Undefeated But Not Overconfident: What The 2011 Packers Can Learn From The 2007 Patriots
The Green Bay Packers, the defending world champions, are 7-0 and the only remaining undefeated team in the National Football League. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing lights out (and that may be an understatement) and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down. The Packers’ nearest competition in the NFC North, the Detroit Lions, have lost two straight games which has given the Packers a two game lead in the division. Brett Favre remains a source of scorn and ridicule.
Could life be any better for Packer Nation? Not likely.
There is one major roadblock each week going forward that both the team and its fans will have to face.
Overconfidence or even arrogance.
For their part, Mike McCarthy and his players all seem to be saying the right things. They know they nearly blew in Minnesota against a rookie quarterback. The defense is all too aware they are giving up far too many yards.
McCarthy himself said it best in his press conference yesterday: “It’s exciting because we know our best football is ahead of us.” He even described his team’s play right now as “above-average” despite the Packers not blowing out their opponent for the first time in weeks. The team knows it can play better and that slow starts could come back to haunt them.
As for the fans, they seem to be doing their part as well.
I honestly expected that heading into the bye at 7-0 and having only a few potentially challenging games remaining that there would be a lot of chest bumping and talk of a 16-0 season. That’s not to fault fans for doing such a thing. Runs like this only occur so often so they have every right to be excited and fired up.
Thankfully, we seem to have taken a page from the Book of McCarthy. Fans are taking the season one week at a time and the talk of a perfect season has been limited to whispers if not less. We know our team has its flaws and that the old adage is true: “Anything can happen on any given Sunday.”
Perhaps we’ve all learned from history. Rewind to January 2008 and the NFC Championship between the Packers and Giants. After the Giants beat the Cowboys in Dallas in the divisional round, we thought we had a trip to Super Bowl XLII in the bag.
We learned a harsh lesson in the contrary.
In fact, no team and fan base may be better suited for a run at perfection than the Green Bay Packers. If you look at the behavior of the last team to navigate the regular season undefeated, the 2007 New England Patriots, there were some warning signs trouble may be ahead. They had a quarterback on fire in Tom Brady much like the Packers do in Rodgers.
Despite finishing the regular season 16-0, there were definite warning signs late in the season that the team could be in trouble.
The New York Giants, who ironically ended the Patriots perfect season in Super Bowl XLII, gave them all they could handle in the final game of the regular season. That arguably sparked the Giants to the Lombardi Trophy and set the stage for the Patriots for their ultimate downfall.
Brady set the league on fire all season long until the Giants figured him out. Their relentless pass rush threw a wet blanket on the NFL’s hottest offense of 2007. Eli Manning (yes that Eli Manning) played lights out for 60 minutes and won Super Bowl MVP honors.
Does a similar fate await Rodgers and the 2011 Packers? No idea. I can’t see the future.
But as the team with biggest chance since the ’07 Patriots to go 16-0, the Packers would be wise to learn from that team and continue the mantra McCarthy has been telling them the past couple weeks: “Our record is perfect, but our play is not. We have a lot of room to improve. We aren’t great yet.”
As long as the Packers keep that mindset and continue to focus on games week-to-week, we could be in for something special. They must be sure they don’t peak too early. They peaked at the perfect time last season and will once again want to hit their stride in December. The ’07 Patriots peaked far too early and it ended up biting them on the game’s biggest stage.
If the Packers continue winning, more and more media attention will be paid to the Packers. Despite their run so far, they seem to (somehow) be flying under the radar thanks to the appearances of Messrs. Newton and Tebow.
Unfortunately, as the season drags on, they won’t be able to keep it that way.
A circus will continue to grow around Lambeau Field as the wins mount. All the players will be asked about is the pressure to go undefeated. The pressure will be immense.
Sounds a little like the 2008 training camp debacle, no?
McCarthy should boycott the p-word (perfect) from the locker room. An undefeated regular season means squat without success in the playoffs.
Only after the Packers hoist their fifth Lombardi Trophy in Indianapolis will it be a truly “perfect” season.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke