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Sunday is true test for Packers

Team has to prove it really can bounce back

QB Aaron Rodgers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur
QB Aaron Rodgers and Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – It's put up or shut up time.

All week, the Packers have said all the right things about bouncing back from that clunker of a performance in LA, by far the team's worst of the season.

The film was graded, harshly. The energy has picked up, considerably. The focus has zoomed in, exclusively, on this one game against the Panthers before the bye.

"I think they've put in solid days of work of preparation, but ultimately you have to go out there and play the game," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said after Thursday's full-pads practice. "Until we do that, talk's cheap."

That might be the best let's-get-real line of 2019 in Green Bay, because for all the times it's been said this week the Packers are "locked in," it'll only matter if they are so beginning at 3:25 p.m. CT Sunday. And for a Week 10 matchup, there's plenty riding on what happens vs. Carolina at Lambeau Field.

First and foremost, the Packers certainly don't want to go into their long-awaited bye on a two-game losing streak after a 7-1 start. That would undo, not completely but substantially, a lot of the good work the team has done through the first 2½ months of the season. Beginning with another West Coast trip, to San Francisco, four of six games are on the road to close the regular season post-bye, so taking care of business at home is a must.

"The week's a lot sweeter when you win, I can promise you that," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the time off. "The scotch tastes better, the sand feels better, everything's better.

"We know what's coming up after this week, and we know what's coming up after that week as well."

Moreover, the NFC is extremely top-heavy and it's incumbent on the Packers to keep pace with the unbeaten 49ers, one-loss Saints and two-loss Seahawks, not to mention the three-loss Vikings who will take the field Sunday night in Dallas looking to tie Green Bay for first place in the NFC North should the Packers lose their second straight game. No need to provide Minnesota any extra motivation.

But enough from the outside. Attention this week has been directed inward, and rightly so. As has been mentioned previously this season, the bulk of this Packers roster is young and hasn't experienced a lot of success in Green Bay, so how the players handle it is under the microscope.

A three-game winning streak to start the year followed by a four-game run after a down-to-the-wire loss – without star receiver Davante Adams no less – showed an appropriate response to the first dose of adversity.

The Green Bay Packers took practice outside to get ready for Sundays game against the Carolina Panthers at Lambeau Field.

This is the second, and it came in the form of failure in all three phases for all four quarters. As such, Rodgers has "been watching the guys."

"Kind of how you respond that day, that night, on the plane, Monday coming in, off day, and then coming in for Wednesday practice – what kind of energy are you bringing?" Rodgers said. "Are you able to push past it, but also have a resolute determination to improve? Or are you kind of playing the victim role all week?

"I feel like we're bouncing back and moving on."

As the old saying goes, the proof will be in the pudding.

The "X" factor in this game could be the weather. It's colder than normal for the second week of November. With temps likely dropping into the 20s by halftime as the sun goes down, this will be the Packers' first cold-weather game of the season. It's also probably the first cold-weather game in the life of Panthers rookie QB Kyle Allen, who is from Arizona and played his college ball in Houston.

There's likely going to be a play or a bounce (or two) that will be weather-related, and if the Packers can get Allen feeling as uncomfortable in the pocket as he may be with the elements, all the better.

But the chill won't win this game for the Packers, no different than the chatter. Neither will stop MVP candidate Christian McCaffrey on defense nor get Rodgers and Co. in a rhythm on offense.

26-11, 442 yards to 184, 24 first downs to 13, eight plays of 15-plus yards to one, 35:51 to 24:09. The only way for the Packers to really put those numbers behind them is to make them an anomaly, not representative of anything more.

"This is important for us to get back on track," Rodgers said. "We can set ourself up to be in position to play some really meaningful games in December."

But first their play must back up their talk. Being "locked in" Monday through Friday only goes so far.

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