Last time the Green Bay Packers took on the Chicago Bears in Week 17 of the regular season, they didn't exactly impress with the basic fundamentals of catching and hanging onto the football.
Greg Jennings dropped what could have been long touchdown pass, James Jones dropped a sure first down, Donald Driver fumbled, Aaron Rodgers and Brandon Jackson failed to execute that fake-quarterback-sneak-then-lateral play on a day the Packers won 10-3.
With another cold-weather game on tap for Sunday at the NFC Championship game in Chicago, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy has his team preparing in a similar atmosphere this week.
On Wednesday the team practiced outside on Ray Nitschke Field. On Thursday and Friday they practiced inside the Don Hutson Center with the doors open. The purpose?
"Handling the football," said McCarthy yesterday. "It was 29 degrees in there, so it's very similar to what we're going to play in in Chicago on Sunday, and it's supposed to be 18, 19, 20 degrees down there.
"Practiced outside yesterday, and we just have limited space outside, so some of our team drills are not exactly what you're looking for to go outside. But they open up the doors and it really helps particularly the skill positions handle the football."
Being a particularly cold day in Wisconsin on Friday, it got down 18 degrees inside the Hutson Center.
Similar conditions are expected in Chicago on Sunday with a high of 21 degrees predicted and winds from eight to 10 mph, according to The Weather Channel, which isn't dissimilar from the conditions they played on Jan. 2 in Green Bay when it was 19 degrees with 14 mph winds.
"We struggled catching the football particularly in that game," said offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. "I think we had four drops."
Did the cold weather have anything to do with the drops? It's hard to say. Drops happen when 80 degrees and sunny as well as when it's -20 and freezing.
All things being equal, Rodgers would rather it be warm when he practices, though he's bought into the system implemented by Mike McCarthy.
"I kind of like practicing indoors in the winter," said Rodgers. "Mike created that outdoor area where we can practice outdoors, and as much as I like to fight it sometimes, it really probably does help us to be able to practice in that weather in December and now in January, as well."
Jones, who's had his fair share of drops this season, also agrees with the routine.
"You know the elements are going to be cold in Chicago, and we've got to deal with it," said Jones. "We just want to make sure we're all on page with the frozen ball and all that good stuff, so we'll be ready."
The argument could be made that the practice conditions are so cold that the players are thinking more about their warmth, which may detract from their focus on the task at hand. But rookie running back James Starks debunked that myth, at least from a personal standpoint.
"It was cold," said Starks. "But, you know, after practicing in it, adrenaline rushing and things like that, you warm up fast. You start moving around, and it's not really a factor for me."
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