GREEN BAY — Earlier in the year, whether it be after the destruction of the Minnesota Vikings or Carolina Panthers in October, or even the Chicago Bears in early November, a veteran member of the Green Bay Packers would be asked about the "magic" being back at Lambeau Field.
A rookie would invariably be asked what it was like, this home-field advantage the team was enjoying.
The veterans were put in a tough spot with that question because the reality of it is that since 2009, with Aaron Rodgers under center in the regular season, the Packers haven’t ever really lost.
Last year, when Rodgers was injured at the start of a home loss to the Bears, the Packers had already started 3-0 at home.
Then, after is injury, they finished the year 1-3-1 without him.
Since 2009, the Packers are 38-7-1 total at Lambeau, 36-4 with Rodgers.
So, the "magic" has, technically, "been back" over the last six home games — but in reality, it was the magician who was absent for last year’s struggles.
But, that’s not the only reason for the substantial success of 2015, a 6-0 mark that includes three, 40-point efforts, two major blowouts of the Bears and the NFC East-leading Philadelphia Eagles, and last week’s impressive win over the AFC East-leading New England Patriots.
Defensively, the Packers head into Monday Night Football against Atlanta leading the league in home turnover differential, at plus-9.
"We just take pride, but when you’re at home it’s just different," defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. "It’s really different. You want to go on the road and take somebody else’s home as yours, but when you’re at home, it’s more like you’re defending it. I just think that brings a whole ‘other kind of energy."
They also lead in the league in point differential, at plus-139.
"You know, the victories we’ve strung together here at home have been quite impressive; the points we’ve scored as well as the points given up," Clay Matthews said, noting the blowouts. "When it’s been competitive out there the defense has really been living up to the billing and the challenges put forth upon us as well the offense continuing to operate as a top offense."
It seems like an age ago, but way back on Sept. 14, the team’s home opener to the New York Jets, the Packers looked like they did toward the end of 2013 at Lambeau Field.
The Jets jumped out to a 21-3 lead at the 10-minute, 44-second mark of the second quarter. The offense slowly began clicking, and wound up scoring 21 unanswered points and won the game with an 80-yard catch and run by Jordy Nelson in the third quarter.
Since that 10:44 point, the Packers have outscored its home opponents, 242-85.
Conversely, the Packers are 3-3 on the road and have been outscored, 161-135, averaging 22.5 points per game.
"I don’t know what it is," Nelson said of the discrepancy, and perhaps speaking for every opponent who has come in to Lambeau.
"You wouldn’t think home and away would be that much different. You’d like to be able to gout and perform on the road as you do at home, but these games aren’t easy, especially when you go on the road. It’s hard."
Added Daniels: "It just goes to show that playing at Lambeau is tough. It’s a hostile environment. Our fans do a great job of getting the noise going up. When you’re at home you definitely don't want to lose at home. You don't want to lose, but you really don't want to lose at home. We just have to continue to take that attitude with us on the road as well."
Now, the Packers face the Atlanta Falcons, the one team they beat at home last year without Rodgers. Atlanta isn’t much better than the 4-12 team that came calling a year ago, but they are playing for something as the NFC South leaders.
"Any time you win against a good football team it builds your confidence, but we’ve ben great at home," Rodgers said after the Patriots game. "The fans have been excellent with the noise, and we’ve got a good advantage going with winning the home games. We’ve just got to keep rolling at home, (we’ve got) a big one next week on Monday night against a team that’s tied for the division lead, so it’s going to be a battle."
It may be, but recent history says it’s one the Packers should claim victory in, which would put them one step closer to securing not only a home playoff game with an NFC North divisional crown, but remain in the mix for home field advantage throughout the postseason.
"When we get that advantage at home we like to make the most of it" Rodgers said. "I think this year more than any other year we’ve really played exceptional at home. It’s a combination of obviously knowing the footing, the crowd noise, the energy, the surroundings and being very efficient."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.