GREEN BAY, Wis. — Six weeks without a win caused a bit of amnesia for the Green Bay Packers. For a team that won 40 games over the past three seasons, winning had become so commonplace that players didn’t quite know how to handle the downward trend.
An 11-point second-half comeback in Sunday’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons served as a much-needed reminder to the Packers that winning feels a lot better than losing.
“Good to win; it’s been a while; forgot what it felt like,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
Linebacker A.J. Hawk has a self-deprecating personality at times, but the eight-year veteran has been a part of more than 100 games in his NFL career and experienced plenty of wins and losses. But the way that Hawk stood at his locker soaking in the post-game thrill as if it was one of his first showed that this win meant more than most.
“You long for that,” Hawk said. “You need that feeling. This is why you play. You want to be able to come in here and have the atmosphere be somewhat happy.”
In Hawk’s rookie season in 2006, Green Bay went 8-8. Two years later, he felt the sting of a 6-10 season. Those shortcomings have given him a basis for appreciating a win like Sunday’s.
“We always talk about not taking wins for granted around here because we’ve been so successful over the last three, four years winning so many games, but it’s true,” Hawk said. “I think when you win a lot, there’s no bad wins, but there’s wins where you’re like, ‘Ahh, man, we missed a lot of things. Wish we would’ve done this, wish we would’ve done that.’
“Then when you go on a streak and you don’t win, it feels that much better to do it.”
The Packers entered the locker room at halftime with the circumstances not working in their favor. With less than one minute remaining in the second quarter, Matt Flynn had a pass deflected at the line of scrimmage bounce off the foot of Falcons linebacker Paul Warrilow and into the arms of Sean Weatherspoon. As the majority of Green Bay’s players stood around assuming that the ball had fallen incomplete, Weatherspoon returned it 71 yards for a touchdown. Then, Eddie Lacy injured his ankle on a meaningless last-second carry and limped into the tunnel.
This had the 77,500 fans at Lambeau Field feeling as if their team’s season was over, sending the Packers into the locker room with a chorus of boos.
“That’s the first in five years for me, but you’ve got to expect it,” Clay Matthews said of the boos. “They’re called fanatics. They come here to watch good football, and that first half was not good football on both sides of the ball.”
McCarthy heard the boos loud and clear, telling his players at halftime that “it’s lonely being a warrior sometimes.”
Green Bay hadn’t won since an Oct. 27 game on the road against the Minnesota Vikings. A week later, Aaron Rodgers broke his left collarbone and the Packers’ season fell apart. But after four losses and one tie dropped Green Bay below .500 for the first time since 2008, the Packers finally came out on top without Rodgers at quarterback.
“Obviously it took a few weeks (to win without Rodgers), but we’re still a very good team,” Matthews said. “I know, obviously, the critics will say otherwise with how this team is struggling this year.”
Even the “tragedy” — as B.J. Raji put it — of losing all five of their November games didn’t sink the Packers’ hopes of playing postseason football in January. With the division-leading Detroit Lions losing Sunday, Green Bay’s 6-6-1 record is enough to still have a chance at making the playoffs.
“We lost a couple games and I’m sure a lot of people thought we were out of it,” Matthews said. “A big win and a big loss on (the Lions’) behalf puts us right in contention again. Hopefully moving forward we’ll continue to win and get some help on the other side.
“Who knows, maybe this will be a replay of 2010 all over again.”
It was in 2010 that the Packers overcame unlikely odds to get into the postseason before going on a run and ultimately winning the Super Bowl.
Green Bay’s playoff chances before Sunday’s game were 6.7 percent. That’s now increased to 14.9 percent. However, the Packers will still likely need to win their final three games and have the 7-6 Lions (who have a 73.4 percent of making it into the postseason) lose at least two more to give Green Bay a realistic shot at repeating its miraculous ending of 2010.
“Every week is like a one-game season for us,” Hawk said. “We just have to play well, and today we found a way. It feels good.”