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'Every game's like a playoff game' for Packers now

Green Bay not altering approach as season’s circumstances change

LB Lukas Van Ness; CB Carrington Valentine; CB Keisean Nixon
LB Lukas Van Ness; CB Carrington Valentine; CB Keisean Nixon

GREEN BAY – The 2023 Packers have shown they can handle adversity. Now the challenge is whether they can handle success.

Immediately after Green Bay's win over defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City last Sunday night, Head Coach Matt LaFleur was asked – now that his young team is suddenly in the thick of the NFC playoff picture – if the one-game-at-a-time mantra will stick.

"We're about to find out," LaFleur said.

The premise of the question, of course, is the danger that always lurks if a team gets too far ahead of itself. If it starts looking down the road, not necessarily at opponents, but the bigger picture of what it might accomplish.

That can result in losing sight of what it took to earn the opportunity in the first place, namely, a razor-sharp focus on the task at hand without concern for what lies ahead.

That topic was up for discussion this past week with the Packers hitting the road for a Monday Night Football matchup with the Giants.

Over its last two games, Green Bay has knocked off a pair of first-place teams in the Lions and Chiefs, and now the remaining schedule, with a potential playoff berth for the taking, features four sub-.500 opponents and another foe currently matching the Packers' 6-6 record.

Judging by the players' comments, nobody will take the Giants or any other foe lightly. "We give everybody respect," quarterback Jordan Love said. "We don't doubt anybody or take a game off or anything like that."

Moreover, LaFleur's message of keeping all the energy and focus on the current moment – "That's just how my brain works," he said. "I have a hard time seeing past what's today" – continues to resonate.

"I think the mindset in the locker room has been the same," receiver Jayden Reed said. "I don't think anybody's getting too high, nobody's getting too low. We still have the mindset of attacking every week the same, no matter the opponent.

"We talked about earlier in the team room, preparation is separation. So the way you prepare, that's how you separate from others and the opponent."

Hearing that from a rookie like Reed reflects well on the team's leadership, from LaFleur on down. For all the focus on the Packers being young, they still have several experienced players on both sides of the ball who keep their fingers on the pulse of things.

"It's how we're built," eighth-year defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. "We've got a lot of veteran guys that understand it's a long season, and you don't let two or three games take you away from that."

Two or three games, either way. Losses or wins. At one point the Packers lost four in a row, sandwiched around their bye week. Now they've won three straight.

As the vets set the example of what it means to be a pro, in good times and bad, by all accounts the young players have followed suit.

"My sense is, they're about their business, the right business," fourth-year running back AJ Dillon said of a rookie and second-year group the Packers are leaning on this season. "They come in here ready to work.

"I think the culture is, whether we were whatever (record-wise) and everybody said we were terrible, and now everybody's saying we're good again, the mentality is go grab your lunchpail, go to work and worry about the results after the game."

No one's really harkening back to last year's late-season run, either, when the Packers turned 4-8 into 8-8 and a postseason play-in opportunity. It's not being brought up because it means nothing to the rookies who weren't even here, and it means little more to other young players, including Love at quarterback, who weren't seeing the field regularly.

"I don't even remember last year," Dillon said. "I'm focused on right now. It's a long season, man. It feels like Week … whatever week it is right now. Putting one foot in front of another, trying to win this week."

A win this week would put the Packers above .500 for the first time since Week 3, when a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback got them to 2-1.

The ensuing slide was not the result of anybody feeling too good about themselves, but mostly the inevitable growing pains the offense was going through with the quarterback transition, injuries, and youth at the perimeter spots.

Everything feels different now (except for injuries still being dealt with), but it's all tagged with a caution sign.

"As soon as you start feeling yourself and you feel like you've arrived, this league has a way of knocking you off," LaFleur said. "The bottom line is, we're a .500 football team. We're 6-6 right now. We've clawed out of a tough spot, but every week, you've got to bring your 'A' game."

They know, Coach. They know.

"We don't need a reminder at all," Love said. "We know exactly what position we're in. Every game's like a playoff game for us. We know the mentality, we've got to win out. This team doesn't need a reminder of that."

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