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Win has Packers liking their long-term chances

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Michael Hunt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
September 16, 2013

GREEN BAY—No one familiar with the rigors of professional tackle football is going to get carried away one-eighth of the way into a season.

So as impressive as the Packers were Sunday in making team and personal offensive records fall like geriatric actors in a LifeCall commercial, the usual disclaimers were issued.

“We didn't do everything right today,” coach Mike McCarthy said following the 38-20 victory against the Washington Redskins in the 2013 home opener. “We never do, particularly this early.”

And if quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a message for his teammates after throwing for 480 yards with a stiff neck, he said it would be that “we just need to settle down a little bit. It's the second game.”

But here is the disclaimer to the disclaimer:

The Packers really like their chances to be a special team come January. I mean, they really like them.

Typically, you won't hear McCarthy being quite this effusive in September. After mentioning he did not see the 31-0 lead coming based on the week's preparation, he said, “Early season is hard. You're never satisfied with your play. But the energy on this team is incredible. There is a different personality to this football team.

“This team has a chance to be very good.”

Rodgers senses it as well.

“I like the vibe of this team,” he said. “You're seeing some leaders step up.”

Certain former teammates have gone out of their way recently to question Rodgers' leadership qualities. He owned up to that Sunday by saying “it is not exactly my forte.” But the Packers do not need a vocal quarterback in the locker room if some of their other premier players have decided to take ownership of the team.

Rodgers has noticed it in Johnny Jolly, B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk and others. “The better players are taking leadership roles,” he said. Such chemistry is essential to a team with the pieces to have a shot at the Super Bowl, but making it happen on Sundays, as well as the occasional Monday and Thursday, trumps all.

Of all the things the Packers did right against Washington, the most notable was breaking a running back free for 100 yards for the first time, it seemed, since the Lindy Infante administration. James Starks bouncing around with Rodgers' six receivers making his big number possible with yards-after-catch effort, that is the kind of offense capable, if healthy, of putting a righteous scare into any defense.

So now the disclaimer to the disclaimer to the disclaimer:

Injured safety Morgan Burnett was not able to play for the second week, again leaving the Packers' secondary vulnerable. Two pretty good quarterbacks, Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, have passed for 732 yards and six touchdowns against the Packers. They'll probably be able to tighten things up once Burnett returns with the expectation that the offense will be able to outscore a lot of teams, but it's still a concern.

So is the offensive line. It was a rough start for the young, reshuffled five. Rodgers was sacked four times through a variety of mistakes, yet a relentless passing game against a poor Washington secondary that got worse with the loss of safety Brandon Meriweather following a violent head-to-head collision with Starks was able to finally get it rolling.

For example, after a Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson touchdown pass was called back on a holding penalty against rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari, Jordan and Rodgers were resilient enough to get it back in the end zone on the same drive to make it a 17-0 game. Rodgers is that special with his ability to do what most cannot with a football.

The Packers are always going to have that going for them as this season begins to take on a personality. It is not unreasonable to expect that the rest of the team will catch up in the common objective to eventually reach a 2010 level of consistency.

“You've got to keep pushing a team,” McCarthy said. “They have a lot of football in front of them, so we have to continue to grow.”

Send email to mhunt@journalsentinel.com.



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