GREEN BAY – The third time has to be the charm, right?
Four years ago, in Week 3 of the 2013 season, I wrote in this very space about Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers' attempt to add the Cincinnati Bengals to his growing list of vanquished foes.
At that time, Rodgers had just come off a win over Washington, the last NFC team he hadn't beaten. He then had four AFC teams left to defeat in order to have a win over all 31 other NFL teams – only the Bengals, Dolphins, Patriots and Chiefs remained.
Had the Packers pulled out an eminently winnable game that Sunday in Cincinnati – the outcome turned on rookie running back Johnathan Franklin's fumble on fourth-and-1 with under four minutes left that the Bengals returned 58 yards for the game-winning touchdown – Rodgers could have joined the list of quarterbacks to accomplish the feat as soon as 2015.
That's when he beat the Chiefs, after beating the Dolphins and Patriots in 2014.
Instead, he's had to wait until now, due to the scheduling formula that pits cross-conference opponents against one another only once every four years.
Sunday will be Rodgers' third crack at the Bengals, who came into Lambeau Field in Week 2 of 2009 and surprised Green Bay, mostly on the strength of Antwan Odom's monster five-sack day. That ranks as the most sacks the Packers have ever allowed a single defender (since sacks became an official statistic in 1982).
The 2013 contest had its statistical oddities, too. The two teams combined for eight turnovers, and each one returned a fumble for a TD on the day. It was not a normal game.
With the Bengals off to an 0-2 start and the Packers back at home, a more normal type of contest probably favors Green Bay.
More to the point with regards to Rodgers' potential milestone, it has never taken the Packers QB more than three tries to beat any team.
Only two other opponents required three attempts. Rodgers lost to Atlanta in the 2008 and '10 regular seasons before beating the Falcons in the 2010 playoffs, and he lost to Tampa Bay in both '08 and '09 before getting a win in '11.
If the Bengals "survive" Rodgers again, he'll most likely have to wait until 2021 to chalk off his 31st victim. That would be his 14th year as a starter. The 10th year sounds better and is a nice round number, though, isn't it?
It took Brett Favre 16 years as a starter to do it, finally beating the Chiefs in 2007, one week after Peyton Manning and Tom Brady also reached 31. Favre then added the Packers to his list and became the first QB to beat all 32 teams in the league in 2009 while playing for Minnesota.
If Rodgers becomes the seventh quarterback with wins over 31 (or 32) NFL teams, the Packers would become the only franchise with two.
In addition to Favre, Manning has beaten all 32 teams, while those at 31 aside from Brady are Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and journeyman Kerry Collins.
Strangely enough, Brees has beaten both teams he's played for (Chargers and Saints) but has never beaten the Ravens. He missed his most recent chance in 2014 and now will have to wait until next year for another shot.
Collins played for six different teams over a 17-year career but never beat the Dolphins, going 0-5 against them.
Another interesting element to the statistical and longevity-based milestone is if Rodgers doesn't get to 31 on Sunday, the next quarterback with a reasonable chance of beating Rodgers to the punch is none other than Alex Smith.
Taken No. 1 overall in the same 2005 draft that saw Rodgers projected as the possible top pick before falling all the way to Green Bay at No. 24, Smith has beaten every team except the two he's played for (49ers, Chiefs). His shot at 31 could hinge on where he ends up next season, if he indeed is now playing his last year in Kansas City, as he has suggested.
Also, three other active quarterbacks are at 29 with a chance for 30 this year to stay right on Rodgers' heels. Eli Manning faces the Chargers and Matt Ryan sees the Patriots again by the midway point of the season, and Joe Flacco comes to Green Bay in November to try to beat the Packers for the first time.
Another QB at 29 who never beat the Packers? Mark Brunell, the former Favre backup.
In line with all the fun facts and anomalies to process in this context, Rodgers was keeping his sense of humor about the topic this week.
He jokingly asserted he's already beaten 31 teams and the Bengals would actually be No. 32 if he can win on Sunday.
"I've beaten the Packers a few times," Rodgers said, chuckling. "I've had a couple bad games."
Plenty of good ones, too, of course.