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Packers embrace underdog role in improbable playoff push

The SportsXchange

GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- The Packers' chartered plane touched down in Green Bay shortly before midnight Sunday.

Perfect timing for completing the two-hour return trip from Dallas because the Packers are refusing to change what has quickly become their identity in what has the makings of being a Cinderella-type season.

"Continue to fight, continue to fight, continue to fight," veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said. "I have the feeling that it's never over for us, truthfully."

No sooner did many start to write the Packers off for what was left of their trying season than they pulled off perhaps the most improbable victory out of 727 wins in 93 years of NFL play.

Green Bay overcame a 26-3 halftime deficit and stunned the Dallas Cowboys on the road, 37-36, on Sunday night.

"Hopefully, I'm talking about this a month from now or so, I think these types of games and these types of experiences that we've been through over the last five or six weeks are something that you can definitely benefit from as a football team," head coach Mike McCarthy said Monday.

Indeed, the Packers are still relevant in the conversation for playing meaningful football in January, when the playoffs start.

By rallying from double-digit halftime deficits to win by a point each of the past two games - they upended the Atlanta Falcons 22-21 on Dec. 8 - the Packers remain a viable contender for the NFC North title with a 7-6-1 record.

They kept pace with the Chicago Bears, who for at least a day took over sole possession of the division lead with a win at Cleveland to improve to 8-6. The Detroit Lions took a 7-6 record into their Monday night game against Baltimore.

For the Packers, winning the NFC North a third straight year, which would be their only route into the playoffs, is as simple as winning the two games they have left on the schedule and having the Lions lose one of their final three games. Green Bay plays host to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, then ends the regular season with a visit to Chicago to play the Bears for potentially a winner-takes-the-division showdown Dec. 29.

"For us, December has been a playoff mode," veteran fullback John Kuhn said after Sunday's incredible turn of events. "So, to us, this was a playoff game, and we tried to play it like a playoff game. Obviously, the second half was a better performance than the first half. But, the jubilation after the game in this locker room was playoff atmosphere."

And, the Packers didn't need star quarterback Aaron Rodgers to initiate the unlikely feat.

Rodgers missed a sixth consecutive game because of a broken collarbone. In Rodgers' stead, Matt Flynn added to his newfound acclaim as Captain Comeback of the Second Half.

After coming off the bench to rally the Packers from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to a 26-26 tie against Minnesota on Nov. 24 and then out of an 11-point halftime hole against Atlanta, Flynn's third straight start ended in magical fashion. The Texas native led Green Bay's previously lethargic offense on five consecutive touchdown drives in the second half to foil his boyhood team at AT&T Stadium.

The 23-point comeback matched the largest in team history. The Packers trailed 23-0 at halftime of their season-opening game against the Los Angeles Rams in 1982 at Milwaukee and won 35-23.

"It was a crazy turnaround," said Flynn, who passed for four touchdowns in the Packers' 34-point uprising after halftime.

"To me personally, it was very satisfying obviously, especially being a Cowboy fan my entire life," Flynn added. "It's obviously fun to come to Texas, you've got a bunch of family here, and get a win."

Equally clutch interceptions by cornerbacks Sam Shields and Williams of passes from Tony Romo were sandwiched around rookie Eddie Lacy's one-yard touchdown dive with 1:31 left that decided the outcome.

"At halftime, I said, 'Hey, this is the biggest adversity situation we've been in in our time here together,'" McCarthy said. "I said, 'Team 93 (in the franchise's NFL existence), our season's on the line. We're not going to panic, we're going to take it one play at a time, and this game is going to come down to the last sequence of plays.'"

With the prospect of Rodgers being able to return for Sunday's game against the Steelers at Lambeau Field after he felt he could have played this last game, the arrow suddenly is pointing up for the Packers. They have put a winless slide of five games (0-4-1) that started from the time Rodgers was injured Nov. 4 behind them with two straight victories, both in startling fashion.

"This is a big one, obviously," Williams said of the conquest of the Cowboys. "It's the biggest (win) of the season, no doubt about it. It keeps us in contention, first of all. It was just a great character team win."
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