Green Bay Packers' Desmond Bishop celebrates a hit on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the second quarter of their Dec. 19 game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette
IRVING, Texas — Charlie Peprah walked slowly into the visiting locker room of Gillette Stadium after a 31-27 loss to the Patriots, dejected that the season was over. The Packers had lost three of four games and sat with an inglorious 8-6 record with two games remaining.
A season that began with Super Bowl aspirations would end without a playoff berth — so Peprah and most of his teammates thought.
Then reporters entered the room and gave Peprah hope.
“It’s kind of like messing up with your girlfriend and you still have a chance to get her back,” he said. “Once we knew that, we were like hey, let’s do whatever it takes.”
Earlier that day, the Giants had a fourth-quarter implosion against the Eagles and lost. The Buccaneers allowed the Lions to end an NFL record 26-game road losing streak. The Saints also were dropped by the Ravens that afternoon.
Every team in the NFC wild-card hunt with the Packers lost in Week 15.
The heartbeat hadn’t stopped for the green and gold.
“(Cornerbacks coach) Joe Whitt didn’t even know we had a chance till that next morning,” Peprah said. “I talked to (Aaron Rodgers) the next morning in the locker room, asking him how his concussion tests went and he was telling me the whole scenario.
“We were like, let’s get it.”
The Packers haven’t lost since. They needed to win the final two games of the season against the Giants and Bears and did exactly that. The period between the back-to-back losses and a 28-point win against the Giants seemed to smack the funk out of the ballclub.
“When we beat the (expletive) out of New York, I think that helped, right?” guard Josh Sitton said. “We always had the confidence that we were going to make a run in the playoffs. If we get in, we’re going to make a run. That’s how I felt all along.
“The Detroit game and the Giants game. The Giants game was a big confidence booster. That probably propelled us into making this run.”
The offense is what needed to be awakened.
The defense held the Falcons to 20 points, the Lions to 7 and the Patriots to 31 in those three losses during a four-week stretch.
The Patriots had the No. 1 offense in the league, were considered the No. 1 overall team at the time and had scored a minimum of 34 points in the three previous games — including two 45-point efforts.
The Packers’ offense was held to 7 points in the first three quarters against the Falcons and mustered just a field goal in Detroit.
The turnaround came when the offense dropped 27 on the Patriots and was 15 yards away from a comeback victory with backup quarterback Matt Flynn.
“We let one slip away with our backup quarterback,” guard Daryn Colledge said. “We kind of said, we’re not that far off. We get this thing rolling and we’ve got something special.”
Receiver Greg Jennings added: “You don’t win games off moral victories, but you can take a lot from them. What we took from that game was we have a lot of guys who are going to step up and fight despite of who’s playing.”
That took some of the pressure off the playoffs. The team had been playing one-and-done games for two weeks before the wild-card round and was used to the situation.
Super Bowl week was smooth, and players seemed calm for their first trip to the title game. Even the normally demure coach Mike McCarthy showed some extreme confidence Friday when he said, “We respect Pittsburgh, but we feel that this is our time and Sunday will be our night.”
That’s quite a difference from a two-week period in Detroit and New England when all hope was thought to be lost.
“There’s always a moment in a season where you take a look back and you see the things that you’ve done wrong and the things that you’ve done right,” running back Brandon Jackson said. “Last year it was the Tampa Bay game. This year it was the Detroit Lions game.
“You never want to relive a moment like that.”