Beating the New England Patriots at home is so difficult, no team has done it in regular-season play in more than two years. Tom Brady hasn’t lost a regular-season game in Foxborough since 2006.
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For a team potentially missing its starting quarterback, the task of beating Brady in New England may be downright impossible.
Brady and the red-hot Patriots could have a chance to clinch the AFC East title and a first-round bye Sunday night when they host the Green Bay Packers, who may be without Aaron Rodgers.
New England (11-2) is in the midst of several remarkable streaks. The Patriots have won 15 consecutive regular-season home games since losing to Pittsburgh on Nov. 30, 2008. They’ve won five in a row overall – a span in which they have not turned the ball over once while the defense has racked up 13 takeaways.
Despite all that, coach Bill Belichick will never let his club rest on its laurels.
"I don’t think it really matters what the record is or who we played last week or even what the score was last week,” he said. "Sometimes you go from a bad game to a good game. Sometimes you go from a good game to another good game.
"Sometimes you go from a good game to a bad game. We’ve seen plenty examples of those.”
Not lately, they haven’t. Starting with the last 28 points of a 45-24 Thanksgiving Day win over Detroit, the Patriots have outscored the opposition 109-10. Most impressive was a 45-3 demolition of the then-East co-leading New York Jets on Dec. 6.
If the Jets lose at Pittsburgh on Sunday, a victory over the Packers would give New England the division title and a first-round bye.
Brady, looking to extend his NFL record of 26 consecutive regular-season home wins by a quarterback, may be playing the best ball of his career. He has thrown 19 touchdown passes with no interceptions in his last eight games. Brady has now gone 268 consecutive pass attempts without an interception – 40 shy of Bernie Kosar’s all-time record streak bridging the 1990-91 seasons.
Brady’s production has improved since the Patriots traded wideout Randy Moss in October, replacing him with Deion Branch – a favorite target from earlier in Brady’s career. Branch and fellow receiver Wes Welker each caught eight passes despite frigid, snowy conditions in last Sunday’s 36-7 victory at Chicago.
"They’re great players,” Brady said. "They’re extremely consistent, dependable, tough, very skilled. They can run a lot of routes. They have a lot of variation to what they do. We’re always trying to put them in different positions. They both played a huge game last week, and they’re both threats out there.
"If they’re open, they’re going to get the ball. They both know that. It’s great to have them both.”
Thanks to the Patriots, Green Bay (8-5) remained within one game of the NFC North-leading Bears despite an anemic offensive showing in a 7-3 loss at last-place Detroit last week. If Rodgers can’t return Sunday, more struggles could be in store.
Rodgers left the loss to the Lions in the second quarter after suffering his second concussion of the season. Coach Mike McCarthy held Rodgers out of midweek practices, saying a final decision on the star quarterback’s status wouldn’t be made until Saturday.
"We understand the importance of the quarterback position, but this is about Aaron Rodgers, first, No. 1, being healthy,” McCarthy said. "And then after that we’ll make a decision on whether he’ll play or not.”
Third-year backup Matt Flynn, who went 15 of 26 for 177 yards and an interception in relief last week, would make his first career start if Rodgers can’t play. Practice squad quarterback Graham Harrell, a Texas Tech product who has never appeared in an NFL game, also took snaps this week.
Whoever lines up under center, this is a vital game for the playoff hopes of Green Bay, which is also currently one game behind the New York Giants for the final wild-card spot. The remaining schedule is tough but could work in the Packers’ favor, as they host the Giants and Bears the final two weeks.
"I’m not discouraged, because we’ve still got an opportunity,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. "As long as you’ve got an opportunity, you control it. We’ve got a big game, and it’s a game we feel like we can win – and we’ve got to win.”
The Packers have won their last two visits to New England by identical 28-10 scores, but haven’t played there since 2002. The Patriots routed Green Bay 35-0 at Lambeau Field in 2006. Brady threw for 244 yards, four TDs and no interceptions in that contest, while Rodgers went 4 of 12 for 32 yards in relief of Brett Favre.