Sometimes you uncover gems in the most unlikely places.

The Green Bay Packers came across one in April at the end of the second round of the NFL draft, when they chose to look past a couple of blemishes that caused 60 other buyers in front of them to take a pass.

Once a little polish was applied, Eddie Lacy's brilliance came through, and a team headed nowhere after the loss of its star quarterback managed to sneak into the playoffs and come within four points of moving on to the next round.

Now that the season is over, the Packers and their 1,000-yard rookie rusher have some time to put proper care into their presentation and make this season seem like nothing more than a speck in an illustrious career.

"Eddie was the lead dog," coach Mike McCarthy, speaking of his much-improved run game, said during his season-ending news conference Wednesday. "I can't say enough about his performance. What's exciting about Eddie is he's green. He's got a lot to learn, but there's things that he can do much better just to be an every-down back.

"I'm not only excited about what he just accomplished as a rookie, but really moving forward I think he can be even better."

If the Packers have a reason to think they will be better than 8-8-1 next season, it's that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be healthy all season. If there's a reason to think they can make it beyond NFC defensive powerhouses San Francisco, Seattle and Carolina in the playoffs, it's that they will have a true bad-weather back to carry them.

The Packers have lost three of four cold-weather playoff games they've played at Lambeau Field since McCarthy became coach and while they greatly improved their running game this year behind Lacy, they couldn't force the ball down the 49ers' throats enough to finish off a pair of critical drives inside the 20-yard line.

When asked whether his team was built for late-season home games like the 49ers loss and the pair of losses to the New York Giants in 2007 and '11, McCarthy seemed offended. He defended what his team did on the ground this year and the way his offense performed overall.