Players-only meeting sets tone for playoff push

Weston Hodkiewicz
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Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy calls the selection of playoff captains an opportunity for leadership, a time for players to take charge.

Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett (42) is congratulated by teammates Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Sam Barrington after tackling Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Charles Sims (34) during the second quarter of Sunday's game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

That time arrived Saturday in the Packers' locker room, which came alive in a players-only meeting on the night before squaring off with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The six captains spoke, but the floor was open to all. Players were encouraged to say whatever was on their minds and speak from the heart.

Although they didn't delve deep into the details, those surveyed in the locker room after Sunday's 20-3 win at Raymond James Stadium felt what was said behind closed doors set the tone for a playoff push.

"It wasn't anything mind-blowing or anything, but just making sure guys understand the opportunity that's ahead of us," receiver Jordy Nelson said. "Some of us have been there. Some have been there and came up short. Some have been there and won it all, and some haven't experienced any of it. You just try to educate other guys on what this opportunity means and what it can do. How hard it is to get there and how hard it is to win."

It's only been four years since the Packers won Super Bowl XLV, but only 20 players remain from that team. Nelson said there weren't any "rah-rah" speeches. Nobody called anyone out. This was about focusing in on the goal.

McCarthy made the unconventional move of selecting playoff captains following last Sunday's 21-13 loss to Buffalo. Historically, the Packers select captains for regular-season games on a week-by-week basis, but the ninth-year coach chose to kick start the process early.

The captains – quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Nelson, receiver/returner Randall Cobb, defensive backs Morgan Burnett and Jarrett Bush, and outside linebacker Julius Peppers – knew the importance of the distinction and spoke with that enthusiasm. Each in his own way.

Position groups get well-acquainted with each other throughout the course of the season, but opportunities to speak to the entire team aren't plentiful. Center Corey Linsley said hearing speeches from the defensive players provided motivation and helped to understand their psyche.

"If somebody had to say something, they said it," defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. "There was a lot of positivity. Guys saying what was on their mind, and it was nothing but positivity and you could see the results of it today.

"Everybody just laid it out there and was completely candid with one another and that just goes to show the type of trust and comfort and chemistry that this team has with one another."

Speeches have underscored the Packers' season. Many credited Peppers' pep talk after a demoralizing 44-23 loss to New Orleans before the bye for helping reset the season.

The Packers will lean on Peppers and the rest of the veterans for the rest of the season, including Sunday's winner-take-all game against Detroit for the NFC North title. A first-round bye is on the line, along with a 23-year undefeated streak in Wisconsin.

"Our whole team, we sat down and had a heart to heart, guys were fired up and ready," Burnett said. "We treat these next two games like the playoffs. For us, the playoffs have already started. We have to bring that intensity every day."

-- and follow him on Twitter @WesHod

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