Dungy, however, is not Packers Coach Mike McCarthy.
“I feel very good about our football team,” McCarthy said after his team’s first loss of the season, 19-14, at Kansas City last Sunday. “We’re 13-1. Our team clearly understands the roller-coaster ride that everybody likes to take you on. We knew the ride would just go that way. So it’s important to stay in touch with reality.”
The reality is the Packers, who had won 19 consecutive games — the second-longest streak in N.F.L. history — lost for the first time in the calendar year. A defense that finished second in fewest points allowed last season has not performed anywhere close to that level this season — the Packers are tied for 14th in points allowed. It had not mattered, however, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers leading an offensive juggernaut that until last week was threatening the N.F.L.’s single-season scoring record established by the undefeated New England Patriots of 2007.
, however, Rodgers completed less than 50 percent of his passes for only the third time in his career and was sacked four times. Kansas City rushed three or four players on about 80 percent of Rodgers’s dropbacks, playing press coverage on the receivers and keeping two safeties deep.
Whether that strategy can be used as a blueprint for beating the Packers in the playoffs remains to be seen, though Rodgers has an opinion.
“Well, I think it’s baloney,” he said. “They have a blueprint for winning any game. If you control the football, you don’t turn the ball over and you can shut the other team down on third down and hold them to 14 points, you should win the game. Other teams have played similar styles of coverages and ideas of rushing four and dropping seven or rushing three and dropping or playing man with two high safeties, and we beat those teams. We just didn’t execute well.”
The more pressing issue is injuries. Green Bay, which won the Super Bowl last year with six starters among 15 players on injured reserve, was unable to persevere last week.
Against Oakland on Dec. 11, the Packers lost the Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings for at least the rest of the regular season with a knee sprain. Against the Chiefs, right tackle Bryan Bulaga was lost for a week or two with a sprained kneecap. His backup, the first-round pick Derek Sherrod, broke his leg and will be out for the rest of the season. Already without the Pro Bowl left tackle Chad Clifton since Oct. 9 because of an injured hamstring, Green Bay’s offensive line will go into Sunday night’s game against Chicago without three of its top four offensive tackles.
Only center Scott Wells and right guard Josh Sitton will be at their usual spots. Marshall Newhouse will be making his 10th consecutive start at left tackle, left guard T. J. Lang play will at right tackle and by Detroit’s Ndamukong Suh on Thanksgiving — will take Lang’s spot at guard.
Considering than Rodgers, the problems up front could not have come at a worse time. Chicago’s front seven is anchored by Julius Peppers, who is one sack from being the 28th player in N.F.L. history with 100 for his career.
The Packers, of course, could run more frequently and turn to more quick-hitting passes to avoid the Bears’ rush, but that is typically not the way McCarthy operates. There is no greater evidence of that than the Atlanta game, when Bulaga was inactive and Clifton exited about five minutes into the second quarter. The Packers had 35 pass plays and only 7 runs with the backups before the final minutes of the game.
“Let’s say you’re going to throw the ball, and a team has a four-man line — there’s only X amount of ways you can figure out how to block those four guys,” the offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. “We’re not going to change a whole bunch. It’s Dec. 22 and we’ve been at this since July 29, so we’re not staying up inventing new things. We think we have a sound offense, we think we’ve got sound protection schemes, but the foundation of it is if guys block.”
Lang said he expected McCarthy to call a typically aggressive game and to rely on Rodgers, regardless of who was blocking or who they were blocking.
“We have a mentality around here that when somebody gets injured, the next guy steps up and fills his spot,” Lang said. “That’s something, especially on the offensive line, that we take pride in is if you have to come in and fill in, we don’t want to change up the whole game plan. We’re expecting things to be the same. We trust in the guys we’re going to have out there and we trust in the game plan.”