Here it is: The Packers have never trailed by more than seven points in a game all season, the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to accomplish that over the course of a full schedule, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
In other words, the Packers have been in every single game they’ve played this season, for the full 60 minutes, and sometimes more. It’s one reason all six of Green Bay’s losses have been by just three or four points, but it’s also a reason the Packers have been able to take to the road in the playoffs and hold their own in hostile environments in consecutive weeks.
For the NFC title game, it’s almost imperative the Packers keep this “streak” – if that’s what it’s called – going as they hit the road for a third straight time. The Bears’ “Tampa-2” defense is designed, among other things, to protect leads. By playing two safeties deep and keeping everything in front of them, the Bears make it extremely difficult for opponents to mount comebacks.
In fact, only once all season has any team rallied from a deficit of more than seven points against the Bears to either re-tie the game or take the lead at any point. That was the New York Jets, who in Week 16 at Soldier Field came back from an early 10-0 hole to go ahead 21-10, only to lose in what turned into a shootout, 38-34.
“Tampa-2 is a defense they like to use in long-yardage situations and also when they're ahead in the game,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “They've run that for a number of years.”
The Packers’ level of competitiveness in each game this season has required clutch performances at key moments on both sides of the ball, and it’s worth revisiting a few from a list that contains many more.
On defense, when the Packers have been behind, some timely stops were needed from coordinator Dom Capers’ crew to keep the deficit at one score and give the offense that chance to battle back.
Rodgers noted on Friday how much that helps mentally, knowing that "if you don't have your best day on offense," the defense is going to "hold them down" and keep things close.
--There was the Minnesota game in Week 7, when the Packers trailed 17-14 at the half and Minnesota got the ball at the start of the third quarter. But linebacker A.J. Hawk intercepted Brett Favre at midfield and the offense took advantage of the field position to drive for the go-ahead score. The Packers never trailed again in winning, 28-24.
--Then there was the San Francisco game in Week 13, when the 49ers led 3-0 early in the second quarter and had first-and-goal on the 2. But a sack from Cullen Jenkins helped force a field goal, so the deficit was only 6-0. Moments later, the defense rose up and got another stop on a drive that started in Green Bay territory at the 48. After the punt, Rodgers countered with a 57-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings for a 7-6 lead. Once again, the Packers led the rest of the way in a 34-16 triumph.
--Perhaps biggest of all was the Chicago game in Week 17, a must-win for the Packers to qualify for the playoffs. The Bears led, 3-0, in the third quarter when Charles Tillman’s interception put the ball on the Green Bay 15, and a potential two-score deficit seemed likely.
But, following a holding call that put the Bears in third-and-19 from the 24, safety Charlie Peprah intercepted Jay Cutler’s pass to the end zone intended for receiver Johnny Knox, and the Packers eventually fought back for a 10-3 season-saving win.
“Dating back from March, one of the things we wanted an emphasis on getting better from last year to this year was sudden change,” linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “Dom talks about it all the time, being a good sudden-change defense is very important, and that’s something we kind of embraced. Whenever something happens, we go out and know and we have confidence in each other to get the job done.
“I think it’s just a combination of playing together and communicating and not making many mistakes. We’re very efficient, everybody communicating. When everybody’s on the same page, it makes us stronger.”
The efficiency is attributable in part to being in Capers’ 3-4 scheme for a second year. Opposing offenses have rarely found the rhythm to score in bunches, keeping deficits low when the Green Bay offense has hit its rough spots.
“We don’t plan on letting teams get up,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “That’s the style of defense we play. We’re real aggressive, get the ball, take it away, and it’s hard to score points on us.
“I think everybody’s more comfortable in the system, with what they’re doing. We don’t make many mistakes anymore. We watch film together and it’s never like too many guys are out of position. We’ve cut down on our mistakes, and everybody is more comfortable and playing with more confidence.”
The offense’s confidence also resides at an all-time high after the franchise postseason record 48-point performance at Atlanta last week.
But that confidence developed in part from some of the adverse situations it faced as well, taking the field after falling behind and needing to respond to stay in the game.
--Back in Week 3 at Chicago, the Bears had just taken a 14-10 lead early in the fourth quarter on Devin Hester’s 62-yard punt return for a touchdown. But the offense answered with a 12-play, 72-yard drive, needing to convert only one third down along the way and possessing the ball for nearly eight minutes. Rodgers’ 3-yard scramble for the TD put the Packers back on top, 17-14.
--Then in Week 6 vs. Miami, the Dolphins had just grabbed a 20-13 advantage with the help of a controversial penalty on a punt that kept their drive alive in the fourth quarter. Again the offense responded with a 12-play, 69-yard march, re-tying the game with 13 seconds left on Rodgers’ fourth-and-1 audibled sneak.
--And the offense’s ability to answer was no more evident than this past week at Atlanta in the Divisional playoff round, when the Falcons, twice, never got the chance to build on their early leads.
A turnover led to Atlanta’s first score to make it 7-0, but the offense – taking the same field on which Rodgers led an epic 16-play, 90-yard TD drive to tie the Falcons with 56 seconds left back in Week 12 – countered by going 81 yards in 13 plays for the tying score.
Moments later, Atlanta’s Eric Weems returned the ensuing kickoff 102 yards for a 14-7 Falcons lead, only to see the Packers, following a fumble out of bounds on the kickoff, pick themselves up again with a 10-play, 92-yard drive to again re-tie the contest.
“It was huge,” right guard Josh Sitton said of the swift and certain responses. “Playing on the road, this is such a momentum game, and obviously going down twice, seven points, was a momentum swing in their favor. But it just shows you the type of character we have. We fought back and scored both times. A lot of teams you wouldn’t see that.
“Playing on the road with all the momentum of the crowd, it was tough. But we showed the character and we fought.”
That character has been a trademark of the offense as well as the entire team.
“It starts at the top and works its way down,” said receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught the late tying TD pass in Atlanta in the regular season and the first tying TD in the playoff game last week. “I think Aaron never panics, and when you have a confident quarterback back there every time in the huddle, and then just with the playmakers we have, we know it’s just a couple plays. We can make a play and get back in the game.”
The Packers haven’t won every game, obviously, and not even all the ones mentioned here. But they’ve given themselves a chance to win every one, and it’s that body of work in difficult circumstances all season long that has forged the battle-tested, confident team that Head Coach Mike McCarthy now has, as he has said himself, on the brink of greatness.
“We've never wavered from our goals,” McCarthy said. “We've had challenges, everybody does. But we're here for a reason. We deserve to be here, and we're excited about getting to Chicago.”
Additional coverage - Jan. 21