GREEN BAY – Either they were too tired to celebrate, or they were too smart to think that what they’d just accomplished was in any way enough.
Whatever the case, there was no dancing in the aisle (although there was some in the visitors’ locker room at AT&T Stadium) on the Green Bay Packers’ charter flight home from Dallas late Sunday night. It wasn’t a party at 31,000 feet; there was more napping on the 2 1/2-hour flight than there was anything else.
“The plane ride, I don’t think it’s like the old days,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Monday, one day after his team matched the greatest rally in the franchise’s 93-year history in a 37-36 come-from-behind victory over the Dallas Cowboys. “The coaches watched the tape like they always do. It was actually a pretty quiet plane. I think everybody was spent.”
It’s a safe bet that by 10:30 Monday night, they were feeling pretty good again.
Thanks to Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, who drilled a game-winning 61-yard field goal in the final minute to give his team an 18-16 victory over the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, the Packers enter the final two regular-season games with the simplest playoff formula possible:
Win and they’re in.
After erasing a 23-point halftime deficit to beat the Cowboys, the Packers stand at 7-6-1. They’ll face Pittsburgh next Sunday at Lambeau Field before the regular-season finale at Chicago on Dec. 29. The Bears currently lead the NFC North at 8-6 after Sunday’s victory at Cleveland, but the Lions now stand at 7-7 after Monday night’s loss – which the Packers needed in order to retake control of their own postseason destiny.
“We come back Wednesday and get ready for Pittsburgh,” veteran wide receiver James Jones had said Sunday when asked where the Packers go from here. “We enjoy this one, we will laugh about it and joke about it and enjoy it on the plane, but we still got work ahead of us. We have work to do. We have to get ready for Pittsburgh and get another one.”
The question now is whether they’ll have quarterback Aaron Rodgers for that one.
Sunday’s comeback only means something if the Packers parlay it into two more victories and a playoff berth – something that would be easier to accomplish with Rodgers under center. The former NFL MVP has not played since fracturing his left collarbone against the Bears on Nov. 4, but wanted to play against the Cowboys and was displeased when McCarthy and team physician Patrick McKenzie told him he could not.
At his usual day-after-the-game press conference Monday, McCarthy said he had just come from a meeting with the medical staff and claimed that Rodgers’ status was not discussed.
“Just had a brief medical meeting. Frankly, we didn’t even discuss Aaron,” McCarthy said. “Aaron’s situation will be evaluated Wednesday morning and then we’ll have a plan for him come Wednesday.”
Rodgers was not available to reporters Monday and did not speak to the media after the game Sunday. His weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com will air at 1:30 p.m. CST Tuesday.
McCarthy said that the coaches would begin the game-planning process as if backup Matt Flynn would be the starter against the Steelers, but Flynn, for one, expects Rodgers to return.
“Everyone hopes that Aaron’s back,” Flynn said. “I don’t anticipate being the guy going forward. I would anticipate Aaron getting healthy. That’s what we’re all hoping for and that’s what I’m hoping for.”
There’s no question the Packers have hope on multiple levels now, thanks to the Ravens’ rally and their own comeback.
“To overcome the adversity that just seemed like it would not end, [have] had some calls that didn’t go our way that frankly probably should have, and just to keep battling, it’s something that we can draw from, it’s something that we will build on,” said McCarthy, whose team is the only team in the NFC to have made the playoffs each of the past four seasons. “We’re about getting ready for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it’s an excellent team victory. Can’t say enough about our football team, can’t say how proud I am of each and every player just to stay the course, and that’s exactly what they did. … It will definitely be a game I’ll never forget.”
Down 26-3 at halftime, Flynn led the Packers to touchdowns on their first five possessions of the second half while the defense got a pair of crucial interceptions from cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams in the final three minutes of the game. The comeback matched a 1982 rally in which the Packers overcame a 23-0 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Rams, 35-23.
“We fought so hard,” said Flynn, who was abysmal in the first half but finished the game having completed 26 of 39 passes for 299 yards with four touchdowns and one interception (113.1 rating). “Playing so bad in the first half, coming out in the second half and playing like we did offensively and defensively, I think says a lot about this team.”
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.