Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy confer during the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Chicago. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
They’re not offering it up for public consumption, but they believe.
You see it in their eyes and hear it in the conviction of their voice.
They are convinced something special is at hand. And it was pretty clear in the Packers’ locker room Sunday it was as if they know something that we don’t.
And perhaps they do.
The stars of the blue collar victory tour, your Green Bay Packers, followed the script once again on Sunday and it was good enough to put another stake in the hearts of the Chicago Bears as they not only left with a 21-13 victory at Soldier Field, but with the NFC North Division crown in their back pocket.
Given all they’ve endured, the multiple injuries to key personnel, the continued struggles every week but still finding a way, this is a team that is arguably better equipped to make a meaningful playoff run than that group that stood at 13-1 at this time last year.
Overcoming adversity creates a confidence and builds a toughness that can only be an asset in the coming weeks. And the Packers have made it a way of living all season.
They may not have made the Meatgrinder Way sexy, but certainly profitable.
With the return of Clay Matthews on Sunday, and the return of playmakers Jordy Nelson and Charles Woodson still to come, with a bevy of young players continuing to make an important impact late into the season, with a running game that has come to life and again topped 100 yards against the Bears, with Jermichael Finley (cross your fingers) finding his footing — and with that No. 12 guy on their side —this is a team whose confidence can no longer be curtailed.
"I'm not a drama queen,’’ said coach Mike McCarthy. “It's great that we won the championship today. I feel good about it. I'm not trying to diminish anything here, but we're just getting started. We feel that way as a football team. I'm not trying to be arrogant. We feel we have a lot better football in front of us.’’
On the one hand, that would seem the obvious answer. The offense has not operated at warp speed as it did last year. And their proficiency proved detrimental in the end, providing a false confidence in a team that had way too many holes on defense and had almost nothing aside from quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ right arm to rely on offensively.
There’s little doubt defenses have caught up as the Packers offense has hummed only sporadically. But they’ve found a necessary piece to the puzzle with a vastly improved running game. The defense is also greatly improved. And despite the rash of injuries to key people, they’ve not only managed to stay the course but have prospered.
Who wouldn’t be feeling confident with that under their belt?
“I think the best feeling about getting these wins is that knowing I still think we can play better,’’ said left guard T.J. Lang. “Actually I don’t think we’re playing up to our potential, especially offensively. Obviously there’s always a lot of things to work on but that’s a good feeling to grind out all these wins and still not playing our best football. Because we know that we’re a team that seems to play its best football late in the season.’’
Having won eight of their last nine, it’s hard to argue that point. And when Nelson returns and the offense finally has its full complement of talent available to it on the field at the same time, things should get better.
Woodson has been forced to watch for weeks after suffering a broken collarbone, but was a man wearing a wide smile while holding a championship hat in his hand when asked what he thought of how his team has performed without so many key parts.
“I love it,’’ said Woodson, also pointing to the Packers’ ability to skirt adversity. “I love it. Guys are playing very well together which is the most important thing. … If we continue to do that we’re going to be tough to beat.’’
Well, there is that Mason Crosby thing hanging over this team like a dark cloud. But if that can be corrected, this will be a solid, well-rounded team heading into the playoffs.
“I think this team is playing the right way, right now,’’ said Rodgers.
“This team has dealt with a lot more adversity and is a tight-knit group and knows how to win.’’
And knowing that that’s what they believe, this team may prove to be as special as they believe they will be.
Mike Woods: 920-993-1000, ext. 232; or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCMikeW