Undefeated But Not Overconfident: What The 2011 Packers Can Learn From The 2007 Patriots

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It feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

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.

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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.

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  • Bearmeat

    100% correct, and not “in the bag” in any sense.

    There’s work to do yet, and things could go our way, but there’s a significant chance they don’t as well.

    Gonna be a great ride!

  • ELo

    Were 7-0. Still a long way to go to even think about being undefeated, let alone draw comparisons to the Pats ’07 season.

  • Tarynfor 12

    I don’t care about a perfect season just winning the Super Bowl AGAIN!
    The 3 game stint in 11 days can end the perfect season and the SB run.The most scariest part is the TB and the 3 days until Det where the risk of fatigue injuries is at it’s highest which if hits our skill spots…well lets not go there.

    On a positive note,these guys just seem happy as hell playing,even Finley looks somewhat content.

  • John in Montana

    How about this scenario — the Pack is up in the division by 3 games with two games left — Chicago and Detroit. Do we play it safe and rest the stars and risk losing out on a perfect run? Or do we go for the streak and risk losing a star or two for the playoffs. Or, do we protect key players by treating the last two games as a warm-up and risk having the team cohesion crumble? 7-0 now is nice but it could make things dicey come the end of December.

    • Tarynfor 12

      Whatever MM wants to do,will be just fine with me,as long as there is a RING at the end of it.

  • Bubbaloo

    “Thankfully, we (fans) seem to have taken a page from the Book of McCarthy”. No Kris, all you have to do is log on to another blog and see what the Lion’s fans have been doing, NOBODY would want to subject themselves to that type humiliation and stupidity. They were puffing out their chests and talkin’ smack after the first preseason game! As GB fans, I mean REAL fans, we’re way to smart for that. We Know Football, and we know that 16-0 (or 18-0) means nothing! Just Win (the SB) Baby!

  • Elle

    I do have to point out that the Colts in 09 could have easily gone 16-0. They shut it down on purpose, against two pussycat teams at the end of their schedule, and they went 14-2.

    Of course, they lost the Superbowl too, so it would have been the second 16-0 team to lose in the SB.

  • Mojo

    Agree with Tarynfor 12. An undefeated season would be great, but a SB win is the real prize. I don’t think they’ll be undefeated going into the last few weeks as the defense still has too many holes. That will solve some of the “who to play” questions unless the number one seeding is still in question. However, if they were to go 19 and 0, well that would be a cherry on top of the gravy.

    • Steve Cheez

      Add some bacon and I’m there!

  • http://allgbp.com scar

    Even at 19-0 and hoisting the Lombardi trophy, someone should say “while we were really good, we were far from perfect. Here is what we need to correct to compete for the next Super Bowl…

    • Steve Cheez

      I think both MM and TT would be at the front of that bandwagon.

  • Ron LC

    Only two teams in the modern era (1960 to Current) of the NFL have gone undefeated in regular season play. Keeping that in mind I doubt that GB will do it. It’s just the odds (30:1). What I care about is the teams identifying and improving on the obvious flaws they have. Ignoring them would be much worse than an individual loss here or there. I think MM in his own understated way affirms that is his goal. To paraphrase: ” Don’t talk about undefeated until we’re well into double digit wins. Right now we’re an above average team, which means we’ve a lot of work to do.” That’s the attitude I want in a coach. Keep improving until the very last play of the SB.

  • J
  • http://none GalaxyM81

    All that matters is making the playoffs and then winning out!

  • Steve

    Going undefeated means winning every game. Winning every game is done by never over looking you next opponent. The packers seem to by focused on each opponent week after week. I like their chances but it sure will be a tough thing to do.