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How much 'more out there' exists for Packers in playoffs?

Green Bay believing last week’s dominant performance not the peak

Head Coach Matt LaFleur and QB Jordan Love
Head Coach Matt LaFleur and QB Jordan Love

GREEN BAY – If the Packers played their best game of the season to beat Dallas in last week's playoff opener, the next question is only natural.

Do they have an even better one in them?

"We're going to need a better game for sure, absolutely," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said as preparations wrapped up for Saturday night's NFC Divisional round at San Francisco.

"I think you can always get better, right? That's our mindset. There's always something that you can improve upon."

His quarterback tends to agree.

"Oh yeah, definitely," Jordan Love said. "In terms of just execution we're getting better and better every week. We've been putting better performances out there and I think there's still more out there for us."

In some respects, that's hard to believe, as Love's passer rating during the team's current four-game winning streak has climbed weekly from 109.1 to 125.3 to 128.6 to the near-maximum 157.2 in Dallas.

Meanwhile, running back Aaron Jones has eclipsed 100 yards rushing four straight games, and three different receivers have topped 100 yards in that span.

Defensively, a unit that struggled during December until Christmas has turned its fortunes around. It limited the quarterback-challenged Vikings to 211 yards, kept the surging Bears out of the end zone, and helped put 14 points on the board with two huge interceptions against the Cowboys.

But the belief something better is always attainable has driven this team, whether it be back in October during a frustrating four-game losing streak, or now with the squad hitting its stride with so much on the line.

If getting Christian Watson and Luke Musgrave closer to full strength opens up more opportunities on offense, or if the statistically quiet Rashan Gary is ready to bust out on defense, it's not a stretch to say there really is more out there.

So there's no reason to change the mentality. Just keep climbing toward whatever's next.

"We've been in playoff mode for, I don't know, it feels like for months now, but it's what, the last four games, especially," LaFleur said. "So it's the next game. That's how we're approaching it.

"We obviously understand what the consequences are at the end of this thing, but it's just that next-game mindset, and these guys have approached it the right way."

With such a young team in many spots, whether that outlook should be characterized as helpfully mature or harmlessly naïve is up for debate. Perhaps it's a mixture of the two.

Whatever the case, it's working for this version of the Packers.

"It doesn't seem like there's too much pressure on these guys," fourth-year guard Jon Runyan said. "It is the playoffs but it's not really felt that way because everybody is going out there to play, have fun and whatever the result is, we'll deal with it.

"Compared to last seasons when we went to the playoffs in '20 and '21 when I was here – the playoffs come and everybody kind of feels a different mentality. But here, it's feels like another game. We know what's on the line but nobody needs to be uptight. Let's go out there and do what we do in practice, just at a faster pace and a higher level. That's what's going on."

They're putting the old adage about the value of experience in the playoff crucible to the test. The postseason is supposed to be different, but maybe the way the end of the regular season took shape was the appropriate next step at the perfect time for the NFC's seventh and last entry.

"We've recognized the stakes," Jones said. "We've been win-or-go-home since Week 15 or 16, I believe.

"These guys rise to the occasion. Although they're young they are ready to play. They're ballers. They're athletes and they've been in big games before. Maybe not in the NFL, but at some point in your life, you've been in a big game and it's no different."

The biggest difference here is the opponent, the top-seeded 49ers. They've been the class of the NFC all season. Their offense doesn't have one or two major weapons to contend with, but four or five, and their defense plays a style all its own.

"You better buckle your chinstrap, because they're a very physical football team," LaFleur said. "If you don't match that physicality, they'll run you right off the field."

That message has gotten through to the young guys, who haven't faced the 49ers in the playoffs like many of the veterans have.

"It's going to be a dogfight," rookie receiver Jayden Reed said. "That's what he's preached and that's what it's going to be. The eye in the sky don't lie. It's on tape. Those guys go hard. We've got to match it. It's going to be a dogfight."

The other message, clearly, is the Packers must be at their absolute best, and they must find that better game they believe is out there.

All that's left is to find out whether it truly is.

"We've had 20 games, or whatever it's been now, to get prepared for this moment," LaFleur said. "I love the approach of the guys and we're just going to go out there and play without any hesitation. That's the best way I can put it."

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