The Green Bay Packers have won eight straight games after a 4-6 start, and coming off Sunday’s Divisional Round playoff win against the Dallas Cowboys they are one victory away from their first Super Bowl appearance since winning it all six years ago. If they do make it to Houston, it’ll be a similarly improbable road to the one the team traveled in 2010 – so much so that there are five striking similarities between these Packers and the Super Bowl XLV champions.
Six losses put asses against walls
After the Packers dropped to 4-6, Aaron Rodgers’ “run the table” comment got all the attention, but coach Mike McCarthy set the table for “run the table” a couple days earlier, when he angrily and bluntly described Green Bay’s status minutes after a 42-24 Sunday night humiliation against the Redskins. “Six losses puts your ass against the wall,” he told reporters, and, he knew the feeling because the 2010 Packers got to six losses faster than they would have liked, too. Green Bay was 8-6 that season after losing two straight games to the Lions and Patriots while Rodgers recovered from a concussion. Needing to beat both the Giants and the division-champion Bears to get into the playoffs as a No. 6 seed, the Packers delivered before sweeping through the NFC playoffs on the road. Both seasons seemed lost, and then were found.
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Injuries … and a lot of them
Green Bay lost six of its first 10 games this season for a number of reasons, but the biggest among them was injuries. The running back tandem of Eddie Lacy and James Starks was wiped out, the team’s top three cornerbacks – Sam Shields, Damarious Randall and Quentin Rollins – were either lost for the season or extended periods, and tight end Jared Cook missed six games (four of which were losses). Oh, and the team’s top defensive player, Clay Matthews, either was missing games with a hamstring injury or was on the field with a shoulder injured so badly that he seemed afraid to make tackles. Sounds bad until you look at the 2010 Packers. They placed a league high 16 players on injured reserve -- mostly on defense -- before they lost Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Woodson to a broken collarbone in the first half of the Super Bowl and still beat the Steelers with a skeleton crew left to defend against Ben Roethlisberger’s throws. No coach in the NFL has a better track record of taping together a roster on the fly than Mike McCarthy.
Aaron Rodgers’ stuff is and was on fire
Rodgers has been otherworldly down the stretch this season -- throwing 24 touchdown passes and 318 passes overall -- without an interception before tossing one Sunday against the Cowboys. Even though his stuff wasn’t as consistently on fire in 2010 (you’re welcome, State Farm) it was pretty darn warm after he returned from a concussion to play in Week 16 that season. He topped a 110 QB rating in that game and in three of his four playoff victories to lead the Packers to the title. Discount two wins in that stretch in cold weather against the Bears and he had 13 TD passes and zero interceptions while completing 98 of 139 passes (70.5 percent!) for 1,254 yards. In short, Rodgers has done this all before.
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A running back from out of nowhere
As good as Rodgers is, he needs at least a threat in the backfield with him, and there wasn’t one in 2010 until rookie James Starks emerged down the stretch of that season. A sixth-round pick, Starks didn’t get his first carry that season until December. By January, he was the Packers’ leading rusher in all four of their playoff games, including a 123-yard effort in a wild-card win over the Eagles. Ironically, Starks going down this season –- after No. 1 back Eddie Lacy was already lost for the year -- cleared the way for the emergence of receiver-turned-running back Ty Montgomery and waiver-wire find Christine Michael to take over in the backfield. Montgomery hasn’t topped 50 yards rushing since his 162-yard breakout game against Minnesota in Week 16, but the film from that game has forced defenses to honor the threat he and the speedy Michael pose. It’s a far cry from when the Packers went into a Week 7 game against the Bears with since-released Don Jackson and Knile Davis as the only two running backs on the roster. McCarthy gave the ball to Montgomery nine times in that game, signaling what would become a permanent and season-saving adjustment.
They had to beat Atlanta in Atlanta
The Falcons are the last thing standing between Green Bay and the Super Bowl this year, but in 2010 this matchup came in the divisional round, and Aaron Rodgers played perhaps the best game of his career, completing 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns and running for another score in a game the Falcons –- as they are next weekend –- were favored to win. Green Bay fell behind 14-7 before ripping off 35 straight points in front of a stunned Georgia Dome crowd. Sunday’s game will be the last in that same stadium before the Falcons move into a new building next year, and if Rodgers can win he’ll close that dome with exactly as many playoff wins there as Falcons starting quarterback Matt Ryan.