[img_r]http://graphics.jsonline.com/graphics/packer/img/news/sep08/xaaron14b.jpg[/img_r]Detroit - The Green Bay Packers won 13 games a year ago, crushed Seattle in the playoffs and were an overtime away from making the Super Bowl.
Not exactly chopped liver, if you get the drift.
But now, based on their hard-won victory over rugged Minnesota and a fourth-quarter uprising of seismic proportion Sunday at Ford Field that put away the hopeless Detroit Lions, this question begged to be asked: Do the Packers think they're as good as they were in 2007?
"I do. Seriously, I really do," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said after the 48-25 triumph. "He (Brett Favre) was a great player and all that stuff, but I just think as a team we're a year older, a little more experienced and a little better than we were.
"On defense, we are. Offensively, I think we are. And (Aaron) Rodgers . . . I mean, dude, he's calm under pressure and he's right on the money. He's definitely impressed me."
Already the Packers are alone atop the NFC North, just as they were last year after two weeks before running away with the division.
Since divisional play originated in 1967, this season and 1998 are the only times the Packers have opened 2-0 against divisional foes.
But what bodes so well for the Packers is they're winning with exhilarating feats made by players who are so fresh and so talented.
"I feel 2-0," said coach Mike McCarthy, who is 5-0 against Detroit's Rod Marinelli, 11-3 against the NFC North, 12-5 on the road and 20-4 in his last 24 games.
"It's an excellent win. We won by over three touchdowns but we made some big mistakes."
On Sunday, the Lions probably played as hard as they will all season after being pilloried all week after a humiliating defeat in Atlanta. They bowed their necks and stymied Ryan Grant eight times for 1 yard or less, they pressured Rodgers with minimal blitzing and they got a gutsy game for 3 quarters from their mediocre old quarterback, Jon Kitna.
But in the end, after the Packers had overcome a 25-24 deficit by amassing 24 points in the span of 3 minutes 10 seconds, what remained was the sense that Green Bay is just immensely superior to Detroit.
Not only is Rodgers far better than the other quarterbacks in the NFC North, his performance in two games is commensurate with quarterbacks who make the Pro Bowl. From the pocket or on the dead run, he just keeps putting tight spirals right on his receivers. For two games he hasn't even come close to throwing an interception.
His leading receiver, Greg Jennings, is a positively electrifying performer. His 60-yard burst on a short slant with his team trailing by a point was a game-changing play by a player who has achieved game-changing status.
Another third-year player, Will Blackmon, almost broke two or three kickoffs. Granted, Blackmon is really fast, but his ability to withstand frontal hits and not go down was astonishing.
And then there was Nick Collins slicing up from the deep hash to return an interception for a 42-yard touchdown, A.J. Hawk vaulting over running back Kevin Smith for a sack and Cullen Jenkins forging another monster game.
All those players are 27 or younger, the norm for the youngest team in the league for the third straight year.
Not to be outdone, old pro Charles Woodson made two brilliant interceptions in the fourth quarter, setting up a clinching touchdown with the first and returning the other 41 yards for a score.
"We've got a great group of guys, great head coach and a great organization," Woodson said. "But when you're winning everybody looks good."
The Packers will know where they stand next Sunday night against Dallas. As usual, it wasn't hard for general manager Ted Thompson to hide his enthusiasm.
"We're just getting started here," Thompson said. "I hope we can keep it going. It's a good start, though."
Soon-to-be 69-year-old special-teams coach Mike Stock was without opinion when asked if this team was better than last year.
"We've got to earn our way," Stock said. "I won't have any opinions on that until the end of the season."
The Packers let Detroit back into the game when two of their young players, Tramon Williams and Aaron Rouse, let down in the secondary.
Calvin Johnson, the Lions' one shining hope on offense, beat Woodson inside on a slant. When Rouse took a poor angle on the ball, Johnson had a 38-yard touchdown.
After punter Derrick Frost misplayed a snap and yielded a safety, Johnson beat Williams on a slant and made Rouse miss in the open field. The 47-yard score put the Lions up, 25-24.
At least Williams (25) and Rouse (24) are young and talented. The Packers were able to take a 21-0 lead largely because Brian Kelly, the 32-year-old cornerback to whom the Lions paid big money in March, was made to look as if he were 50 by Jennings on a 62-yard stutter-and-go route and by rookie Jordy Nelson on a 29-yard touchdown off a post-corner move.
Not only do the Lions take on seemingly every retread President Matt Millen can find from Marinelli's days in Tampa Bay, their quarterback will be 36 in two weeks and there's no passer of worth behind him.
Despite the Lions' high defensive intensity, Rodgers cut up Marinelli's "Tampa-2" scheme as if he had played against it for a decade.
Looking one way and throwing a dart the other. Seeing four passes dropped (and two more glance off fingertips) but going on to the next play without showing up teammates.
Accelerating out of harm's way and thinking on his feet. Not throwing into crowds.
"Aaron's got a good arm and the guy knows how to throw a football," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Sometimes the protection's not there but he can get out. Pretty good pocket awareness so far."
With chants of "Fire Millen" clearly audible in the third quarter from the early-to-exit crowd of 60,285, the Packers came back to earth.
Rodgers held the ball too long, fumbled and the Lions kicked a field goal. Donald Driver failed to make a tough catch at the goal line and they had to settle for a field goal. The offense went three-and-out three times in a row.
Suddenly, Green Bay found itself starting from the 20 down by a point. For 16 years, Favre had been there to lean on.
"We were behind but he's a cool guy and he can probably do anything," Woodson said. "We knew he would be all right."
Rodgers also is a smart guy who knows getting the ball to Jennings never is a bad idea. On second and 13, he pitched it to him on a quick slant. Sixty smashing yards later, the jig was up. The Lions essentially were done.
"Man, you know what?" linebacker Nick Barnett said, recalling the moment of decision. "They awoke the beast."
The beast better be awake for 60 minutes against Dallas. If it is, and if that's good enough, 2008 really will start looking a lot like 2007.