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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Packers And 49ers The Rest Is Subplot

It's taken a 12-week trip, over the river and through the woods, but we've come to a very familiar place: to two traditional NFC teams dominating the season as the final month begins to sort the contenders from the pretenders.

Once again, it's San Francisco and Green Bay, the 49ers and the Packers. The Niners are 11-1, having won 11 straight without Jerry Rice. We can say The Pack is Back because Green Bay is the same 9-3 it was last season en route to a Super Bowl, with a steadier running game, healthy defenders returning and ego finally in check.

Oh, the subplots still are pretty juicy, whether we're talking about Mike Ditka being ready to quit, Lawrence Phillips getting the boot, the rise of the Jets and Giants, the emergence of Steve McNair, the Redskins' immaturity or whether Bryan Cox can resign a position he doesn't actually hold.

But it is Green Bay's victory over Dallas on Sunday at frosty Lambeau Field that has helped give a confused season some direction, some shape and probably a suggestion of what is to come.

All season, the Super Bowl champion Packers had been a perfect reflection of the season: unpredictable and uneven. Sometimes uninspiring. It's probably because back in the summer a couple of Packers were goofy enough to predict the team would go undefeated. Obviously, the Packers were unfamiliar with the trouble that greets champions. And so they played dreadfully early, suffered even more injuries than last season and looked quite capable of missing the playoffs altogether after five weeks.

But unlike some teams, whose players are making more stupid mistakes in November than they made in September, the Packers shut their mouths and demonstrated a sense of urgency.

Forget the loss to the Colts nine days ago. It symbolizes nothing except perhaps Green Bay's understandable and necessary obsession with beating Dallas. Or, as Packers Coach Mike Holmgren said: "Losing to Indianapolis last week and beating Dallas the next? It's kind of like the Bermuda Triangle; some things you just can't explain."

Of course, the Packers now have three straight road games, including visits to pursuers Minnesota and Tampa Bay. But they should hit the road confidently, considering the way they played in destroying the Cowboys, 45-17. Packer Seth Joyner has been on enough good teams and faced enough to know what time it is.

"This is the most complete football team I've been on," he said Sunday. "It's the first one with a dominating defense and a high-powered offense."