Packers chase perfection, Colts try to avoid it

November 28, 2011 - 5:31 PM
Packers Lions Football

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) celebrates after throwing a 65-yard touchdown pass to teammate James Jones in the third quarter of an NFL football game in Detroit on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2011. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

There is perfection — what the Green Bay Packers are chasing.

And then there is perfection — what the Indianapolis Colts are trying to avoid.

Neither team wants to broach the subject, although both are very aware it's out there.

"I think we're a long way from there," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "If we're fortunate enough to be still undefeated after 14 or 15 games, maybe we can start talking about what you were talking about."

What the rest of the nation is talking about: 16-0. And, in the Colts' case, 0-16.

"''I think all the losses are tough. At this point, we're just trying find a way to get a win," Colts safety Antoine Bethea said. " We've got five games left now, so we got to keep rallying and stick together."

The Packers have been sticking it to just about everyone all season. They lead the NFL in points (382, 34.7 per game), and are near or at the lead in many other offensive categories. Rodgers is having the lights-out sort of season that Tom Brady had in leading the Patriots to their perfect regular season in 2007.

Indeed, there are several similarities between these Packers and those Patriots, including a heavy concentration on passing, a nice mix of veterans and youngsters, and a well-established coaching staff with a strong ability to adapt during games.

But there are many differences, starting with Rodgers' corps of receivers, which is deeper than what Brady enjoyed. Sure, Brady had stars in Randy Moss and Wes Welker, but beyond that his targets usually were Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, tight end Benjamin Watson and running back Kevin Faulk. Moss had a record 23 TD receptions and Welker grabbed 112 passes.

While nobody on these Packers figures to produce such numbers, Rodgers throws to as many as 10 receivers in a game, and double-covering any of them tends to create mismatches elsewhere, particularly with TE Jermichael Finley, unlike Watson a deep threat, and the emerging Jordy Nelson.

New England also had a better offensive line than the Packers can put together, and its defense was stingier than Green Bay's.

Perhaps most notable is how the Patriots blew out teams in the first eight weeks, then were tested severely in the second half of the 2007 schedule, with four victories by four points or less. Thus far, the Packers have only two lopsided wins.

That actually might help Green Bay, toughen it for the postseason grind. Remember that the Patriots did not win the NFL title that season, losing to the Giants in the Super Bowl — and being held to a season-low 14 points.

To their credit, the Packers aren't totally ignoring the perfection chatter.

"Yeah, they don't mind it," coach Mike McCarthy said. "You guys don't like my same message, but it kind of works for us. I don't feel any pressure by it. It's a great place to be. It's nice to be undefeated and to be part of those conversations. Anybody would like to be part of those conversations.

"But really, not to be cliche, it's about the next game. Because if you don't get No. 12, that talk's over. We won't shy away from the talk if we get to that, but it's a hypothetical situation."

The reality is the Packers will be favored in their remaining five games, three at home. They visit the Giants on Sunday in what some think will be their toughest test. They also get the Raiders at home, visit the Chiefs, then finish with consecutive divisional games at Lambeau Field against the Bears and Lions.

It is not an easy path, and Green Bay fully will deserve the 16-0 mark if it gets there.

Just as Indianapolis will deserve matching the ignominious 0-16 Detroit compiled in 2008. Yes, the Mannings, uh, Colts have a monstrous excuse for flopping: Peyton Manning's neck surgery and subsequent sidelining, something they clearly were ill-prepared to deal with.

But 0-11? And with some losses against the dregs of the league: Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Jacksonville and, on Sunday, Carolina — perhaps their best opportunity to get off this schneid?

The old saw that others will step up for the team when a star goes down certainly has not applied in Indy. Instead of stepping up, just about everyone from Reggie Wayne to Dallas Clark to Dwight Freeney have fallen down. And they haven't been able to get up as the losses mount.

Indianapolis is near the bottom in scoring, various offensive and defensive statistics, turnover differential and, naturally, wins.

Curtis Painter was not ready to be a starting quarterback, bringing Kerry Collins out of a short retirement backfired, injuries have plagued the roster, and coach Jim Caldwell and his staff have been at, well, a loss on how to fix anything.

Not that the Colts are giving up, even with New England, Baltimore, Tennessee and Houston, a combined 30-14, on the schedule before they finish with at the Jaguars. Tight end Jacob Tamme is searching for silver-and-blue linings, hoping for a carry-over from a decent second half against Carolina.

As if decent will get it done with the imposing schedule that's ahead.

"There toward the end, those last few drives, we didn't think there was any way we'd be stopped. So I think that's a positive thing," Tamme said. "I think the attitude on the field and in the huddle was a positive thing, and something to grab ahold of and take going forward. The way that things have gone so far this year, that's not easy to do, to keep believing in each other, and we do despite the fact that we haven't done what we want to do this year so far."

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AP Sports Writers Michael Marot in Indianapolis and Chris Jenkins in Green Bay contributed to this story.