Matt LaFleur photo

First-year coach Matt LaFleur says the key for the Packers in the postseason is to play "four quarters of consistent football in all three phases. It certainly hasn’t felt like we’ve accomplished that, although we’ve found a way.'' Content Exchange

GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur keeps insisting his team has more in it.

Largely in response to a season-long string of uneven performances by the Green Bay Packers, the first-year coach says almost weekly that the best is yet to come.

Packers fans have remained fairly patient — a 13-3 record and a No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs makes that easier — while waiting for Green Bay to play to the level its record would indicate. The time for patience, however, has run out. If the Packers are indeed a championship contender, they’ll have to start playing like it.

Like, say, Sunday.

Including their NFC divisional round game with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Packers potentially are looking at three consecutive playoff games where just OK won’t be good enough. For a team that has put together a strong, 60-minute, both-sides-of-the-ball performance only once or twice this season, that has to be a concern.

Or a goal. Which is how the Packers are looking at it after sitting out the first weekend of the playoffs.

“The way a team works is you always strive for excellence, you know what I mean?” guard Billy Turner said. “As a lot of people know, there’s no one that’s perfect on this Earth and there’s no perfect football team. There’s one team that has gone (undefeated) and that was the Dolphins in ’72. With the exception of that, everyone drives for perfection. There’s definitely gains and strides that could be made and I think that us being able to have this bye week has definitely helped us to progress in that area of our game, whatever that may be. There’s definitely nothing that I think we’re horrible at. I think there’s a lot of things we can get better at. I think we’re still on that rise going towards that peak.”

Most teams build as the season goes on, adding to their playbook and honing their execution as the weeks go by, and the Packers have shown definite growth during their current five-game winning streak. Momentum and good health are two of the most important factors at playoff time and the Packers have both.

They also have a legion of skeptics who are all asking the same things about a Packers team whose best asset has been finding a way to win in close games. If the Packers haven’t located the sweet spot after 16 games, why would anyone expect them to find it now? What if they’ve maxed out their talent and there is no more room for growth?

To a man, the Packers say they can find another gear or two. But when asked where that improvement will come from, they’re a bit sketchy on the details.

“I just think (it’s) putting four quarters of consistent football in all three phases,” LaFleur said. “It certainly hasn’t felt like we’ve accomplished that, although we’ve found a way. That’s what’s a credit to those guys in that locker room is they find a way to come out on top. But I just think in terms of the consistency in all three phases for four quarters.”

Finding consistency won’t be easy, starting with the game against the feisty Seahawks, another team that has thrived in close games. Green Bay is 8-1 in games decided by eight points or less, Seattle is 11-2. Including its playoff victory at Philadelphia last week, Seattle is 8-1 in road games. The Packers are 6-2.

The biggest difference between the teams is that the Packers are fit as a fiddle while the Seahawks have lost key players at running back, offensive line and several spots on defense. Also, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is 0-3 at Lambeau, all since 2015.

Still, there are reasons to think the Packers could raise their game in the playoffs. They have rushed for 100 or more yards in four of their past five games. During that time, the defense has allowed 14.2 points per game and held three of the five opponents under 100 yards rushing. On special teams, late addition Ty Ervin has added life to the return game.

The biggest area of uncertainty remains the passing game, though. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and his pedestrian (except for Davante Adams) group of wide receivers and tight ends simply haven’t achieved any degree of consistency. Some of that is due to LaFleur’s ever-changing game plans, some to Rodgers’ sudden lack of accuracy and some to a group of receivers who lack speed and drop too many balls. Since the receivers won’t be getting any faster, any improvement will have to come from LaFleur and Rodgers.

“I think there’s still so much to be done,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “From an offensive perspective, now is the time when we really want to get rolling. It’s one of those things where I think we’ve left a lot out on the field and we need to capitalize on those things to get to where we want to get.”

The road will only get more difficult should the Packers get past the dangerous Seahawks. In the NFC Championship Game, they will face No. 1-seeded San Francisco, widely considered the most complete team in the conference.

But the only team the Packers need to worry about is the Packers. They’ve put themselves in a great position, but to reach the Super Bowl they have to find a new level of efficiency.

“I think that’s on both sides,” defensive end Dean Lowry said. “I think we’ve yet to play really a full, complete game where offense and defense play four quarters really well. We’re definitely an ascending team. We’ve shown that we can be dominant at times. We’ve just got to put it all together.”

There’s no time like the present.

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