February 6, 2011 – Cowboys Stadium – Arlington, Texas
So here it was. The 6th seeded Packers from the NFC for All the marbles on the line vs. the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers & their #1 defense. This is the stuff hollywood stories are made of & Super Bowl XLV was a microcosm of the Packers entire season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers were looking for their seventh Lombardi Trophy against the younger Green Bay Packers. The Green Bay Packers have clawed their way to the Super Bowl amid a plethora of injuries and two concussions to their quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
No matter which team wins, they will have 10 Super Bowl titles between them. After the hoopla and the not-so-good rendition of the Nation Anthem was completed, the kickoff began and Mason Crosby kicked it deep. Both teams were tentative early but Rodgers heated up quickly by throwing a 29-yard strike to Jordy Nelson for an early 7-0 lead in the 1st quarter.
January 23, 2011 – Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
In some corner of their minds, the Green Bay players probably knew it would come down to this. Through everything they had dealt with–the inconsistency, the injuries and the uncertainty–the Packers held firm to the belief that they were good enough to play for the NFC Championship.
They had won 4 straight games they were required to win, including the last 2 on the road against teams geared to stop them.
They were on one of the surreal magic rides they had seen other teams latch onto & while they didn’t quite understand it, they had no intention of getting off anytime soon. This was epic, once-in-a-career stuff.
Now it was laid out for them: The Packers would travel back to Chicago to take on the Bears. A win meant a trip to the Super Bowl. A loss and all that hard work meant nothing.
The hype during the week leading up to the game was unprecedented for the NFL’s oldest and sometimes most-heated rivalry. Green Bay & Chicago had not met in a playoff game since 1941. This was the biggest Packers-Bears game of all-time!
January 15, 2011 – Georgia Dome – Atlanta, Georgia
What’s the phrase? A mile wide and an inch deep? Perhaps that was the best way to describe the Atlanta Falcons’ confidence as they prepared for their divisional playoff game against the now-very-dangerous Green Bay Packers.
The Falcons had constructed a very nice regular season. Behind QB Matt “Matty Ice” Ryan, dynamic wide receiver Roddy White, and a solid if unspectacular defense, the Falcons had claimed the NFC’s top seed with an impressive 13-3 record, including a 7-1 home record in the Georgia Dome.
They had already beaten the Packers once, an entertaining 20-17 November victory in Atlanta at which time White had proclaimed, “We don’t want to go to Lambeau in January. We want them to come here.” What’s the old saying? Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it.
The Falcons were confident and rested and talking about how ready they were to take the next step forward. They talked with a swagger that was not earned–at least not yet. This was, after all, still a franchise that didn’t have the history, the pedigree to build on. There were no Super Bowl titles just yet.
The Packers, on the other hand, had been in crisis mode for a month. They won 3 straight games they had to win, including a mugging on the road of the always-dangerous Eagles the previous week. Green Bay knew it would have no more home games, so the team hunkered down & prepared to do what it needed to do.
January 9, 2011 – Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia Pennsylvania
It was a mixture of relief, satisfaction and joy that accompanied the Green Bay Packers as they prepared for their NFC wild card playoff game against the Eagles. In truth, these Packers had been in playoff mode for the better part of a month anyway. After back-to-back losses to the Detroit Lions & New England Patriots in mid-December, the Packers knew what they had to do–win or go home, which sounds an awful lot like a playoff game scenario.
So it was into that pressure-packed cauldron the Packers entered the final 2 weeks of the regular season. They responded with a blowout win over the NY Giants & a tough, grind it out, win over the Bears. The Bears played their starters the entire game when they didn’t have to. If any team was playoff tested, it was the Packers & no team wanted to face them, especially in the playoffs.
Their first-round foe would be a familiar one. The Packers and Eagles had faced off in the season’s opening week, but a lot had changed for both teams since that early September afternoon.
Green Bay had, of course, absorbed a ton of key injuries, ultimately putting 16 players on injured reserve. The offense had found its stride and the defense, which had seemed so confounded by the entrance of Michael Vick in that first game, was playing with confidence and speed.
The Eagles had committed to Vick & he had responded with an MVP-type season.
While Vick had ran through, over & past the Packers the first time they met, Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers this time had a week to prepare & a season’s worth of tape to watch in anticipation. It would make a huge difference.
January 2, 2011 – Lambeau Field, Green Bay Wisconsin
So here it was. The final game of a season that had featured more twists & turns than a mountain-side road. There were no subtle permutations, no weird NFL tie-breaker rules to interpret. There would be no controversy and no question about what would happen & how things would shake out.
If the Packers beat the Bears, they would grab the final NFC wild-card playoff berth & keep playing the following week. If they lost to the Bears, they’d have to hope the Giants lost their final game to the Washington Redskins (which they did NOT!)
The Bears, champs of the NFC North ,had a first-round playoff bye no matter what, but they did not plan to make life easy for the Packers. Many teams already set in the playoffs might have chosen to rest at least some of their starters to avoid needless injury. Not the Bears & certainly not against the Packers. No these Bears did not want Green Bay in the playoffs & they would play a full 60 minutes of football with their starters.
“Everyone will play,” said Bears coach Lovie Smith, whose first order of business when he took over in Chicago 7 years ago was to consistently beat the Packers. With everything the Packers had dealt with during the season, why would they expect anything less?
December 26, 2010 – Lambeau Field, Green Bay Wisconsin
The Packers may have felt they had more than their share of bad luck this season. However, a couple games one week ago helped set the Packers path in stone. The Giants lost to the Eagles 38-31 after having a 31-10 lead in the 4th quarter. The other game was the Packers division rival Detroit Lions hanging tough with the young, up & coming Buccaneers. Former Packer kicker Dave Rayner tied the game with a 28-yard field goal at 1:39 remaining in the game, for the Lions. Then, in overtime, the Lions took the opening kickoff and drove 63 yards – covering most of the distance on two big runs and a 12-yard reception by Calvin Johnson on a third-and-8 play — to set up the game-winner a 34-yard FG to win the game 23-20.
Outsiders may have felt the Packers were lucky but no, this Packer team makes their own luck and they were determined to not let the opportunity slip by. The Packers path was set. The math was simple, every game from here on out would be a playoff game. Lose and you go home wondering “What if?” Win and you continue on. The Packers would not quit. They must beat the Giants, then the Bears to finish the season at 10-6. Then, of course, anything could happen after that. Truly, there was no room for error and if they did stumble, they would have the distinction of being one of the most talented teams not to make the playoffs.