The Legacy of Late Season Losers
The sky has fallen. Aaron Rodgers is mortal. The Packers have lost a game and nothing will ever be the same again.
These and other headlines brought to you by NFL Overreaction Week, in which we define a season's worth of games (or, in the case of Johnny Manziel, an entire future career) based on one weekend.
I'm still not sure what to think of the Packers loss, to be perfectly honest. Is it reason for concern? Maybe. The offensive line depth was exposed. The receivers didn't show up. Aaron Rodgers had a Freaky Friday-style brain switch with Mark Sanchez.
But it's also possible that all those concerns could simply be short term issues. Bryan Bulaga could be back next week, or certainly by the week after.
It's hard to imagine the receiving corps performing as poorly this week as last week. It's even harder to imagine seeing another performance like that from Aaron Rodgers.
So while I don't know what last week's stinker in Buffalo means (as though everything in sports has to mean something), I do know this: late season hiccups are far from rare for Super Bowl contenders. In fact, they're surprisingly common.
In fact, every Super Bowl winner for the last decade has dropped at least one game in December, and here they are:
2013 Seahawks - Lost to Arizona 17-11 in Week 16.
Russell Wilson completed just 11 of 27 passes as Seattle dropped a rare home game at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks, famous for their efficient passing and powerful running, didn't do either one very well. Marshawn Lynch had only 71 yards on 18 carries.
2012 Ravens - Lost four of last five games, including a 34-17 stomping at the hands of Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
The Denver game wasn't even as close as the score would lead you to believe. It was 31-3 after three quarters, and Manning himself threw just one touchdown. Baltimore, of course, heated up in a big way and rampaged to the Super Bowl behind the suddenly-lights out Joe Flacco.
2011 Giants - Lost to Washington 23-10 in Week 15.
The Week 15 loss dropped the Giants to 8-7 on the season, forcing them into a situation where they had to win out just to make the playoffs. They did, of course, beating the Jets and the Cowboys to sneak into the playoffs, then beating Atlanta, some top seeded team with an MVP quarterback, and the 49ers en route to another classic showdown with the Patriots.
2010 Packers - Lost to New England 31-27 in Week 15.
This game is the most similar to this week's loss to Buffalo, I think. The Packers were without Aaron Rodgers when they traveled to New England for this prime time matchup with the Patriots, and they were without their star quarterback when they played the Bills on Sunday.
2009 Saints - Lost last three games of the season.
Pundits screamed fire, brimstone, and lost momentum as the Saints coasted into the playoffs, including a 20-17 overtime loss to the Buccaneers, who finished 3-13 that season. Did it matter? No. They crushed the Cardinals 45-14 in the Divisional Round, beat up Brett Favre in the NFC Championship, and outfoxed Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. Momentum shmomentum.
2008 Steelers - Lost to Tennessee 31-14 in Week 16.
The Steelers got thoroughly stomped by the Titans late in the regular season during their run to a Super Bowl. The Titans sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times, forced five fumbles (recovering three), and snagged two interceptions as they thoroughly embarrassed the Steelers. Pittsburgh, of course, had the last laugh. Nobody tends to remember late season beatdowns when they're holding a Lombardi Trophy.
2007 Giants - Lost two of their last three.
The Giants fell to Washington 22-10 in Week 15 and to New England 38-35 in Week 17 to finish out 10-6 before Eli Manning burst into flames and carried the Giants to a championship. Nobody would have guessed that Week 17 would end up being a Super Bowl preview.
2006 Colts - Lost to Houston 27-24 in Week 16.
Houston rode a 32 carry, 153 yard, 2 TD performance from Ron Dayne (!!!) to send Indianapolis home with a late season loss. David Carr (16 of 23, 163 yards, 1 TD) was also remarkably efficient, which is something that was almost never said about David Carr.
2005 Steelers - Lost to Cincinnati 38-31 in Week 13.
Of all the Super Bowl winners in the last decade, the 2005 Steelers had the longest winning streak leading up to their championship, winning their final four regular season games before their improbable run to the Super Bowl. Still, they dropped a December regular season game, falling to Carson Palmer (three TD passes), Rudi Johnson (98 yards, 2 TD on 21 carries), and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (5 catches, 88 yards, 2 TD). And boy, am I glad T.J. Whosyourmama is out of the league, because his name is a bear to type.
2004 Patriots - Lost to Miami 29-28 in Week 15.
The Patriots' playoff berth was never in doubt, as they were 12-1 when they lost to Miami and would go on to finish 14-2. Still, A.J. Feely and Derrius Thompson hooked up late to beat New England in a late season shocker, proving to be the last real challenge to the Patriots, who cruised virtually uncontested to a championship.
So again I ask, what does last week's game mean? Is it a harbinger of troubles to come? Is it just a late season stumble on the way to Super Bowl glory? I ask not for rhetorical effect, but because I really don't know. What do you think?