O'HARA: Lions, Packers not where they want to be

Posted Dec 27, 2017

The lack of any hype or buildup for Sunday's regular-season finale between the Packers and Lions reflects how the season has gone for both teams.

Playing out the season with no chance to win the NFC North or make the playoffs as a wild card is a new experience for Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.

It’s not something McCarthy or his players want to get used to in a season that was wrecked early by an injury to star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The lack of any hype or buildup for Sunday’s regular-season finale between the Packers and Detroit Lions at Ford Field reflects how the season has gone for both teams. Both have been eliminated from the playoffs.

It’s the third time in four years that they’ve met in the final game. But unlike the 2014 and 2016 seasons, the North title or a wild card playoff berth are not at stake.

The atmosphere was electric when the Packers won at Lambeau Field in 2014 and again at Ford Field last year. Sunday’s New Year’s Eve game has the flat feeling of popping the cork on bottled water, not champagne.

“It’s different,” McCarthy said Wednesday in a conference-call interview with the Detroit media.

“I don’t like the way it feels, that’s for sure. We haven’t been in this position in quite some time. I think it’s also an opportunity to put things in perspective and make sure you appreciate how hard it is to be successful in this league and make sure as a football team we learn from this experience.

“This is obviously where we don’t want to be at this point in the season. It’s not a standard that we operate. Yeah, it’s definitely different.”

While the Vikings have taken over as the new power in the North with a 12-3 won-loss record to win the division for the second time in three years, the Packers and Lions don’t even have a position battle in the standings. The Lions (8-7) have clinched second place under the tiebreaker. The Packers are 7-8.

It has been an uncharacteristic season for the Packers in a lot of ways. Their record is 4-4 at Lambeau and only 2-3 in the division.

They did not have a player voted to the Pro Bowl. Rodgers undoubtedly would have made it had he remained healthy.

The Packers have had a remarkable run since McCarthy took over as head coach in 2006.

He has proven himself to be more than a custodian who maintained the history and tradition of one of the NFL’s benchmark franchises. The Packers have added to their royal history under McCarthy’s leadership.

They won six North titles and five of the last six, and made the playoffs nine times in his first 11 years. The 2010 team beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV.

A loss Sunday would give them only their second season without a winning record in McCarthy’s tenure and just the third for the franchise since 1992.

The Packers took a hit that they could not overcome when Rodgers sustained a broken right collarbone early in a loss to the Vikings in Game 6.

Third-year backup Brett Hundley finished that game and started the next seven. He clearly was not up to leading the Packers. They’ve gone 3-5 under Hundley as a starter – which does not include the Minnesota loss.

Rodgers returned to start a Week 15 road game against the Carolina Panthers. He was obviously rusty in that game. He had three touchdown passes and three interceptions in a 31-24 loss that ended any realistic playoff hopes for the Packers. Rodgers was put on season-ending injured reserve after that game.

The Packers have had other injuries, but none nearly as significant as the one to Rodgers.

“It’s the most important position in sports,” McCarthy said. “It’s definitely the most important position in our sport, and it’s the hardest position to play. He’s our impact player. He impacts our football team. He’s the leader of our football team.

“Any time you lose your quarterback you have to have a good solution to keep going. We didn’t win enough games to keep this thing going.

“I think you look at Detroit and Matthew Stafford’s impact he makes for his football team, too. These guys, they’re hard to replace.”