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Packers already focused on upcoming divisional games

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Lori Nickel, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
October 21, 2013

GREEN BAY—The Green Bay Packers had just defeated the Cleveland Browns, won their third straight, scored 31 points despite not having James Jones, Randall Cobb and later Jermichael Finley and managed to climb to the top of their division.

Anywhere else, that might have been cause for immediate celebration and temporary relief.

But this is Titletown, and coach Mike McCarthy was direct when he addressed his team in the locker room right after the game.

“He said, ‘We’ve got a division game, Minnesota, next.’ And we have to get ready for that,” said defensive back Sam Shields.

McCarthy called the victory very rewarding in his postgame news conference but wasn’t ready to downshift at all.

“I’m sure they wanted a day off and all that stuff,” he said. “But we’re going over to the Metrodome, a very difficult place to play with all that crowd noise. … It’s always a different game over there and we’ve got to get ready for that.”

That was it. So much for Victory Monday.

“That’s how it is. Division games get tough,” said Shields. “We come in Monday and move forward.”

At 4-2 overall and 1-0 in NFC North play, the Packers sit atop their division for now. Detroit and Chicago both lost their earlier games Sunday, falling to 4-3. It is still very early and there’s a lot of football to be played.

But the Packers play at Minnesota on Sunday night and then host the Bears on Monday, Nov. 4. Need we say more?

“This is an important time for us,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “Back-to-back division games, back-to-back nationally televised games.”

For some on the team, that is an area of focus, especially since the Packers have lost starters or have been without key contributors for every game this season.

“When you’ve got three of our best offensive players now that are injured, obviously it’s tough,” said right guard T.J. Lang. “You can’t really spend too much time thinking about it or sulking about it. You’ve got other guys in this locker room that have to step up.”

For others, the tight start for the division race is completely irrelevant at this time.

“It doesn’t mean anything,” said Mike Daniels. “I mean, we’ve played one of our six division games. We have five left. Keep calm and carry on.”

Green Bay has won the division the last two years. They won three straight in 1995, ‘96 and ‘97 with coach Mike Holmgren and three from 2002-’04 under Mike Sherman. They’re going for their first hat trick under McCarthy.

“I don’t really look at the standings,” said A.J. Hawk. “Some guys do; I don’t care because we haven’t played them yet. If we take care of our job against them, we’ll be OK. I don’t want to have to count on anybody for help. I know we’ve had to have some help to get in to the playoffs in the past but this early in the year? Nah. It’s all on us.”

The Packers now add Finley to the list of injured. They had nine players on their injured list heading into the game; Cobb on the special IR list and four players who have been on the physically unable to perform list for the first six weeks. Never mind that they’ve already moved on from Bryan Bulaga, DuJuan Harris and the others on season-long injured reserve.

If you’re counting at home, that’s 20 guys who have lost practice, game time or the season to injury.

“We don’t want to think about doomsday situations,” said Hawk, “but if you keep that quarterback healthy, you’ll be all right.”



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