Finding the Way to Win


Big Ben

This time of the season is one of angst, anger, joy, and fear. For those rolling over opponents with ease, all is well. For those losing and struggling, mentions of “the panic button” are commonplace. Fans take the magnifying glass to teams to identify the flaws, at this time of year the team with the fewest flaws becomes the favorite to win it all.

Not so fast however. If history teaches us anything, it is that champions are borne by struggling, overcoming adversity. Finding a way to win despite their flaws only makes teams stronger. Lets take a look at the recent past:

2008 Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers finished out the season in a dominant fashion, fielding one of the strongest defenses in recent memory. Hiding under the hood of this juggernaut was possibly the worst offensive line to ever make it to the big game. The team struggled all season long to establish a running game, and Ben Roethlesburger was sacked far too often. The strength of the team, the defense, rose to the occasion to pick up the slack, and the team marched its way to the Superbowl. The team that spent most of the season as the Superbowl favorite, the Tennessee Titans, lost in the divisional round of the playoffs, the team cruised through the regular season, but was ill prepared when adversity struck.

2007 New York Giants – The Giants were a team that led a long steady ascension from next to nothing to the mighty. The team was implementing a new defensive scheme, had shuffled around their offensive line, after getting rid of some older players, and had injury issues in the secondary that forced young players that struggled into the starting lineup. As the season wore on, an injury sidelined one of their premier offensive players, their tight end. Through all this adversity, the team rose. They struggled at the start of the season, slowly adapting to the defensive scheme, then struggling with pass defense. But the strength of the team, defensive line, stepped up, and by the end of the year the team featured a fearsome pass rush that could cause any QB to struggle, helping their young secondary that continued to improve. Finally right at the end, everything clicked and the team marched its way to the Lombardi trophy. The team that was the Superbowl favorite, that still resonates to this day in perception, the Patriots, ran through the season seemingly unchallenged, blowing out team after team. In the end, they met their match, adversity struck, and the Giants came through victorious.

2006 Indianapolis Colts – Year after year the Colts were always known for their hot starts and gaudy passing stats, and then failing at the end. Coming off a dominant year, where their QB set several NFL passing records, the start to 2006 was somewhat of a letdown. The team had let their star RB leave in free agency, and their star safety sat out much of the year injured. The team started strong like they typically did, but featured a rushing attack that was mediocre at best and perhaps the league’s poorest run defense. When the playoffs rolled around, many thought that other teams, which featured fewer obvious flaws, would be the ones to win it all. Both the Ravens and Chargers looked good from top to bottom. But at the end, the Colts rose to the occasion. Their much maligned run defense solidified for the playoff run, and what started as one of the worst run defenses in the league, marched through the playoffs on the strength of their rushing attack.

Many of the strongest teams at the end of the year each year, get that strength not by starting strong and blowing out opponents, they begin with hardship and fight through it. In 2008 alone, none of the teams in either championship game was a season long powerhouse. The Eagles faced injuries and youth, and no clear star, among their wide receivers. The Cardinals at times fielded a defense that one would be hard pressed not to consider one of the league’s worst. And the Ravens started a rookie quarterback, with a weak running back corps and weak set of receivers. But all of them found a way to win, in the end getting further than the teams that marched through the regular season seemingly unchallenged appearing near flawless.

The message. Don’t worry. Hardship is a good, not bad thing this time of year. The media continues to sell headlines of panic and concern among fans. We are a long way from the time to be concerned right now. Finding a way to overcome struggles is much more important in the end than not struggling at all.

Right now, simply finding a way to win is far more important than winning pretty. What the team learns will help them to win pretty later on and help to propel them toward the final prize.

Right now the task for the Packers, make it work; win. Find a way to win despite a defensive change and struggling offensive line. Learn, as a team, what it takes, what works for them in particular, to win. Once that team identity is found, the eventual path to dominance has been identified.

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