Packers know getting hot can lead to a championship
GREEN BAY – Joy, then sadness. Laugh, then cry. Perhaps no phrases better sum up the end of the last two seasons for the Green Bay Packers than those.
In 2010, the team squeaked into the playoffs the last week of the season and then made an improbable wildcard run to a Super Bowl. In 2011, they were the best team in the regular season, only to lose to the "hot" team of that year, the eventual champion New York Giants.
"What we learned from that is as long as you're playing your best ball at the right time that's the only thing that matters," Packers corner Tramon Williams said. "Hopefully we can continue to progress as the season goes and be playing our best ball in December and January."
The storyline has gained momentum the last five years, beginning with the Giants upsetting the then-unbeaten New England Patriots in 2007. That Giants team won three of its last five just to get into the playoffs and nearly beat the Patriots in the regular season finale. They were undoubtedly the team with the most momentum heading into the playoffs, despite the Patriots' glistening record.
"A lot of times when you have losses it gives you chances to look at what you're doing wrong and you can monitor," Packers defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "If you're winning a lot and you're barely winning, you're not playing your best ball, you haven't dotted your i's or crossed your t's as much, I think it gives you a different way to look at it."
Yet since 2000, every Super Bowl champion but one has ended the year on some sort of hot streak. If a loss was sprinkled in, the margin of defeat was very close. Only the Patriots teams of 2003 and 2004 and the New Orleans Saints squad of 2009 had 13 or more wins.
Four champions were wildcard entrants and two were division winners that did not earn a bye.
"I think you look at teams that may not have won 13 games but they win 10 or 11 but they went and started putting together a chain of wins at the end of the year," said Packers center Jeff Saturday, a veteran of two Super Bowls with the Indianapolis Colts.
"You get into grooves. Things start to happen good for you. And you do, you get that momentum going and as a team you just have a level of confidence because what you've done the past few weeks still carries of. Whereas if you start off hot and you struggle down late in the year it's tough. All those things kind of play into the psyche of a player and how he feels the team is doing."
Here is a look at how each Super Bowl champion finished since 2000.
2011: Giants won three of last four and then a wildcard game before beating the 15-1 Packers in Lambeau Field.
"If you go back and look at it, we weren't playing as sharp as had been playing throughout the year later on throughout the year," Williams remembered. "Obviously we were still good but good's not going to cut it. You have to be great to win the Super Bowl and we didn't get that accomplished last year. Hopefully we can get to that point this year."
2010: Packers won two straight.
2009: Saints lost three straight.
That Saints squad is the only Super Bowl-winning team to have ended the regular season on a losing streak. New Orleans was 13-0 before losing two straight games by a combined 11 points. Weeks later, the team was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after beating Saturday's Colts.
"As you look back at it, it's usually the teams who really do get hot late in the year," Saturday said. "Obviously the Saints got hot in the playoffs and started playing really good."
2008: Pittsburgh Steelers won six of seven.
2007: Giants won three of five, including a 38-35 Week 17 loss to the unbeaten New England Patriots. New York would win the rematch in the Super Bowl.
2006: Colts won two of three, the one loss coming by three points.
"We had done it a few different ways when we were in Indianapolis," Saturday recalled. "We sat guys and the year we went to our first Super Bowl and won it, we were struggling. We had to win the final three or four games to get in and we all of a sudden started running the ball, beat Kansas City at home, went to Baltimore and New England came to us. I just think that momentum as you enter the playoffs as you're starting to play good goes a long way."
2005: Steelers won four straight.
2004: Patriots won two in a row and eight of last nine.
2003: Patriots won 12 in a row.
2002: Tampa Bay Buccaneers won three of four.
2001: Patriots won six in a row heading into the playoffs where they upset the 14-2 St. Louis Rams, the heavily favored "Greatest Show on Turf" that also ended the regular season with six straight wins.
Pickett was a rookie on that Rams team.
"It's a real thing," he said of the momentum the team felt winning that many games to close the year. "It's a real thing for pretty much all sports. Baseball, basketball, you start playing your best, teams peak. There's peaks and valleys in a season and the goal is to peak at the right time, to be playing your best football at the right time."
2000: Baltimore Ravens won seven in a row.
The Packers have two regular season games left, and playing well can lead to an extended postseason run that culminates in a championship.
"We feel that. We definitely feel it," Pickett said of the sensation created by doing so. "That's definitely reality. That's what we're trying to do now, is playing our best ball this last part of the season."
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