Packers pass big test, brace for next
The way T.J. Lang saw it, his teammate was getting pummeled. With the Green Bay Packers poised to send their nemesis to an 0-2 record, the Seattle Seahawks snapped.
Linebacker K.J. Wright grabbed tight end Richard Rodgers by the facemask, pulled him to the ground, slammed his head in Lambeau Field’s grass.
“I’m not just going to sit and watch it happen,” Lang said.
The fuse was lit. Lang sprinted toward Wright, tackled him. He earned a personal foul penalty — a lesser punishment than Wright’s ejection — but the Packers proved their point.
“We always back each other up,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “T.J. was just going over there helping his guy out. I think there was maybe some BS on the other side with why that started, and how that started, but take care of each other.
“I’m not surprised with T.J. He doesn’t need a whole lot to get involved in those kind of things, but we have each other’s back.”
No, Lang doesn’t need much incentive. Remember last year’s NFC divisional playoff game? Three Dallas Cowboys came at the Packers right guard, and he didn’t back down.
But this wasn’t just about the enforcer along the Packers’ offensive line. After a week of cliché-laced respect, both teams sharing niceties before the NFC title game rematch, the bitterness spilled over in the fourth quarter Sunday night. Players can say this was just another Week 2 game, but most Week 2 games don’t feature a scrum.
You won’t find many postgame celebrations after Week 2 wins, either. Not in Green Bay. But there was the Packers’ defense, mobbing Jayrone Elliott after he knocked the game-clinching fumble from Seahawks running back Fred Jackson’s hands. There was the Lambeau Field crowd, crashing down their applause as quarterback Aaron Rodgers knelt down for the final play.
“I think the celebration was a little bit of the fans' anticipation and the fans waiting for this one,” fullback John Kuhn said. “For that, I’m happy we could give that to them.”
Defensive back Micah Hyde, who recovered Jackson’s fumble, said Sunday night didn’t feel like a typical Week 2 game. Whatever the emotion — relief, excitement, joy — there was more of it. At times, Hyde said, it was impossible to hear the official’s whistle because the Lambeau Field crowd was too loud.
Nose tackle B.J. Raji said there was a different feel around Green Bay even before game day. With the Seahawks in town, there was anticipation, suspense. Most Week 2 games don’t come with nine months of buildup.
“Just being around the city this weekend,” Raji said, “the energy was different. I don’t mean to be disingenuous. It was a different feeling this week. Everyone was excited for this game. So we’re not immune to the feeling, the energy. We had to just block out the distractions, and we felt that if we can play as close to perfect as we can play, we liked our chances.”
Revenge was a popular way to describe this win. Of course, that would be an exaggeration. Perhaps the only resemblance of a normal, Week 2 game was its significance in the standings. Nobody punched a ticket to the Super Bowl on Sunday night, though the Packers did take a three-game lead over the Seahawks for home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Richard Rodgers also scoffed at the idea the Packers needed a win to gain any psychological edge against the Seaahwks. All the proof they needed came in January, he said. Until the end, the Packers weren’t just leading the NFC title game on the scoreboard. They were dominating the Seahawks on the field.
“It doesn’t do much for us,” Richard Rodgers said. “It’s the second game of the season. They beat us in the NFC Championship. That’s a little bit bigger game than the second game of the season. So we have a long way to go, and we’re just looking forward to next week.”
There’s the challenge. Looking forward to next week, when the Packers host the Kansas City Chiefs before another national audience on "Monday Night Football," the Packers can’t afford a hangover. It would be easy to have a letdown after an emotionally exhausting win, but the Chiefs are good enough to exploit any slip.
The last time the Packers met the Chiefs in the regular season, they were 13-0 and seemingly invincible. The Chiefs beat them inside Arrowhead Stadium. Here comes another rematch, the Packers seemingly invincible again after vanquishing the two-time defending NFC champions. Still, the Chiefs are a playoff contender, and they’ll be plenty motivated after a devastating home loss against the Denver Broncos.
So while Lang could appreciate the significance of Sunday night’s win, he already was preparing himself to move on before exiting the locker room.
“It feels good,” Lang said. “Obviously, it doesn’t count for anything more than a win, but it is probably one of the more satisfying regular-season wins that we’ve had, just to get that monkey off our back of not being able to beat these guys.
“It is what it is. We’re going to enjoy it for a couple days and get ready to move on to Kansas City.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood