GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers’ Thanksgiving Day had been a colossal disappointment, and in the Ford Field visitors’ locker room in the moments after the loss to the Detroit Lions, the road ahead appeared daunting. One could’ve argued the season was lost.
"There was very little room for error before the game," the Packers head coach said. "And there's even less room now.”
Nothing had gone right. The bruising starting running back, who’d been so productive in previous weeks, was shut down.
“We couldn't run the ball worth a (expletive),” the tell-it-like-it-is left guard said. “It was a terrible game."
The defense had made a few plays, but not enough, and committed costly errors at inopportune times.
“We just didn't do enough to get the job done,” the veteran cornerback said. “We needed big plays, we needed to stop them from putting points up on the board altogether. I hate to say it, but we found a way to lose this one.”
Injuries remained a factor.
“But we have guys who have to step in and make those plays and make that adjustment," the coach said. "And I fully expected us to."
And to top it off, the former MVP quarterback wouldn’t be 100 percent healthy the rest of the season.
"Do I feel like I can take this team and carry them by myself? I think every individual should feel that way," the quarterback said. "If you want to (ask), can I still carry this team? Fine. But until they tell me I'm not the quarterback here anymore, then I will do my best and feel confident that I can do what needs to be done to win."
And yet, despite it all, they knew they had four games left to play, and they weren’t ready to give up, despite being 1 1/2 games behind the NFC North leader.
"We have to win out," the veteran right guard said. "We've got four games left. We're definitely not out of anything. We still have a shot."
Added the head coach: "You never know how things are going to pan out. You just don't. So you have to win each game as you go. The margin of error has now been minimized even more so because of our ineptness (against Detroit). We have to overcome that."
Sound familiar? It should.
Except, this wasn’t Mike McCarthy, Josh Sitton, Tramon Williams, Aaron Rodgers and T.J. Lang talking after Thursday’s 40-10 Thanksgiving loss to the Lions. This was Mike Sherman, Mike Wahle, Mike McKenzie, Brett Favre and Marco Rivera talking after the team’s 22-14 loss to the Lions on Thanksgiving 2003.
And you know what happened next.
The Packers, 6-6 entering the final four games, won out. Favre took the field in Oakland in the second-to-last game of the season, having lost his father Irv to a fatal heart attack, and played the game of his life.
In a sublimely bizarre final day of the season, the Packers whipped the Denver Broncos, 31-3, at Lambeau Field while most of the crowd spent the second half turned around watching skybox TVs to see the Arizona Cardinals stun the Minnesota Vikings, 18-17, and send the Packers to the NFC North title and a berth in the playoffs.
"Something's going on here," Favre said after that game.
Once there, they beat Matt “We Want The Ball And We’re Going To Score” Hasselbeck and the Seattle Seahawks in overtime in the NFC Wild Card round. The Team of Destiny came up short, of course, with its miraculous run ending with the infamous Fourth-and-26 loss at Philadelphia in the NFC Divisional round.
But that’s not the point. The point is that a team seemingly out of contention went on a run, with its quarterback bringing his teammates together, and made the playoffs.
A decade later, the 5-6-1 Packers, who are 0-4-1 since Rodgers broke his left collarbone against Chicago on the opening series of the team’s No. 4 loss, have four games left – at home against Atlanta (3-9) on Sunday, at Dallas (7-5) on Dec. 15, at home against Pittsburgh (5-7) on Dec. 22 and at Chicago (6-6) on Dec. 29.
On Friday – the last time McCarthy spoke to reporters, as Monday evening’s scheduled press briefing was canceled by the club – McCarthy acknowledged how bad Thursday’s loss had been and the scenario it created.
“There's not a man that's coached or played in this league that hasn't had his ass beat. OK? And that's what happened to us. We got drilled by a very good football team that played very well. So we'll take that hard lesson, swallow. They'll be accountable for it. And we'll be ready to go when Atlanta comes in here.
“We're in a hole. We felt like we were in a hole going in to the Detroit game. We've got two division losses and a tie. That's not where you want to be. This league is exciting each and every week. And that's the way you have to approach it. So we have a big opportunity (against the Falcons). It's an NFC game, it’s at home, to get back to .500. And we'll see what happens.”
While Rodgers’ collarbone injury is obviously different than the personal tragedy Favre dealt with, his return could conceivably galvanize the team. In addition to everything else the Packers overcame in 2003, Favre played the second half of the season with a broken thumb on his right (throwing) hand, suffered in October.
Will the Packers be able to ride Rodgers to a similar finish? Of course, past performance is not a guarantee of future results. But asked on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com last week whether the team could run the table, Rodgers said he believed it could. In fact, Rodgers had just talked with injured running back DuJuan Harris about it a week earlier.
“I think so. I really do,” Rodgers replied. “I think we’ve been through so much as a team this year, faced a lot of adversity, a lot of injuries, we should be getting healthy at the right time. We still have guys who are playing through injuries.
“It would be exciting to see, as DuJuan actually mentioned to me in the locker room last week, what it would be like if we’d have been able to stay relatively healthy this season. Obviously he’s been out for the season and (left tackle) Bryan Bulaga out (is) for the season and there have been a number of other injuries throughout the year that have dealt us some tough blows.
“We’ve, in the past, been able to make runs in these types of situations. Everybody’s banged up at this point in the season, but we feel if we can just stay in the hunt here and just get into the tournament, anything can happen.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.