GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - It's January now, and legacies are on the line.
After a 13-3 regular season, the Packers are now 3 wins away from lifting the Lombardi Trophy.
“It's on my mind every day,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “That's why we play the game. That's why you put in the time in the offseason. That's why you do the little things to put yourself in this position where we are two games away from being able to compete for that. I'm 36. I know what this is all about. This is an important opportunity for us. I got a lot of really good years left but you never know. A lot of things happen year-to-year. We've had some great teams that have been an injury away or a play away from being special so I want to make the most of this opportunity.”
And this opportunity means more to the veterans after missing the playoffs the last two seasons. Green Bay may have taken January for granted after 8 straight postseason appearances before that.
“You appreciate these so much more,” said right tackle Bryan Bulaga. “It's not a guarantee every year that you're going to be in. So to be here, you're trying to relate to guys who have not been here that every play matters, every snap matters. The momentum shifts in playoff games are unlike anything else.”
As much as the Packers are building this game up, they know they need to keep their adrenaline and emotions in check on game day with so many players making their postseason debuts.
Running back Jamaal Williams is ready for this moment, and he's been preparing mentally for it for years. He has met with sports psychologists not only during his time with the Packers, but also back during his college days at BYU.
“I have been doing so much psychological work with the doctors that I know you just have to stay mentally calm and focused,” said running back Jamaal Williams. “You never want to be too high or too low. If you get too high you burn yourself out before the game and mentally you won't be there.
“It's not that hard, honestly. When game day comes. I have been doing it for a while and really it's just experience.”
A lot has been made of the Packers' impressive 8-1 record in 1-score games. But on the flip side of that coin, they have only managed to win 8 games by a single score.
However, before you call close wins “ugly,” take stock of Seattle, which is 11-2 in 1-score games this year. No one is criticizing their victories.
The Seahawks have only won 1 game all year by more than score, and that was back in September against a Cardinals squad that would turn around and beat Seattle by 2 scores with Brett Hundley at quarterback.
It takes a very specific skill set to win close games and neither team has need for apology. So just what leads to close wins?
“I think character is really important,” Rodgers said. “I'm not talking about good guys. I'm talking about understanding how to win. And in those moments, the character that comes through is a hyper-focus and an understanding of what it takes in those moments to win. And it's a learned trait. It's not something that you start the season out with. It's a learned trait that you learn throughout the year and we have thankfully had a number of those games that have gone our way and we have learned how to get it done in those moments.”
”It's going to be about which team can finish the best,” said receiver Davante Adams. “And obviously we are going to try to put as many points on the board as possible so we don't wind up in that predicament. But if that's the type of game it will end up being, my money is on us to finish it.”
“You do need a little bit of luck, but I feel like it is more of a team game,” Williams said. “If everybody just stays together and keeps playing. Because every team is going to make good plays and bad plays. It's about how many times you can execute and do your job and limit the mistakes.”
In this battle of close game champions, you might expect another nail-biter. And as you watch, keep this in mind from Januarys past: the Packers led 16-0 in Seattle in the 2014 playoffs and lost that game while the Seahawks led 14-0 in the 2007 playoffs in Green Bay yet that Packers won.