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McCarthy's lines reflect his leadership

Hype of Patriots showdown doesn’t change Packers’ approach


GREEN BAY—Four years ago, Mike McCarthy had heard enough.

As his team was preparing to travel to New England with a backup quarterback to face a Patriots team with the league's longest home winning streak at the time, McCarthy sensed during one of his mid-week press conferences that reporters were angling for a David vs. Goliath theme.

He quickly quashed such talk by uttering a simple line: "We're nobody's underdog."

Translation: "We're going to prepare the way we always have, and we expect to win."

Whether the line was meant more for the public or his own locker room can be debated, but either way it's one that has gone down in Packers lore.

The Packers lost to the Patriots in prime time that mid-December night but took them down to the wire in the process. As everyone knows, when QB Aaron Rodgers returned to the starting lineup the following week, Green Bay didn't lose again that season.

Fast forward to this past Monday, and it was time to preview a matchup with the Patriots again. The media didn't even want to talk about the grind-it-out, three-point NFC North win the Packers chalked up in Minneapolis 24 hours earlier, as is customary the day after a game.

No waiting for the mid-week briefing. It was on to this Patriots showdown immediately. Not one to enjoy all the "made-up drama," to use his phrase, McCarthy was doing his best with the flood of questions, which suggested the Packers were heading into uncharted territory this week.

How are you going to defend Tom Brady? Or Rob Gronkowski? How are you going to match wits with a defensive wizard like Bill Belichick?

McCarthy said all the right things about respecting the Patriots, both their current 9-2 record and their impressive history. Then came this:

"We're not going to make a bunch of changes. We like the football team we are."

Translation: "We're going to prepare the way we always have, and we expect to win."

All coaches talk about things being business as usual regardless of the circumstances, but McCarthy truly means it. He meant it four years ago, he meant it last season when Rodgers missed seven starts, and he means it now heading into one of the most-hyped regular-season games of his tenure.

In fact, one could argue that except for a win-or-go-home Week 17 showdown against the Bears last year (and in 2010), this is the most-anticipated regular-season game for Green Bay since the trip to Dallas one week after Thanksgiving in 2007 when both the Packers and Cowboys were 10-1.

This is Rodgers vs. Brady for the first time. The two teams are a combined 14-1 in the last two months. They're the two highest-scoring teams in the league. Some are calling it a Super Bowl preview.

By design, McCarthy does nothing to let the build-up gain any traction internally. He knows that in the grand scheme of things, last week's division game in Minnesota was potentially more important to the Packers' playoff fate. He also knows that one quarter of the season remains after the Patriots leave town.

That's why, as kicker Mason Crosby said on Wednesday, when the team reported for work after its day off on Tuesday, it felt "like we're just flowing into another week."

"We're in a good place right now, building something special, and it seemed like that was the message here," said Crosby, who has been with the Packers for all of McCarthy's years except his first. "Let's not do anything different. Let's not try and change approach just to play this team."

Other than some extra film study for an AFC opponent the Packers only see once every four years, the lone alteration was to shift the schedule slightly to allow everyone some time off on Thanksgiving day.

"The prep work is the same," receiver Jordy Nelson said. "We don't change meetings. We don't practice longer or anything."

The structure and leadership style get the players tuned into what matters. The "noise," to use another of McCarthy's pet terms, is filtered out.

"Everybody here lives just game by game, week by week," rookie center Corey Linsley said. "We know this is a big game, but it's another game. We're going to prepare for it with the same level of intensity."

Coming from a rookie, that comment has to make McCarthy smile. His unspoken messages get through to even his newest players. To the veteran ones, it's a given.

"We know," Crosby said. "We know what kind of game this is. It's not like you have to talk to us about the importance and what kind of game this is going to be."

So McCarthy doesn't. He likes his team. He's going to prepare like he always has, and he expects to win.

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