Hunt: Packers uniforms not the only thing 'throwback' about Sunday
GREEN BAY—Were it possible to ignore the colossus Lambeau Field has become, Sunday could have been a total way-back machine trip to a different era of football.
The combination of Green Bay's throwback 1921 Acme Packers uniforms, the general clumsiness of the Cleveland Browns and the gloomy, drizzly pall of late afternoon in the Fox Valley truthfully advertised a patina-tinged version of the game.
Outside of Josh Sitton's Lambeau Leap, there was nothing particularly entertaining about Green Bay's 31-13 victory, but at 3-2 entering the day, the Packers weren't here to do a song-and-dance routine. With Chicago's earlier loss to Washington, it was all about trying to regain a foothold in an NFC North that is available to all except Minnesota.
Even in their physically compromised state—and yes, they lost another receiver Sunday in Jermichael Finley—the Packers are now in a most favorable position. And the thing of it is, they don't have to do anything resembling the high-wire offensive act they used to be.
A strong running game and a stouter defense, hallmarks of days past at Lambeau, seem to be enough at the moment. Add to that a strong, resourceful character that has allowed the Packers to persevere, adapt and even grow through the injuries, making them a compelling story.
Even if they're not particularly pretty in the way they go about it.
“Hang with us, fans,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said afterward. “It might not be the prettiest of games, but the defense is playing great. This gives us an opportunity.”
Watching the Packers without Clay Matthews, James Jones and Randall Cobb might not be a whole lot of fun at times. But winning presents a high level of satisfaction, no matter if the Packers have become grinders because of their situation. The best teams adapt to what they have, and seeing the Packers make plays when necessary with stand-ins such as Jarrett Boykin brings about a whole new level of appreciation.
Coach Mike McCarthy was positively thrilled with the result, to the point that his enthusiasm caused someone to ask if it were the Packers' best performance of the season.
“It's the best game of this week, that's for sure,” McCarthy said with a smile as big as some of the holes the offensive line opened for Eddie Lacy.
The Packers have evolved through necessity to the point that McCarthy mentioned how his quarterback “did a great job of managing a game.”
Of course, that alarmed Rodgers, who said, “He called me a game manager?”
Relax, No. 12, McCarthy said no such thing. “That's the way I want to play here,” McCarthy said. “Not a game manager, but someone who takes care of the football.”
Even with the revolving personnel door caused by all the injuries, the Packers have come up with a solid way to address it. No turnovers, a dependable running game and lights-out defense will win almost every time, but the will to get beyond the missing play-makers has to be there.
McCarthy said it comes from his veterans, who are determined to forge ahead with whoever lines up beside them. Packers general manager Ted Thompson has also decided to fill the gaps with young players, a strategy that could provide an added benefit as the season goes along. Not only are the Packers getting better during the week, they're getting better on Sundays as guys like Boykin receive on-the-job training.
Rodgers, however, was troubled by the stalled drives and penalties, but given the circumstances it would have been difficult to project a crisp game.
“You have to remind yourself,” Rodgers said. “It wasn't the cleanest game, but it is tough winning in this league.”
Fortunately for the Packers, they have experience overcoming personnel losses. It's still too early to say how this thing will play out without some of their best players for an extended period, but McCarthy was bold enough in his gusto to take a peek.
“We will excel through this,” he said.
Michael Hunt is a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org