Sitting at 9-6 in second place in the NFC North, the Packers were preparing to take on the division champion Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field in the Jan. 2 season finale. A win would get the Packers into the playoffs. A loss would, well, start the questions about whether Mike McCarthy should be fired.
The game went down to the last quarter, the waning seconds. The Bears, with essentially nothing to play for after having locked up a first-round playoff bye, were playing to win. And they almost did.
A 1-yard Donald Lee touchdown reception early in the fourth quarter was the difference. Big sacks by the defense and a Nick Collins interception deep in Packers territory with less than 20 seconds remaining preserved a 10-3 victory and the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoffs.
The Packers have lost just once since.
In fact, with 19 wins in 2011 – a stretch that includes the Bears clincher, a four-game playoff run and a 14-1 record this season – the Packers have won more games in a calendar year than any team in NFL history.
Not even the regular-season unbeaten Patriots of 2007, nor the perfect Dolphins of the 1972 season, were able to go through a calendar year with a better record. The Patriots were second-best at 18-1, with their lone loss coming the season prior in the Jan. 21 AFC Championship (38-34 to the Colts). The Dolphins were third at 17-1, having lost the season prior in Super Bowl VI (24-3 to the Cowboys) on Jan. 16.
Only three other teams during the Super Bowl era and six before have managed to go through an entire year with just one loss. It has been almost 90 years since a team last went without a loss.
The Canton Bulldogs went 10-0-2 in 1922 followed by an 11-0-1 record in 1923. During those years, there were no playoff games.
Of course, the 1929 Packers can lay claim to an unbeaten league season with a 12-0-1 record as NFL champions. But as an interesting side note to that season, they played a nonleague game on Dec. 15 that year against the independent powerhouse Memphis Tigers, and lost (the Packers Media Guide lists that game under the 1929 season schedule, too).
As dominant as that 1929 team was – it outscored league opponents 198-22 and posted eight shutouts – the Packers in 2011 built their year on overcoming adversity and-near flawless play from their quarterback, two enduring themes in today's NFL.
Going on the road for the playoffs, even with a league-high 15 players on injured reserve, hardly served as a detriment to a Super Bowl title for the Packers. They won at Philadelphia, historically a tough site for them. Then they won at No. 1-seed Atlanta. Then they won at Chicago for the NFC title before beating Pittsburgh in Dallas for the Super Bowl title in a battle of arguably the two greatest franchises in NFL history.
Despite a nearly five-month lockout from March to July, which cancelled most offseason activities for all NFL teams, the Packers picked up right where they left off. Only a loss at Kansas City on Dec. 18 ruined what would have been a perfect calendar year and possibly a perfect 2011 regular season.
Behind it all was quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Even with a shoddy yet opportunistic defense, an average offensive line, a running game that barely exists and receivers that drop more than their fair share of balls, Rodgers has put together one of the top quarterbacking seasons of all-time. Perhaps no other quarterback in Packers history has had more on his shoulders or meant more to his team.
Rodgers has been prolific and efficient, a rare combination not lost on his 118.6 passer rating in 20 games over the calendar year. In 2011, he threw for an average of 298.3 yards per game with 55 passing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns against just nine interceptions. For his efforts, last week he was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, an award not only symbolizing his excellence in football, but against excellence in all other sports.
Rodgers was one of seven Packers named to the Pro Bowl this week, the most the Packers have had since the NFL-AFL merger over 40 years ago.
The Packers also announced their fifth stock offering in 2011, and this week extended the offering by 30,000 shares due to demand from the original 250,000. The fifth stock sale in team history will be the most successful, a sign that the publicly-owned franchise is as strong off the field as on it.
The cherry on top of the sundae in 2011 was a victory Christmas night at Lambeau Field. What began with the Bears also ended with the Bears, and with two victories over their long-time rivals in between, the Packers are only the second team in NFL history to beat the same opponent four times in a calendar year.
2012 cannot get any better than that, can it?
Best NFL records by calendar year (Super Bowl era):
Packers, 19-1 (2011)
Patriots, 18-1 (2007)
Dolphins, 17-1 (1972)
Baltimore Colts, 15-1 (1968)
Steelers, 14-1 (2004)
Raiders, 14-1 (1967)
Best Packers records by calendar year:
*includes a Dec. 15 loss in a non-league game to the independent Memphis Tigers
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org