Beating Eagles releases pressure for Packers

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY — The immediate aftermath of what might be remembered as a season-saving victory in Philadelphia looked something like this: Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams was whisked away to a television set for a celebratory interview; center Corey Linsley spoke passionately as he eschewed the idea of must-win games; general manager Ted Thompson and team president Mark Murphy congratulated players across the locker room.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers talks with Mike McCarthy in the second quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

Glee replaced gloom as the Packers measured the Eagles, 27-13.

“Shoot,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said, “it’s a lot better than a loss.”

A day later, inside the media auditorium at Lambeau Field, the initial joy of winning was replaced by honest introspection. These Packers, whose season teetered after four straight losses, had pulled off a ruse that minimized worry and professed calm in the face of widespread criticism.

Not until Tuesday did coach Mike McCarthy lift the veil slightly, peeling back the curtain through a lengthy diatribe at his afternoon news conference. His words, backed by strengthening emotion, aired publicly the angst some of his players kept private during the last month. If their locker room celebration had been pure joy, McCarthy’s words were the accompanying catharsis.

“There’s nothing like winning,” McCarthy said. “I mean, that’s what this is all about. It’s about winning football games. Felt good, it was definitely way too long.”

In the preceding weeks, when the Packers were manhandled by Dallas, Tennessee and Washington and lost close games to Atlanta and Indianapolis, the message across the locker room remained the same: Everything that happens outside the stadium is white noise — a term used by quarterback Aaron Rodgers — and none of it penetrates the psyche of a team conditioned to stare only at the game in front of them like a racehorse wearing blinders.

From player to player and coach to coach, the Packers assured reporters that any criticism of the organization — with Rodgers, McCarthy and Thompson the primary targets — fell on deaf ears.

Until McCarthy aired everything out.

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“Today compared to 10 years ago, there’s a day in this league where you’d say, ‘Hey don’t read that stuff. Pay no attention to it,’ McCarthy said. “But I mean they all read it, and their families read it. It’s there. It’s real whether you want to admit to it or not.

“We expect to win every week regardless of what people think about us, what they say about us. Personally I like it when they don’t like us. It’s hard not to have people like you. Hell, we’re the Green Bay Packers. We’re the Green Bay Packers. So we take that with a lot of pride.

“We know our fans were upset with what’s going on, but hell, there’s no one more upset than those men in the locker room. That’s the reality of it. We all want to win. We’re doing everything we can to win. I can promise you that.”

Their pursuit has been marred by an unrelenting string of injuries, and Monday’s win over the Eagles was no exception. With Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez both hurt, the Packers moved Matthews to inside linebacker. He promptly injured the AC joint in his shoulder on the very first series.

Two quarters later, on the first drive of the second half, Rodgers tweaked his hamstring trying to extend a play. He finished the game with a noticeable limp but assured reporters he would be available Sunday.

McCarthy said he had not spoken with team doctors as of late Monday afternoon. The early indications are that Matthews’ situation is more problematic than Rodgers’ hamstring.

“I can’t say enough about (Matthews) coming back out there and fighting through what he did,” McCarthy said. “So I’m sure he doesn’t feel very good today and once again, I haven’t really, I don’t have the details of the significance of his injury.”

Injuries to Matthews and Rodgers are the latest examples of the kind of adversity that McCarthy believes made his team stronger during the month of November. He praises the character and work ethic of his players on what feels like a daily basis.

The win in Philadelphia released a wealth of heavy pressure. Starting Sunday they’ll try to turn catharsis into consistency.

“I think the character and the confidence and really the energy in the locker room this past month has been exemplary,” McCarthy said. “It needs to equate to wins because, at the end of the days, that’s what it’s about. I think we have a lot to build off of.”

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