So often, it is said that football games are won and lost in the fourth quarter. The Green Bay Packers especially know this is true after their back-to-back last-second victories last month.
Just as football games are frequently decided in the final quarter of play, the same can be said for football seasons. With all 32 NFL teams having played 12 games, Sunday opens the fourth quarter of the season.
The Packers head into the home stretch locked up in a tight battle for playoff position, tied atop the NFC North standings with the Minnesota Vikings at 7-5, with the remaining two teams in the division, the Chicago Bears and Sunday's opponent, the Detroit Lions just two games back at 5-7.
With three of their four remaining games seeing them do battle with division foes, the fourth and final quarter of the season will be the defining section of the Packers' 2004 schedule. This fact was not lost on the men in the Lambeau Field locker room as they began their week of preparation for the Lions contest Wednesday.
"There's no room for error right now," said defensive end Aaron Kampman. We are at a point where every single play matters. Everything is just under a microscope right now. We've got four games, but our focus has really got to be the Lions. If we don't take care of the Lions, we can't think about anything else anyway, so our focus will be the Lions and hopefully we'll get a win on Sunday."
Fellow defensive lineman Grady Jackson agreed, saying this is the month that can make or break a team's season.
"It's December. It's time to play ball, nothing else," said Jackson. "We've just got to get on a roll, play ball and get back to the winning ways. December means everything is on the line."
Offensive tackle Mark Tauscher knows exactly what the Green and Gold need to do if they are going to come away with their third consecutive NFC North title, and he is sure they can get it done.
"We're confident," Tauscher said. "We're still really in the same position we were before (last Sunday's loss). We're tied for the lead in our own division and our number one goal is to win our division.
"How do you do that? You have to beat the teams on your schedule that are left and we play three out of four against divisional opponents and it really starts with Detroit and ends with Detroit. We need to win this game to keep pace with what's going on."
The lineman went on to say that even though their season comes down to this critical stretch of games, they aren't about to get ahead of themselves.
"This stretch really starts and ends on Sunday," Tauscher continued. "The cliché gets old - one at a time - but that really is the case. We need to beat Detroit here and they're coming off of a big win. Their momentum is going up, ours - we took a little dip - but we feel good about the position we're in."
Marco Rivera said he and his teammates are aware of what lies before them.
"We've got four games left," he said. "We know what's at stake, and we know what to do. It's just going out and getting it done. It's easier said than done we know, but it starts here today."
Judging from the mood in the locker room Wednesday, the Packers are ready to become closers and finish the season in fine fashion.