What other word can you use to describe a Super Bowl contender going on the road and losing to a perennial doormat?
Of course, we're talking about last week's loss by the Green Bay Packers to the Detroit Lions. But we're also talking about six weeks ago, when the New England Patriots were thumped by the Cleveland Browns 34-14.
Does the phrase "any given Sunday" ring a bell?
That the Patriots, who have won three Super Bowls under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and are strong contenders to add another Lombardi Trophy this year, aren't immune from a painful and stunning stub of the toe is one thing. How they rebound – and whether the Packers can follow their lead -- is another.
Since getting crushed at Cleveland, New England has ripped off five consecutive wins – including the last three games against the Lions, Jets and Bears by an average of 30.7 points.
"I think you've just got to bounce back every week," Belichick said when asked by Packer Report on Wednesday. "I don't think it really matters what happened the week before, whether you won or lost, you think you played well or don't think you played well. You have to turn the page and move onto the challenges of the next week, and the next game presents different schemes, different players, different matchups. It starts a whole new chapter in the book so you have to move on from what happened in the past – and maybe learn from some things – but most importantly, set your attention on the new challenges coming up and try to figure out what's the best way you can maximize your performance against the next opponent. I think that's what you've got to do, regardless of what happened the last week."
Since that Cleveland game, Brady has been on an astounding five-game run, with 15 touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating in a blizzard at Chicago last weekend was 113.4 – the worst in this stretch.
Brady said the players have no choice but to take their cue from their coach.
"He holds us accountable on every single play and every single day," Brady told Patriots beat writers on Wednesday. "When we come into a meeting at 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, he's got questions -- 50 questions about the team that we're going to play. We haven't had a meeting about the Packers or the Bears, but he's got questions. And basically, he's trying to make sure that on Monday and Tuesday, we're doing what we need to do to be prepared for Wednesday morning. It's pretty embarrassing if everybody is getting their questions right that he's asking them and then he asks you, and you really don't know the answer.
"So, everyone prepares pretty hard on Monday and Tuesday for his meetings on Wednesday. And that's the way it goes on Thursday. And ultimately on Sunday, when that's our test for the week, when we come in Monday morning, he puts the tape on, and if you're not playing the way he expects you to play, you're held accountable. And I think that's the greatest thing about playing here. When you're a player, you don't have to ever hold your teammates accountable. The coach does that. And I think that's why everyone respects him so much. He coaches an 11-year veteran quarterback just the same way that he teaches a rookie tight end."
Two of the best ever
Woodson and Brady, 2006.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Woodson certainly has lived up to expectations. Last year's NFL defensive player of the year, Woodson has resurrected his career in Green Bay. With 47 career interceptions -- including 30 in Green Bay -- he has played himself into a potential Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Brady, meanwhile, is a sure-fire Pro Football Hall of Famer. He's won three Super Bowls and is practically a lock to win his second league MVP. As brilliant as he was in 2007, when the Patriots went 16-0 and he threw 50 touchdown passes, he's arguably been better this season without Randy Moss racking up big plays at a historic rate. The numbers aren't quite like three years ago, but his 29 touchdown passes against four interceptions is a staggering ratio. He's had six consecutive games with at least two touchdown passes and no interceptions. Only the late Don Meredith has matched that in league history.
"He's tough and he's a winner," Woodson said on Wednesday. "And he's a very accurate quarterback, very comfortable in the pocket, doesn't get rattled at all. And right now, that offense, it's on fire right now. We've got a very big test this week defensively, especially, trying to stop those guys, slow them down."
The Patriots have a bunch of weapons, but other than Wes Welker, none are household names or elite talents. The difference is the unflappable and highly accurate Brady.
"Like I say, nothing bothers him in the pocket," Woodson said. "It doesn't matter how many guys you send at him. He's as comfortable in a blitz as he is in anything. That's tough, because we've got to throw a lot at him, knowing that it's not really going to affect him much. So, we've got to make plays, get him down when we can and make plays in the back end when we can."
The Patriots have won five straight, having scored almost 40 points per game during this stretch. That includes games against three of the league's elite defenses: Pittsburgh, New York Jets and Chicago.
However, Green Bay boasts the NFL's top scoring defense and a brilliant secondary that is the driving force behind the top-ranked defense in terms of opponent passer rating.
"Obviously, I know a lot about Charles," Brady told Patriots beat reporters this week. "I played with Charles in college. He was the defensive player of the year last year (and he's a) great interceptor. Nick Collins is a great interceptor back there. Tramon Williams is a great interceptor. They've got a lot of guys who can make plays on the ball. I'm looking forward to this week. It's one of the best defenses that we're going to face all year. What more of a challenge could you want than that?"
During the first round of the 2009 draft, Packers general manager Ted Thompson put aside his conservative tendencies and sent three prime draft picks to the Patriots to move back into the first round. With the 26th overall selection, Thompson got the man he wanted, Clay Matthews.
The Patriots have helped themselves with the players acquired with those picks (cornerback Darius Butler in second round, wide receiver Brandon Tate in third round and another trade that led to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the second round this year), but there's no denying that the Packers got the better of the deal. Prime pass rushers don't grow on trees, and Matthews ranks second in the NFL with 22.5 sacks since the start of last season.
Thompson interviewed Matthews at the Scouting Combine and personally watched Matthews' pro day workout at USC. Moreover, he was the player that his first-year group of defensive coaches coveted.
"He was my No. 1 guy and he was actually the only guy I wanted," outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene said on Friday. "I didn't like anybody else, really. He was the guy I was putting my voice forward and saying, ‘Hey, this is a guy I think is going to be a player.'"
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers said Matthews was one of the three or four blue-chip defensive prospects that he wanted. Both Capers and Greene cited Matthews' talent, motor and character as the major reasons, and Capers liked that Matthews' family tree included a dad, grandfather and uncle who played in the NFL.
"I've always felt that was a tremendous advantage for Peyton (Manning)," Capers said on Friday. "What better guy to study than your dad? I think the same thing with Clay. I think Clay understands and has probably understood for a while the kind of work ethic and preparation and all those things it's going to take, along with being talented. I think those things normally equate to giving a guy a chance of having success."
The big matchup
Welker has 80 catches.
Rob Tringali /Getty Images
Welker isn't big (5-foot-9) and isn't fast but he's quick, runs precise routes and has an innate ability to find a hole in a defense.
"He's a tough matchup just because of his size and quickness," Capers said of Welker. "He's a guy that can get in and out of breaks probably as well as anybody in the league. He's very good running with the ball after the catch. He doesn't waste any movements. Once he catches that thing, he's planting his foot and going. Obviously, Brady has a lot of confidence in him. You look since he's been there, he's been over 100 receptions. I was with him in Miami, I was with him (in New England). He's got a (big) heart and he's tough, excellent blocker for a guy his size. There isn't anything he won't do. He'll throw his body around. He's just a very good football player."
-- Capers worked under Belichick as special assistant in 2008 after a couple of coordinator openings fell through. "I was sitting there (after the 2007 season), and the decision was if I wanted to take a year off or I wanted to stay in the game. I went over to Dallas and talked to them a bit. I talked with Bill (Belichick), and Bill and I had a pretty good history because when he took his first job in Cleveland, I was the coordinator with Bill Cowher at Pittsburgh and we competed against each other. We were a 3-4 defense, they were a 3-4 defense, so we knew a lot about each other's schemes. So, I thought it was an opportunity to be around and study the guy that's done it the best over the last 10 years. It was a good year. I enjoyed it. It gave me an opportunity to kind of sit back and look at the big picture and see how Bill does things."
-- The forecast for Sunday night isn't as bad as feared, with a temperature of 31 and a 30 percent chance of snow. Certainly, a little snow won't faze the Patriots, who thumped the Bears under similar conditions last week, 36-7. It was 33-0 at halftime. "We had an opportunity to practice in less-than-ideal conditions over the course of the year," Belichick said. "I think it just comes down to concentration and trying to do things right, focus on your job. Even though it was bad weather out there, you've still got to go out there and play against the team you're playing against. I think the players did a good job of handling the elements and concentrating on their assignments."
-- The Packers are a solid 21-18 on the road under McCarthy but the Patriots are incredible at home. They've won 15 straight at Gillette Stadium and 26 in a row at home with Brady under center. Plus, they've won 16 in a row at home against NFC foes. In fact, the Patriots have lost only once to an NFC team at Gillette Stadium: to Green Bay in 2002, 28-10.
-- For more bad news for the Packers, the Patriots are 39-9 in December and January games since Belichick took over as coach.
-- With Matt Flynn at quarterback, the Packers are going to have to force some turnovers. Green Bay ranks fifth in the league with 87 points off of takeaways and is second in the league by turning turnovers (24) into touchdowns (12) 50 percent of the time. Problem is, the Patriots are on a league-record run of five consecutive games without a giveaway.
-- Not only is Aaron Rodgers' starts streak over at 45, but he'll be hard-pressed to reach 4,000 passing yards for a third consecutive season. He has 3,289 for the season, meaning he'd have to average 355.5 yards against the Giants and Bears to reach 4,000. Rodgers is the only quarterback in NFL history to hit 4,000 in each of his first two seasons as the starter.
-- Assuming the Saints earn one wild card, the Giants are 9-4 and the Buccaneers and Packers are 8-5 in the battle for the last playoff spot. So, cheer for the Giants to beat the Eagles today. If the Giants lose, they'd fall to 9-5. Thus, even if Green Bay loses to fall to 8-6, the Packers could draw even with the Giants next week at Lambeau. In a three-team tiebreaker between the Giants, Buccaneers and Packers, Green Bay would win.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.