Packers are road warriors under McCarthy

Packers are road warriors under McCarthy

The Packers travel well, compiling an 18-14 record on the road since head coach Mike McCarthy took over in 2006. They'll have to continue the trend starting Sunday in Arizona in the first round of the playoffs if they want postseason success. "We know we have to play on the road and we have to win on the road to get where we need to get and to reach our goal," receiver Greg Jennings said. Green Bay will have to win at least two road games, and likely three, to make the Super Bowl, but the Packers certainly haven't been friendly guests against the rest of the league. They've scored 242 points on the road this season, easily setting a new franchise mark, and are 9-3 indoors under McCarthy. That could be the scenario against the Cardinals, who have a retractable roof stadium. No disrespect to Lambeau Field, but the Packers appreciate the perfect conditions that come with playing inside. "It's favorable for our offense to be able to work in a controlled environment," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "But it is on the road. Obviously we'd love to be at home playing in front of 70,000, but I tell you, the reception and the 'Go Pack Go!' chants from the fans down in Arizona was pretty awesome last week." Arizona is already a home away from home for many Wisconsinites. There's a famous Packers backers bar in nearby Scottsdale and the Brewers have been part of spring training in the Phoenix area since the franchise relocated to Milwaukee in 1970. The support was never more apparent than last week when green and gold were plentiful in the stands as the Packers routed Arizona 33-7 in the regular-season finale. While McCarthy expects the atmosphere to be more tilted to the Cardinals this time, he said the Packers will benefit from a similar routine this week in their third trip to the desert after also playing in the preseason there. "Just flying out to Arizona, going through the locker room, staying in the same hotel, playing there twice this year, we have an understanding of the stadium that we're playing in, and frankly we're on the same time clock as last week," McCarthy said. "We'll leave at the exact same time. I think our game is probably 30 minutes later than it was last week. Those are all things that you can draw from." The Packers can also draw from McCarthy's road warrior mentality. "There's something about people coming against you," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We team up and we like playing on the road. I don't know, I can't put my finger on it, but we like it." The only way Green Bay returns home with a game left to play is if the Eagles also win two games on the road, but all the NFC teams with higher seeds than the Packers either play in domes or have retractable roofs. "On the road we tend to start a little faster, for whatever reason, I don't know why," Jennings said. "But this year, the last few games, the last seven, eight weeks, we've started rolling." The Packers have certainly been picking up speed. Green Bay has won seven of its last eight overall after a 4-4 start. The last time the Packers had a better finish to the season (11-1) in 1997, they lost in the Super Bowl to Denver. These Packers are also potent. Besides boasting a 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and a 1,200-yard running back, Green Bay has also scored points on one of its first three possession in the last seven games. Rodgers said it's critical for him to get into a rhythm early. "It's imperative to start fast. You've got to be hitting quickly early in the game, hit the throws you should make and any time you play on the road, you realize you're going in really down a score mentally because of that crowd and the crowd noise," Rodgers said. "You want to get points on the board early, you want to score on your first possession, get the crowd out of it a little bit, put some doubt in the crowd's mind." Or bring back the "Go Pack Go" chants for a second straight week. Even with all the success, not even McCarthy can figure out just why his teams have been so strong on the road. Maybe, he said, it's having the same offensive system for four years. Or, the fact that he keeps a very specific schedule week to week. But maybe his final thought on the subject was the most logical. "We're a good football team," he said. "I'm sure that's probably the biggest part of it."

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