The Green Bay Packers won their third consecutive NFC North division title on Sunday over the Chicago Bears as the return of MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers proved to be a monumental gain, as Rodgers capped off a thrilling game with a game-winning 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb on a fourth down play in the final minute of the fourth quarter to clinch a playoff berth.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said the final 15-play, 87-yard game-winning drive, which the Packers successfully converted on three fourth-down conversions, was the "finest drive" he has ever been a part of, but it's time for Green Bay to prepare for what lies ahead. "We've played four different playoff type football games in cold weather," McCarthy said. "It's back to business. It's playoff time and we're focused on the (San Francisco) 49ers."
Rookie running back Eddie Lacy, the lone Packers first-alternate for the 2013 Pro Bowl, has been battling ankle problems since Green Bay's week 14 win over the Atlanta Falcons, but McCarthy said Lacy came out of yesterday's game "much better" than he has in the previous three games.
Lacy, who McCarthy said was admittedly "nervous" in the Packers' first game of the season against the 49ers, rushed for only 41 yards on 14 carries and registered his lone fumble of the season in their 34-28 loss at San Francisco. "We're a much better running team today than we were then (in week one)," McCarthy said. "Eddie admittedly was a little nervous for his first game, but he is in a different place today."
McCarthy also confirmed on Monday that star outside linebacker Clay Matthews will be out against the 49ers on Sunday. Matthews, who re-injured his right thumb in the Packers' week 16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, underwent surgery and it is highly unlikely he will return to the field this season.
In the Packers' first game against the 49ers this season, Matthews was a huge factor in limiting the 49ers' triple-option offensive attack, registering one sack and three tackles for loss as the Packers' rush defense allowed the 49ers to only gain 90 yards on the ground.
Despite not having Matthews and the relentless criticism surrounding Green Bay's defense, McCarthy said he is confident that the playoffs will change everything. "I love our defense, I love our football team," McCarthy said. "Throw the stats out the window, we're a playoff football team. Our ID has changed."
The Packers have won three of their last four games against the Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears by the slimmest of margins, which McCarthy said he believes will benefit the Packers against the 49ers. "I don't know how we could be better prepared for playoff football after what we've been through the last four weeks," McCarthy said. "The way we win games, our identity has changed. We play differently than we did earlier in the year. Anything in life, when you earn it, it feels better. There's an importance in earning everything, it's very rewarding."
The Packers (8-7-1) host the 49ers (12-4) on Sunday at 3:40 CST at Lambeau Field. Check your local listings for television coverage.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Clay Matthews, Eddie Lacy, Football, Green Bay, Green Bay Packers, Mike McCarthy, NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers, Randall Cobb