GREEN BAY — For all the postseason appearances that the Green Bay Packers have made in coach Mike McCarthy’s tenure, this year’s run to the playoffs might be the most unique yet.
The Packers were considered a likely Super Bowl contender in the preseason. They look like a Super Bowl contender now going into the divisional round game on Sunday against Dallas.
In between, the middle of the season resembled a roller-coaster ride. But the Packers are peaking at the right time.
They haven’t lost since falling to 4-6 following a 42-24 defeat to Washington in Week 11. Just like other teams, Green Bay had to make adjustments after losing key players.
They got healthier on defense. They have quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is playing perhaps the best football of his career.
Through the ups and downs, McCarthy’s confidence didn’t waver, even as some fans took to social media to question his job security following a four-game skid. There were no apparent outbursts in the locker room, no rash decisions.
“I’m not into shock and awe, or a torch-the-landscape-type person. I’m a builder, I’m a developer. I’ve said that since the first day I arrived here,” McCarthy said on Nov. 14, the day after a 47-25 loss at Tennessee. “You build a program, culture is what makes it go, you have to invest in that culture every single day, and that’s my big-picture focus.”
The steady leadership made an impact, left tackle David Bakhtiari said.
“I think he stayed true to who he was, and we stayed true to who we are,” Bakhtiari said on Monday when asked about how the culture developed by McCarthy aided the team’s rebound.
“It got rough, you know? With everyone outside, all the outside noise. We just understood that it’s about us. It’s about everyone in here. We know what we’re capable of,” Bakhtiari added. “Let’s go do what we do, don’t worry about them.”
Bakhtiari has been to the playoffs in each of his four seasons in Green Bay. The Packers have been to the postseason eight straight years — the Patriots are the only other team to do so — and in nine of McCarthy’s 11 years overall in Titletown.
Green Bay won the Super Bowl in the 2010 season. The team hasn’t had a losing record since going 6-10 in 2008, Rodgers’ first year as starting quarterback.
Rodgers has called criticism of McCarthy “ridiculous,” citing the high standards that the Packers have set for themselves through the annual success.
“I think if anything after the Washington game, he became even more of a players’ coach. He was even more positive and listened even more, and just kept encouraging us that we were close to kind of getting over the hump and starting to win games,” Rodgers said last week.
“So he took some crap from everybody, but he stayed the course for us in the meeting room and the locker room.”
On the field, McCarthy turned to former receiver Ty Montgomery to help fill the void in the backfield left by Eddie Lacy’s season-ending ankle injury in October. The return of tight end Jared Cook from injury gave Rodgers another option in the passing game in the second half of the season.
“We had to fine-tune our game plan, had to find our rhythm with the people that we had, with the guys that were stepping up,” center Corey Linsley said. “We found our rhythm, we found what works.”
Now the Packers might have to make a major adjustment again if top receiver Jordy Nelson can’t return against Dallas from a rib injury.
But they also rallied without him to defeat the New York Giants in an NFC wild-card game on Sunday, the Packers’ seventh straight win going back to the regular season.
“I think it’s what makes it so good,” Bakhtiari said about the team’s run. “We know what adversity is.”