LaFleur: 'This is a playoff game for us'

Sense of urgency starts with ball security after rare lapses

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – Matt LaFleur did not mince words.

"This is a playoff game for us," the Packers' head coach said Thursday. "There's no doubt about it. That's the way we're approaching it."

Though it isn't truly do-or-die when Green Bay visits Detroit on Sunday, the mentality LaFleur is pushing makes all the sense in the world.

It's simple math really – beating the Lions to earn a first-round bye means it'll take two January victories to get to the Super Bowl instead of three, on top of getting a home game (or two) when the stakes are highest.

"Our coaches have put it perfectly where they talk about, hey, do you want to win this week and get to the second round? Or do you want to have to win next week to get to the second round?" linebacker Blake Martinez said. "Might as well do it this week, and we're excited for it."

The preparation this week is mostly mental. With the short week off the Monday night game and taking Christmas to rest, the players had two walk-throughs on Thursday to implement different segments of the game plan, and they will practice on Friday before flying to Detroit on Saturday.

Aside from absorbing the X's and O's, the Packers also are focused on taking better care of the ball after a sloppy three-turnover first half at Minnesota on Monday night.

The Packers have turned the ball over just 12 times all season, second-fewest in the league to New Orleans (eight), and the Vikings game was just the second three-turnover outing of the season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw just his third interception of the season, and the offense also lost two fumbles.

The other three-giveaway game? Against this week's opponent, the Lions, back in mid-October (also on a Monday night, coincidentally).

LaFleur noted Friday's practice will include some extra ball-security work so the players lock down some of the fundamentals that got away from them in Minnesota.

"Five points of pressure, wrist above the elbow, high and tight," LaFleur said, giving a quick lesson to the media. "Our guys, we have to get back to that and always be mindful of that."

He added the Lions' game film shows their defenders taking a lot of swipes at the ball, much like the Vikings did. Minnesota's success getting the ball out – Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham all coughed it up, with the Vikings recovering the first two – also will put Detroit on high alert to make a similar effort.

The fumbles for Jones and Adams were just the fourth each in their careers, and Graham's was only his eighth in a 10-year career, so it's not as though anyone has a chronic problem. But games like Monday night are reminders that any momentary lapse can prove costly.

"I didn't get a chance to secure how I wanted once I caught it. We had that one," Adams said of his turnover. "Aaron Jones moving the ball in traffic. We don't do that. We gotta cover that ball up. Things like that, that we can control, we just have to be a little bit better and a little bit cleaner."

Green Bay's defense hitting its stride at the right time minimized the damage from those turnovers, allowing the offense to settle down, stay close and find its footing in the second half.

But the last thing the Packers can do is take the result for granted. As Rodgers said, "We can't expect our defense to shut them down like that … It puts a lot of stress on the defense."

Clean that up and the reward should be waiting.

"It's important that we approach this game understanding how much we have to gain from winning," Rodgers said. "Like I've said over the years, the great teams win these games.

"If we want to be that great team that gets an opportunity to be in the mix for the one seed, for sure gets a bye, gets a chance to relax for a week and get ready for an opponent, these are the kind of games you win."

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