Thursday December 15th, 2011

Perhaps it's a byproduct of the league-wide obsession with all things Tebow, and the remarkable story that just keeps raging on in Denver, consuming more and more oxygen every week. Maybe it's a bit of perfect-season fatigue, with the 2007 Patriots and the 2009 Colts having trod this same parcel of ground so recently. And without a doubt, some of it can be attributed to the Packers themselves, a small-market team almost devoid of drama, with no prima donnas or screaming need to draw attention to itself.

But somehow, and I'm not even sure how it's possible in an NFL that receives year-round saturation coverage, it feels as if we've overlooked and underplayed the 13-0 saga that has unfolded in Green Bay this season. The defending Super Bowl champion Packers, like a well-oiled machine that hums along almost unnoticed in the background, just keep winning every week, but rarely take top billing in the NFL news cycle.

Which means it's high time we took notice of the high-water marks Green Bay is starting to post in this nearly unprecedented run of success. For starters, it was Week 15 of last season when Green Bay last tasted defeat, that strangely hopeful 31-27 Aaron Rodgers-less loss on a Sunday night in New England. It simultaneously pushed the Packers to the brink of playoff elimination at 8-6 and seemed to jump-start their memorable six-game sweep to the postseason and a Super Bowl title.

Let that one sink in a little. With one more win this Sunday at Kansas City, the Packers will have gone an entire 12 months without losing, logging a perfect year of a different kind. It would be Green Bay's 20th consecutive victory, just one shy of New England's NFL record 21, achieved during its back-to-back Super Bowl-winning seasons of 2003-04. A win at the struggling Chiefs (5-8) would also wrap up another piece of history for the Packers, their first No. 1 seed in the NFC playoff field since their Super Bowl season of 1996.

At that point, with two weeks remaining in the regular season, and holiday home games still to play against NFC North rivals Chicago (on Christmas night) and Detroit (New Year's Day), the Packers could firmly set their sights on the record books. It is no secret in Green Bay. The Packers intend to fully embrace and chase the perfect season. The first 19-0 record in league history and consecutive Super Bowl titles would put them squarely in the discussion for the greatest team of all time.

"I mean, it's out there,'' Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. "We've assured ourselves a spot in the playoffs, and really that's all you can do at this point. Then once the regular season's over and the playoffs start, all your focus is on that one prize and that's to win the Super Bowl. Our goal is to finish this season the way we want to, playing Green Bay Packers football and trying to get the rest of these wins, and going into those playoffs on fire.''

See, there's no rest-your-starters talk in Green Bay. Just a mentality of going out to "get the rest of these wins.''

"There's no other team that can say it's 13-0 right now and on the precipice of doing something great,'' Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. "But there's still a lot left that we need to accomplish.''

Or as Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji succinctly put it, when asked about Green Bay's quest for a perfect season: "It hasn't been done in a few decades (the '72 Dolphins of 17-0 fame), so we're trying to add to history.''

The Packers have indeed added a little history to their long and storied franchise legacy in the past year. Let's take a little closer look at their still-unfolding dominance from as many angles as possible. Because you get the feeling their days flying under the radar are almost at an end:

• Turns out there's a very good reason you're not hearing much about Rodgers and his ability to mount fourth-quarter comebacks like quarterbacks Tim Tebow of Denver or Eli Manning of the Giants. During Green Bay's 19-game winning streak, the Packers have never trailed in the fourth quarter.

You got that? Nineteen games, never a fourth-quarter deficit. It's the longest such streak in NFL history, and it's not even close, with the Sammy Baugh-led 1942-43 Washington Redskins putting together a 13-game run. Green Bay was tied in the fourth quarter with the Giants in Week 13, and again last year in Week 17 at home against the Bears, but that's it.

• Despite going just 10-6 in the regular season in 2010, the Packers notably went the entire year (four postseason games included) without trailing by more than seven points at any time. That impressive streak of competitiveness died rather early this year, when Green Bay fell behind 13-0 at Carolina in Week 2, a game the Packers rallied to win 30-23.

But Green Bay has still been dominant to a ridiculous degree. The Packers have played 52 quarters so far this season, and led at the end of 44 of them, or 85 percent of the time. During the 19-game winning streak, Green Bay has had a lead at the end of 64 of its 76 quarters of play, or 84 percent.

• If you made the Packers a two-touchdown favorite to win every game this season, you're looking pretty smart so far. Green Bay has outscored its 13 opponents 466-278 in 2011, a league-best 188-point differential. That's 14.5 points per game better than the other guys.

During the 19-game winning streak, the Packers have been almost as good. Green Bay holds a 642-374 scoring margin in that span, a 268-point bulge that translates to 14.1 points per game. No wonder there hasn't been a need for many fourth-quarter comebacks.

• Green Bay's total of 466 points this season is already a franchise record, besting the 2009 team's 461 points. But these Packers have bigger fish to fry than that. Green Bay's total is tied for the second most ever through 13 games since the 1970 merger, trailing only the record-setting 2007 Patriots (503 points).

New England scored a league record 589 points in going 16-0 that season, or 36.8 per game. Green Bay is averaging 35.8 points per game this season, a pace that would see it finish with 574, second-most ever. The Packers need to average 41.3 points in their last three games to score 590 this season, breaking the Patriots' mark.

Improbable? Not really. The Packers have already had five games of 42-plus points this season, tying the 1971 Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys for the most such games in a season since the merger. During the 19-game winning streak, Green Bay has scored at least 42 seven times, or in 37 percent of its games.

• The Packers have 57 touchdowns this season, a team record, and 19 players have scored them, just two shy of the league record in that department. Green Bay has five times scored at least 28 points in the first half of games, and the other 31 NFL teams have combined for just nine 28-point-plus first halves this year.

"It's a lot of fun to be a part of a team with a bunch of playmakers, who all know how to get into the end zone,'' Woodson said. "This is a treat for me.''

The Packers have scored at least 30 points in 12 of the 19 games in the winning streak, and given up 30 or more just three times in that span (but twice in the past five games). They are the first defending Super Bowl champ to score at least 24 points in each of its first 13 games of the season, beating out the 2000 St. Louis Rams' streak of 10 games to start the year.

• The Packers have plenty of Super Bowl-era success to draw upon, having made the game five times under three head coaches in three different decades. But their current 19-game winning streak blows away the Lombardi and Holmgren eras on that front. The longest winning streak for Lombardi's Packers was 12 games, in 1961-62. And Mike Holmgren's teams never won more than the nine in a row, accomplished by his twin Super Bowl clubs of 1996-97.

• One more win and Green Bay becomes just the fourth team in league history to open a season with a 14-0 mark, tying those '72 Dolphins (in the era of 14-game regular seasons), as well as the 2007 Patriots and 2009 Colts (who finished 14-2, choosing in the final two weeks of the season to give many key starters rest for the playoffs).

The Packers' road dominance is also starting to build some historical significance. Green Bay, with a win at Kansas City, would be just the sixth NFL team to go 8-0 on the road in a season, and it would give the Packers an 11-game road winning streak, counting their three away wins in last year's playoffs (the Super Bowl is considered a neutral site game). Green Bay's home winning streak stands at 11, and it has won 17 of its past 18 games at Lambeau Field, dating to 2009.

"I think we're a good team anywhere,'' Woodson said. "We're one of the teams that travels well, and we're a good team at home, too. For us, it really doesn't matter where we play.''

The Packers are certain to be playing at home in the playoffs this year. But Lambeau hasn't been the overwhelming advantage in the postseason that it once was. The Packers are just 3-3 in their six playoff home games since the close of the Holmgren era in 1998.

• Rodgers is headed for his first NFL MVP award this season, and his 39 touchdown passes has already tied Brett Favre's 1996 team record. But his most astounding statistic may be his league-record-tying 13 straight games with two or more scoring passes, a feat only he and Peyton Manning (2004) have accomplished in the first 13 games of a season (Tom Brady in 2010-11, and Don Meredith in 1965-66 also had 13 games in a row with two touchdown passes).

If Rodgers throws at least two more touchdowns against the Chiefs, his streak will stand alone in the NFL record book.

• While Green Bay's defense takes a backseat to its high-powered offense, it remains one of the best units in the league in terms of takeaways. The Packers' 27 interceptions this season are nine more than their closest competitor in that department. Just like last season, Green Bay consistently wins the turnover ratio statistic.

The Packers, during the course of their 19-game winning streak, are a plus-31 in the turnover category (51 takeaways, 20 giveaways) and they've either won or tied the turnover battle in 18 of those games, with only a minus-1 turnover ratio in Green Bay's first-round playoff win at Philadelphia marring that trend.

• Unlike the Colts' stance of two years ago, when Indy seemingly shied away from its shot at perfection, the Packers seem eager to carry the weight and expectation that comes with their historical accomplishments. They might rest some key starters, but only after they first secure another victory, or six.

"Players want to play, and we're all competitors here,'' Matthews said this week. "We play each and every Sunday to win ballgames. Obviously we've got to be smart, but we like winning. I like winning. I think we're going to try to win some ballgames around here.

"It's something only one other team in the history of the NFL has done. It's something pretty special.''

Indeed. Something pretty special is unfolding in Green Bay, and I think it's about time we all started paying a little closer attention. Even if it means tearing ourselves away from Tebow Time.

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