Packers are a close-knit group
By Lori Nickel, Journal-Sentinel
~Dallas — Like the seats in coach and the buttons on your cell phone, the Packers like to keep it close. Real close.
Green Bay has kept itself within striking distance in every game this season, home and away, favored or underdog. They’ve never found themselves in a deep hole, never trailing by more than seven points.
It’s one of the reasons the Packers remained confident, whether they were 8-6 on Dec. 20 or on their current five-game winning streak heading in to Super Bowl XLV.
“You could pretty much look back at every game we lost this season and say we had a chance to win,” said fullback Korey Hall.
The Packers have spent an average of 35:12 minutes per game in the lead compared with an average of 9:44 per game trailing.
“That’s all credit to the defense,” said Green Bay receiver James Jones. “The defense does a great job in the red zone holding them to field goals. Even when the offense is struggling and we’ve had games with 14 points, we’ve never been behind by more than seven. That’s all to the credit of the defense. They’re doing a great job.”
Green Bay never trailed at all in seven of its 19 games: Buffalo, the first Detroit matchup, at N.Y. Jets, Dallas, N.Y. Giants and the two close playoff games, at Philadelphia in the wild-card playoff game and at Chicago in the NFC Championship Game.
“It says we’re consistent. It says we’re going to play a certain style of ball,” said defensive end Ryan Pickett. “It says we play pretty much the same every week.”
Green Bay only trailed by seven points twice, in both games at Atlanta. In the regular-season game, the Packers trailed, 10-3, and, 17-10. In the divisional playoff game, they trailed, 7-0, and, 14-7.
Green Bay became the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to never trail by more than seven points in a game at any point in a season. The Minnesota Vikings were the last team to keep their games so close, in 1969.
“We’re making plays at the end of the game,” said Jones. “In 2008 we weren’t making those at the end of the game when it really counted. This year we’re making the plays on offense, and the defense is really making the stops at the end of the game and that’s half the battle right there.”
Green Bay trailed by six points against San Francisco, 6-0, a game the Packers went on to win big.
They’ve never trailed by five points all year.
They trailed by four points in four games: at Chicago, against Miami, at Detroit and at New England – all losses.
But the Packers believe those close games served a lesson as well. A vital one.
Remember 2008? Green Bay lost six games, all of them close, by either four or three points. The Packers finished 6-10.
This year, there were also plenty of close losses – none was by more than four points. That’s remarkable because the average margin of defeat in NFL games this season was 11.75 points (10.64 for playoff teams). The Packers are the only six-loss team in NFL history to lose all six games by four points or fewer.
“It means we had solid game planning,” said center Scott Wells. “And they way we look at it, the games we lost, we lost. It wasn’t that we were beaten.”
The Packers also used some of those close losses to help them win other games, especially two close playoff games at Philadelphia and Chicago
“You can get used to losing. 6-10 is, oh man, we’re going to lose by three again,” said receiver Jordy Nelson. “I wonder now if it is being in the situation more and getting more comfortable in the close games. Now we’re in close games and think, at Philly, the defense is going to do it. Chicago? The defense is going to win it.”
Green Bay’s six losses this season were by a combined 20 points, a 3.3 average margin of defeat that was the lowest in the NFL.
The 7-3 loss at Detroit was humiliating for the Packers.
“That really put us in a spot where we had to scratch and claw to get to the playoffs,” said Hall. “That was a reality check for us this season. Games like that, you kind of have to re-evaluate where you’re at.”
After the Detroit defeat and losing Aaron Rodgers to a concussion, Green Bay played well at New England, with backup Matt Flynn, in a loss. Though the Packers were 8-6 at the time and had to win the last two games just to get in the playoffs, they remained extremely confident.
“You get in enough of those close games you start figuring out a way to win and you start being a little extra detailed at the end of the game,” said Hall. “There’s definitely something to be said for having a locker room full of guys who know how to win and want to win and when we go to practice, we practice like winners. It’s a habit.”
The Packers say this kind of year allows them not to worry should they happen to fall behind by a greater margin.
“We overcame a lot of adversity this year. I don’t think 14 points or going down by 21 would shake this team up,” said Jones. “We’d just keep on playing.”
“Our offense can put up points fast, and our defense can take the ball away,” said Pickett. “We don’t ever want to be in that position. But if we did, we got the right personnel to move the ball.”
CUTTING IT CLOSE
• The Packers are the only six-loss team in NFL history to lose all six games by four points or fewer.
• No NFL team had a five-loss season with all the losses by four points or fewer. The only other team that had four losses all by four or fewest points was the 1987 Washington Redskins (11-4), who went on to win the Super Bowl.
• The Packers’ average margin of defeat was the lowest by a playoff qualifier since San Diego recorded a 3.0 margin in its two losses in 2006.
Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
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