Comeback Packers look to finish season strong

The Packers are finishing strong at just the right time of

year.

Two straight rousing, come-from-behind wins has Green Bay

buzzing about playoff possibilities again. Two more victories,

starting Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, would ensure

another NFC North crown in Titletown.

The second halves of games had been troublesome at times this

season. But then Green Bay’s defense shut out Atlanta in the second

half of a 22-21 win two weekends ago. Then the Packers (7-6-1) went

on a 34-10 binge after halftime to take advantage of Dallas’

meltdown in a 37-36 victory last week.

Even coach Mike McCarthy seems pleasantly puzzled by the

turnaround.

”If I knew that, I’d get it done in the early part of the

game,” McCarthy said this week. ”I don’t have an answer for you

there.”

The goal every week is to play four good quarters. But at the

least, McCarthy is getting the desired result, even if he’s first

had to endure a couple stomach-churning first halves.

Against the Cowboys, backup quarterback Matt Flynn led Green Bay

to touchdowns on the first five possessions of the second half.

Cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams came up with crucial

interceptions in the game’s waning minutes to help finish off a

memorable rally from a 23-point halftime deficit.

”A lot of it is resolve, and creating a mindset that you’re

going to finish, and you’re going to focus in a little bit more in

that part of the game,” secondary coach Darren Perry said Friday.

”I think that focus is heightened a little bit, and then we’ve

just been opportunistic. Guys doing their jobs and not having the

critical breakdowns in the end.”

This is happening without franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers,

out since fracturing his left collarbone during the first series of

a 27-20 loss to the Bears on Nov. 4. He’ll miss the Steelers game

after officially being ruled out Friday, leaving Flynn to start

again.

Things would be easier with Rodgers back, though Green Bay’s

confidence is growing having to play without him.

”I think we’re very confident, especially after what we did in

the second half in Dallas, scoring that many points in a half,”

receiver Jordy Nelson said. ”We know Matt can make plays … If we

do our part, the defense is going to be fine.”

In an injury-filled year, a few backups like Flynn have stepped

up down the stretch to fill voids. Andrew Quarless has caught

touchdowns in two straight games, making the tight end position a

factor again in the passing game for the first time since

Jermichael Finley went down with a season-ending neck injury in

October.

”He’s a big-bodied guy, good hands,” Flynn said about the

6-foot-4 Quarless this week. ”I feel like he’s improved in his

route-running since I was here. Just a guy that has stepped up when

he needed to.”

Goal No. 1 is to beat the Steelers. A victory ensures a

winner-take-all showdown for the division with the Bears the

following week.

Sunday’s game may have added meaning for Packers coaches with

ties to the Steelers organization or western Pennsylvania. Among

them, McCarthy grew up in Pittsburgh and once served as an

assistant at the University of Pittsburgh. Offensive coordinator

Tom Clements was a Steelers quarterbacks coach.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers had the same job for the

Steelers in the early 1990s. Linebackers coach Kevin Greene and

Perry each played in Pittsburgh. It’s the first meeting between the

model NFL franchises since Green Bay beat Pittsburgh 31-25 in Super

Bowl XLV in 2011.

”These are two of the finest organizations in all of football.

To have the pleasure of working with both of them is really a

blessing,” Perry said with a smile.

Those ties won’t make a difference once the ball kicks off. Late

in the year, with the playoffs within sight, the Packers want to

finish strong.

”It’s just about us going out there and executing on Sunday,”

safety M.D. Jennings said. ”Taking advantage of things when we

have the opportunity.”

Online:

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