GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers enter their bye week knowing full well how fortunate they are to be 8-2 and in prime position for a first-round playoff bye and perhaps even homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
And if anyone doesn’t grasp just how meaningful it is to be positioned the way they are with six post-bye week games left to play, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the other “old heads” – Rodgers’ term – made sure of that.
So as players scattered about the country Monday afternoon, speeding their way to Austin Straubel International Airport – or speeding as much as the snow-covered roads allowed – to spend their week off in warmer climes, they did so having been reminded by Rodgers, tight ends Jimmy Graham and Marcedes Lewis, cornerback Tramon Williams and others of what’s at stake when they return to face the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on Nov. 24.
“I was just talking with Jimmy (about it). We’re both pretty excited about the opportunity – being older players and just understanding how special this feels. It doesn’t happen like this all the time,” Rodgers explained in the wake of Sunday’s 24-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field – a triumph that put the Packers in the No. 2 spot in the NFC if the season ended today.
“We’ve both been through rough seasons over the years, where you’re just not quite in the mix. This feels different. Hopefully, those guys understand how important the opportunity is and not do anything stupid that’s going to jeopardize their role in that opportunity.”
Now, don’t misunderstand Rodgers, who turns 36 next month, making him part of Packers’ thirtysomethings clique which includes Graham (who’ll celebrate his 33rd birthday the day of the 49ers game), Lewis (35), Williams (36), kicker Mason Crosby (35) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (30).
He’s not looking for any win-one-for-the-old-dudes rallying cry that was part of the motivation on the Super Bowl XLV-winning team in 2010 (for Charles Woodson, Donald Driver and Ryan Pickett) or the 2014 team that lost in the NFC Championship Game at Seattle (for Julius Peppers).
But having been on a team that went a combined 13-18-1 over the past two seasons, with Rodgers missing much of the 2017 season with a fractured collarbone and the team’s uneven play last year resulting in coach Mike McCarthy’s firing with a month left in the season, Rodgers and his fellow veterans do want their teammates to be smart during their time off and appreciate the opportunities the team’s strong start has afforded them.
“When we made our run in 2010, I think a lot of us wanted to win for Charles or Pickett and some of the other older guys. We’re not asking for that,” Rodgers continued. “Tramon and I and ‘Big Dog’ and Jimmy – I just think we’re asking for guys to do their part and to buy into something.
“This is optional accountability. You have the option to buy into what we’re doing or not. And it doesn’t stop when you leave the building. You carry that ‘G’ with you wherever you go, and I hope guys realize that and how important this week is to mentally get balanced and come back and get ready for a tough road trip.”
Veteran wide receiver Davante Adams described the message from Rodgers and others as “just a little friendly reminder just to conduct yourself in the right way, be a pro during the break.”
That break will last the remainder of the week. Head coach Matt LaFleur had the players come into Lambeau Field Monday for meetings, film sessions and a light workout before giving them the remainder of the week off. He said he felt the veterans’ messaging resonated with their younger teammates before everyone went their separate ways.
“I thought that was a great message. I think it means so much when it comes from the players,” LaFleur said. “More than anything, (it was a reminder that) just because it’s a bye week, it doesn’t mean that it’s a week off of doing anything. We want to make sure that guys are staying, working out, so that when we come back we don’t have any issues come up. Although it is good for them to get away to kind of clear their mind, they’ve still got to keep their bodies right. That’s the main message.”
LaFleur and his staff, meanwhile, will spend the next few days doing what he described as some intense self-scouting, with defensive coaches breaking down the Packers’ offensive tendencies and deficiencies and vice-versa. The coaches will then get some time off at the end of the week before getting back to work on their matchup with the 49ers, who are now 8-1.
“Really the focus will be on what we need to do better moving forward, because there’s a lot to improve upon. I think our guys know that as well,” LaFleur said. “And then toward the end of the week, we’ll get everybody some time to get away and kind of recharge the battery. I do think that’s important to do, to allow these guys to get out of the office, spend time with their families. There’s a lot of long hours that are put in, but it is nice to kind of reconnect with the ones that mean so much to you – your family.”
Adams, for one, will be staying in Green Bay. He and his wife, Devanne, welcomed daughter Daija into the world in late September, and while the Packers’ medical staff gave Adams the go-ahead to leave town if he wanted to, he’ll instead stay home and do rehab on his still-healing turf toe injury between feedings and diaper changes.
“At this point, they definitely trust me, but it’s a decision I made. Plus, with the baby, it’s just a better move right now,” Adams said. “Everybody needs to take advantage of this week off training-wise and treatment-wise. I’ll be in town all week, just making sure I’m continuing to get back so I can feel 3 million percent like myself.
“We’re in a blessed position with our record and with our health right now, more or less, so we have to make sure we don’t take that for granted and take care of business.”