MINNEAPOLIS – There was an interesting juxtaposition for the players in a celebratory Green Bay Packers locker room inside U.S. Bank Stadium late Monday night. The dark hats they wore represented the NFC North championship they clinched with a 23-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the first since 2016.
Below, however, was a green T-shirt with the slogan “The North is not enough” to represent what lies ahead in short order in Detroit on Sunday.
“We just want to take this thing to the next level,” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “Everybody’s in the right mind frame. Nobody’s happy exactly where we are right now. Definitely happy in the moment but it’s time to turn this thing on and keep it moving.”
The playoffs were clinched a week ago, which was step one. The division crown was a preseason goal, and another step on the path to what several veterans are saying could be a special finish. The next move is a win against the 3-11-1 Lions on Sunday to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC.
Along with that comes a week off, and then at least one home playoff game at Lambeau Field.
“Obviously, our goal is to control our own destiny,” kicker Mason Crosby said. “We’ll enjoy this and then we’ll flush it, have Christmas, and we’re moving on to Detroit. It’s a big game. We get that and we know we’re guaranteed the two seed and possibly even better.”
Punter JK Scott leaned over at that last sentence.
Crosby laughed and turned to his second-year teammate.
“Yeah. If we win. That’s what you want.”
The 13-year veteran smiled and continued.
“This is a special group. We have a good group of guys here in the locker room. You can see it on the field. You see it on a daily basis, just guys coming into work, laying it all on the line for each other, for this team. ... We have a lot of excitement, there’s a lot energy, there’s a lot of passion with this group but you can just see it on the field. The ebbs and flows of the game, people kind of just stay steady and just keep going and trying to make plays.
“This team is special. It is one of those teams that you can just kind of feel that energy. We’re going to be tough to handle.”
Should the Packers win and then get some help from Seattle with a victory over San Francisco, they clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout.
“Yeah, it’s exciting,” Aaron Rodgers said of the possibility of home playoff games in Green Bay. “Being a part of that 2010 (Super Bowl) team and having to win three games on the road, that’s a tough way to go. Especially with how deep this playoffs in the NFC is, it’s nice to have a chance to have some games at home. I said this earlier in the season, just getting in gives you a legitimate shot but knowing that we could have two home games to get somewhere special changes the whole dynamic, especially with the type of temperatures that we expect in Green Bay and the way that we’ve over the years played at home.”
Tight end Jimmy Graham said the conversation in the tight end room during the week was how Monday night was the start of the Packers’ playoff run, at least in their mind.
“Every game has so much on the line, has so many repercussions and so that’s how we approached it,” Graham said. “We came in here like it was a playoff game. To already clinch and have that last week and have that but still come in here, hit that adversity and keep grinding with our head down is just special. Those are the things you’re going to need to win in the playoffs.
“I feel like we’ve got nothing to prove to anybody. We don’t care how we win. We don’t care what it looks like. A win’s a win. For us, we just play for each other and to do that and have this hat, and now it’s a step forward and to possibly do something special here, man, that’s what it’s all about.”
That begins in short order, as the team has three full days to prepare for the Lions on a short week. The team will leave Saturday for Michigan. While the Lions are in last place in the division, the Packers broke a four-game losing streak to them Oct. 14 with a come-from-behind, 23-22 victory at Lambeau Field.
“It’s so important, though, to go to Detroit and get a win because now you’re getting a bye, whether you’re a one-seed or a two-seed,” Packers head coach Matt LaFleur said. “It’s going be critical this next week. It’s a really short week for us. It’s a strange week, having only six days and then Christmas falling in there. Want to give these guys a chance to be with their families a little bit, but at the same time, we’ve got to come to work and be really efficient in what we do because we are up against the clock, so to speak, just in terms of the limited time to prepare.”
LaFleur has been consistent in that week-by-week messaging, but even he had to acknowledge the greater ramifications for a victory in Detroit. If the Packers were to lose, they would fall to the No. 3 seed if New Orleans wins at Carolina.
“I think it would do a lot for us,” he said of earning a first-round bye. “I think any time you can advance one round in the playoffs, because every game is so competitive. Not only that, but you get a home game at Lambeau, would be absolutely critical. I think it’s, it’s obviously, it’s a tough place to play and we’ve got a lot of confidence when we’re at home.”