The Green Bay Packers are halfway to 16-0 going into Monday night’s game against Minnesota, close enough to ponder perfection and far enough away that such talk hasn’t yet become taboo.
Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop remembers watching the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts’ recent attempts to emulate the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ perfect run through the Super Bowl.
Does he want a shot at it?
“A team gets close, another team gets close, I mean, it’s great,” Bishop said. “If we can do that, that would be—what better way? But like I said, all we can do is go out and be ourselves every single week and let the chips fall where they may.”
While the Packers certainly aren’t looking past Monday night’s game against a division rival that gave them a tough game only three weeks ago, the Packers already are having some fun with the expected buildup to their Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Lions in Detroit. Bishop said guard Josh Sitton is leading the way.
“So we’re stretching, and he said, `Man.’ He was like, `Can we please finally lose a game so we won’t have so much pressure to beat the Lions?”’ Bishop said, laughing. “He’s a funny dude. But to me, personally, I think the guys around here, there’s no pressure.”
Of course, the Packers haven’t yet felt the pressure associated with making a real run at an undefeated season.
The ’72 Dolphins are the only team in the modern era to go undefeated through an entire regular season and playoffs, going 14-0 in the regular season, then winning a pair of playoff games and the Super Bowl.
The 2007 New England Patriots went 16-0 in the regular season, then won two playoff games, but lost to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. The Indianapolis Colts made a run at perfection in 2009, winning their first 14 games before deciding to rest some of their starters.
“It’s different because it seems that people outside of the team want to talk about it more than you do,” said Vikings tackle Charlie Johnson, who played for that ’09 Colts team. “Obviously your goal is to go out there every weekend and win every game. But when you’re in the position where you start building up nine, 10, 11, you maybe start thinking about it a little bit. You think, ‘If we can keep this going, we have a chance to go undefeated.”’
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier was an assistant coach on the 2005 Colts team that started 13-0, and played cornerback for the 1985 Chicago Bears team that won its first 12.
“The longer you’re undefeated, the more the drama builds and it can be overwhelming if you are not a mature team,” Frazier said. “But (the Packers) seem to be. And our goal is to squelch the talk of an undefeated season after Monday night. But it can, it can grow to the point where you lose sight of what the goal is and that’s to get to the Super Bowl and win the Super Bowl.”
Of course, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has every intention of ending any such talk Monday night.
“Absolutely,” Allen said. “We’re not anybody’s pushover. I know they’re thinking 16-0. Well, they have to play us first and hopefully we can get those seven points we were lacking the last time.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers says the Packers are approaching every game the same way.
“There’s different talk outside the locker room and there will be if we continue to win,” Rodgers said. “But I said it after last week’s game, we’re trying to be 1-0 after every week. If you look at it like that, we have a great chance to win the game. It’s the same preparation.”
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers remembers being part of a 7-0 start as an assistant with New Orleans in 1991, but the Saints went on to lose five games that year.
“I’ve always believed this, that good teams have the unique ability to focus on what’s directly in front of them,” Capers said. “These seasons are like walking a tightrope and if you put that next step out there, you look to your right or your left, you can take a big fall. You ask me, the year that we started 7-0, we lost (five) games that year. All of a sudden it can change so fast and that’s why you’ve got to have great focus and don’t get tied up in what the record is.”
Should the Packers keep winning, they’ll eventually have to balance the idea of resting their starters with the idea of going for perfection.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy didn’t have the luxury of resting anybody last season as the Packers completed a late-season scramble to win the wild card. McCarthy did rest key players in a game against Detroit at the end of the 2007 season, but the Packers still managed to beat the Lions.
“There are a lot of decisions that have to be made if you clinch early like we did that year (2005),” Frazier said. “How soon will you start resting starters preparing for the playoffs? You can allow some outside circumstances to create pressure but it seems like Mike McCarthy and his staff have done a great job of managing situations. I’m hoping we can do something Monday night to squash that talk. I’m hoping we’re not allowing it to get to that point and we get a win Monday night.”
When the Colts rested starters and lost to the New York Jets in 2009, Johnson said it was an “odd” situation.
“It kind of became a `Wow, what are they doing?”’ Johnson said. “It became a hot topic. Why didn’t they go for it? Why didn’t they go for perfection? It was one of those things that, just like the undefeated talk, you had to put it aside and still focus on football.”
The Colts still got to the Super Bowl that season, but lost to New Orleans.
“Wish we could’ve finished,” Johnson said. “I think it’s one of those things where if we would’ve ended up winning the Super Bowl, people would’ve talked about it, but then they would have been geniuses for not getting anyone hurt the last two games and still getting the same result.”