GREEN BAY, Wis. – Packers coach Mike McCarthy had one final chance Wednesday to go over an injury report, providing a fitting end to Green Bay's championship season.
Cornerback Charles Woodson (broken collarbone) won't need surgery, wide receiver Jordy Nelson (left knee) played through his injury, linebacker A.J. Hawk (wrist) needs an arthroscopic procedure, and wide receiver Donald Driver (ankle) would be out if Green Bay had to play another game.
Add those to the 16 other Packers on injured reserve and McCarthy believes his next team will certainly be more talented coming into training camp. That doesn't mean Green Bay's title defense will be any easier.
"The most important thing is we need to be the best football team next year. We can be maybe the most talented and best football team. But sometimes the most talented team doesn't win," McCarthy said. "We have to make sure we're the best football team, that everybody's doing their role, doing what they're supposed to be doing at the level they're supposed to be doing it.
"Because that was a great experience to watch this group of men pull together and fight through the adversity that they needed to, and play their best football when it counted."
"It's here, it's right here, it'll start with our whole organization, top to bottom," the coach said. "Handling success, to me, is the biggest challenge in this business."
That's one of the reasons why defending titles successfully has been so rare.
New England last repeated as champion six years ago, and no team from the NFC has even made two consecutive Super Bowls since the Packers did it in 1997 and 1998.
McCarthy's life is already changing in ways big and small. His daily cup of Starbucks coffee had "congratulations" on it Wednesday morning, and he said it'll take him at least a month to respond to everyone who reached out to him.
He's still thrilled with his chat with President Barack Obama on Monday ("He started with, 'This is a tough phone call for a Bears fan to make''') and is honored that a street will be named after him somewhere near Lambeau Field.
Both McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson are in line for contract extensions before their current deals end in 2012. McCarthy declined to directly address his own contract negotiations or which teams contacted the Packers for permission to talk to his assistants.
"Continuity is important, but change happens in this business," McCarthy said. "Time will answer those questions."
The other uncertainty comes after the collective bargaining agreement expires March 3.
The end of the labor deal and a potential lockout could mess up everyone's offseason plans. McCarthy said it also affects negotiations to extend assistant coaches, and even when the Packers might be able to visit the White House because it's usually attached to an organized team activity or a minicamp.
He also sounded less than thrilled about a proposed 18-game schedule.
"I know what the company line is, but you're talking to a guy that barely made it through 16, so you can figure that one out for yourself," he said.
No matter when the season begins or how long it might be, Green Bay will have its core in place, led by Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers and his receivers. Running back Ryan Grant and tight end Jermichael Finley return from injured reserve.
The Packers are also well-equipped to run defensive coordinator Dom Capers' attacking 3-4 scheme with young stars cornerback Tramon Williams, nose tackle B.J. Raji and linebacker Clay Matthews continuing their development.
The abundance of talent also taught McCarthy a lesson about himself.
He said he learned to handle his own ego this season by delegating leadership in a variety of ways, including letting the captains talk before games late in the season after getting the idea driving home one day after practice.
"It was risky for the head coach to give up the final message to his team before he goes out onto the field," McCarthy said. "I am not perfect, but the one thing I think the players truly know that they get from me, they get the truth, and it comes from the heart."