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Nothing Road-Weary About These Packers

The Packers knew when they exited Lambeau Field on Jan. 2 having clinched an NFC Wild Card playoff spot that they’d be playing their entire postseason on the road, no matter how long it lasted. No more friendly confines, as such is the life of a No. 6 seed.


But they weren't intimidated by that fact, and they've proven it with road playoff wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta the past two weeks.

"We've embraced it," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Monday, as the team begins preparing for a third straight road game at Chicago for the NFC Championship on Sunday.

"The road doesn't scare us. Playing on the road doesn't bother us at all."

There are several reasons for that, some of which date back to McCarthy's arrival five years ago.

For one, the Packers have always practiced with crowd noise piped in over a speaker system, even during training camp. With regular NFC North trips to domes in Minneapolis and Detroit every year, and additional dome games on the schedule each of the last four years, dealing with crowd noise is part of the team's preparation for an entire season, not just specific contests.

So as the crowds get all the more amped up during the playoffs, the Packers are as prepared as they can be, and they don't appear to get rattled. Perhaps it helped that the Packers had traveled to both Philadelphia and Atlanta already this season, and it may help this week that they're regular visitors to Chicago. But either way, the composure was particularly evident in how efficiently the offense operated last Saturday in Atlanta.

"We had the one penalty on offense against Atlanta, and that dome was as loud as I've ever heard it particularly early in the game," said McCarthy, who had traveled to the Georgia Dome many times as offensive coordinator of the Saints for five seasons. "It was significantly louder than when we played down there in November, so that's a very good experience that we can draw from."

Also, as the head coach McCarthy immediately established a routine for the entire team on the road, and with very minimal exceptions it doesn't change. The plane leaves at the same time the day before the game, the team meeting at the hotel is at the same time, and the players and coaches know the schedule.

Potential distractions are also kept to a minimum, with film-study sessions and other regular meetings conducted at Lambeau Field in their usual locations before departure, not in a foreign place like the hotel. Occasionally, there may be a walk-through the morning of a night game with so much extra time available, but the players' "classroom" for the most part doesn't travel, which is the way McCarthy likes it.

That regularity makes virtually every road trip the same, with time built in for the players to go out to dinner the night before to relax before it's time on gameday to get geared up to play.

"We're a very close‑knit team, very much like a family," center Scott Wells said. "When we go on the road you'll see guys hanging out in each other's rooms, playing cards. We all go out to eat together. For us it's a family trip, a family business trip. We go there, one task at hand. That's to get the win and come home."

Ironically, the current playoff run has come on the heels of a sub-.500 road record in the regular season. After a 3-2 start on the road, the Packers lost their last three road games (at Atlanta, Detroit and New England) in the regular season to finish 3-5, though the final 1½ of those three games were played without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

In any case, that's the worst road record of McCarthy's three playoff teams, as the 2007 squad was 6-2 away from Lambeau and the '09 team went 5-3.

But one thing that hardened this team for the playoff road that neither of McCarthy's two previous playoff teams experienced was having the season on the line at the end of the regular season. The Packers needed to win their final two regular-season games to get in the playoffs, and even though both were at home, that was an early shift into the playoff mentality that neither the '07 nor '09 team dealt with. Both of them played regular-season finales with nothing at stake and never played a win-or-be-eliminated game prior to the actual playoffs.

"Basically it was win or go home, and we knew that," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We knew the type of team we had, and we knew it would be a shame if we didn't make it to the playoffs. And I think guys took that approach and saw it like I saw it and just kind of got it together, and everyone's kind of playing together at this point."

The Packers also haven't paid any attention to whether anyone else expects them to win on the road, because all that matters is they do.

Prior to the New England game in Week 15, with the Packers preparing to play the AFC East-leading Patriots without Rodgers, McCarthy stated publicly, "We're nobody's underdog," and that mentality has carried over into these playoffs.

Betting lines had both the Eagles and Falcons favored to beat the Packers, but this team didn't care one way or the other. In the same vein, this team pays no heed to the fact that it's now a favorite in the NFC Championship.

"It doesn't really matter to us, honestly," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "I didn't know that we were underdogs the last two. I didn't realize we were the favorite for this one. It doesn't really have an impact on our team, what we're going to do. But that's good. We'll take it either way. We're going to go out there and do our job."

A job no one shies away from, no matter where it awaits.

"We know we're going into a hostile environment," receiver Greg Jennings said. "We didn't get it done the last time we played (in Chicago). We know we're going against a great opponent, a division opponent, and it's going to take a full‑out 60‑minute effort from our ball club to get it done."

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