GREEN BAY — They didn’t change the music outside of Lambeau Field Monday morning. No one preempted the Christmas carols playing on the loudspeakers and blared Queen’s “We Are The Champions” or Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” in honor of the Green Bay Packers’ 44-38 come-from-behind overtime victory over the New York Jets one day earlier.
Inside, interim head coach Joe Philbin calmly explained that his guys had done their jobs — played hard, didn’t quit, made some critical plays. No one was mistaking the Packers’ first road victory of the season (in their final opportunity to do so) for something more meaningful in a disappointing season that won’t include the playoffs for the second consecutive year — a foreign concept to an organization that had seen trips to the postseason as a bare-minimum accomplishment for more than two decades.
All that said, Philbin wanted to make one thing clear: Winning is never meaningless. And there is value in it, even after the loss the previous week in Chicago that extinguished the team’s flickering playoff hopes and led some sects of the team’s passionate fan base to root for improved draft position over actual victories.
“Everything you do, matters,” Philbin explained. “We try to tell the players every week, your preparation matters, what you do in the weight room matters, what you do in the training room matters, what you do in the meeting room, on the practice field. And it correlates to the game, your performance. And I think when you start distinguishing this is important and that isn’t, I think you lose sight of (that), and you’ll never get to where you really want to be.
“When we were in the locker room after the Chicago game, one of the themes was, ‘Look, we obviously didn’t finish this football game the way you have to finish games to win in the National Football League.’ So objective No. 1 (against the Jets) was, ‘Let’s have a great week of preparation, let’s be committed that when we step on that plane on Saturday, we’re in this thing for the long haul and we’re going to play our tails off.
“Was it a perfect week of preparation? No. Was it the greatest performance in the history of football? No. But again it confirmed (a few) things: We have an excellent locker room. We have some really good football players. We have guys who love to compete. And I think that was really evident in the tough parts of the game.”
The Packers (6-8-1) trailed by 14 or more points three times during the game — 14-0, 21-7 and 35-20. With 9 minutes, 34 seconds left in regulation, they were behind 35-23 and huddling on their own goal line, 94 yards away from the end zone. From there, they found a way to score two touchdowns — and a two-point conversion — in regulation to take a short-lived 38-35 lead, then won the game on the first possession of overtime on quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ 16-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams.
“It’s obviously not easy to win. We’ve shown that this year,” Adams said. “We haven’t really done well on the road, but we rallied. That’s all we could do.
“We believed in one another. We know it’s us against the world at this point. People have been counting us out and saying, just because of the record this year, we’re not a great team. But we know the type of people we have, and we know the character we have in this locker room. We just rallied around that.”
Rodgers playing despite being eliminated from playoff contention — as Adams put it, “He doesn’t have to be out there; he can easily be chilling at this point” — also sent a message.
“That it matters. That even when the record isn’t great and you’re not going to the playoffs, that it still matters,” said Rodgers, who completed 37 of 55 passes for a season-high 442 yards and two touchdowns (103.8 rating) while also running five times for 32 yards and two other TDs. “I have a lot of pride. I love competing — in anything. I don’t want to look back in 20 years and wonder, ‘What if I played that game? Could something special have happened?’
“What would it look like to my teammates if they knew I kind of quit on them? I hope my teammates know I’m never going to quit on them. I’m going to battle through anything I’ve got. They did the same.”
Rodgers said after the game that among the motivations was to the players’ love for Philbin — “We want to play for Joe and give him the best opportunity possible” to get the job permanently — and despite the Christmas Eve holiday on Monday, Philbin still had the players in for a morning workout.
While the customary day-after-the-game film review was canceled to get players home to their families early, Philbin and the coaching staff worked on the game plan for next Sunday’s regular-season finale against Detroit before heading home themselves. Coaches will then spend Christmas morning at home and return to the stadium to work on the Lions around noon.
The rest of the week will be a normal week, Philbin said, up to and including playing to win against the Lions — draft positioning be damned.
“The future’s the future,” Philbin said. “It’ll be training camp in ’19 before we all know it and, certainly, there will be a transition within the team. In the purest sense, though, if you think what’s happened around here since 1992 (when) it really started to take off in Green Bay, the jersey names on the back have changed, but the way the Green Bay Packers play football and win football games hasn’t changed a whole lot. That spirit, that tradition — call it whatever you want — that culture of winning, I think it’s important. I think it’s important for organizations to have it, teams to have it.
“Winning begets winning. Yeah, the draft’s the draft. We’ll draft in whatever spot we earn. But I do think it’s important that the guys understand the opportunity that’s in front of them, that they compete. Let’s face it, they know the realities of NFL life. They have to produce and perform. That’s just the nature of the business for everybody.
“Your job is to contribute. You’re part of something bigger than yourself. Let’s go out there and compete, love what we’re doing, let’s have some fun and go win some games. And the future’s the future. That’ll happen as it’s supposed to.”