Before the Patriots lost back-to-back AFC title games, they blew a 21-3 lead on the road against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2007 for the right to go to Super Bowl XLI.Pray that "take advantage" does not include tampering with footballs. Packer spokesman Vic Ketchman notes that the team's draft and develop formula leaves them in a favorable position. "The Packers’ commitment to the future always gives us hope. Imagine how you would feel today if that was a built-for-now-team that lost in Seattle."
Patriots coach Bill Belichick was only able to run a minute off the clock with his team ahead, 34-31. The Colts had 2 minutes, 17 seconds left to drive 80 yards in seven plays for the game-winning touchdown.
It was a crushing loss for the Patriots.
They responded the next season by going 16-0 and advancing to Super Bowl XLII.
The Patriots haven't finished the job since beating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, but they certainly have cornered the market on not letting a bad loss set them back.
Since Tom Brady became the starting quarterback in 2001, they have played in nine AFC Championship Games and five Super Bowls. They continually give themselves a chance to wipe away the bad taste of whatever the previous season brought.
"I tell young guys all the time, it's incredible how much harder you have to work the next year just to get back to the same spot," safety Devin McCourty said. "And, I think that makes you realize how important it is to take advantage, when you do get to this area, getting the opportunity to play for a world championship, that you want to take advantage, whether it's studying extra or preparing."
There's work ahead. Analysts at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Green Bay Press-Gazette both grade the coaching performance as B-minus. Milwaukee's Bob McGinn focuses on the team's improvement in the regular season.
[Head coach Mike] McCarthy won his 100th game Dec. 28, eight weeks after signing a multiyear extension. His fixation on turnover differential saw the Packers lead the NFL at plus-14; his nine-year mark in the regular season is a remarkable plus-87. Those 33 takeaways were turned into 123 points, almost double the total from a year ago. His offense, No. 1 in points, was balanced and explosive. One reason for the 1-2 start was McCarthy's "Quad" version of the 4-3 defense, inadequately prepared and poorly executed before being mothballed after Game 4. He waited too long to bench A.J. Hawk for Barrington, but persuading Matthews to shift inside paid off. Lowlights were Peppers' butchered cameo at WR in New Orleans, having 10 men on the field for a Seattle TD Sept. 4 and paying way too much respect to CB Richard Sherman the same night.Regrouping, though, includes treating each game, and each minute, with urgency.
Knowing full well that playing the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field instead of CenturyLink Field was at stake, they hardly showed up Dec. 14 in Buffalo. Then, in unforgettable fashion, the Packers executed a colossal late collapse against the almost comatose Seahawks and frittered away the franchise's sixth Super Bowl appearance.Green Bay's Weston Hodkiewicz plays it da capo con fuoco.
The Packers still gave up a lot of production in the fourth quarter of games, which came back to bite them during a colossal collapse in the NFC championship game against the Seahawks. Conservative play-calling late did them no favors, either. The Packers' no-huddle offense stalled early in the season when it tried a run-first approach behind Eddie Lacy. It regained its footing when it put the ball back in the hand of Rodgers, and the offense wound up being the league's top-scoring unit. However, Green Bay never was able to replicate its successes at home (9-0) on the road (4-5) where it averaged nearly half as many points. Special teams were an absolute train wreck. The Packers gave up seven combined blocked field goals, extra points and punts. They also allowed a punt return for a touchdown that was the difference in a Dec. 14 loss to Buffalo. Brandon Bostick's botched onside kick in the NFC championship game brought all of the unit's failures full circle.Vic Ketchman, however, begs to differ on the matter of play calling. "Chuck Noll is the most stubborn person I have ever known, and the fans complained about his stubbornness, all the way to four Super Bowl wins in six years. I can’t think of a great coach that wasn’t stubbornly committed to his beliefs."
There's space for more numbers on the battle flag, should the players take an education from what happened and brace themselves to their duties.
Let's focus, first, on March Madness. Last weekend, one of the ESPN broadcasters of the Wisconsin at Michigan men's game had Wisconsin among the candidates to cut down the nets this year. That's Wisconsin as in a missed buzzer-beater away from the title game in March 2014.