GREEN BAY – Saying the words Super Bowl around Green Bay Packers headquarters will not result in a fine.
Some coaches refuse to let their team say the word playoffs during the regular season or thinkabout the Super Bowl when they’re in the postseason. But coach Mike McCarthy has not issued such a ban and players admitted they can’t avoid thinking about the possibility.
“It’s not hard to talk about,” guard T.J. Lang said. “I mean, everybody understands that our goal here is to win championships. We’re not just satisfied with winning the division or just making the postseason. Our expectations and our goals are to win the whole thing.
“We don’t talk about it a lot because the past eight weeks especially, we had to take every game – as cliché as it is – just week-by-week, day-by-day, and that’s something that we’re still doing this week. We take it day-by-day and now our focus is obviously on the Falcons, but everybody understands this is the last hurdle to getting to our ultimate goal and achieving our dream to become a champion.”
The Packers have been one game away from the Super Bowl before. In fact, this is their fourth time under McCarthy.
Only once have they made it past the NFC championship. Given their underdog status in this game, there’s probably no reason to think the Packers would overlook the Falcons, who are favored by four points.
When asked if it was taboo to speak of the Super Bowl, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “How do you not think about it? We’re 60 minutes away from being there again, so it’s obviously on our minds.”
Wiseguy: In a game filled with impressive plays, the ability of Rodgers to hang onto the ball after Cowboys safety Jeff Heath slammed into him from behind on the final drive was extremely impressive.
Had Rodgers fumbled, the game would have been all but over if the Cowboys recovered.
Rodgers was asked Wednesday how he was able to maintain control of the ball even after a blindside hit. He simply held out his hands to showcase their size — 10 1/8 inch.
"Size matters," Rodgers said with a wry smile.
Added outside linebacker Julius Peppers: "I think when he absorbed that hit and held on to the ball, that was just a great, instinctive play that probably saved the game for us.”
Falcons' coach Dan Quinn agreed.
"His grip strength has got to be fantastic," Quinn said. "I totally thought the same thing. During the game, I said, ‘That’s amazing that the ball did not come out.’"
Big moment: For a team that has made the playoffs only five times in the last 12 years, hosting an NFC title game is not an experience the Falcons are used to. They are not a perennial playoff bunch.
The Packers are hoping that lack of familiarity will work to their advantage Sunday in the Georgia Dome. Being blissfully unaware is a feeling outside linebacker Clay Matthews remembers well from his rookie season.
"When I was a rookie going through it, I didn't understand the magnitude of it," Matthews said. " ... I think now more so than ever, at least for me, you understand the magnitude of these and how important these games, how few and far between, how difficult it is just to get back here."
High praise: When general manager Ted Thompson cut left guard Josh Sitton at the end of training camp, many wondered if Lane Taylor was an adequate replacement.
The resounding answer is yes, Taylor can do the job just fine even if he isn't as talented as Sitton, who made second-team All-Pro three times.
In fact, the Packers' line has been so solid this season — especially in pass protection — that Quinn and his staff were having trouble finding a weak link.
"When you look at Green Bay’s line, they’re just rock solid all the way across the board," Quinn said. "Sometimes, you go into a game and you try to find a matchup to go to. That’s just not the case this week. It’s going to have to be won by the grit and the battle and really good technique."
Injury report: The Packers had 14 players listed on their injury report, seven of whom did not practice.
In addition to receivers Jordy Nelson (ribs), Davante Adams (ankle) and Geronimo Allison (hamstring), kicker Mason Crosby (illness), safety Morgan Burnett (thigh), running back James Starks (concussion) and center JC Tretter (knee) sat out.
On defense, the absence of Burnett looms large given the lack of experienced depth in the secondary. The Packers survived three quarters without Burnett against Dallas, but just barely.
Cornerback Quinten Rollins appears close to being cleared from the concussion protocol and his return would allow Micah Hyde to start at safety if Burnett cannot play. But the coaches may stick with rookie Kentrell Brice and use Hyde and Rollins as the slot corners.’
The Falcons had only four players on their injury report and the only one who sat out was receiver Julio Jones (turf toe). He isn’t expected to practice until Thursday or Friday.