Unbeaten Green Bay Packers 'looking at greatness'
With Aaron Rodgers' MVP-caliber play leading the way, the Green Bay Packers are 5-0 for the seventh time in franchise history. Each of the previous six, the Packers went on to win an NFL title.
That is, admittedly, a statistic that offers little insight for how this season will turn out: After all, none of Green Bay's current players even was born by 1965, the team's most recent such start. Still, with the way they've performed so far this season, the reigning Super Bowl champions sure do seem capable of big things.
''5-0 feels great,'' cornerback Charles Woodson said, ''but we're looking at greatness.''
Does that mean a second consecutive Lombardi Trophy?
A 16-0 regular season?
While it's waaaaaaay too early to be talking about either, the Packers couldn't be blamed for at least entertaining thoughts of both.
They're on an 11-game winning streak, including the end of the 2010 regular season and the postseason. They've already beaten two other teams considered among the NFC's elite entering this season: the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, and the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday night. Some supposedly good teams in the conference are struggling, particularly the Philadelphia Eagles. Other NFC clubs with good records - the Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins - have no recent important-game experience.
Plus, the Packers didn't lose a ton of talent in the offseason - defensive end Cullen Jenkins and guard Daryn Colledge were the most notable departures - while they got to ''add'' players who missed the Super Bowl run because of injury and might very well be hungry to be a real part of that kind of success. Two key examples: tight end Jermichael Finley and running back Ryan Grant.
After putting more than a dozen guys on injured reserve last season, then having Woodson and receiver Donald Driver get hurt during the Super Bowl itself, the Packers know a thing or two about getting by when players are sidelined, such as Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins (done for this season) and starting offensive tackles Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga (out with leg injuries).
And, of course, they have an elite-as-can-be QB in Rodgers.
''They certainly possess all the elements necessary to be able to repeat,'' said Joe Theismann, the former quarterback whose Redskins won the 1983 Super Bowl and nearly repeated but lost to the Raiders in the NFL championship game a year later. ''The big question that looms is the health of their offensive line, but they can figure out ways to win when all the pieces aren't in place. That is one reason why I think they do have an opportunity to repeat. And No. 2, there isn't anybody in football at the end of last year and the beginning of this year that's played better football than Aaron Rodgers.''
Theismann also pointed to another factor in Green Bay's favor: the lockout.
Because of the odd offseason, he reasons, the Packers didn't face the usual scrutiny, distractions and roster-raiding that NFL champs sometimes succumb to.
''What normally would be months where they would get all of the attention didn't happen. They didn't get guys getting all bigheaded, thinking, 'We're really good. Hey, we're the champions.' ... And you didn't have a lot of holdouts. You can bring your team back intact,'' Theismann said in a telephone interview Monday. ''The lockout, as much as anything, created this (atmosphere of), 'OK, you're the world champions, but there are a lot of other things to talk about.'''
It would be pretty stunning if Green Bay doesn't head into what could be the toughest test left on its schedule - a Nov. 6 game at the San Diego Chargers - with a 7-0 record. After all, the Packers' next two games are against a couple of teams who are a combined 1-8: the St. Louis Rams (0-4) and the Minnesota Vikings (1-4).
''I know there's that old adage: 'On any given Sunday.' But those shouldn't be one of those given Sundays,'' Theismann said. ''The Packers just have much more talent.''
And Green Bay's bye comes before facing San Diego, so there will be an extra week to rest and prepare.
Otherwise, the most significant upcoming game on Green Bay's schedule appears to be against - believe it or not - the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.
''We have a different team than years past,'' Rodgers said after the 25-14 victory at Atlanta. ''We expect to win when we take the field.''
They're averaging nearly 35 points, and their playmaking defense not only is producing turnovers but also making key adjustments. Against Atlanta, for example, the Packers began applying extra pass-rushing pressure while relying on their cornerbacks to handle more man-to-man coverage.
''They're playing as good as any team in the National Football League right now,'' Falcons coach Mike Smith said. ''It starts with their quarterback play.''
Rogers completed 26 of 39 passes for 396 yards and two TDs against Atlanta, connecting with 12 receivers. He's produced a passer rating above 100 every game this season, and his overall 122.9 mark leads the NFL.
''He's doing some amazing things,'' Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson said. ''His team - they believe in him and they're following him.''
On Sunday night alone, the Packers overcame these sorts of obstacles:
- trailing 14-0, and on the road, no less;
- playing the last 2 1/2 quarters without either starting offensive tackle;
- the midweek turbulence of former Packers star Brett Favre's comments to an Atlanta radio station about Rodgers, and whether the Packers should have won a Super Bowl sooner with their current QB.
And yet, as Rodgers would say of facing Sunday's deficit, ''There was no panic.''
The way things are going for his team at the moment, why should there be?
AP National Writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta, and AP Sports Writer Chris Jenkins in Milwaukee contributed to this report.
Get in touch with Howard Fendrich at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich or hfendrich(at)ap.org