Somehow, Packers still in the division race

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In the NFC North, you can go six weeks between victories and still be in contention for the division title.

Just think where the Green Bay Packers might have been had quarterback Aaron Rodgers not broken his collarbone on Nov. 4.

Nevertheless, Sunday's 22-21 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on a cold, snowy day at Lambeau Field allowed the Packers to keep their playoffs alive. With three games remaining, the 6-6-1 Packers moved within a half game of the division-leading Detroit Lions (7-6).

“I think we're lucky to be where we're at, honestly, with the past month that we've had,” Packers right guard T.J. Lang said. “But hey man, you take it week by week. We knew this week was a must-win game for us if we wanted to be playing in the postseason, and we took a step there. We've still got three games left. Our mindset is to take it week by week and prepare as hard as we can throughout the week and go out on Sunday and do whatever we have to do to get a win.”

For that, the Packers can thank their oft-criticized defense, which pitched a second-half shutout and clinched the game on cornerback Jarrett Bush's interception; backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who rebounded from his woeful Thanksgiving performance against the Lions; and big production from their special teams -- including kicker Mason Crosby, who made all three of his field goals in difficult conditions, and punter Tim Masthay's 62-yard boot that backed up the Falcons on their last possession.

They also can thank the erratic Lions, who followed their Thanksgiving blowout win over the Packers with a 34-20 loss at the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

“It's huge,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said of the Lions' loss. “Obviously, it gives us hope heading into the postseason only being half a game behind now. Obviously, we have to take care of ourselves first, and that is winning. We took a good step today, and we need to finish this fourth quarter of our season out strong.”

Not bad for a team that was booed off Lambeau Field as it headed into the locker room at halftime trailing 21-10.

“We're a bunch of fighters, man,” Lang said. “We're not going to lay down and just let people walk over us. We've got too much pride, too much character in this locker room to do that. The second half was good for us. It definitely feels good.”

So it's a three-game race to the finish with likely only the division winner going to the playoffs. It's hard to imagine a wild-card team coming from this second-rate division.

“It's crazy, man, but I'm glad we're in this position,” Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. “We had some tragedy. The month of November was something to remember, no pun intended. I'm just happy we're in the position we're in.”

The Packers finish with games at the Dallas Cowboys, home against the Pittsburgh Steelers and finally at the Chicago Bears, who are 6-6 heading into Monday night's home game against Dallas and also remain in the race. The Lions finish with the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants at home and at Minnesota. The Bears' last three games are at the Cleveland Browns, at the Eagles and home against the Packers.

The Packers know they still need help, and they don't know whether Rodgers will return next week or at all this season. But they still have some hope on both accounts despite going 0-4-1 between victories.

“It's tough to win in this league, “Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We were reminded of it again today. We were reminded of that in our last five opportunities. It's great the Lions lost, but we're about the Dallas Cowboys. They play in Chicago tomorrow. We hope they just beat the heck out of each other and go for it. We're going to get ready for these Cowboys."