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Packers forged by road tests for ultimate challenge in Dallas

Cowboys take 16-game home winning streak into playoffs

AT&T Stadium
AT&T Stadium

GREEN BAY – Statistically speaking, the Packers have probably the biggest challenge of all the road teams on wild-card weekend.

"What have they won," Head Coach Matt LaFleur asked, "like 16 games in a row or something like that?"

Yeah, it's 16 in a row at home for the Cowboys, the longest current streak in the NFL. It dates back to Week 1 of 2022. That's the last time Dallas lost at AT&T Stadium heading into Sunday's NFC Wild Card playoff showdown with Green Bay.

But the Packers couldn't have asked their regular-season road slate to prepare them any better for the pressure-cooker of an environment they'll be entering.

It wasn't a road schedule loaded with success. The wins at Detroit on Thanksgiving and at Minnesota on New Year's Eve were the most notable, with the highest stakes, and in frankly the most hostile environments the Packers encountered all season. Those definitely meant a lot.

"I think the atmosphere's going to be a lot like the Minnesota atmosphere," offensive coordinator Adam Stenavich said regarding Sunday in Dallas. "That's about as good as it gets when you go to Minnesota and play a night game and there were a lot of cards on the table there. So I expect it to be a lot like that."

The road failures earlier in the year, though, might be just as valuable because of the late-game situations the Packers, particularly their young offense, were put in.

In games at Las Vegas, Denver, Pittsburgh, New York and Carolina, Green Bay's offense needed to put together a crunch-time scoring drive in the opposing stadium.

In the first three, they came up short, as quarterback Jordan Love – whether out of desperation, aggression, or a combination of both – threw interceptions with the game on the line.

Those losses were tough to process, but having to process them had its benefits.

"We just got so close," guard Jon Runyan said. "We'd always take that situation we had that game … down by one, down by three, down by four … we would drill the exact same situation in the (next) Thursday practice, to make sure we know when we're back in that situation, we'd know what to do."

Grinding away after those frustrations paid off, as the Packers put together a late touchdown drive against the Giants (even though they eventually lost) and a game-winning drive for a field goal against the Panthers when they absolutely had to have it.

"That's going to be crucial down there," Runyan added. "These playoff games are going to come down to maybe the last two possessions. I know the Cowboys are expecting a dogfight and we're going to do everything we can to give them one."

That mentality, in many respects, was forged on a young offense – with a first-year starter at QB in Love plus a bevy of first- and second-year receivers, tight ends, and tackles – through those down-to-the-wire road games.

Even though the results at times felt like rinse and repeat, the setbacks helped harden a young bunch that LaFleur has since referred to as a "calloused team."

"When you have something to prove, like you don't let that get you down," LaFleur said. "That's what I love about this group is there's so many guys in that locker room that despite what was going on around them, they were hungry to prove not only to themselves but everybody that they do belong.

"That's a big reason why we were able to improve throughout the course of the season is they had that mentality and they care about one another. You have to have that."

Now the Packers will take that into the playoffs, and into a road venue that has not been kind to visitors.

"It could come up huge," Love said of the team's road tests, both passed and failed. "I think those are all areas that we've had to go through and lose a couple games and not finish, and (then) find a way to win those games to understand just how important all those plays are and … that margin for error, how small that is."

The world inside AT&T Stadium will be against the Packers on Sunday. They know that.

But they've also been there and done that when it comes to crunch time on the road, so no matter the result, one thing the Packers won't do is get rattled.

"I mean, did you look at our season? A lot of ups and downs," running back Aaron Jones said. "People counted us out before the season even started.

"We're resilient. We don't back down from anybody. We're not going to stop fighting. We've got a bunch of dogs in this locker room."

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