With the monkey off their backs, Packers gird for another must-win

The Green Bay Packers have shown they can win a game with Brett Hundley at quarterback.

But now the Orange and Navy Blue Cross is out of the picture, unavailable to provide further assistance this season.

Faint hopes for a playoff run were revived Sunday when the Packers whacked their favorite piñata, the Chicago Bears, to win that season series, snap a three-game losing streak and improve to 5-4.

Fatalists predicting a free-fall plummet to the NFC North basement after quarterback Aaron Rodgers went out with an injury got it wrong. The Packers aren’t going to finish 4-12.

Where they might be sitting by the time a decision on Rodgers’ return is taken is relevant again.

The 23-16 victory at Soldier Field was forged in part through the Bears’ own philanthropy. But in a 16-game season, against any NFL team, a win is a win. Victory is the great deodorizer — the extra-strength elixir that obscures past failures, reduces hypertension and applies a rose-colored tint to the future. For the first time in a month, the Packers enter a Sunday game — noon, against Baltimore at Lambeau Field — on a winning streak.

“It’s good to win,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “It’s always great to win.”

An 18-year veteran of the NFL, McCarthy understands the siege mentality that frustrated fans take up during a losing streak, and sets no store by calls from the gallery for his ouster. The Packers, who now have swept the Bears series six times under McCarthy, have had one losing season throughout his term.

Try to imagine the hue and cry if it had been McCarthy who’d thrown out the red flag last Sunday and turned a Packers first-and-goal on the 2 into a turnover. He would be pilloried mercilessly. And if this mishap occurred a few weeks after one of his players – conscious, and headed for a sure touchdown – made the comatose decision to stop running inside the 10-yard line, where he was stripped of the ball, questions would arise. Among those questions would be whether the coaches actually talk to the players during a practice week and, if so, what it is they talk about. Coaches get too much praise during good runs and too much blame when things go sour. The play is the thing.

McCarthy, who was criticized for not letting Hundley throw downfield in his two previous starts, deserves kudos for the game plan he drew up for Chicago.

Of course, it helps when your defense makes five sacks – three by linebacker Nick Perry – and your offense commits zero turnovers.

Hundley has improved over each of his three starts and was outstanding in the fourth quarter at Chicago, where he made his best throws and best decisions. He got better as the game went on. His 19-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams was delivered so perfectly it could have come from another Packer QB.

“I thought it was (Rodgers),” Adams joked. “It was a great throw … I forgot to celebrate, it was such a good ball.”

When an NFL player in 2017 forgets to perform his end zone jitterbug, you know something special just happened.

The Packers are looking up at Minnesota and Detroit in the division but still hanging around the wild card scene, with the Great Variable rustling in the wind.

Namely, what sort of scenario would be required in order for a healthy Rodgers to suit up for the game at Carolina on Dec. 17, the earliest date that he could return from injured reserve? Specifically, how many of the next four games will the Packers need to win to make a Rodgers return worthwhile?

Assuming that Rodgers could pull a Clark Kent and lead the Packers to victory in the three final games – which, being against the Panthers, Vikings and Lions, is hardly a guarantee – they would need to win at least two of the remaining four against Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Cleveland to finish 10-6. Here we go again.

It would surely help to win this next one, which they enter as a two-point underdog. Even in this topsy-turvy season of shifting power balance where anything can happen, their road to the postseason is uphill, and steep.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.