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Mike Vandermause column: Packers peaking at the right time

Dec. 23, 2012
 

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Green Bay Packers defensive end Mike Neal (96) celebrates with teammate Clay Matthews (52) after Neal sacked Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker in the third quarter of Sunday's game at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

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The Green Bay Packers might be the last team anyone wants to face in the playoffs.

After annihilating the Tennessee Titans 55-7 Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Packers are playing their best football at the perfect time.

“I think this is the type of statement game you want to have rolling into the postseason,” said Packers linebacker Brad Jones.

If it was indeed a statement game, the Packers had plenty to say:

■ Their four rushing touchdowns proved they are capable of lighting up the scoreboard with a balanced offensive attack. When opponents can no longer simply game plan against the Packers’ renowned passing game, it makes quarterback Aaron Rodgers that much more dangerous.

■ Their defense is performing at a very high level after holding its opponent under 200 total yards for the second week in a row. Other than a garbage touchdown in the final 2 minutes, the Packers’ defense was immovable and had the look of a championship-caliber unit. The dominating effort produced seven sacks and two interceptions and limited Chris Johnson to 28 yards rushing.

■ After winning nine of their last 10 games, the Packers’ confidence is growing every week. They fit the profile of a hot team capable of doing serious damage in the playoffs.

■ They are improving every game, thanks in no small part to the return of injured players like linebacker Clay Matthews and receiver Greg Jennings. And there are more dangerous reinforcements on the way for the postseason run, including receiver Jordy Nelson and defensive back Charles Woodson.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has been preaching all season about the necessity to play their best football late in the year. Not surprisingly, he likes what he sees.

“We’re definitely taking a step in that direction,” McCarthy said after the most lopsided victory in his seven-year coaching tenure. “This was an important momentum game for our football team and it’s important for us to finish off the season the right way.”

This marks the fourth consecutive season under McCarthy that the Packers have recorded a blowout victory at Lambeau in December, including 48-10 over Seattle in 2009, 45-17 over the New York Giants in 2010 and 46-16 against Oakland in 2011.

That Giants game two years ago, which like Sunday’s thrashing of the Titans occurred in Week 16, proved to be the catalyst that sent the Packers on their Super Bowl championship run. The Packers needed to win their final two regular-season games just to get into the playoffs in 2010 and built so much momentum they couldn’t be stopped.

The Packers are trying to follow that blueprint this year. “I think every game now is a playoff type of mentality,” Jones said.

Although the Packers clinched the NFC North title by beating the Chicago Bears last week, there is no shortage of incentive to win their regular-season finale next Sunday at Minnesota. They have the potential to earn the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye, and there’s the added motivation of keeping the Vikings out of the playoffs and preventing running back Adrian Peterson from setting the single-season NFL rushing record.

Perhaps most important, it gives the Packers the opportunity to stay sharp heading into the playoffs.

“It’s like a party,” said Jones of the way the Packers are playing. “You have all your friends, and you see everybody getting a piece of the pie, like you see everybody making a play, celebrating. It’s fun.”

The Packers are enjoying that winning feeling, and they want to keep it going for as long as possible.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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