GREEN BAY—The veteran leadership the Packers possess came to the forefront this past weekend against the Bears, and it went beyond the type quarterback Aaron Rodgers capably provides on a regular basis.
The fight-through-injury performances of guards Josh Sitton and T.J. Lang combined with a reportedly heartfelt pre-game speech in the locker room by outside linebacker Julius Peppers were noted and heeded during the 55-14 blowout of Chicago.
"That's all part of your culture, part of leadership, and showing the younger guys how it's done," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday, referring specifically to Sitton and Lang overcoming toe and ankle injuries, respectively, to remain in the starting lineup despite being unable to practice all week.
"These guys are not going to feel good physically for months. That's part of the challenge of getting through an NFL season. To watch those two guys come off a big injury, line up and not only play but play well – that's the key. It's great that they came back and played but they came back and performed at a high level."
Sitton and Lang were part of a stout protection unit that didn't allow Rodgers to be sacked in 27 pass attempts. They also threw key blocks in the early portion of Eddie Lacy's 56-yard touchdown on a screen pass. McCarthy said both players came out of the game no worse for wear, and it helped to be able to pull them in the third quarter with such a big lead.
Peppers' game reached a high level as well, with multiple tackles against the run, a strip-sack and fumble recovery, plus a batted pass. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said he also thought with his outstretched arm that Peppers might have altered, if not slightly deflected, Jay Cutler's throw that was intercepted by Micah Hyde in the first quarter.
Peppers did all that after delivering a pre-game speech in the locker room, which was part of his duty as a game captain. The Packers select three captains for every game – one each to represent the offense, defense and special teams – and McCarthy leaves it up to those three to decide which one is in charge of delivering the two-minute message to the team right before heading out of the tunnel for kickoff.
It naturally fell to Peppers, playing against his former team in a prime-time game. There was only one problem.
"We forgot to tell Julius it's two minutes," McCarthy joked. "That's why we were a little late coming out for the game.
"He was unbelievable. Clearly one of the best we've ever had."
McCarthy added he sees Peppers getting more and more comfortable in Capers' defense, not only with the scheme but with the defensive mates he's playing alongside.
Fairly quiet and reserved most of the time, Peppers has no trouble commanding attention when warranted and that apparently wasn't an issue prior to kickoff on Sunday.
"I never get to hear those speeches because I'm heading up to the press box," Capers said. "The one thing I can tell you about Julius, he has the respect of all the guys in that locker room.
"I've always believed that this game is a society of productivity. When a guy goes out and produces and has done it for as long as he has … Julius is a man of few words. Those kind of guys, when they step up and speak, everybody listens because he has their respect."
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