GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- From a historical perspective, Sunday's Week 1 loss to San Francisco is a bad omen for the Green Bay Packers.
Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 379 of the 490 Kickoff Weekend losers failed to make the playoffs, a rate of 77.3 percent. For Green Bay, it's even more skewed. Of the 16 Packers teams to lose their opening game, only two rebounded to make the playoffs, a rate of just 12.5 percent. The only other time in Mike McCarthy's tenure that they lost in Week 1 was his first season, a 26-0 thumping at home against Chicago to kick off 2006. That team started 4-8. The Packers have started 0-2 five times under the current playoff format -- since 1990 -- and none of those teams made the postseason.
On the other hand, there's this 10-year history for the Packers to consider as they make the short turnaround to a Thursday night showdown at home against Chicago: The Giants were clobbered at Washington 28-14 to start last season. New York, of course, won the Super Bowl while the Redskins finished a miserable 5-11.
In 2007, the Giants lost their first two games -- including Week 1 to Dallas, which went 13-3 to earn home-field in the NFC playoffs -- but won the Super Bowl.
In 2003, the Patriots were destroyed 31-0 at Buffalo. New England won its final 15 games, including against Carolina in the Super Bowl, while the Bills finished 6-10.
In 2002, Tampa Bay lost at home to New Orleans but won the Super Bowl.
In a league in which fans and media are guilty of treating every game like the fate of Western civilization is on the line, the Packers' locker room was a place of relative calm on Sunday and again on Monday, even after the offense and defense were outplayed by a 49ers club that's on the short list of top NFC contenders.
"It's one game," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the game. "This is a team that was in the NFC Championship last year. It's a good team. Hopefully, we see them down the road in the playoffs."
Defensive back Charles Woodson's tone was even more optimistic, despite his unit allowing 186 rushing yards and allowing quarterback Alex Smith to cruise to a 125.6 passer rating -- the fourth-best mark in 73 career games.
"We're not about losing. Don't think that's the case," Woodson said. "This was a tough game. This was a team that went to the championship game last year and they have just about everybody back and they've added some pieces, so they're a good team, make no mistake about it. We're jelling together as a team. This is really, especially defensively, a new team (with) a lot of new players. We're going to get where we need to be. I promise you that."
The Packers might not get where they need to be on Thursday -- 1-0 and an in a four-way tie for the North division lead -- but they'll have to get things pointed in the right direction quickly.
The NFC North is arguably the best division in football. The 0-2 start and a quick two-game deficit to the Bears (at least) would be quite a hole.
Doing so by losing their first two games at home -- where they trailed for just 3 minutes and 14 seconds -- all against Denver -- in the entirety of the 2011 regular season would make the challenge even greater. Moreover, Green Bay plays at Seattle in Week 3, hosts New Orleans in Week 4 and visits Houston in Week 6, slouches none.
The Packers face a big challenge Thursday, even though they've beaten their longtime rivals four consecutive times and six of the last seven. Entering the season, the Bears were considered the top contender to Green Bay's division throne. They started last season 7-3 before quarterback Jay Cutler and, later, running back Matt Forte were lost to injuries.
Chicago spent the offseason upgrading the offense, giving Cutler a legitimate target for the first time in his Chicago tenure by acquiring Brandon Marshall from the Dolphins. On the other side of the ball, the Bears' defense typically gives Green Bay some trouble. Until last year's 35-21 win on Christmas night, the Packers had averaged 19.1 points in their previous seven games against the Bears.
With the short turnaround to a rivalry game, McCarthy made sure to put the focus forward rather than behind. Position coaches, McCarthy said, spent only 10 to 15 minutes on Monday addressing the "obvious things" that need to get corrected.
"Obviously, the disappointment that goes with losing your first game with all the anticipation and buildup for this first game (is there)," McCarthy said Monday. "But (it's important) to stay focused on the reality: It is one game. With that being said, we're blessed to have this opportunity to turn right around and play a game Thursday night."
Still, for all of the "it's one game" talk, there are three things that have to be at least a little disconcerting for the coaches.
First, the Packers didn't play to their identity against San Francisco. They were plus-24 in turnovers last season and plus-58 over the last three -- including three consecutive seasons of at least 32 takeaways -- but had one giveaway and no takeaways against the 49ers, who haven't coughed up the ball in a stretch of 26 quarters.
Second, with 76 penalties last season, the Packers tied for best in the NFL and set a 16-game franchise record. On Sunday, they were flagged 10 times, setting a pace to double last year's count.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Packers' struggles on offense were a continuation of the preseason, when Rodgers drove the unit to four scores on 14 possessions. To a man, the offensive players said they came out of the preseason feeling good about things but, in that light, the difficulties against the 49ers' elite defense shouldn't have been a surprise.
Nonetheless, the Packers see all of this as just a bump in a very long road.
There's little reason to believe that Rodgers, with his league-record 28.2 points per start, and the offense won't round into form shortly. And defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who's counting on a new starting inside linebacker (D.J. Smith for injured Desmond Bishop), a new starting outside linebacker (first-round pick Nick Perry) a new starting safety (either second-year player M.D. Jennings or fourth-round pick Jerron McMillian) and two rookie defensive linemen to fill roles (Jerel Worthy and Mike Daniels), has said all along that his unit would be a work in progress.
If any team knows the importance of playing better later rather than sooner, it's these Packers, who flirted with a perfect regular season last year only to get throttled at home to the Giants in their first playoff game.
"I don't think we're making any changes," said center Jeff Saturday, who spent his first 13 seasons in Indianapolis. "We just need to execute better. Ultimately, we played a very good football team who outplayed us and I give them a lot of credit. They came in and played well the first week. It's a good thing we've got 15 more to correct it."
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