SAN DIEGO – The Packers were halfway to perfection after Sunday's 45-38 victory over the Chargers, but veteran cornerback Charles Woodson(notes) didn't feel like celebrating. Standing at his stall in the visitors' locker room at Qualcomm Stadium – actually, it was the defense's private locker room, as the Pack's offensive players were clustered in equally cramped quarters a few yards away – Woodson gave his unit a failing midterm grade.
"Yeah, we're 8-0," Woodson said. "Offensively, we're outstanding. Defensively, we're a liability on the team."
Woodson vented for awhile before I brought up a topic I assumed would get him even more riled up: The possibility that the Packers could win out to join the 2007 Patriots as the only 16-0 team in NFL regular-season history. I figured he'd dismiss the possibility as unrealistic, premature or insignificant.
Most NFL players are programmed to think about two things: Winning the next game, and winning a championship. Everything else is just noise. And I'd assumed teams like this year's Packers likely wouldn't go undefeated in the regular season because, deep inside, they had no interest in it.
The '07 Patriots were a strange case, having reacted to the Spygate scandal by adopting a persecution complex – and embarking upon a ruthless quest to strike back at those who called them cheaters by annihilating everyone. Surely the 2011 Packers, defending Super Bowl champions who get love even in visiting stadiums from their portable fan base, wouldn't get caught up in such madness.
As it turned out, in keeping with a weekend-long theme, I'd completely misread the situation.
"We can talk about it," Woodson said, smiling. "I don't care. We're 8-0. We'd love to be 16-0 – love to. It's a realistic conversation now. We're halfway there. So yeah, let's talk about it."
I asked Woodson, the team's unquestioned leader on the defensive side of the ball, if he'd talked about the hunt for an unblemished record with his offensive counterpart, quarterback Aaron Rodgers(notes).
"Yeah, at times," Woodson said. "We know what we want."
Woodson then specified precisely what he wanted: Predictably, it wasn't to match the Pats, who won their first 18 games before suffering a stunning Super Bowl XLII upset to the Giants, but to join the 1972 Dolphins (who went 17-0) as the only untied, undefeated champions in NFL history.
"I'd love to go undefeated," Woodson said, his voice rising. "I'd absolutely love to. Not just the regular season – the whole thing."
While Rodgers ("We're taking it one game at a time") and coach Mike McCarthy ("Our goals have been pretty clear – win the division, get home-field advantage, win the Super Bowl") adopted a more cautious tone, I'd be shocked if the Packers don't take a swing at history if they keep winning into December.
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"I think it's very premature," McCarthy said of such talk. "Once you get to double-digit wins, those type of goals become more in sight."
The Packers are a pair of home victories – against the Vikings on Monday night and the Bucs six days later – from getting to double digits. After that they have a Thanksgiving showdown against the Lions in Detroit, followed by another road test against the Giants. Then they face the Raiders at home and play their final remaining road game at Kansas City before closing against the Bears and Lions at Lambeau Field.
If the Packers get to 13-0 and 14-0 and clinch the top seed in the NFC, will they resist the temptation to play it safe by resting their key starters and keep the undefeated dream alive?
"Oh, we're going to," Woodson said. "No question about it."
There are, however, 32 Questions we can offer at the midpoint of the 2011 season, beginning with the team halfway to perfection and ending with the winless, Peyton Manning(notes)-less but not necessarily Luck-less franchise whose stadium will host Super Bowl XLVI in February:
Jim Harbaugh's Niners have a five-game lead in the NFC West.
4. New York Giants: After telling reporters, "You can't spell elite without Eli," did defensive end Justin Tuck(notes) take a peek at his head coach's face and consider adding, "And you can't spell tomato without Tom"?
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10. New York Jets: When John Conner(notes) rambled his way to a fourth-quarter touchdown in Sunday's victory over the Bills, was he tempted to spike the ball and scream, "You're terminated, [expletive]"?
The Texans are fourth in the league with 24 sacks.
15. Dallas Cowboys: If DeMarco Murray(notes) really believes it's "too early to pat myself on the back," how likely is it that the scout who pushed for the team to draft him is exercising similar restraint?
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Chris Johnson has just one100-yard game this season.
21. Kansas City Chiefs: Will Romeo Crennel soon start sending Tamba Hali(notes) after opposing quarterbacks and dropping the other 10 defenders into coverage, or will K.C.'s other pass rushers man up and stop being so sack-deficient?
22. Minnesota Vikings: As part of a stadium PR push that includes sending players to lunch with suburban business leaders, will owner Zygi Wilf ask former Vikings receiver Randy Moss(notes) – and his dog – to break bread with Gov. Mark Dayton at Tinucci's Chicken and Ribs?
26. Washington Redskins: When watching Mike Shanahan debate whether the 'Skins are "rebuilding" during a media session, why did I get the feeling he wished he could take a sledgehammer to the nearest wall and scream, "Rebuild this"?
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