Recovered from rough start, Packers back on top


Recovered from rough start, Packers back on top

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) It wasn't too long ago that the Green Bay Packers were in a bad place, lagging at the bottom of the NFC North with a - gasp! - losing record while folks picked apart their flaws as if they were some sideshow on Dr. Phil.

Well, well. Look at them now.

A five-game winning streak that's tied for best in the NFL has the Packers (7-3) atop their division and in position to start the playoffs at home. (Yes, they have the same record as the Chicago Bears, but Green Bay owns the tiebreaker after beating its rivals to the south in September.) With four of the last six games against NFC North opponents and some of their many ailing players beginning to get healthy, the Packers are right where they want to be.

``We're happy to be back up there, especially after starting 2-3,'' Aaron Rodgers said Wednesday. ``We're kind of getting on a roll. But even like we said at the beginning of the season, it's all about playing the right way in December and moving forward. We're not quite to December. We're gaining momentum as we go, but we know we need to play our best late in the season and into the playoffs.''

As if they needed any reminder, the Packers play the New York Giants on Sunday night. Those would be the same Giants who came on strong at the end of last season, knocked the Packers out of the playoffs and went on to win the Super Bowl for the second time in five years.

``Watching the playoff game, I mean it wasn't fun. I think that's obvious,'' coach Mike McCarthy said.

Neither was the start of this season.

Green Bay had about as rough a start as it gets. Stunned in the opener by San Francisco, the Packers seemed to have things back on track with their win over Chicago the next week. But then came the Inaccurate Reception out in Seattle, and the injuries began piling up. The low point was blowing an 18-point, halftime lead in Indianapolis.

Instead of falling apart, though, the Packers pulled together. They each took responsibility for the losses, and didn't argue when McCarthy preached a return to the fundamentals. When key players went down - Greg Jennings, Charles Woodson, Cedric Benson and Clay Matthews, just to name a few - guys stepped up to fill the holes.

Little by little, the Packers got better. So did their record.

After scoring a total of 57 points in the first three games, Green Bay has averaged 29.4 in the last seven, fourth best in the NFL. Rodgers has been the league's best quarterback over that span, with 24 touchdowns, four interceptions and a passing rating of 117. The defense is second in the NFL with 33 sacks, and rookie Casey Hayward is tied for second in the league with five interceptions. Since Week 4, Green Bay has allowed a league-best 84 yards rushing per game - no small thing with winter coming and four cold-weather games left.

``It's been impressive to watch simply because I think, last year, with having so much success, we didn't experience the losses and the, for lack of a better word, that lull,'' said Jennings, who practiced Wednesday for the first time since Nov. 1 surgery to repair a torn abdominal muscle. ``But we've experienced some adversity this year and we've overcome it. Guys have stepped up to the plate, made plays when their numbers were called and we haven't really missed a beat.

``There was a time there where it was kind of like, OK, we had to fill everything out and guys had to kind of get comfortable in their roles. Once everybody got comfortable, we started rolling again.''

The Packers now have the third-best record in the NFC, behind Atlanta and San Francisco, and would host a wild-card game if the season ended now.

The tough start may actually make the Packers more dangerous come December and January, too. The defense, so maligned last year, is much improved, and it actually bailed out the offense last week in Detroit. Forced into larger roles because of the injuries, youngsters like Hayward and Randall Cobb have become big-time players who could be cornerstones of the Packers for years to come.

As for that long list of injuries, it should get shorter in the coming weeks. Jennings isn't ruling himself out for Sunday night's game, despite only being back at practice the one day. Matthews could return in the next week or so, and Benson and Woodson are ahead of schedule in their rehabs.

Yes, the Packers are back in the conversation these days. And unlike a few weeks ago, they don't mind what people are saying about them.

``It's still early, but it's nice to be in the lead and have, for a lack of a better term, your destiny in your own hands,'' B.J. Raji said. ``But like I said, it's still early and we still have a lot of games to play. The key is to maintain it, and keep the lead.''

Notes: LB Clay Matthews (hamstring) is ``doubtful'' for this week's game, McCarthy said. ... CB Sam Shields has had a setback, and McCarthy said his ankle injury is more serious than the team initially thought. ``It's going to be a couple of weeks,'' McCarthy said.


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5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

5 must-see moments from Wizards' important win over Pacers, including Kelly Oubre's big dunk

Here are five plays or moments from the Wizards' 109-102 win over the Pacers on Saturday night that are worth revisiting... 

1. The Wizards took care of business against the Pacers on Saturday night and in doing so earned an important advantage in the playoff race. They won the season series and therefore own a tiebreaker for playoff seeding and currently that would mean home court advantage in the first round if the playoffs began today.

The Wizards took control early and part of that effort were five first-half assists by Bradley Beal. He ended up with 19 points, but some of his best plays were passes.

On this one, he executed a perfect pick-and-roll with Marcin Gortat:


2. This was another pretty pass to Gortat. Tomas Satoransky, who had 12 points and eight assists, fed Gortat with a nice reach-around pass on a play that featured some impressive ball movement overall:

3. This was a great moment. The Wizards had a member of the military surprise his niece on the court. She literally did not see it coming:


4. These last two plays are dunks by Kelly Oubre, Jr., who finished with 16 points. On this play, he cut through the and threw down with authority:

5. This dunk was set up by a beautiful pass from Ramon Sessions. It traveled about three-quarters of the court and Oubre did the rest:

The Wizards now have three days off before their next game as they sit fourth in the Eastern Conference. Things are trending positive for the Wizards as the playoff race heats up.

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Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

Wizards take out Pacers to earn important advantage in playoff seeding

The Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night. Here's analysis of what went down...

Important victory: Saturday night's game between the Wizards and Pacers had several layers of playoff implications on the line and it was Washington who rose to the occasion and showed the urgency commensurate for the stakes.

By beating the Pacers, the Wizards locked up the season series between the teams, two games to one. That gives them the tiebreaker for playoff seeding if the teams finish the regular season with the same record. That could very well prove paramount. As of now, the Wizards and Pacers have the same record (40-30) with 12 games to go.

The season series advantage means the Wizards are above the Pacers in the standings despite having the same record. They moved into fourth place in the East with the win and the Cavs slotted back into third. There will likely be a lot more movement as these next few weeks play out, but the Wizards now hold an important edge over the Pacers.

The win also pushed the Wizards to 14-8 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. Wall could return this coming week or the week after and the Wizards have more than stayed afloat during his absence.

The Wizards' magic number to make the playoffs is now just five. 


Sato went off: The Wizards jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter mostly thanks to a hot start from Tomas Satoransky, who scored the Wizards' first five points and had 10 by the end of the first quarter.

Satoransky's floater was automatic. He dropped in several in the lane from all different angles. Satoransky was practicing the same shots, floaters off each foot, the day before in practice and it paid off.

It was a well-rounded night for Satoransky. In addition to his 12 points, he also had eight assists and five rebounds, including this one to find Marcin Gortat for the dunk:

Gortat came up big: Speaking of Gortat, the Wizards' big man had one of his best games of the season. He poured in 18 points to go along with eight rebounds, four assists a steal and a block. Gortat shot 6-for-8, consistently having his way on the block.

The Pacers were without two of their best big men in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis and Gortat took advantage of that. He was way too much for Al Jefferson.

The Pacers tried to roll with small-ball lineups using Trevor Booker and Thaddeus Young as their big men, but it didn't work. Gortat was too big for them and his teammates did a great job finding him for open looks.

Gortat's 18 points were his most since Jan. 3 when he had a season-high 21 against the Knicks. Lately, Gortat has seen his minutes dwindle with the increased role for Ian Mahinmi, so Saturday night must have felt good for the Polish Machine.


Bojan held in check: Bojan Bogdanovic, who spent part of last season with the Wizards, was a major factor in the first two matchups between Washington and the Pacers this season. He had 20 points in one game and 29 in another, each time getting hot from three.

The Wizards, though, made some adjustments in this one and held Bo Buckets in check. He didn't make his first shot until nearly the midway point of the second quarter and it was only because Kelly Oubre, Jr. (16 points, 18 minutes) lost his balance. Oubre stumbled backward, giving Bogdanovic a split second to get off an open three. That was the only shot he hit in the first half as he began the game 1-for-4.

Oubre did a good job harrassing Bogdanovic and not giving him space on the premiter. Otto Porter (eight points) and Bradley Beal (19 points) did as well. Both Porter and Beal stripped the ball out of Bogdanovic's hands early in the third quarter. Midway through the third, Bogdanovic got past Porter only to be called for an offensive foul on a collision with Gortat. All in all, it was a frustrating night for Bogdanovic, who had 11 points, three below his season average.

Bogdanovic is a very good shooter and when he's hot can alter games. But when you take his shots away, there's not much else he can do to hurt you. The Wizards did a good job taking away his strengths and making others beat them. Not having to focus on Turner and Sabonis certainly helped. 

Sessions is still in the rotation: It turns out those five games for Ramon Sessions over the course of his second 10-day contract weren't just an audition. Now that he has been signed for the rest of the season, Sessions is still getting the nod over Tim Frazier as the backup point guard.

Sessions logged 18 minutes and even played alongside Satoransky and Jodie Meeks in the fourth quarter. The Wizards had a sizable lead and head coach Scott Brooks decided to experiment with his lineups. That is something to keep in mind for when Wall comes back. Once he does, Sessions will be the third point guard and likely rarely see the court. But if they see something they like about him at shooting guard, that could open the door for more playing time possibilities.

Up next: The Wizards have three off-days before their next game. That will be on Wednesday when they head to San Antonio to face the Spurs. Tipoff is at 9:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. Pregame coverage begins at 8:30 p.m. with Wizards HangTime.

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