GREEN BAY, Wis. — In a miserable tailspin one week, solid playoff contenders the next.
That's life in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers, who might have saved their season with Sunday's 17-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
After snapping a two-game losing streak, the Packers (5-4) were feeling better about themselves Monday. But they know one big win won't mean much if they take a step backward in either of the two winnable games they'll play in an upcoming five-day stretch, home against San Francisco on Sunday and at Detroit on Thanksgiving.
"We had a very positive experience yesterday as a team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It's well-documented what's gone on the last two weeks. We were able to learn from that, carry it forward to our game yesterday, and we need to take that forward to San Francisco."
And they have reinforcements on the way: McCarthy said outside linebacker Aaron Kampman, tight end Jermichael Finley and inside linebacker Brandon Chillar are expected to return from injuries this week.
Kampman is recovering from a concussion and sat out Sunday's game. Finley, a key cog in the Packers' passing game, has missed three games with a knee sprain. And Chillar, who missed last week's loss at Tampa Bay because of a broken hand, didn't play against the Cowboys, either.
While most of the injury news is good, the Packers do have some nagging issues.
Defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins has ankle swelling, wide receiver Greg Jennings has a knee bruise and linebacker Desmond Bishop has an ankle sprain. Fullback John Kuhn broke his hand Sunday and his availability is unclear.
Meanwhile, the status of veteran right tackle Mark Tauscher's knee remains unclear, though McCarthy said rookie T.J. Lang played well in his place Sunday.
In all, things were looking up at Lambeau Field for the first time in weeks after losses to Minnesota and Tampa Bay.
Thanks in large part to Sunday's aggressive, complete effort by a defense that had wilted at critical times earlier this season, the Packers now are in the thick of the NFC wild card race.
They're 5-4, tied with the teams that appear to be shaping up as their primary rivals for the wild card: Philadelphia, New York and Atlanta.
"This won't mean anything if we don't win next week," said cornerback Charles Woodson, who played one of the best games of his Packers career with two forced fumbles and an interception. "This game was fun. It was FUN. And it could be fun the rest of the season. But it could also be tough if we don't do what we need to do."
And while it might seemed like an overstatement to say the season was on the line Sunday — it's still November, after all — players acknowledged that a loss would have been huge.
"The resolve of the team, I think, was tested," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "And I think we proved some stuff not only to our fans, but to ourselves and to the rest of the league."
To be sure, the Packers have plenty of work to do to make it to the playoffs. After San Francisco and Detroit, their schedule really turns rough.
First comes a Monday night home game against Baltimore. The final four games have three on the road, including visits to Pittsburgh and Arizona.
And while the defense and special teams looked much better Sunday — with the exception of Jeremy Kapinos, whom McCarthy said "needs to punt better" — the Packers still experienced familiar problems on offense Sunday.
Rodgers remains under siege, taking another four sacks to run the Packers' league-worst total to 41.
Rodgers still holds on to the ball too long in certain situations, although he did a better throwing the ball away. The Packers also used more short passes and screens to fend off pressure, with mixed results.
And penalties remain a major problem; the Packers had 12 on Sunday.
"It was a struggle," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "We had a bunch of penalties called on us, which is not good; had a couple negative runs; had some sacks, per usual. It was a battle.