Don't count on this group of Packers being complacent

by | Senior Writer

Aaron Rodgers (right) congratulates Jermichael Finley after a play during Packers training camp. (US Presswire)  
Aaron Rodgers (right) congratulates Jermichael Finley after a play during Packers training camp. (US Presswire)  

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Shortly after the Green Bay Packers showed up for work Saturday morning, head coach Mike McCarthy pulled together players and delivered his first post-lockout instructions -- reminding them to check their Super Bowl hangovers at the door.

Only you can't check a hangover if it isn't there, and I don't see how this one can be.

That doesn't mean McCarthy shouldn't have addressed the subject. Virtually every Super Bowl winner confronts a hangover the following season. But not this Super Bowl winner, and I'll tell you why: The lockout.

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It abruptly divided the 2010 and 2011 seasons, with nothing in between. There were no missed mini-camps, no missed OTAs, no contract demands, no nothing as players and owners fought for six months over a negotiating table.

I guess that's another way of saying no Super Bowl hangover, either.

Granted, temptations that dog Super Bowl winners were still out there, and maybe players succumbed, maybe they didn't. The point is: In a lockout, it didn't matter. Nobody missed work because there was no work. Nobody complained about his check because there were no checks. Nobody demanded to be traded because there were no trades.

Yeah, I know, nobody missed an informal workout, either, because the Packers didn't hold them. So what? You really think player-organized practices gave someone like, say, the New York Giants an advantage? Heck, one of the guys running those workouts was center Shaun O'Hara, and the Giants just released him.

"I was very comfortable with the decision the players made throughout the offseason," McCarthy said. "I understand our business about keeping score. We keep score on everything. I get that. And that was a score that maybe we were perceived as losing ... But based on the length of our season and where we were coming out of that season I was fine with the way we went about it."

He should be. If the Packers kicked back the last few months -- and I'm not saying that happened, but if it did -- they simply joined a 32-team pool party. They couldn't miss anything because there was nothing to miss ... not until now, and the only thing missing from Green Bay today are familiar faces like tackle Mark Tauscher, defensive end Justin Harrell and linebackers Brady Poppinga, Brandon Chillar and Nick Barnett -- all of whom were released this week.

But all suffered season-ending injuries in 2010, which means the Packers won a Super Bowl without them. So tell me how much their absences will affect this team's chances to repeat. My guess: They won't.

Of course, others who missed the 2010 season, guys like running back Ryan Grant, tight end Jermichael Finley and safety Morgan Burnett, are back, and it doesn't take an Einstein to figure that there's no Super Bowl hangover there, either. These guys have something to prove, especially after missing Super Bowl XLV, and I think you can see where this is going.

"Complacency?" Grant said. "I don't see that being an issue. The one thing about this game is that the only thing better than having one [Super Bowl] is having two. Greed in this game is probably what fuels a lot of us."

Then call the Packers greedy. They know the history of the NFL, and it's not exactly littered with recent back-to-back champions. In fact, the last club to win consecutive Lombardi Trophies was the 2004 New England Patriots. Since then, not only has nobody won two straight Super Bowls; nobody has even appeared in two straight Super Bowls.

Maybe that's why McCarthy felt it necessary to remind players that, no, they're not really as good as their last game ... because their last game was six months ago. Only in this case, I'd suggest that maybe, just maybe, they might be because the last time anyone was in a locker room anywhere was when the Packers silenced Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.

"That's one way to look at it," said safety Charlie Peprah. "But even if there wasn't a lockout, our mindset coming in would have been that last year is last year. We know this is what happens to teams that have had success; complacency sets in. So we've got to do whatever it takes to eradicate that.

"That means the onus is really on the vets. Coaches can preach to us all they want about 'Don't let this set in and blah-blah-blah,' but it's really on the veterans to set the mood for this team and pass it on."

Which they did Saturday. After McCarthy spoke, players repeated the message over and over for reporters who joined them in the locker room. It's a scene not unfamiliar to any defending Super Bowl champion on the first day of practice. Only this champion is different.

"The mindset," Peprah said of McCarthy's speech, "is to be the hunter, not the hunted. We're not defending anything. People are like, 'Oh, well, you have to defend your title.' But last year was last year. We're not defending it. There's nothing to defend.

"This is the 2011-12 season, so there is nothing to defend. We're hunting a title just like 31 other teams. That's our mindset, and that's our goal and we'll fight that way."

Works for me. It should work for the Packers, too.


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