GREEN BAY – In one corner of the Green Bay Packers' locker room Wednesday, Davante Adams did his best to temper any game-of-the-year notion as kickoff against the San Francisco 49ers approaches.
Sure, Adams allowed, it’s a big game. An 8-2 team traveling to a 9-1 team a few days before Thanksgiving is a big deal.
Adams would like to think it’s no different than a typical week.
“We know what the implications of the game are,” Adams said, “but at the end of the day, you’ve still got to play it the same way. I can’t go out there with my eyes any wider looking for the ball than I would playing that noon game against Denver. At the end of the day, you attack it with the same mindset, I guess, but a little heightened awareness, given the situation we’re in.”
The situation the Packers find themselves in is clear. This is a team playing for seeding. A team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations hoping the path to a conference title goes through their own backyard.
“The way I look at it,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “we’ve got to beat them once at their place at some point. It would be nice to do it now.”
The Packers are hardly the only team playing for seeding in the NFC playoffs.
Five teams in the NFC enter Week 12 with at least eight wins. The Packers could either leapfrog the 49ers in the race for the top seed with a win this week, or a loss could drop them into a virtual tie with the Minnesota Vikings for first place in the NFC North.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga, another veteran in the Packers' locker room, had no interest in downplaying this week’s significance.
“It’s huge,” he said, “because obviously there’s a lot of implications that go with it. … It’s tight at the top up there right now. I can’t really remember a time where it’s been like this before. Every game matters. Wins are going to be important. They flexed it to Sunday night. I had a feeling that was going to happen before we even got to this week, seeing the way the season was going.
“So it’s going to be exciting. This is what it’s all about.”
Adams and Richard Sherman have had some nice battles over the years and there’s a chance they’ll be going against one another a lot Sunday night.
The Packers’ receiver last faced Sherman last season when he caught 10 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, although not all of the receptions were against the 49ers cornerback.
Adams didn’t need to be reminded about the 2016 game when Sherman was with the Seattle Seahawks. The Packers dominated Seattle, 38-10, in a late-season game and Sherman drilled Adams in the back on a play in which the ball was being thrown to the other side of the field.
The hit was legal back then but has since been outlawed.
“You still have to keep your head on a swivel because it’s illegal to hit people helmet to helmet and that happens every game,” Adams said. “You still have to do what you have to do. Hopefully, we don’t have to deal with that, because I feel like I was more calm then than I would be now if that would happen.”
Adams said it’s a challenge to face the heady Sherman.
“He’s a big, long corner, long-levered, he works his technique, he’s really good,” Adams said. “He’s had a lot of success, a lot of takeaways and things like that. You know when you play against a guy like that you’ve got to be on your 'A' game and I will be.”
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Encouragement for MVS
In Adams’ second season, he struggled to stay healthy. When he was healthy, he just struggled.
The rough start to Adams’ career – he had just 483 yards and one touchdown on 50 catches and dropped too many passes in 12 games – is well documented. Now that he’s a leader in the receiver room, having fully rebounded from that rough start and then some, the experience has become a lesson.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling is having a similarly rough second season. He's on pace to surpass Adams’ yardage from his second season, but has just 22 receptions.
Valdes-Scantling has just one catch and 4 yards in his past three games, and no catches in his past two games.
Adams said he has discussed his rough second season with the struggling youngster.
“I just reminded him of that,” Adams said, “and say, ‘Hey, you’ve done so much for this team, you know who you are, just be consistent. And as soon as you feel as healthy as you can, just get back to doing what you were doing.’”
Valdes-Scantling has another similarity to Adams. Though he has not missed any games, Valdes-Scantling has been hobbled with ankle and knee injuries the past few weeks.
Adams, whose season has been interrupted by turf toe, believes that’s playing a part in Valdes-Scantling's struggles.
“From what I see and what he’s told me,” Adams said, “it’s injury-based. Obviously, I’m dealing with that even now still. I’ve dealt with it in the past, so I just try to throw some words at him, let him know I’ve been in that same spot, and if he needs anything from me that I’m available and on top of that, just to keep your head down.”