Skip to main content

Positivity has propelled Packers to playoff precipice 

Green Bay’s locker room kept the faith throughout season filled with adversity 

TE Robert Tonyan and teammates
TE Robert Tonyan and teammates

GREEN BAY – There was no dramatic, made-for-TV speech in this comeback story.

Fresh off his 111-yard rushing performance in the Packers' 41-17 win over Minnesota, Aaron Jones stood at his locker Sunday and searched for the words to describe the emotions of extending the team's winning streak to put Green Bay firmly in control of its playoff destiny.

All that came to mind for the Pro Bowl running back were the subtle moments most people don't see that tell the story of Green Bay's season – the laughter, camaraderie, and honest discussions that accompanied an eight-game stretch in which Green Bay won just a single game.

So, how did the Packers get to this point? To hear Jones and the locker room tell it, it came down to relentless positivity, accountability, a little better luck on the injury front, and the faith Green Bay could still be the team everyone thought it could be at the beginning of 2022.

Now, the Packers (8-8) are just days away from a win-and-you're-in game at Lambeau Field against the Detroit Lions, another resurgent squad that rallied to their own 8-8 record following a 1-6 start.

"We always had hope. We always believed in each other," Jones said. "We knew we would get it going. It was a little later than we expected. We dug ourselves in a little hole and we were playing to get out of it and make it to the dance."

One of the moments that still makes Jones laugh came two days before Christmas, in practice the Friday before the Packers traveled to Miami. Tight end Robert Tonyan had just finished a celebration by placing the ball on the ground, which Keisean Nixon comedically picked up and feigned a TD return.

Before Nixon could get downfield, however, the fourth-year cornerback slipped on the wet grass. He was quickly mobbed by teammates in a chorus of laughter.

"Guys are just having fun. They're relaxed. They're blocking out the outside noise," Jones said. "Knowing really the only opinions that matter are the ones in here. We got each other's backs. We can always lean on each other. We got each other's backs."

A lot of serious self-reflection also occurred during the second half of the season. Schemes were adjusted and some personnel was changed. Head Coach Matt LaFleur and his staff also incorporated more competitive periods into practice, including 1-on-1 positional drills and team 11-on-11s.

Tonyan, who had three catches for 52 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings, stands in agreement with Jones in regard to the recent tempo of practices. Guys are loose and focused on the one game in front of them.

"We just started having fun again in practice," Tonyan said. "It's not at your throat. It's not ego-driven. The competitiveness in this locker room is fun. I think that has just shown tremendously over these past few weeks. Being consistent, playing for one another and just being happy for one another, and making plays."

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers felt a change after the Packers' 28-19 comeback win in Chicago last month. Green Bay entered the fourth quarter of that game trailing 19-10 but scored 18 unanswered points off a 21-yard AJ Dillon run, 32-yard Mason Crosby field goal and Christian Watson's 46-yard touchdown run off a jet sweep.

It was the Packers' first road win in more than two months. After the team returned from its Week 14 bye, so, too, did its swagger in practice and on gamedays.  

"I still go back to that Chicago game and that fourth quarter, which gave us a lot of confidence, and since then, we've practiced with a different level of energy," Rodgers said. "There's been a lightness in the locker room and a lot of positive things that you give you confidence that this team has a chance to make a run."

During his regular Tuesday interview with Pat McAfee, Rodgers also mentioned how Green Bay has enjoyed better fortune on the injury front over the past month.

All-Pro linebacker De'Vondre Campbell has returned to the lineup, left tackle David Bakhtiari is back from an emergency appendectomy and Nixon is "feeling like a Ferrari" after battling through a recent groin injury.

Through it all, the Packers' locker room didn't lose its way amidst the ups and downs. Win or lose, the Packers stuck together. No fingers were pointed. No blame was dispersed.

"The biggest thing is staying resilient, being stable," Bakhtiari said. "Adversity, that's either how you grow or how you fail, but you need to face adversity. I think this team is really starting to see, in all three phases, that it's showing growth. It's showing it with experience. And that also speaks to what this team is."

And that's a team that's having fun right now, which was fully evident Sunday. Among their several end-zone celebrations, the Packers busted out a band routine following AJ Dillon's 2-yard TD run in the third quarter. With Dillon serving as the conductor, Jones ran onto the field to play violin, Rodgers worked his air guitar, Elgton Jenkins danced, and Bakhtiari went into an epic saxophone routine.

So, maybe it's no coincidence the Packers are playing their best complementary football of the season. The reward for their perseverance is a pivotal Week 18 matchup with the Lions, the same team that handed Green Bay its fifth straight loss in early November at Ford Field.

A month ago, most models had the Packers' playoff chances in the single digits. Now, they're one win away from a fourth consecutive playoff appearance under LaFleur. Asked what he'd say to the naysayers who counted the Packers out, Jones answers with a joke and a giggle.

"They don't know how to count," said Jones, smiling. "We have resilient guys in this locker room. With a leader like '12,' you're never out of it. He's gonna bring guys along and he helps me bringing guys along as well. We're just gonna keep fighting and keep fighting and keep fighting."

Related Content