Packers are set up to rule the NFC : Packers Insider

Packers are set up to rule the NFC

February 17, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By D. Orlando Ledbetter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

~ARLINGTON, Texas — Reggie McKenzie, the Green Bay Packers’ director of football operations and right-hand man to general manager Ted Thompson, had a terribly busy but remarkably productive season.

When the Packers were putting players on the injured reserve list at an alarming rate, it was up to McKenzie and his staff to find replacements. In all, the Packers placed a league-high 15 players on injured reserve, and eight of those had started at least one game.

Partly because they will get some of those talented players back, partly because most key players are under contract and partly because they are the second youngest team (27.4 years old) in the NFL, the Packers appear set to compete for the NFC title for years to come.

McKenzie, who was a finalist for the Falcons‘ general manager job in 2008, just hopes that the injury bug doesn’t hit the team so heavily again.

McKenzie also was a finalist for the Houston general manager job that went to Rick Smith in 2006 and at Tennessee, which went to Mike Reinfeldt in 2007. A former player at Tennessee (1981-85) and a seven-year NFL veteran with stints with the Raiders and 49ers, McKenzie has been with the Packers since joining Ron Wolf’s staff in 1994.

He now has a second Super Bowl trophy to place in front of the next owner that wants to interview him. In some ways, he was the team’s MVP.

One of the replacement players that McKenzie lined up was safety Charlie Peprah, who played in two games for the Falcons in 2009. He started out as the Packers’ third string safety and then took over after rookie Morgan Burnett, a former Georgia Tech standout, was placed on injured reserve with a torn ACL in October. The No. 2 safety, Atari Bigby, appeared in just four games because of ankle, groin and hamstring injuries.

"The road that I took to get here was definitely much harder," Peprah said. "But if you don't face adversity, you're not going anywhere."

Peprah, who played at Alabama and bounced around the league since being drafted in the fifth round by the New York Giants in 2006, knows that he’ll have to fight to retain his roster spot.

“We can be as good as we want to be,” Peprah said. “Some guys were saying, ‘We’ve got one, let’s go get another one.'”

Clay Matthews, Green Bay’s relentless outside linebacker, believes the 48-21 win over the Falcons in the divisional round of the playoffs propelled the Packers to the title.

“The way in which we beat them, the manner in which we did it, offensively and defensively, helped us a lot,” Matthews said.

He contended that the Packers also learned a valuable playoff lesson from a 51-45 playoff loss to Arizona that eliminated them last season.

“It just goes to show you that nothing is guaranteed, nothing is granted,” said Matthews, whose father, Clay Matthews Jr., played for the Falcons from 1994-96. “We had to take this.”

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Super Bowl MVP, is just 27. Matthews, the anchor of the defense, is just 24. Their supporting cast will only improve next fall.

Rodgers should get back his favorite target in tight end Jermichael Finley (knee, injured reserve). Also, running back Ryan Grant (ankle, injured reserve) was lost in the season opener. On defense, the Packers will get back Burnett and linebacker Nick Barnett (wrist, injured reserve).

“We like to think that we can do this for years to come,” Matthews said. “We’ve got the same cast and crew coming back next year. I’m sure there will be a few changes. We have a few injured guys coming back so we feel good about where we are at.”

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers sees a bright future for the franchise, but doesn’t want to start counting Super Bowl rings.

“We’ve got a lot of good young players,” Capers said. “But these teams change a lot, one year to the next. I like the foundation that we have. Hopefully, it will give us a chance to be a good team.”

The Packers fought through their injuries, but were 8-6 and staring down playoff elimination late in the season. They won their final two games to qualify for the postseason and then steamrolled through the playoffs.

"It was just the relentless pursuit of perfection, and we found greatness," linebacker Desmond Bishop said.

For all their returning talent, recent history suggests that the Packers will have a difficult time repeating. The New England Patriots in 2003 and ‘04 were the last team to win back-to-back Super Bowls.

The last NFC team to reach back-to-back Super Bowls was the Brett Favre-led Packers after the 1996 and 1997 seasons and they won only one.

“We’ve talked about this, and it depends on what goes on here over the next couple of months,” defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. “That would decide a lot. Depending on who stays and who goes, we definitely have the nucleus for a great dynasty team.”

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