DETROIT—When the Packers left Detroit on Thanksgiving night last year, they were an 11-0 football team heading home for the sweetest slice of turkey in the NFL. Nobody could beat them.
They were so dominant that fans and media were starting to ask the requisite questions that always seem to go before a fall. Were the Packers a dynasty? How many Super Bowls would they win? Were they possibly, cough, the greatest team of all time?
None of those questions were on anyone's lips on Sunday, as the Packers offense stalled on six consecutive drives. What's wrong with the Packers? That was the question on most lips.
Then came the answer in a lickety-split touchdown drive that snatched victory when most everyone was expecting defeat. When Mason Crosby mercifully split the uprights with an insurance-policy field goal with 19 seconds left to play, the Packers were 24-20 winners over a Lions team at the end of its rope.
So, what is it about this year's turkey that will taste even sweeter than last year's?
The difference is this year's turkey will be smokin' hot. Last year's turkey was starting to cool.
In other words, nothing bonds a team and gives it that winning feeling like a few gut-check wins, and that's what Sunday's win will do for this team. You could see it on the face of its head coach and in the voice of its quarterback in their postgame press conferences. You could feel their confidence growing.
"This game is so much about confidence," Mike McCarthy said.
The Packers are a confident bunch. They aren't chasing an undefeated season. They're pursuing something much more meaningful than that. This team's goal is a championship, and they took home with them on Sunday the look of a team no one's going to want to play in January.
"Yeah, we've won five in a row, beat some good teams along the way. After tomorrow night, we could be in the driver's seat. Either way, we're positioned. We have to play our best football," Rodgers said when asked if he senses the Packers are getting hot at the right time of the year.
When you sit down in front of the TV on Monday night to root for the San Francisco 49ers, think about where you were on Monday night, Sept. 24. Think about the play at the end of that game that cost you a night's sleep, maybe two or three nights of sleep. Think about the game the Packers lost six days later, and the 2-3 record the Packers brought home with them from Indianapolis.
What chance did you give this team then of being 7-3? What chance did you give yourself of ever finding happiness in this season?
Are you happy today?
Really happy, aren't you?
Life is good in Packernation today. The Packers are one Bears loss away from the NFC North, and dead ahead is a game in New York that will be about more than holding that NFC North lead, should the Packers have it. You know what I mean, don't you?
Life is good for everyone in Packernation today, except for one man: Mason Crosby.
These are some of the worst days of his football life. Crosby has missed seven of his last 13 field goal attempts. He missed two on Sunday, if you don't count the first one he missed when the Lions tried to ice him. His day also began with his coach ordering a fourth-down go for it, instead of a long field goal attempt that was clearly within Crosby's range. As his coach said, so much of this game is about confidence.
It has come to this: "Mason's got to put the ball through the uprights. We'll continue to work with Mason. We won't blink in our commitment to Mason," McCarthy said following Sunday's game.
His words were supportive, yet, they are also challenging. We are in the crunch-time part of the season. The time for patience is near an end. The Packers need a kicker on whom they can rely, as they always have relied on Crosby.
"I have no reason not to believe in him. I have all the confidence Mason is going to get that back. We need him," McCarthy said.
Yes, the Packers need him. They need him desperately. Postseason football is about crunch time and crunch time is often about kickers.
You might say Crosby is the last piece of the puzzle. When that piece is finally in place, the Packers will be ready to make their run. Additional coverage - Nov. 18