The Carolina Panthers are proudly celebrating their 20th football season this year. They have a little Hall of Honor, although it’s more like a closet. In those 20 years, there has been exactly one Panther player inducted – linebacker Sam Mills.
The Green Bay Packers have been around nearly 100 years. In the Pro Football Hall of Fame – not their own hall of fame, mind you, although they have one of those, too – they can boast of 27 players with a Packer pedigree. Those include legendary names like Lombardi, Hornung and Starr.
A more pressing problem for Carolina this week: A future hall of famer will be playing quarterback for the Packers when Green Bay hosts the Panthers at Lambeau Field at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is “playing about as well as anybody in the league right now,” according to Carolina coach Ron Rivera.
Rodgers has 15 touchdown passes and only one interception this season for the 4-2 Packers. The extraordinary thing about those numbers is that they seem so ordinary for Rodgers. In his 2011 NFL MVP season, Rodgers had 45 TDs and only six interceptions. He is headed toward another one of those MVP trophies and even more “Discount double check” commercials, I’m afraid, if he keeps up the pace this year.
It may not seem fair that a team could get both three-time NFL MVP Brett Favre and Rodgers as its quarterbacks within the same generation. But that’s what has happened for Green Bay. The Packers will be a formidable challenge for a Carolina team that has given up 37 or more points in three of its past four games.
The game will be played in one of the NFL’s most prized settings. Rivera used to play at Lambeau once a year as a member of the Chicago Bears. He has coached there numerous times since and has even visited the Packers’ hall of fame himself.
“It’s really a neat place to walk around,” Rivera said of Lambeau. “It’s a great football atmosphere. This time of year the weather is perfect. It’s not way too cold, which it tends to be.”
Rivera’s current team has a 3-2-1 record, which sounds like the countdown to a rocket launch.
But the launch may be scrubbed if Carolina can’t play better D. For most of the past month, the Carolina defense has sputtered as badly as a Cincinnati fan trying to defend the character of linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Rodgers against that unit at home in Lambeau Field? It sounds like the trailer to a horror movie.
On the plus side, though, the Panthers have traditionally played pretty well at Lambeau Field. Their first visit ever came in the 1996 NFC championship, which they lost 30-13 to a Packers team led by Favre that would win the Super Bowl. But they also have had a couple of big-time wins there.
The first: Steve Beuerlein’s famous draw play on the last snap of the game that beat the Packers, 33-31, in 1999. That remains one of the best five single plays in Carolina history and the biggest highlight of the mostly dark George Seifert era.
The second: In 2008, the Panthers survived a Rodgers onslaught and won, 35-31. DeAngelo Williams scored four touchdowns – all from one yard out – and Steve Smith made a remarkable 54-yard catch to set up the game-winner.
So beating the Packers at Lambeau can be done. But as in those two games, the Panthers will probably need to score at least 30 points Sunday to do it.
Rodgers is simply playing too well – and Carolina’s defense playing too poorly – for it to work out well for the Panthers otherwise. Although Rivera would prefer it not to happen, I believe we are in for another shootout.