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Sweet 16-0 is great, unless Packers can't close deal and win Super Bowl

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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Now that Green Bay is 10-0, people are starting to ask what it means for the Packers to become the second team in five seasons to win every regular-season game, and I'll tell you what: Not much.

It's not that I don't believe in Green Bay. It's that I believe in history more, and I'm talking about that other team that won 16 regular-season games.

That was the 2007 New England Patriots, and they were every bit as effective as this year's Packers. In fact, they were more than effective. They were overwhelming. Over their first eight games they never won by less than 17 points, their average margin of victory was 25.5 and they never produced fewer than 34 points in any start -- averaging 41.4 points per.

It wasn't that nobody beat them; it was that nobody challenged them.

Then the second half rolled around, and while the Patriots didn't lose, opponents closed the gap. Indianapolis could have beaten them. The same goes for Philadelphia. Baltimore should've beaten them -- with Kyle Boller, no less -- and the Giants could have, too. Hey, when they met the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game, San Diego took them to the mat without LaDainian Tomlinson, without Antonio Gates and with quarterback Philip Rivers playing on one leg.

Then Super Bowl XLII happened.

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If there was a lesson there it was this: It's difficult, if not damned near impossible, to sustain superior play for five months. Basically, it's the story of the tortoise and the hare come to life. When you start so far ahead of the field it's difficult to maintain that pace for 19 games. The goal is to peak in December and January, not September and October, yet the more you win the more you think you're invulnerable and that winning lasts forever.

Except it doesn't, as New England discovered. While the Patriots were unbeaten and achieved the unthinkable, they were a descending team when it mattered the most.

I guess that's another way of saying that all this talk about going 16-0 is great -- except that losing once in awhile isn't such a bad thing, either. I'm not talking about trying to lose or tanking a game; I'm talking about not working so hard to go 16-0 that you forget regular-season perfection gets you nothing but a line of type in the league's Record and Fact book and five minutes of air time on The NFL Today.

So forget about being perfect and start thinking about being better.

When you're unbeaten, that can be difficult. Only it's not with Green Bay. Its pass defense stinks, ranking 31st in the league, and that's the hole opponents could exploit in the playoffs. I'm not saying it happens; I'm just saying I saw Green Bay struggle to put away Josh Freeman and a mediocre Tampa Bay club at Lambeau Field. Instead of focusing on a perfect season, fans should think about perfecting an imperfect defense.

And while they're at it, they might think about protecting their quarterback, too. Aaron Rodgers has been sacked 13 times the past four games and knocked down on several other occasions. I'm just saying that there is more at stake here than 16-0.

Like New England five years ago, the Packers are at different level than the rest of the NFL, and people remind them of it every day. But it's hard to sustain that effort and that performance over time, especially in a physical sport. Nevertheless, the closer you get to the playoffs the more people want to know about an unblemished record and what it means.

And what it means is nothing if you can't close the deal.

Ask Tom Brady. Ask Bill Belichick. Heck, ask Drew Brees. The Saints were unbeaten in 2009 until losing to Dallas in the 14th game. Then they lost again. And again. And they were supposed to be vulnerable entering the playoffs ... only they weren't. They somehow regained something that had been there in September and October, regrouped and won a Super Bowl.

My point is: Green Bay's record is great to talk about, but I would sacrifice a win here or there if I thought it would help the club ... and I think it could. Get guys healthy. Let players rest. Give them a frickin' break, for cying out loud. The season is a grind, and I'll cite the 2007 Patriots again. Brady seldom missed a snap that season.

Look, the Packers already have surrendered more touchdowns passing than they did last season, with six opponents gashing their defense for 400 or more yards -- including four of the past five. That's not supposed to matter because, well, Green Bay has Rodgers and Greg Jennings and Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley, and they can always serve the ace when one is needed.

Except maybe they can't, and I learned that lesson with Brady in 2007. He threw an NFL-record 50 touchdown passes that season and had an offense that couldn't be stopped ... until it reached Super Bowl XLII.

So I don't want to hear about how the Packers can go 16-0 because that's not the objective. The goal is to make the playoffs, then win the Super Bowl. The Packers will make the playoffs, and they could win the Super Bowl. But first things first, and I'm not talking about running the table; I'm talking about plugging holes in a leaky pass defense, protecting Rodgers, sitting down weary players and building for the stretch run.

Remember, perfection in the NFL is not measured in regular-season victories; it's measured in playoff wins. Going 16-0 is rare, but it has been done. And look what happened.

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