Published December 20, 2012
GREEN BAY, Wis. – A playoff berth is no excuse for slacking off. Neither is a lost season.
The Tennessee Titans visit Green Bay on Sunday in a game that, on paper, could be a contender for yawner of the weekend. The Titans (5-9) were eliminated from playoff contention long ago and with injuries wiping out what seems like half the team, the end of the season can't come fast enough. The Packers (10-4) have already clinched the NFC North title and at least one home playoff game, and their chances of moving up to the No. 2 seed are in someone else's hands.
There's not even a nasty rivalry to spice things up, with this the first game between the teams since 2008.
Say any of this to the Titans or Packers, however, and, well, consider yourself warned.
"There's always something to play for in this league. Let's not lose sight of that," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's a privilege to play in the National Football League, it's a privilege to play games here at Lambeau Field. I don't like that notion that you're not really playing for anything."
Clearly, the Packers have more incentive Sunday. While they need Seattle to beat San Francisco on Sunday night to have a shot at the NFC's No. 2 seed, a Seahawks victory would mean little if the Packers don't win their last two games. They also don't want to lose their grip on the No. 3 seed they currently have.
But maintaining momentum is just as big a concern. The Packers rested some of their veterans after locking up the No. 1 seed last season, only to get bounced out of the playoffs in their first game. While McCarthy and his players still defend that strategy, the circumstances this year are different. After a slow start — they began 2-3 — and more injuries than they care to count, the Packers are looking increasingly dangerous with each week.
They've won eight of nine, second only to Denver over that span, and three straight. They've allowed more than 20 points only once since mid-October, and have shown the makings of a serviceable run game the last few weeks. They're getting healthy at just the right time, too. Greg Jennings and Clay Matthews are already back, and Charles Woodson and Jordy Nelson might not be far behind.
"I think we learned last year you've got to be playing the right way at the end of the season," Aaron Rodgers said. "Hopefully we can keep the momentum going that we started and keep it rolling."
Added McCarthy, "We're going to play the whole way through."
The Titans have the same attitude, even if their circumstances are vastly different.
This season has been a bitter disappointment in Tennessee, with injuries ruining any chance they had of improving on last year's 9-7 finish. Fifteen players are on injured reserve, including all but one starter on the offensive line.
Jake Locker has worked with four — count 'em, four — different centers, and he may as well put the o-line depth chart on his wrist band instead of plays there's so little continuity. This week, Fernando Velasco is working at both center and left guard in practice while Titans coaches also look at Mitch Petrus at left guard and Kyle DeVan at center.
Got that? Good, fill Locker in.
"We do have the name plates on the back of the jerseys," joked Locker, who missed five games himself with a dislocated non-throwing shoulder. "No, most of the guys that we're getting in here are guys - some of them we had during camp and maybe let go when we cut the roster down and now they're coming back, (and) we've had a few new guys. I'm getting comfortable with the new guys really quick. They've done a great job of picking up what we're doing, picking up our system and having confidence in it."
Kendall Wright, Tennessee's leading receiver, also is questionable for Sunday's game with a rib injury.
The defense hasn't been spared, either. Titans captain and middle linebacker Colin McCarthy hoping to play Sunday for the first time since suffering a concussion Nov. 25.
"It's difficult, but you learn a lot about your team and the guys on your team," Locker said. "It's real easy, I think, to cash it in and say, 'I don't want get hurt' or whatever. There's a bunch of different reasons to shut it down and say, 'You know what? I'll come back next year ready to go.' I don't feel like this team has done that at all. That's something that I'm very proud of and happy to be a part of."
The Titans snapped a three-game losing streak with a win over the Jets on Monday night, and their defense has become one of the NFL's nastiest. Since Nov. 11, they lead the NFL in sacks per game (3.4), and are second in interceptions (10) and total defense (286 yards).
And for all those folks who have dissed Chris Johnson, saying he has too many miles on him, he ripped off a 94-yard scoring run against the Jets, a franchise record.
"Did you watch the Monday Night Football game?" McCarthy said. "He looks like he's running all right to me."
A blizzard Thursday dumped several inches of snow on Green Bay, and the high Sunday is only expected to be in the mid-20s. That's quite a change for the Titans, who are used to temperatures nearly 30 degrees higher.
Not that they'll use that — or anything else — as an excuse. The Titans and Packers may be finishing the season in different spots, but their goals are still very much the same.
"Even though the record may not be pretty," Titans safety Michael Griffin said, "you still play this game to win football games."
AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report from Nashville, Tenn.
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