Packers stumble on way to history

Donald Driver and the Packers saw their chance at a perfect season end in Kansas City. AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

KANSAS CITY -- We have all week to discuss the Green Bay Packers' injury-depleted offensive line. There is plenty of time to hash through their sudden case of the drops. I promise I'll offer you an opportunity to debate whether coach Mike McCarthy should have challenged an apparent fourth-quarter fumble in Sunday's 19-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. (Actually, I already have.)

For the moment, however, I think we should note just how tantalizingly close the Packers got to the most revered title imaginable: The greatest team of all time.

Their 19-game winning streak, which included a 13-0 start this season, had already placed them in the running. And if the Packers go on to win Super Bowl XLVI, perhaps we'll still be able to make an argument on their behalf. But a 19-0 run through 2011 would have been unprecedented, as would have the corresponding 25-game winning streak. Whether they admit to it or not, the Packers know that opportunities to place yourself on that pedestal -- objectively and indisputably -- come around once in a lifetime.

"It would have been special, make no mistake," cornerback Charles Woodson said in a rueful but hardly depressed Packers locker room. "When you have a shot to do something like that, you do it. We certainly felt like our chances were good to come in here and win today, and we didn't get it done. … Guys would have loved to do it. We would have loved to do it."

Said defensive lineman B.J. Raji: "You can't underestimate the opportunity to chase history. It was definitely huge. We didn't shy away from the topic. Our coach didn't shy away from it. He addressed it. I can't belittle the challenge to go 16-0, but obviously that's behind us now."

To be sure, many in the Packers' locker room were in no way on edge as history loomed. In professional sports, the big picture rarely gets bigger than stringing together championships. Win or lose Sunday, the Packers were in better shape than any other NFL team to mount that sort of accomplishment.

Not everybody cares about the history book. But at some point in their lives, most members of the 2011 Packers would have appreciated looking back and realizing they were mathematically the most successful team ever over a two-year stretch. They had a chance to do something that New England Patriots of the 2000's couldn't, something the 1980s San Francisco 49ers fell short of, as did the 1970s Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers -- not to mention the Packers of both Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau.

These Packers have nothing to be ashamed of, nor do they deserve an ounce of criticism. Only one team in history, the 2003-4 Patriots, won more than 19 consecutive games. No failure occurred here. Only a missed opportunity. As receiver Donald Driver said, "it was truly amazing to be able to win that many games in that long of a period."

Driver added: "It hurts because that's something special. We always talk about, if you get the perfect season, then you're part of greatness. But you take it for what it's worth. Right now, the only thing we can do is go 18-1. If that’s 18-1 and you're the Super Bowl champs, I don't think anyone cares about the perfect season after that."

We saw some things Sunday from the Packers that might have you concerned. Now we know what happens when the Packers' defense, which entered the game leading the NFL with 32 takeways, doesn't get a turnover. A half-dozen or so drops reminded us how pristinely their offense has played for most of the season, and few teams are prepared to have their top two right tackles injured in the same game.

To be sure, as McCarthy noted, this wasn't a fluke loss. "We were beaten today," he said. "The Kansas City Chiefs outplayed us. We were beaten."

At the same time, let's not overreact and wonder if the Chiefs exposed the Packers' flaws for the world to see. Let's not be so spoiled by a 19-game winning streak that we forget the NFL's always-true "Any Given Sunday" mantra.

In the bigger picture, the Packers know they can clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with their next victory, or by a San Francisco 49ers loss as early as Monday night. If they do it, they won't play a game away from Lambeau Field -- where they haven't lost since October 17, 2010 -- until the Super Bowl.

McCarthy said he has viewed an undefeated season "as really just gravy" on top of their more central goal of winning the Super Bowl. Perhaps he'll feel differently in 10 years. Had the Packers been able to pull it off, and they fell five points shy of extending the run into another week, I think we would all have looked back on these past two years with a reverence reserved for the very best of all time. But for now, the Packers will settle for the best of 2011.

"Our goal has never been to set records or lead the league in statistics," guard T.J. Lang said. "We care about getting wins and [getting home-field advantage and winning the Super Bowl], and fortunately we still have a couple of those in front of us that we can hit."