NFL play-offs: ‘We’re not done yet’ – Packers ready for 49ers, says Dan Whelan
- Published19 January
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Whelan last week became the first Irish-born player to feature in the NFL play-offs in over 40 years
By Haydn ParryBBC Sport NI
Dates: 13-28 January 2024
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"The youngest team ever to win a play-off game and the first team ever to win as the seventh seed – that just shows you that everybody here is capable."
Dan Whelan, rookie punter with the Green Bay Packers and the first Irish-born player to feature in the NFL play-offs in over four decades, is enjoying the ride in his debut season.
The Packers produced the biggest upset in last weekend's wildcard round, eliminating the Dallas Cowboys with a comprehensive 48-32 win.
Few outside Wisconsin tipped the underdogs to spring such a surprise in Texas, but Whelan says they were determined to upset the odds and approached the game with the right mentality.
The message in the locker room pre-match was simple, according to Whelan.
"We have just got be grimier than them – fight for it more," says the 24-year-old, who was born in County Wicklow before moving to California as a teenager.
"They didn't want to go the full length of the game – we did."
It was a huge win for the Packers, stunning a fancied Cowboys side attempting to reach their first Super Bowl in more than 25 years.
But Whelan says the Packers have already moved on, with another daunting divisional round prospect on Saturday at the San Francisco 49ers, the number one seed in the NFC conference.
"Now it's a bigger one this week," adds Whelan, who supplanted nine-year veteran Pat O'Donnell for the punter position at Green Bay.
"So, it's on to the next – we have more games to play and we're not done yet."
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NFL play-offs: Watch all seven Green Bay Packers touchdowns as they beat the Dallas Cowboys 48-32
Improving Whelan 'nowhere near where I can be'
With the youngest roster to make the play-offs since 1978, the Packers had been struggling at 3-5 for the first half of the regular season.
However, six wins in their final eight games saw them enter the post-season with momentum. With quarte-back Jordan Love – a "baller" according to Whelan – playing with an authority that belies his limited experience as starter, the Packers travel to San Francisco looking to pull off another shock win on the road, one that would move them within one game of their first Super Bowl appearance since 2011.
Whelan's rookie season has already produced several memorable moments and he believes he has made steady improvements and matured in his dual role on the Packers' Special Teams as both punter and holder for kicker Anders Carlson.
"I feel like I've gone insanely better but nowhere near where I can be yet and that's what I am striving for," he says about the steep learning curve in the NFL.
"Every day is a battle with yourself and you've got to strive to be better than you were yesterday."Image source, Getty ImagesImage caption,
Whelan praised Packers quarterback Jordan Love as a "baller we all feed off"
"For field goals, instead of just rushing out there and being nervous, I am making sure the line is set, taking my time, looking at Anders and making sure he's good.
"Being patient and understanding the situation. The same with my punting. It's understanding and reading the rushes, if they are doubling up on one side and so on.
"And it's not just trying to hit the biggest ball I can every time but playing to what the team needs in the moment. When we're backed up, sure, it's the big ball – but if we're close, it's nailing it inside the 10 [yard line]."
Last weekend, Whelan became the first Irish-born player to feature in a play-off game since kicker Neil O'Donoghue with the St Louis Cardinals back in 1983.
Whelan insists he is not thinking about the Super Bowl just yet and remains solely focused on Saturday's game in California, where he was raised after moving to America from Enniskerry in Wicklow.
He is expecting several relatives and friends from home to be at Levi's Stadium and is determined to ensure his season does not end in front of them.
"We've no doubt – and we've got nothing to lose," he says. "We just have to play our game and stay strong and I think we will be all right.
"Once we get to the Super Bowl, then you can reflect on it all. But for now it's the 'Niners on Saturday."
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