Day-After Notes: Packers Must Prepare For 'Different Level'

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Head Coach Mike McCarthy was clear Monday in describing how he likes the way his team is playing right now, and how the players effectively used the regular-season finale in Arizona to stay sharp and maintain their momentum so they could take their best football into the playoffs.

But he was equally direct in stating that the Packers can't rest on all that heading into Sunday's NFC Wild Card rematch with the Cardinals, because playoff football is a challenge unto itself, and as a No. 5 seed the Packers have plenty more challenges to overcome to keep their season going.

"Playoff football is different than regular-season football," McCarthy said. "Anybody that's been through it will tell you that. It goes to a different level.

"We're playing an opponent on the road, they're the defending NFC champions, they've won their division. There's definitely some challenge of playing a little bit uphill, and that's the mindset we're taking into this game."

The Packers enter the postseason as one of the hottest teams in the NFC, having won seven of their last eight games after a 4-4 start. That's the momentum McCarthy didn't want to break in Week 17 despite the fact that the Packers couldn't do better than the No. 5 seed regardless of the outcome.

But it's obvious the Packers on Sunday are going to see a different Cardinals team than the one that did pull several starters early, including quarterback Kurt Warner after two series. Last year, Arizona used a home win in the Wild Card round to propel them to three straight playoff victories and a berth in the Super Bowl.

In other words, as important as the momentum is in the big picture, the narrow focus McCarthy wants to see this week must be on playing sound football in a difficult environment against a top-notch opponent. Everything else is just talk.

"We're worried about Arizona, and that's playoff football," McCarthy said. "That's part of the charge, that's part of the discipline, that's part of the focus that we need to make sure we stay in tune with this next game."

In qualifying for the playoffs as a Wild Card team, the Packers are hoping to become the third team in five years to win three straight road games to get to the Super Bowl. Pittsburgh did it in 2005 and so did the New York Giants in 2007, and both won the title.

Last year, both Philadelphia in the NFC and Baltimore in the AFC started with Wild Card bids and won two road games each to make it to their respective conference championships.

So the road map, so to speak, is there for the Packers, as long as they don't lose sight of what it takes to stay on that path.

"I like the way our football team looks right now," McCarthy said. "I like the energy they're playing with, I like the way they prepare, and I like the way they're focused, and we'll be totally in tune with the fact that playoff football is different.

"I'm looking for a focused, disciplined week of preparation."

Showing up big

Back in 2007, safety Atari Bigby ended the regular season with four interceptions over the final five games to earn NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for December, and he carried that over into a strong postseason that saw him deliver several big hits.

Perhaps he's following a similar pattern this season, as over the last four games, Bigby has made several standout plays.

He stuffed Chicago running back Kahlil Bell on a crucial third-and-1 run in the third quarter and he separated Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace from the ball with a big hit over the middle on a third-down pass, causing an incompletion.

Then Bigby intercepted two passes against Seattle and added his third interception of the final two weeks at Arizona. He also had another interception in Arizona nullified by an offensive holding penalty that gave the Packers a safety.

{sportsad300}"He's playing outstanding," said McCarthy, noting that Bigby will receive another defensive game ball, which he believed was his third in a row. "He has always been a very good communicator. He has done a very good job of being the last line of defense back there, and now that he has been given some opportunities, he's definitely cashed in on them. I think Atari's confidence is as high as I have seen it."

Comfort within the system has bred that confidence, according to defensive coordinator Dom Capers, and it appears Bigby is channeling that confidence into more aggressive play.

"Atari is kind of reflective I think of our whole defense," Capers said. "I think he's really made great strides. You've seen it in his playmaking ability. He's coming up with the ball a lot more."

Woodson OK

As anticipated, cornerback Charles Woodson's shoulder injury is nothing more than a strain of the same shoulder that has kept him limited at times in practice over the last six weeks or so.

McCarthy said Woodson would probably take the same approach to practice that he has over the latter part of the season, missing some of the work but fully participating at least once during the week.

"I fully expect him to be ready to go for Arizona," McCarthy said.

2010 opponents

With the regular season in the books, the Packers' last two opponents for 2010 have been determined.

In addition to their six NFC North Division games, the Packers already knew that next season they would be facing all four teams in the NFC East (Dallas and the New York Giants at home, Philadelphia and Washington on the road) and all four teams in the AFC East (Miami and Buffalo at home, New England and the New York Jets on the road) based on the rotating division pairings.

Because the Packers finished second in the NFC North, their other two opponents will be the second-place teams in the NFC West (San Francisco, at home) and the NFC South (Atlanta, on the road).

The complete schedule with dates and times will be released sometime in April.

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