GREEN BAY – There is no statistical column on NFL.com for it, no mathematical formula to measure its significance like quarterback rating. But the Green Bay Packers have it right now, unquantifiable as it might be. A lot of it.
Coach Mike McCarthy, speaking one day after his team’s 21-16 NFC Wild Card playoff victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, was adamant Monday that his team has what it takes to run the table as the conference’s No. 6 seed and win Super Bowl XLV.
Of course, the Packers (11-6) must first beat top-seeded Atlanta (13-3) Saturday night at the Georgia Dome, but it’s clear McCarthy likes the vibe around his team right now. In reply to a question about whether his defense is a championship-caliber unit, McCarthy expanded his response to his entire team.
“We have a championship-caliber defense. We have a championship-caliber football team,” McCarthy said Monday evening, after a day of game-planning with his assistant coaches. “We’re a good football team. We’ve been a good football team all year. We have an opportunity to achieve greatness, and that will start with the second step in Atlanta.”
McCarthy has long talked about the importance of confidence, and differentiating between “real” confidence – one of his many buzzwords – and false confidence, and he believes what his players are feeling after winning back-to-back games over the New York Giants and Chicago Bears to reach the postseason and then beating the Eagles is very real.
“I think confidence is clearly one of the main factors in being successful,” McCarthy said. “You’re around your football team long enough, (you know in) just the way they interact, the way they act, the way they practice. There’s many different identifiers of confidence or the real confidence. When you win a playoff game on the road, that’s definitely a big dose of confidence that is added to your football team.
“We were really confident going into the Philadelphia game. We felt it was a contest that we expected to win, and from that experience it will give us more confidence. And we’re going to Atlanta, and we fully expect to win.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said beating the Bears and Giants created a momentum that the team is still riding. While their performance against the Eagles wasn’t perfect – Rodgers lost a fumble to start the third quarter, the defense allowed a handful of explosive plays before stiffening and the special teams had a turnover when Brandon Underwood was blocked into a loose ball – it was more than enough to sustain that momentum, Rodgers said. Especially defensively.
“No doubt about it. No doubt about it,” Rodgers said. “I mean this team has had our backs against the wall, per se, with two games we had to win and came up with two great efforts. Now, we were fortunate to have two homes games, but (we faced) two good opponents in the Giants and the Bears, and to beat the Giants the way we beat them, and the Bears game we struggled but we won the game.
“The momentum really I think that we got as a football team, but especially on defense, to hold the Giants to 17 points and the Bears to 3 points, and the effort that they put forth (against Philadelphia), (there’s) a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence in that locker room. And hopefully we can carry that over to another tough environment.”
Atlanta beat the Packers, 20-17, on Nov. 28, when Rodgers led the Packers on a 90-yard game-tying touchdown drive in the final minute, only to see the special teams and defense give up the game-winning field goal.
McCarthy said there is considerably more carryover from the previous Packers-Falcons game than there was in game-planning for Sunday’s win over Philadelphia after the two teams had met in the Sept. 12 regular-season opener.
While the Falcons are coming off a bye week and playing at home, McCarthy said he believed playing three consecutive elimination games have helped his team. The winner of Saturday night’s game will face the winner of Sunday’s other NFC semifinal between Chicago (11-5) and Seattle (8-9) at Soldier Field.
“This is playoff football. This is going to be a 60-minute game, or more if needed. That’s our mindset going down to Atlanta,” McCarthy said. “They’ve had the opportunity to rest. We feel very good, the fact that we’ve played three weeks in a row in a very competitive playoff atmosphere. So that’s what we’re taking into the game. We feel the short week helps us. We’re in sync, we’re ready to go.
“We need to clean a couple things up from Philadelphia to the Atlanta game. But we’re not going to change who we are, the way we approach our opponents. We’ll just focus on the particulars for Atlanta. We have a brand of football, and we’re going to stick to it.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.