The Top 5 Reasons the Green Bay Packers Are in the Super Bowl
While some clubs from the NFC who went to the league's title game during that stretch were not always the best squad from the conference, the path the Packers had to take allowed them to actually emerge as the best representative of the NFC this season and not only for being the hottest team in the NFL.
"You really have no control of the path. That's part of the deal," said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. "I mean, every season's different. You just try to keep it on the road. So our particular path this year, in hindsight, has made us a stronger football team. It's shaped us in a different way. We've had opportunity, really, to play five playoff games going into this Super Bowl. So I think that really helps us. We feel like we're a razor-sharp team as far as the level of play that we've been bringing to the table here the last month.
"We knew we were a good football team when we came out of training camp. We knew we'd have an opportunity to be part of this. And things sometimes go your way, sometimes they don't. But I think it speaks volumes about the men in the locker room, the character, everybody keeping an eye on their target."
The Packers had enough issues regarding injuries to key players such as running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley, who both were placed on IR, along with 13 others, and the concussion sustained by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. But Rodgers and the Packers stayed resilient and find themselves playing for a Super Bowl title and here are the five reasons why.
No. 5: The victory over the New York Giants
Coming off their bye in Week 10, the Packers were 6-3, sitting in good shape for a postseason berth. But in their next five games, the Packers went 2-3 after losing a close game to the Falcons in Atlanta, suffered a surprising loss to the Lions in Detroit and were handled in New England. Suddenly, it looked like the wheels were falling off. With a couple of losses from other teams in the NFC, the Packers still had the opportunity to control their destiny with two games left, but they had no room for error. In Week 16, the Giants, who were also in the playoff hunt, journeyed to Green Bay. The Packers refocused, routed the Giants 45-17 and never looked back.
"And really coming down to the New York Giants game, that's the one thing that we just kept reiterating to our players: All of our goals are still in front of us," said McCarthy. "We didn't need any help. And I think that really helped our guys stay focused, stay on point, and the Giant victory there at home was big and then we were able to run the next four in a row. Just part of shaping of a football team."
No. 4: The emergence of the running game
After having his best output of his short NFL career in 2009 when he ran for 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 4.4 yards per carry, running back Ryan Grant looked to play a major role for the Packers to relieve some pressure off Rodgers. But in the first game of the regular season, Grant injured his ankle and had season-ending surgery to have screws inserted. The Packers finished 24th overall in rushing (100.4 yards per game) during the regular season and didn't have a 1,000 yard rusher.
Running back Brandon Jackson started after Grant was injured and finished with 703 yards and three touchdowns, but showed signs of wearing down towards the end of the regular season. In order to succeed in the postseason, a serious contender needs a running game and after trying running back by committee, rookie James Starks answered the call for Green Bay. The sixth-round selection from Buffalo made his debut against the 49ers on Dec. 5, after being placed on the physically unable to perform list due to an injury he sustained during training camp.
When Starks had his breakout game in the first-round of the playoffs against the Eagles, where he finished with 123 yards on 23 carries and set a Packers' playoff record for a rookie running back, McCarthy knew he had something special.
"James Starks is just a fine young man, a very talented young man and just hasn't played a lot of football over the last two years and that's really been the biggest challenge," said McCarthy on Jan. 9. "Everybody knows his story, coming off of PUP and we've just been trying to get him ready. ... James was a difference-maker; he was a difference-maker for us just the way he was running the ball. He's a gifted athlete, he's a longer-levered individual and he falls forward, and I just love running backs that fall forward, especially when they're 6-2, so that's a big part of his success."
No. 3: Aaron Rodgers
For three years, Rodgers waited for his time to take over the helm as the Packers' field general because legendary quarterback Brett Favre was still calling the plays in the huddle. When his number was called, Rodgers stepped in and the Packers never looked back. Entering the 2010 campaign, Rodgers was the main reason why the Packers were believed to be a Super Bowl contender, despite having critics because he didn't have a postseason win.
When Rodgers was knocked out of the game against the Lions in Week 14, which resulted in a loss, and missed the contest against the Patriots the following week, another loss; he had two games to get the team rolling again to get to the playoffs. Since his return, Rodgers delivered strike after strike, especially in the first half of contests, and when he needed to the make plays with his legs, he stepped up despite two prior concussions.
"Well, I mean, Aaron's, he's a special athlete. He can do everything you ask at the quarterback position, can make all the throws," said McCarthy. "Very smart, has great command of a very versatile offense. He has a lot of responsibility at the line of scrimmage. He's in sync with his perimeter players. You can just see that on a daily basis. ... And I think you're just seeing the maturation of a great quarterback on a high powered offense."
No. 2: Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson
It takes confidence and great coaching to a get over a major hurdle of losing 15 players who were placed on injured reserve. McCarthy accomplished that feat as he coached up his young players and kept the veterans focused.
It's important to have a general manager who knows talent to build depth for a squad when the injuries strike. Ted Thompson accomplished that task when he added players such as Starks, rookies defensive end C.J. Wilson and cornerback Sam Shields, to name a few, to the roster.
Some head coaches probably would be insecure if a former head coach was a part of their staff. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was the head coach for two franchises (Panthers, Texans) for nine seasons. Capers joined the Packers in 2009 and since then the defense played significantly better.
It takes a secure coach to allow another respected coach to totally run one-third of the team. McCarthy is that coach.
No. 1: The defense
Rodgers was definitely the man who controlled the first halves of the Packers' three playoffs games, but it was the defense that closed out the games with interceptions that iced two contests.
With three solid secondary defenders in Shields, Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson, Capers is able to run aggressive man-to-man coverages and create clever defensive zone packages that require discipline. When Rodgers struggled in the second halves of their playoff games, the defense never let the contests get out of reach. The Packers' defense didn't get the headlines during the regular season, but they had been on the grand stage for the past month and now the world is hip to how good they really are.