locker room, staring at the floor.
No one seemed to know about the good news, even after another heartbreaking defeat.
Several players perked up when informed that despite dropping to 8-6, the Packers will make the playoffs if they win their final two games.
“Is that the case?” said linebacker A.J. Hawk. “So we don’t need any other help?”
No, the Packers’ playoff destiny is right where they want it, in their control. They need to beat the New York Giants next week at Lambeau Field and follow it up with a win against the Chicago Bears in the season finale, also at home. That will guarantee the Packers, at the very least, an NFC wild-card berth.
Hawk sat up and pondered that fact for a moment.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s good to know we’re still alive,” he said.
“It doesn’t make this loss feel any better, but it’s good to know we’re still alive and we can kind of control our own deal.”
The Packers’ six losses have come by a combined 20 points. They took the Patriots (12-2), considered by many as the best team in the NFL, to the brink before falling. A few weeks ago they did the same thing against the Atlanta Falcons (12-2), the team with the best record in the NFC.
“That tells you we’re good,” receiver Donald Driver said. “We’re a good team. We’ve just got to play better to win games.”
Driver also was unaware the Packers still control their playoff fate.
“Is that true?” he asked. “I think a loss hurts regardless of the situation. The good thing is, if we do win our last two, we’re in the playoffs. That will be great. We have a battle right now. Our back is against the wall and we’ve got to fight. Now, you know what they say, you put a guy against the wall, so many guys are after him, you’ve got to punch your way out. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
The Packers came out fighting against the Patriots. Despite being forced to use backup quarterback Matt Flynn in place of Aaron Rodgers, who is suffering from a concussion, the Packers’ offense put up 26 first downs and 369 total yards, compared to 14 first downs and 249 total yards by the Tom Brady-led Patriots.
“I’m proud of the 45 guys that went out there,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “I thought everybody poured it on and did it arguably against the best team in the NFL. But it’s still a loss. We had a chance to win tonight and we just didn’t get it done. That’s a disappointment.”
One too many mistakes led to the Packers’ undoing. A Flynn pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. On the other side of the ball, a Brady pass should have been intercepted by Charles Woodson, but he dropped it.
Little things like that are holding the Packers back.
“It grinds on you but you’ve got to keep moving and I think you grow from it,” cornerback Tramon Williams said.
The Packers have had plenty of chances to learn from close losses, yet they remain in contention. They have run out of life lines, however, and there is no more room for error.
The question is, will this team be resilient enough to respond in the final two games, when one more loss will likely mean elimination from the postseason?
“I think so,” Williams said. “I’m ready to go out and play right now. Even after this tough loss, I’m ready to go right now.”
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Press-Gazette.