Packers all business for Cowboys game

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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GREEN BAY - Carefree, footloose and freewheeling is not exactly how you would describe the 2016 Green Bay Packers.

Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has answered all the skeptics.

This isn’t the Oakland A’s of the 1970s or Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s.

It’s not even the Packers of the mid-'90s, the team whose head coach once brought a Harley with him to the Super Bowl so he could ride to practice and whose quarterback used to unleash epic belches between plays in practice and douse an unsuspecting locker room toilet dweller with a bucket of ice water.

This is a team that likes to take care of business in a quiet way. You won’t see a lot of hooting and hollering in practice or a lot of clowning around in the locker room during free time.

The Packers are preparing for their divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at AT&T Stadium in a very business-like manner.

“I wondered if they lightened up or anything,” said tight end Jared Cook, who is participating in the playoffs for the first time in his eight-year career. “Not really. Not around here. Same practices you had during the regular season.”

The team general manager Ted Thompson constructed and Mike McCarthy coaches reflects both men. Thompson doesn’t like show boaters and braggarts and McCarthy is the embodiment of equanimity.

McCarthy might declare from time to time that his team is “going down to (insert NFL city) and we’re going to win,” but it’s always understood as more of a message to his team than it is a declaration. Even his quarterback’s “run the table” comment was more of a “I think we can” than a “We will.”

Players who step out of line and say things that might be construed as too showy or not the company line receive a good talking-to.

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It’s not that the Packers embody the No-Fun League, it’s just that you won’t see them clowning around a lot in practice, trying to purposely loosen the atmosphere in the days before a big game.

“We’re still having fun, don’t get me wrong,” guard T.J. Lang said. “But the focus this week, I think the thing that stood out to me today and yesterday was the focus, the attention to detail and the energy.

“You could feel it going out there and practicing. Guys were flying around, guys talking, everybody’s just ready to go. We definitely have a good mind-set right now, no doubt.”

The Packers shouldn’t be a tight team. They’ve won seven straight games after starting out the year 4-6 and they’re four-point underdogs to the Cowboys, so they’ve essentially been in elimination mode the past two months and don’t have the pressure of being the conference’s No. 1 seed.

Still, maybe they need a little fun in their lives.

“We still have fun,” Cook said.” The guys on the O-line, they’re jokesters. You have fun in doing your job and going out there and just balling and killing it no matter what you do, just getting open, shaking guys, trying new stuff out.”

There is some trash talk during practice, particularly when the scout team makes a big play on the regulars. Backup quarterback Brett Hundley’s game days come during the week when he gets to play against the No. 1 defense.

He said he tries to make it fun.

“If you love what you’re doing, it’s fun,” Hundley said. “You don’t love what you’re doing it’s probably not fun. Between the white lines, it’s fun. Competition is fun. You can still be serious and have fun.

“You watch Aaron (Rodgers) out there playing football it’s a serious game, but he’s still having fun doing it.”

As nickel back Micah Hyde pointed out, the Packers are in their 24th week of the regular and exhibition schedule and so making sure you’re focused is a task. He said McCarthy’s reduction in practice reps as the season wore on has helped physically.

The mental relief has to come from the players themselves. They have to find fun where there’s often tedium.

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“I think we have a good balance of the two,” kicker Mason Crosby of focusing and being relaxed. “Guys are out there loving playing the game, but whenever it’s time to work you can see the detail, you can see the focus and making sure that plays are executed properly and things are done the right way.

“It doesn’t seem like anyone is dreading going out to practice. Let’s go out, get our work done. Let’s have fun where we can, but make sure we get the work in.”

Just the way Thompson and McCarthy would.

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