GREEN BAY—With only 16 games in a season, it doesn’t take long to dig too big a hole.
For all their slow starts in recent years, though, the Packers have never gotten too far behind the 8-ball. In fact, as Green Bay travels to Chicago intent on avoiding a 1-3 September, it’s been six years since the Packers found themselves two games under .500 at any point in a season.
The last time was late in 2008, Aaron Rodgers’ first year as the starting quarterback, when the Packers were 5-5 but lost their final two games in November. That snowballed into a five-game losing streak, which produced the Packers’ last non-playoff season.
The 2014 season is a ways from that stage, and while the cliche “it’s a long season” has been uttered repeatedly in the locker room this week, there’s plenty of urgency to steer clear of what would be unfamiliar and potentially dangerous territory.
“We definitely understand there’s a big difference between 1-3 and 2-2,” safety Micah Hyde said. “We have a lot to do to become a good football team, but at the same time, going 0-2 the first two games in the division will put you in a hole.”
That’s what makes this 1-2 start different from those of the past two years. The loss to Detroit last week has given the Packers a division loss, with two more division games ahead in the next five days.
In 2012, the Packers were 1-2 with the one win a division triumph over Chicago. Last season, none of the first three games was a division game, and the Packers began a four-game winning streak with a division win over Detroit to get to 2-2.
“It’s a reminder that it’s a long season and all of our goals are in front of us and within reach,” Rodgers said. “We just have to play better. We have to peak at the right time.
“For whatever reason, other than maybe ’11, we haven’t started fast in many seasons. We usually find our stride around this time, go on a good run. We can’t rely on that every year, because that makes it tough, but for whatever reason, that’s how our season has gone.”
For all the Packers’ success at avoiding 1-3 the past two years, it hasn’t come without some significant strokes of luck.
Two years ago, New Orleans kicker Garrett Hartley made an apparent 43-yard field goal with three minutes left that appeared to give the Saints a 30-28 lead, but a penalty on the protection unit wiped it out. Hartley’s re-try from 48 yards was wide left, and the Packers ran out the clock for a 28-27 win.
Then last year, 90 minutes before kickoff, Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson was surprisingly de-activated due to a knee injury. A punchless Lions offense didn’t find the end zone until two minutes remained in the game, and the Packers cruised, 22-9.
Both of those game-four victories also came at home.
This time, the Packers will be on the road against their biggest rival, and the Bears are riding high following two road prime-time wins in San Francisco and New York that have erased the frustrations from their opening-day overtime loss to Buffalo.
So yes, the Packers have been in this situation before, but then again they haven’t, and good fortune can’t be relied upon. That’s why it’s called fortune.
“We have to get back to even and get ready for a short week,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Win or lose, we have to play good football. The quality of play needs to go up for us.”
Or the depth of the hole will be greater than the Packers have experienced in quite some time.
“You can’t take winning for granted. We certainly don’t around here,” veteran cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Obviously 1-2 is not where we wanted to be at, but it’s the reality of the league. You’re going to have some down periods, but when that up period comes you want it to go a lot longer than that down period.
“We want to get started now, and obviously we have to get started with Chicago.”
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