Michael Hunt: Wounded Packers can still get well soon

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy talks to quarterback Scott Tolzien during a recent NFL game. The Packers hope to hang in there until star quarterback Aaron Rodgers and others return from injuries.

Faith keeping is part of Mike McCarthy's job description as head coach of the Green Bay Packers. That's why, with a .500 record and the depth chart shredded with six games to play, he's saying things like, "I think this football team still has a chance to be special."

Maybe he really believes it. There is, of course, precedent for such fanciful thought.

In 2010, the Packers had a whole bunch of injuries, including Aaron Rodgers' concussion, and were on the verge of being knocked out of the playoff race before winning their last six, including the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl absolutely qualifies as "special," but no person of rational thought is thinking New York in February right about now after witnessing those last three losses. It's baby-steps time for the Packers. The question now is if they can hold things together until Rodgers returns and win a winnable division.

There for the taking


That is not too much to ask. The NFC North is still very much there for the Packers to take, despite their precarious state. With a home game Sunday against the awful Minnesota Vikings and then the Thanksgiving trip to Detroit, all things considered they are in a favorable position being just one game behind the Lions and the Chicago Bears.

While gaining another level of appreciation for just how valuable Rodgers is, the Packers have the ability to span the gap with Scott Tolzien if he can work his way through the inevitable mistakes that jumped up to bite him against the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants. In those two games, the former Badger threw for 619 yards but also five interceptions against just one touchdown.

The Packers are lucky their schedule just might allow Tolzien to work through some of the ill-fated decisions he made, especially the Jason Pierre-Paul interception, the one play against the Giants that changed everything Sunday.

Tolzien is smart and resilient, but the Packers cannot hold the fort while Rodgers' collarbone heals if the quarterback makes game-changing mistakes. The injuries and defensive problems can be covered if Tolzien, who still has some of the receivers Rodgers has, makes enough plays to keep the Packers to a credible time-of-possession count.

Still very much in it

That's basically what the season has come down to. Neither the Lions nor the Bears have the wherewithal to go out and take control of the division in the last six weeks. With everything that has happened to them, and things they have done to themselves with poor tackling at times, the Packers are fortunate to be in a position to keep pace or actually gain a little ground until the reinforcements arrive.

All season, McCarthy has talked up the leadership and character angles to 2010 levels. We'll see, because the Packers get no credit for playing through injuries. It's a life-in-the-NFL reality that can be overcome if handled the right way. Getting some players back and having a much better than average No. 3 quarterback gives them that chance.

"Leadership has grown immensely," McCarthy said. "Times like this are when you see it.


"I'm proud of the way they're handling these challenges. Every year you go down a different road. This road had a lot of things thrown at us so far, and I fully believe it's only going to make us strong."

Because the Packers have just about stretched that what-doesn't-kill-you platitude to the limit.

"We need to get better," McCarthy said. "We're not playing well enough to win right now. We recognize that. We know what the issues are. We don't need stat sheets or opinions to attempt to knock us off our focus."

Good, because the Packers, in spite of it all, are looking at a real opportunity in the next eight days against Minnesota and Detroit. They only have themselves to blame if they don't seize it.

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