GREEN BAY, Wis. — Step one is complete on the Packers’ road to the Super Bowl, winning at home Saturday night over the Minnesota Vikings. Now their journey is about to become significantly more challenging, with the well-rested San Francisco 49ers awaiting Green Bay’s arrival for the divisional round matchup next weekend.
But this all looks familiar to Packers coach Mike McCarthy. When Green Bay won the Super Bowl two years ago, the team had to win three consecutive games on the road just to get there.
Though this postseason began with a home game, the NFC’s third-seeded Packers will have to embrace life away from Lambeau Field in order to regain the Lombardi Trophy in February.
“I know that players feel very good about the way, not only the way they won a Super Bowl, but the path that they took back in 2010,” McCarthy said Sunday. “There’s still some guys that have went through that experience that can share that experience. And it’s very important, because I know personally, all my team meetings and talking points, I’m always talking to the rookies. I’m always very clear to obviously remind the individuals in the room the things that need to be done, because a number of those are points they’ve heard before.
“We’re continuing to educate our younger guys because our job as a coaching staff is to make sure they’re ready for that environment that they’re walking into in San Francisco. Anytime you have more than one individual that has gone through those experiences, I think it’s an advantage for you.”
Nearly all of Green Bay’s best players from that Super Bowl-winning team are still with the Packers. But none are more important than quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has since added an NFL Most Valuable Player award to his collection and become an even better player than he was in 2010.
Rodgers’ statistics across the board have improved since winning Super Bowl XLV. He’s completed a higher percentage of his passes, thrown for more yards in each of the past two seasons, had a better touchdown-to-interception ratio and upped his passer rating.
“I know Aaron Rodgers clearly understands the importance of quarterback play in a game, and more importantly, in playoff games,” McCarthy said. “I know he’ll particularly be excited to go back to San Francisco and play in northern California. That’s always exciting for him personally.
“He’s steady. He’s been through enough now, I don’t see him overreacting or trying to put more pressure on himself. He’s a big-time preparation player as far as what he puts into each game, and that won’t change this week.
“He’ll be clutch for us like he always is.”
Like 2010, the Packers will be back in the role of underdog. Even if they are able to defeat the 49ers, they’ll likely have to travel to Atlanta the following weekend to face the top-seeded Falcons, who went 13-3 in the regular season.
“Our players like that,” McCarthy said when asked about being underdogs. “I think they respond better when they’re disrespected. And I’m sure we’ll get some of that this week too, because we weren’t successful in the first week (against San Francisco). I think it brings a little more energy, but at the end of the day, personally, I think you really need to keep your eye on the target and make sure you’re focused on the things that are about successful football.
“That’ll start as we do our game plans and make sure we don’t get too far away from who we really are.”
Last season, in the role of heavy favorites, the 15-1 Packers didn’t live up to that role in the playoffs. Despite controlling most of its opponents in the 2011 regular season, Green Bay was dismantled by the New York Giants at Lambeau Field in the divisional round.
It may be traditionally unconventional, but McCarthy’s confidence about winning on the road was validated two years ago. With Rodgers running the offense and a drastically improved defense compared to the Packers’ group last season, McCarthy has good reason to feel positive about his chances at winning another Super Bowl.
“At the end of the day, we’ve established our brand of football and that’s what we’re taking to San Francisco, and that’s what we’re taking to San Francisco to win,” McCarthy said.