Maturity helps Packers close gap in NFC North race

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Coach Mike McCarthy felt maturity played a part in the Green Bay Packers' latest victory.

And that started long before McCarthy's resilient team came back in the final minute Sunday after blowing a big lead to outlast the rival Chicago Bears 30-27 on the road.

McCarthy praised his older players Monday for urging their young teammates to be sufficiently prepared for the frosty temperatures and the unpredictable footing on the turf at Soldier Field.

''Just going through all of those different things, the comment was (made), of all the games that we've played, these guys handled it seamlessly,'' McCarthy said.

By weathering that challenge and holding off the Bears' late charge, the steely Packers are now two wins from completing a late-season resurgence with a once-unlikely return to the playoffs.

''Everything's right in front of us now,'' quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after his heroics down the stretch Sunday extended Green Bay's winning streak to four games. Rodgers' 60-yard heave on a third-and-long play to Jordy Nelson in stride down the middle of the field set up Mason Crosby's winning 32-yard field goal as time expired.

Coupled with Detroit's loss to the New York Giants, the Packers (8-6) moved within a game of the first-place Lions (9-5) in the NFC North with two games left.

''Just seeing this team battle through tough situations and adversity and just finding ways to make plays, that's what it's about,'' Crosby said. ''We're in December football, we're in kind of playoff football now where those are critical (kicks) at those important times. It was good to have a game like that under our belt moving forward.''

Because Green Bay has an earlier win over the Lions, all the Packers need to do to rally for the division title and earn a playoff spot for the eighth straight season is to win out, culminating with a Jan. 1 game at Detroit.

''We've done our part so far, and that's going to have to continue the next couple of weeks,'' said Nelson, who had seven catches for 124 yards as the Packers completed a season sweep of the Bears.

But McCarthy doesn't want the team looking too far ahead.

The Packers first must get past another division rival and on a short week for just about every team. The Minnesota Vikings, who badgered Rodgers in a 17-14 win at home early in the season, come to Lambeau Field on Saturday for a Christmas Eve matinee.

''Control your own destiny is what you want, but, really, the only time I've talked about playoffs is - I hit 'em again with it, I think, last week or two weeks ago - 10 wins, and that's really all we've really focused on,'' McCarthy said. ''We know we're at eight, we have to get to nine, and then obviously next week I'll be answering the question the same way.''

The condensed schedule this week won't give Green Bay much time on the practice field. But McCarthy is hopeful a few injured players can recover quickly to play against the Vikings.

Guards Lane Taylor (hip) and T.J. Lang (back) had to leave Sunday just before Rodgers' big throw to Nelson.

''I don't have any high concern right now for either one of those guys,'' McCarthy said.

Ditto on the status for Rodgers, who held up fine in the subzero wind chill Sunday despite playing with a sore right calf.

''The early indication is he's better today than he was going into the game,'' McCarthy said. ''We feel good about that.''


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