For all the Green Bay Packers know, Ashton Kutcher could be behind their head-scratching, mind-boggling start to the season.
The accomplished and famously sly actor thrived off duping fellow celebrities on his TV show "Punk'd." Playing them for the fool in a good-natured way smacked of the practical jokes that have seemingly been played on the Packers in recent weeks.
Their 14-12 loss at Seattle on Sept. 24 was widely judged by the legions of viewing critics to be farcical for the game-winning Hail Mary pass on the final play that shouldn't have been called a touchdown.
Then, Green Bay's 30-27 defeat to the Colts at Indianapolis in the final minute Sunday was straight out of the theater of the absurd for how the Packers threw away a 21-3 halftime lead.
So, on Wednesday, with the Packers in the throes of a 2-3 record that hasn't been cause for much laughter, one had to take notice when coach Mike McCarthy channeled Kutcher.
"We talked about it last week going into Indianapolis, and that's to play a complete football game," McCarthy said. "We have not accomplished that yet. That part hasn't changed. You knuckle down in practice and just hide the urgency and awareness. You don't overreact. I'm not a panicker. I think it's a punk mentality, frankly. I think it's a loser mentality. It's time to increase the urgency."
With that, it's game on when the Packers head to Houston this weekend. Once touted as a favorite to return to the Super Bowl after falling short last season as the reigning league champion, Green Bay is a solid underdog in its game Sunday night against the Texans (5-0).
"The urgency level, naturally, has to go up," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
He, for one, isn't backing down from shouldering some of the load as Green Bay tries to right itself before things would start getting dire near the midway point of the season.
"I'm going to try to find a way to get us in good situations on Sunday and make the smart plays," said Rodgers, regarding the offense. "(But) I think as a whole, we just need to be entering the game on Sunday with a greater urgency of how badly we need to play well this week."
The Packers are below .500 with roughly one third of the 16-game schedule complete for the first time since they also were 2-3 in 2008, Rodgers' first season as a starter.
They finished 6-10 that season, falling in line with an almost consistent trend that when Green Bay doesn't have a winning record five games into the season, it doesn't recover enough to get to the playoffs.
In the past quarter-century, the Packers have been 2-3 or worse 11 times. They rallied to finish with a winning record five times but reached the postseason only three times. The last such season was in 2004, when they turned an ominous 1-4 start into an NFC North-winning 10-6.
"It's still a long season," veteran defensive back Charles Woodson cautioned. "We've just got to find a way to put a team away."
Doing so against arguably the league's top team on its field under a roof in front of a boisterous crowd for the prime-time game wouldn't seem a likely time or place for a turnaround.
Green Bay goes in undermanned with productive halfback Cedric Benson shelved for at least the next two months because of a foot injury. The Packers also might be without as many as three more starters: receiver Greg Jennings (groin), tight end Jermichael Finley (shoulder) and nose tackle B.J. Raji (ankle).
The recent rash of medical setbacks comes when the Packers have been a shell of their successful identity from the 15-1 regular season in 2011. They can't move the ball with regularity on offense and, consequently, aren't scoring a ton of points. The defense isn't wresting the football away from teams -- Green Bay has forced just five turnovers and is the only team without a fumble recovery.
It's a recipe for playing right into the clutches of the Texans, who are the masters of ball control so far this season.
For a team that's been pulled through the punked-esque wringer a time or two in the first month of the season, though, the Packers have a chance to turn the tables.
"You expect guys to understand the significance of this point in the season and a game like this," Rodgers said. "Just don't try to freak out too much."