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T.J. Lang starting to get the recognition he deserves

Takeaways will be at a premium on Sunday


Greg from Ann Arbor, MI

How cool was it to see T.J. Lang take the podium at Wednesday's press conference for what I think may have been the first time in his career?

I don't know whether that was on Lang's NFL bucket list, but it is nice to see him getting the recognition he has this year. He's been one of the league's most durable, dependable and underrated guards for years. I'm right there with the rest of the pundits who didn't give him the credit he deserves years ago. He's rounded out his game and played at an exceptional level for the last three years. Selfishly, I also can tell you he's one of the best talkers in the locker room. You always learn something when you talk to T.J. I don't know what he wants to do after football, but he has future in TV if he wants to go that route. He was a no-brainer to do the news conference.

Eric from Nederland, TX

With Jordy out for the game, Cook stepped up huge when we needed him. Dallas had no answer for him regardless where he was on the field. Assuming Jordy is out this week, or at less than 100 percent, how do you think Cook stacks up against the Falcons' defense? I know their defense has improved but are they vulnerable against a quality TE?

What's interesting is this is turning into a tour of games that Cook missed earlier this year. You've seen against both the Giants and Cowboys what kind of impact he can have on games. Whether Nelson plays or not, Cook is going to be a big part of this offense going forward. He's too versatile and dynamic to keep off the field. If you prorate his performance over the last nine weeks (including playoffs) over a full season, Cook would be on pace for 69 catches and 844 yards. That's a good illustration of the difference he's made since his return.

Tom from Orlando, FL

Maybe the winning QB of the championship game earns the MVP award.

Ballots already have been turned in, but you raise a good point.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

Do the Packers need to win the turnover battle to win the game? Typically we find a big turnover or two when we win against a high-powered offense.

It certainly would help to prevail in that category, but Matt Ryan won't do you many favors. Atlanta only turned the ball over 11 times during the regular season, which I believed was tied for fewest in the NFL. The Packers' defense has gotten the ball back to the offense in a variety of different ways during the eight-game winning streaks. Takeaways will be at a premium Sunday with how well both quarterbacks take care of the football. It's that one big play that could be the difference in this game.

Joe from Asbury, IA

Wow, not sure it means much but looking at Atlanta's end-of-year schedule and the outcomes of those games, they really haven't played a fully competitive game since they lost to K.C. the first week of December. Meanwhile, the Packers have played playoff football for eight straight weeks. I know Atlanta was beating NFL talent and teams, but there is something to be said about grit and grinding out close games at the end, do you agree?

I can see how each approach could benefit either team. If you're the Falcons, I'm sure you have a little extra swagger this week after powering through teams the way you have over the last month. If you're Green Bay, I think there's something to be said for gaining the experience of grinding through eight weeks of must-win games. We'll have to see which route prevails on Sunday, but I think the burden of proof is on the Falcons as the home team with the first-round bye.

Don from Califon, NJ

Don't you think Michael has had enough time to learn the offense? He seems to be very explosive, and he and Ty could be a great one-two punch against Atlanta with a spattering of Ripper. Yet they have barely used him in the last couple of games.

Most popular question in Inbox five weeks running. So much is based on the flow of the game. Montgomery and Ripkowski both played well against Dallas. I don't think it's anything Michael did. Again, there's only one football. He very easily could end up being the hot hand against the Falcons.

Colton from Merrill, WI

We just took on a triplet of Dak, Dez and Zeke. I would have to say this week we get a tougher, more experienced triplet in Ryan, Jones, and Freeman. I'm sure Matty Ice still hasn't forgotten that playoff game a few years back. I think our safeties are the key on defense. Who is your key?

It would be a big plus if the defense could get Morgan Burnett back for this game, but we'll have to let the week take its course. My key player is Clay Matthews. This would be the perfect time for him to generate another big play like he did with the strip-sack against the Giants. Ryan has been lethally accurate and has a nice two-headed monster in his backfield with Freeman and Tevin Coleman in addition to his weapons at receiver. You don't know how much time you're going to get to work with Ryan's quick release, but knocking him off his spot would go a long way in disrupting the timing of their offense.

Chris from Anchorage, AK

Hello from the frozen north (minus-38 here today). I've been reading and listening to many sports reporters across the league this season and they all discount the Packers. Why do you think that even after the winning streak they are on and the magic in the playoffs so far, that it seems nobody takes the Pack seriously?

I don't know, but that type of noise doesn't bother this team. They stay above the fray when it comes to the national narrative. It's about what this team needs to do to win a Super Bowl. That's the focus. Stay warm, Chris.

Joseph from Pleasant Prairie, WI

If Burnett can't play, watch out for Jacob Tamme. He could be in line for a big game.

Good luck with that prediction.

Josiah from Richmond, VA

This is just something I've thought of, but what if a kick returner pretended to take a knee in the end zone by lowering his knee but not touching the ground? Could you pass that on to MM or is that not allowed? I would appreciate an answer on this one, thanks.

I'm sorry Josiah, but I have my doubts about whether it would work since most coverage teams are trained to run to the end zone. I'm guessing they wouldn't even notice the fake-knee and also would delay the returner, leaving him more susceptible to being tackled inside his own 10- or 20-yard line.

Darby from Mesa, AZ

I saw that Adrian Clayborn will be out with a torn bicep. Do you think his absence will have an effect on the Falcons' defense? If I remember correctly he did sack Rodgers twice in the last meeting and rushed him pretty good throughout.

That's a big loss for Atlanta's defense. While things didn't work out for him in Tampa Bay, the former first-round pick has developed a niche in the Falcons' defense. You're correct in that he had two of his 4½ sacks on the season against Green Bay in Week 8. He also has enough versatility at 6-3, 280 to move around in Atlanta's front. His absence is a blow to that defense.

Bruce from New Canaan, CT

Now that the final four teams have been determined, I thought I would see how the Packers have compared to the rest of the league in reaching the conference championship during the McCarthy era. While admittedly arbitrary, I believe reaching the conference championship game separates the contenders from the pretenders each year. Anyway, in McCarthy's 11 years at the helm, the Packers have reached the conference finals four times. This is second in the league to the Patriots' astounding eight times in that stretch. All in all, I think McCarthy has to be given his due, since he trails only a coach who is clearly one of the game's all-time greats.

The Packers have made four trips to the NFC title game since 2006, which is the most in the NFC in that time. Behind Green Bay, San Francisco has made three appearances with Seattle, Chicago, New Orleans, Atlanta, Arizona and the New York Giants each advancing twice.

James from Ilkley, WI

Since this is a copycat league, why do we not see more QBs trying to catch defenses with 12 men on the field? I know it's a difficult skill, but I'm surprised other players haven't mastered it yet; it can be a useful extra weapon in an offense's box of tricks.

The same reason you don't see anyone riding unicycles when you go on a bike ride. It's not an easy trick to master.

Jay from Land O Lakes, FL

I sensed a great deal of euphoria from the Packers players and coaches after beating Dallas, more so than from the Giants win. This level of euphoria could undermine the hunger level needed to get past Atlanta. Do you get than sense of too much euphoria from players up there in the tundra?

I don't worry about a letdown if that's what you're asking. Euphoria isn't a bad thing. It was a highly charged victory with no time left on the clock. I don't blame them for their excitement. What I can tell you is they turned the page on Wednesday. Dallas is in the rearview. It's all eyes on Atlanta.

Brian from Sussex, WI

The game is expected to be a shootout. Knowing it will be difficult to stop the Atlanta offense, making turnovers bigger than normal, does Coach Wes take more defensive risks increasing the chances of the big play in hopes to get a turnover, or at least a big play leading to a punt considering it's highly likely Atlanta scores often anyway? Or play it normal with typical calculated risks and leave it to the players to make the stop or get a turnover?

You have to take calculated risks at times. That's one of the things Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and safeties coach Darren Perry talked about this year – making plays with your instincts and reacting to what you see. The key is not trying to do too much and forsaking your responsibilities, whether it's an outside linebacker holding his edge, an inside linebacker staying in his gap or a safety taking chances. If I'm the Packers, I don't think you need to do anything special to generate more takeaways. They've done a good job with that lately. You just need to execute when the opportunity presents itself.

Bernie from Marquette, MI

The Cook catch and the field goal to win in Dallas will plummet in value should the season not end in a Super Bowl triumph. I believe these Packers can pull it off.

I disagree. I think those final 35 seconds are going to have a special place in Packers' lore regardless of how the season ends. It's too special with too many emotions to disregard. It was such an amazing catch followed by the longest game-winning field goal in the history of the NFL postseason. That's priceless.

Jessi from Sterling, KS

Can there be a new award created for "Best Playoff Team for Nail-Biters"? Win or lose the Packers BRING IT, year after year now. We've got to make networks happy! So many years it's like Super Bowl matchups almost come a few weeks early. Am I biased or do you see other teams consistently bringing playoff nail-biter games like the Pack has in the past several years?

The Packers make for exciting television. I think you probably saw that if you noticed the ratings for Sunday's game against Dallas. Green Bay has won its share of lopsided games under Mike McCarthy, but there's certainly been some tight games during the recent win streak. It speaks to the team's resiliency and ability to close out those games.

AJ from Blair, WI

Why did the Packers wear their home jerseys against Dallas?

Home teams get to choose what uniforms they wear for home games. The Cowboys like wearing their white uniforms, so the Packers had to wear their home greens.

Josh from Denver, CO

Insiders, I just learned that Clay's cousin plays O-line for Atlanta. Do you think they face each other 1-on-1 Sunday?

Yeah, they probably will. I believe they've already faced each other two other times since Jake arrived in the NFL in 2014.

Brent from Burleson, TX

Great job to you guys this season for the work you have done in reporting the Packers season. In the photos for adding the captains' patches to the jerseys, what is the difference between the gold and white patches and the different number of gold stars under the "C"? Thanks!

*You get a star for each year you've been a captain. When you've been voted a captain five times, you get a gold emblem instead of a white one. *

Stephen from Toronto, ON

Spoff's answer to Don was so beautiful I want to print it out in large elegant typeface and put it on my wall. Then, every time some Packer fan goes off on how McCarthy stinks or Capers needs to be fired, I can point to it. Football is a game of injuries and inches and milliseconds. The Patriots went a decade between Super Bowls despite having Brady and Belichick. Winning is hard to do and making it this far without your No. 1 running back and shutdown cornerback is astounding.

I'm just going to leave this right here, while adding that Spoff's retort had me going "Oooooo, burn."

Dantr from Fredericksburg, VA

It's really embarrassing as a fan I can never get a quality question answered from you guys. But yet you guys answer questions that my 9-year-old son can answer. I read the column every day. My question is how come Blake Martinez didn't play against Dallas? And did Joe Thomas take his starting job?

I wouldn't read too much into who starts at inside linebacker. The Packers have needed Martinez, Thomas and Jake Ryan to navigate this season. Martinez missed some time with the knee injury and then had another issue flare up against New York. Whatever the case, I think Thomas has been worthy of the reps he's received this year. As McCarthy said on Wednesday, Thomas has taken "two steps" this season. He can play every down if the defense needs him to. Thank you for your quality question.

Dave from Germantown, TN

Mike, I just read your answer on the fair catch by Dallas at the end of the half. Are you saying that Dallas had the option of kicking a field goal even though the time clock had expired? Is this another obscure rule that would allow an untimed play?

That's right.

Frank from Wausau, WI

You must tell me how I can become the Packers next great seamstress. Seamster? Also, I don't sew. Is that going to be an issue?


Rusty from Fitchburg, WI

Seattle signed Hester for the playoffs. Can and would the Pack consider signing a DB for these final two games?

They signed Bene Benwikere on Tuesday to the practice squad. Isn't that what you guys wanted?

Frank from Lautertal, Germany

Hey Insiders, 10-in-a-row sounds good, doesn't it?!?

That is a nice round number.

Kabir from Ponte Vedra, FL

Does Wes keep his Magic Eight Ball in the office? What did it say about the Dallas game?

It is certain.

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