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TundraVision: The Patriots, Quality Wins, and the Crucible

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TundraVision: The Patriots, Quality Wins, and the Crucible

LeGarrette Blount and Tom Brady by Stew Milne—USA TODAY Sports.

LeGarrette Blount and Tom Brady by Stew Milne—USA TODAY Sports.

It is, perhaps, the “Super Bowl Preview” coming your way this afternoon. Legendary quarterback Tom Brady brings perennial favorites New England to Wisconsin to face off against RoboQB Aaron Rodgers and the hottest offense in the league.

#12 vs. #12. Bellicheck vs. McCarthy.  Who could ask for anything more?

But, I’m going to take a step back, and consider recent history. You see, this isn’t a statement game for the nation, a proclamation that the Packers belong back among the NFL elite and that they have grabbed the NFC by the horns and never plan to relinquish them until they get to Glendale, Ariz.

First, the Packers have to prove it to themselves.

As I wrote last week, football fans are a passionate bunch, and every time we declare we’re never going to watch them ever again because they didn’t convert a third down, there’s another moment where we truly believe we are going to win a Super Bowl because we beat a crappy team when they were down. The truth is always somewhere in between, but the Packers have a lot to gain this weekend.

And a lot to lose.

You see, we’ve been in this position before. Think about it: a slow start or a mid-season slump, all hope appears lost for a postseason appearance. Then, suddenly, with their back against the wall, the team turns it around and fights and claws its way back on top of the division, earning a playoff spot to the delight of delirious fans.

Then, the playoffs arrive, along with a quality opponent on the other side of the field. And the Packers wilt.

January 15, 2012: The 15-1 Green Bay Packers host the New York Giants on their own Lambeau Field turf in sub-zero temperatures. There’s no way the Pack lose this one at home.  Yet, they are embarrassed by the eventual Super Bowl champs, 37-20.

January 12, 2013: After a wild-card win at home over the one-dimensional Minnesota Vikings, the 11-5 Packers go to Candlestick Park, where Colin Kaepernick puts his name, his tattoos, and the read-option offense on the map, shellacking Green Bay 45-31, a game many fans still blame on Jeremy Ross. The 49ers head to the Super Bowl, the Packers head home.

January 5, 2014: Left for dead after a Thanksgiving Day blowout, the Green Bay Packers claw their way back with the return of Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb, earning the NFC North title in dramatic fashion. They get a chance for revenge against the 49ers, hosting them at home in a wild-card game. The result, however, is another early loss, falling 23-20.

Since the Packers won the Super Bowl in the 2010 season, they’ve gone 1-3 in the playoffs. This is in spite of their regular season 34-13-1 record through last year. Think about that for a second.

The question I have to ask is if the Green Bay Packers have the mental toughness to persevere in the face of the adversity of a quality opponent when it counts. Look at the other three teams in the NFC North. None of them are exactly the poster children for mental toughness. You think playing against Jay Cutler and watching him melt down, game after game, is preparing you for the real contenders you are going to face in the playoffs?

We’ve patted ourselves on the back coming out of the bye week, extolling the easy schedule the Packers have the rest of the way. At one point, the Patriots didn’t even look like our biggest threat, as they also had a rough start to the season. The Lions still loom in that season finale on December 28, a game I personally was hoping would be a Matt Flynn game, as the Packers would have the title all wrapped up by then. But a Lions win on Thanksgiving and a Packers loss today puts that game right back to a win-and-in kind of game.

Think about what kind of team the Lions are ... sure, they have talent, but they have always gotten in their own way when the chips were down. Temperamental buffoons like NDonkeyKong Suh and Dominic Raiola rack up personal fouls and fines when they aren’t called for.  They’ve only seen the playoffs once in this millennium, and that was a one-and-done wildcard game in 2011.

Detroit isn’t the kind of team that prepares you for the Patriots in the Super Bowl. This is the kind of team you get wins against late in the season because they are less mentally tough than you are.

With a casual look at Cold, Hard Football Facts, it’s easy to see that if you take mediocre and poor opponents out of the mix, the Patriots and Packers are close, but not that close.

The Patriots are 5-2 in their quality games (those against teams with winning records), with an average scores of 33-23 in their favor in those games.  This also means that Tom Brady and Co. have faced off against seven teams that presently sport winning records out of the eleven games they’ve played so far.

Conversely, the Packers have only played four games against teams that are considered “quality opponents” out of their eleven games, and have only won two of them. Yes, while they’ve managed to score 50-plus points against the 9-3 Eagles, they also ran up 50 points against the hapless Bears ... and that doesn’t count as a quality win. A satisfying win, yes. But not one that prepares you for the playoffs.

In those four quality games, the Packers have average 25.75 points to their opponents' 24.75 points—a mere one point differential that reflects their 2-2 record.  In other words, the Packers are good. But they have a lot to prove against the Patriots.

This game isn’t about some Super Bowl preview. Oh, you’ll get plenty of that from CBS today, but the reality is that the Packers need to prove to themselves that they can beat tough teams late in the season and the playoffs. Sadly, last year, I had to admit that the Packers were no longer among the NFL’s elite. They were a good team, a team that can make the playoffs and be very entertaining in the process. But teams like the Seahawks, 49ers, and Giants were better, and the Packers haven’t been able to truly contend in those critical playoff games for three years running.

The frightening part is that it creates a mindset, a reversal of the same mental domination that the Packers usually exert over the Bears, Vikings, and Lions. No matter how much you’ve prepared and proven yourself, when the big boys are lined up on the other side of the ball come playoff time, it all falls apart.

Now, the Packers have rattled off a 7-1 record since that ugly loss to the Lions in September that dropped them to 1-2 and had the Packer faithful calling for mass firings and roster substitutions.  They are certainly the hottest team in the league and have a balanced offensive attack that can pile on the points. Their much-maligned defense has crept up to 21st overall in the league and has rediscovered how to force turnovers, easily holding the top takeaway-giveaway ratio in the league.

And they’re at home in Lambeau Field.

This game should be an epic battle, but in the end, the Packers truly need to win this game. No, they don’t need it for divisional or conference tiebreakers. They need to prove to themselves that they aren’t just the really good team looking up at the truly elite teams in the league.

They need to stand toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and never allow the game to mentally slip away from them. They cannot allow the game to be dictated to them, hoping for the Big Play or a miracle to get them back in it.

If the Green Bay Packers are to prove that they belong in any Super Bowl conversation, they need to play up to the level of their competition. They may not need a win (although that would be highly desirable), but they do need to send a message to Tom Brady and anyone else that they might see in the playoffs or a Super Bowl that the Green Bay Packers are not the team you want to have to face.

The Packers have proven they can beat the mediocre teams. They’ve done it for the last three-and-a-half seasons. Now, they need to prove it when it counts.

Don’t view this game as a Super Bowl Preview.

View this game as a crucible.

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C.D. Angeli is a long time Packer fan and feature writer at CheeseheadTV. He can be heard weekly as a co-host on Cheesehead Radio and is the good cop over at Packers Talk. Follow him on Twitter at @TundraVision.

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Fan friendly comments only: off Comments (18) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Jamie's picture

Ugh

Lphill's picture

I think MM for some reason when playing good teams changes his play book and tries to outsmart the other coach which never seems to work, like his play calling against the Saints, MM needs to stick to what works like against the Eagles and then we will see. Also the Packers have the better O line and Brady is not elusive so The Pack needs to go corner blitz often because the Pats dont have a deep threat like Jordy. I think this is the plan.

lucky953's picture

Yes, we've been here before. In 1993, the Mike Holmgren Packers lost 27-17 to the Dallas Cowboys in the divisional round of the playoffs. In 1994, Green Bay again lost to the Cowboys 35-7 in the divisional playoffs. And in 1995, the Packers lost yet again to Dallas in the NFC Championship, 13-6. We know what happened in 1996. Learning to win tough games can take years of work. We might be getting close now. I think so.

pooch's picture

Great article.Packers need to prove then can win the big one.Have not done it since Super Bowl.Sadly i see N.E win by 17,Capers and McCarthy just seem to fold like a cheap tent lately in big prime time hyped games

pooch's picture

Great article.Packers need to prove then can win the big one.Have not done it since Super Bowl.Sadly i see N.E win by 17,Capers and McCarthy just seem to fold like a cheap tent lately in big prime time hyped games

pooch's picture

Great article.Packers need to prove then can win the big one.Have not done it since Super Bowl.Sadly i see N.E win by 17,Capers and McCarthy just seem to fold like a cheap tent lately in big prime time hyped games

pooch's picture

Great article.Packers need to prove then can win the big one.Have not done it since Super Bowl.Sadly i see N.E win by 17,Capers and McCarthy just seem to fold like a cheap tent lately in big prime time hyped games

pooch's picture

Wow what happened there?

denniseckersley's picture

Meow

denniseckersley's picture

Fans are blaming Jeremy Ross for last year's playoff loss? Jeremy Ross played for the Lions.

denniseckersley's picture

He did royally f%€# us over in 2012 though...

Mario Willis's picture

R-E-L-A-X
Aaron is back healthy. We have a serious pass rush. I need everyone to get out of the past.
We are what we are.
Lacy is building confidence. The Pass Rush and Secondary is scoring points on Defense consistently.
Miami's defense isn't for real? We have beat quality defenses regardless of the offenses we have played THIS YEAR having some major issues.

We will beat New England and I would like the FANS in my FAVORITE PACKER BLOG SITE to APOLOGIZE...

(at least those hating on our squad)

Horse's picture

When was the "crucible" game in the 2010 season?

Bearmeat's picture

Cow - don't you get it that ONLY ONE TEAM ultimately wins these types of games (win or go home) every year. No, GB has not been an "elite" team since about Thanksgiving in 2011. But it's been close - and the terrible injuries in 2012 and 2013 had a lot to do with those teams never realizing their potential.

It remains to be seen what this team will accomplish. It has every bit the chance to win it all as the Pats, Seahawks, or Horsies do. Instead of making dumb predictions that are usually wrong, why don't you just sit back and enjoy the ride a bit more? You'll be happier. So will everyone else around here.

PS: You still suck.

Bearmeat's picture

Right -

GB WAS that team in 2010. They were close in 2011 and 2013. Injuries in 13 kept them from winning that game against SF in the playoffs. Notice the Pats haven't won a "big" playoff game since 2007 either. For that matter, the 9ers haven't won a "big" playoff game (except against GB last year) since 2012 against the Giants either. Seattle lost that "big" game in 2012 against the Falcons.

I know I'm probably rowing upstream but: COME ON DUDE. Just admit it - GB has as good of a shot this year as anyone. And their recent history (several division titles, 2 NFCCG and 1 Lombardi) isn't too shabby and compares favorably with almost EVERY team in the NFL over that time span - including the Patsies.

Bearmeat's picture

Fine. That's fair - even if everyone who's not a Packers hater disagrees with you. Facts are facts: against elite competition, GB hasn't gotten it done since Thanksgiving 2011. BUT there have been several reasons that this has occurred - and those issues (foremost among them are injuries) have been taken care of this year.

GB has got a shot. Even if GB doesn't win it all this year, they're going to take out one of your precious "elite" teams this year in the playoffs - and you'll excuse me if I make sure you EAT IT when that happens.

GB has a good shot.

Nerd's picture

There are two questions this team needs to answer.

1: Can they show up for 60? Or will they go into a lull when they need to show up the most?

2: Will the run D hold up? Mike and Dom are gambling on the idea that teams have to throw the ball to win in the NFL. So it's almost like they're trying to bait teams into running against us.

If this "let them run" philosophy really is the key to winning in today's NFL, then we could go all the way. But I don't like that gamble.

Bearmeat's picture

Great points CD.

IMO there were 2 "Crucible" games in 2010:

1. The Falcons game (you know, the one we lost) in the regular season..

2. The Pats game (you know, the one we lost) in the regular season...

Flipping that proverbial switch can happen to any team with the talent at any time. The 2010 Packers, 2011 Giants, 2012 Ravens, 2007 Giants and 2006 Colts come to mind. All had serious deficiencies going into the playoffs. All figured them out at the right time.

A good argument can be made that this Packer team is in the same boat. Stopping the run has been an achillies heel. But it's gotten much better. If GB can hold NE's O down and keep it close (they don't even have to win), it'll be HUGE for the confidence of the team - and could LEAD TO "flipping the switch" come playoff time. Bob McGinn's column this morning was right on: GB has the best chance of all the NFC teams to make it to Arizona this year.

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