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Packers chase perfection, Chiefs look to regroup

By Dave Skretta

POSTED December 17, 2011 11:24 p.m.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers will throw for a slew of yards and a bunch of touchdowns. Some unheralded running back will start to resemble Jim Taylor. Clay Matthews will harass the opposing quarterback and Charles Woodson will probably force a turnover.
You pretty much know what to expect with the Green Bay Packers.
That’s hardly the case with the Kansas City Chiefs.
While the Packers have become the model of NFL consistency, with their incomparable quarterback and incredible 19-game winning streak, the Chiefs have become the quintessential team in disarray: Their quarterback wasn’t on the team a month ago, they have an interim coach calling the shots and so many players on injured reserve that it’s a wonder they have enough to fill out the roster.
Two teams that couldn’t be more dissimilar will meet at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, one of them on a quest for perfection and the other just trying to survive a frustrating season.
“To come out against an unbeaten team, against the Green Bay Packers, it’s just one of those games you have to get up for,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “Nobody is going to give us a chance to win, and that’s OK. I guess as a strong-minded team, we have to pull it together.
“We have to play good,” Johnson said, “I know that.”
The Packers (13-0) can clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a victory, not to mention extend the best start and longest winning streak in franchise history. The only team that has won more games in a row was the New England Patriots, with 21 straight victories in 2003-04.
Romeo Crennel understands how daunting it will be to end such a streak.
The Chiefs’ defensive coordinator, who was elevated to interim coach when Todd Haley was fired on Monday, served on coach Bill Belichick’s staff in New England during that remarkable run.
The affable Crennel said there are dozens of similarities between those Patriots and the current bunch of Packers, beginning with the personnel.
New England had a hotshot quarterback in Tom Brady who could make every throw whenever he was asked, while the Packers have a similar player in Rodgers who may have finally supplanted Brady as the best big-game quarterback in the NFL.
Rodgers has already thrown for 4,125 yards with a career-high 39 touchdowns and only six interceptions, for a rating of 123.3 — third-best through 13 games since the 1970 merger, trailing only Brady (123.5 in 2007) and the Indianapolis Colts’ Peyton Manning (126.3 in ‘04).
“When I look at the operation, it’s similar,” Crennel said. “They’re a well-rounded team when you look at them overall. They’re productive, they can move the football, they can score some points and their defense isn’t bad, either. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
Especially considering the turmoil surrounding Kansas City this week.
After a 37-10 loss to the Jets in which the Chiefs were penalized 11 times, including a 15-yarder for unsportsmanlike conduct on Haley, the third-year coach was fired on Monday.
General manager Scott Pioli decided to make the move this week rather than wait for the end of the season, with the team having lost five of its last six and fan apathy at an all-time high. Pioli said he wanted to give the team its best chance for success over the final three games, and he decided that putting Crennel in charge just might provide the necessary spark.
The former Cleveland Browns coach promptly benched journeyman quarterback Tyler Palko, who had led the offense to just two touchdowns while starting the past four games in place of the injured Matt Cassel.
Crennel said Kyle Orton, who was claimed off waivers from Denver a few weeks ago, will likely start against the Packers, though he didn’t rule out fifth-round draft pick Ricky Stanzi.
Orton has only played one down for the Chiefs, two weeks ago at Chicago, when he was hit during a throw and dislocated the index finger on his throwing hand. Orton took snaps under center in practice this week, though, and the zip on his passes made it easy to forget he was hurt.
Crennel said he could have waited until later in the week to announce his starting quarterback, but he decided that there had already been enough uncertainty in Kansas City lately.
Besides, it’s not like any of the options will strike fear in the Packers.
“They look at Tyler and what he’s done the last couple weeks, they look at Orton and know he has a finger, they look at a rookie, so I don’t think they’re shaking in their boots,” Crennel said.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who got his start in the NFL with the Chiefs in 1993, said he’ll have his defense ready regardless of the quarterback. Green Bay is ranked 31st against the pass, and 31st overall, allowing an unsightly 288.5 yards per game through the air.
McCarthy also said he wouldn’t let the enormity of what lies ahead become a distraction.
The Packers are trying to become just the sixth team in NFL history to go 8-0 on the road in a single season, and they’ve already become the eighth team to start with 13 consecutive victories. Only three of them — the ‘72 Dolphins, ‘07 Patriots and ‘09 Colts — managed to win their 14th games, and only Miami would conclude a flawless season with a Super Bowl championship.
Of course, back then the Dolphins only needed to win 17 games to do it.
The Patriots went 16-0 during the 2007 regular season and then won their first two playoff games to reach the Super Bowl. But facing the upset-minded New York Giants, the Patriots let a late four-point lead slip away, and their dreams of a perfect season along with it.
The Packers have no intention of losing their focus, whether that’s this week against the Chiefs, the next couple weeks against Chicago and Detroit, or throughout the playoffs.
“I’m sure if you asked the Patriots a few years ago, they would trade any one of those 18 wins for a Super Bowl championship,” Rodgers said. “We just want to be playing our best football at the end of the season. Tangible? Yeah, it’s tangible, because we’re 13-0. We have a chance to get there.”

GREEN BAY (13-0)
 At KANSAS CITY (5-8)

Today, noon, FOX

OPENING LINE —
Packers by 14
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Green Bay 9-4; Kansas City 7-6
SERIES RECORD — Chiefs lead 6-3-1
LAST MEETING — Packers beat Chiefs 33-22, Nov. 4, 2007
LAST WEEKS — Packers beat Raiders 46-16; Chiefs lost to Jets 37-10
PACKERS OFFENSE — OVERALL (3), RUSH (27), PASS (3)
PACKERS DEFENSE — OVERALL (31), RUSH (12), PASS (31)
CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (28), RUSH (15), PASS (30)
CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (15), RUSH (26), PASS (10)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Packers 13-0 for first time in franchise history and have won 19 in row, including playoffs, longest streak in team history. Only Patriots (2003-04) have had longer streak at 21 games. ... Green Bay can clinch home-field advantage throughout playoffs with victory. ... Packers coach Mike McCarthy got start in Kansas City in 1993. He served as quality control coach and later quarterbacks coach. ... Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has taken over as interim coach following firing of Todd Haley. Crennel spent four seasons as coach of the Browns. ... Packers have set franchise record for scoring with 466 points. ... Chiefs (.722) have third-best regular-season winning percentage against Green Bay behind Miami (.769) and the Jets (.728). ... Kyle Orton will start at QB for Kansas City unless injured index finger on throwing hand causes problems. If so, fifth-round pick Ricky Stanzi will start. ... Packers WR Greg Jennings sprained left knee against Oakland, out 2-3 weeks. RB James Starks (knee, ankle) could miss second straight game. ... Green Bay third in league passing. Kansas City has allowed fewest net yards passing since Nov. 1. ... Chiefs have 14 sacks over past four games.

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