Last Thursday night the members of the Packers' offensive line commandeered a table in the back of the dining room at Chives Restaurant in Suamico, Wis. The bustling bistro has become a destination for team gatherings, and when the linemen stood to leave, other diners broke into applause for all that the Packers have done—and might still do. "That's pretty normal," says rookie tackle Derek Sherrod. "They're not shy about showing us love, and we're playing hard just knowing that they're backing us."
This is an article from the Dec. 19, 2011 issue
But the Packers must decide if throttling back on their effort is what will eventually make them—and their rabid fans—happiest. Green Bay ran its record to 13--0 on Sunday with a 46--16 dismantling of the Raiders at Lambeau Field. If the Packers win at Kansas City this week, or if the 49ers lose to the Steelers, Green Bay will clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs, leaving Mike McCarthy with a decision that coaches before him, like Tony Dungy and Bill Belichick, have faced: Play the starters and chase an undefeated season or rest key players until the playoffs. After losing receiver Greg Jennings to a sprained left knee against the Raiders and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett and running back Brandon Saine to concussions, the potential danger of costly injuries was thrown into sharp relief.
At the opening of training camp McCarthy told his players, "We're hunting [Super Bowl] 46. We are going to hunt every single week." He continued that theme after Sunday's win; when asked if he worried that Rodgers might absorb too many hits, McCarthy countered, "We don't play scared."
Last season the Packers won the Super Bowl with a staggering 16 players on injured reserve. Green Bay is unflinching when it comes to its faith in its depth, but McCarthy must navigate the line between bold and reckless.
With the final three games away at Kansas City and then home against division rivals Chicago and Detroit, the Packers could make history in a town that loves its team like no other. "Pressure is a privilege," says cornerback Charles Woodson, quoting the tennis legend Billie Jean King. "Who wouldn't want to be where we are?"
The Packers are the eighth NFL team to start a season 13--0. Here's what those fast starts led to for their predecessors.
|1934 BEARS||13--0||LOST NFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME|
|'72 DOLPHINS||14--0||WON SUPER BOWL VII|
|'98 BRONCOS||14--2||WON SUPER BOWL XXXIII|
|2005 COLTS||14--2||LOST IN AFC DIVISIONAL ROUND|
|'07 PATRIOTS||16--0||LOST SUPER BOWL XLII|
|'09 COLTS||14--2||LOST SUPER BOWL XLIV|
|'09 SAINTS||13--3||WON SUPER BOWL XLIV|