When the Green Bay Packers walked into the locker room at halftime on Sunday, coach Matt LaFleur had a message for his team. For him, the score was 0-0, and the team still had two quarters to play. In truth, the scoreboard didn’t show 0-0; it read 20-7 in favor of hometown Green Bay, hosting the Chicago Bears. But after a day of watching scores in the rest of the league, LaFleur knew his team couldn’t afford the satisfaction of slowing down — not even a little.
You see, the Chicago-Green Bay game, one of professional football’s oldest and finest rivalries, started at 8:20 p.m. ET on Sunday, which meant it was the last scheduled game of the day. And while LaFleur’s pre-game preparation focused primarily on his team and his rival, he noticed a certain pattern from the day’s previous games as, one by one, teams lost leads or significant opportunities to win – and ended up losing.
In prime time, the day’s lesson was clear: wonders of the background happen when one team plays until the final whistle, while the other drops out, even just a little bit.
Moose is a fascinating but also difficult subject, but it certainly seemed to be in play all day. Moreover, it seemed directly related to the focus and determination of each team.
Look what happened in Miami where the Dolphins trailed the Baltimore Ravens by 21 points late in the game and came back to win 42-38 behind six touchdowns from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Yes, Tagovailoa’s performance, with his receivers, was stellar, but what happened to the guys on the other side of the ball?
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns pulled off the truly inexplicable as they went up 30-17 against the New York Jets with just 1:55 left on the game clock – a feat that gave Cleveland a 99 win probability. 9%. Still, Cleveland still managed to lose the game 31-30. If you were a Cleveland Brown, there was only one reasonable, empirical explanation for allowing a team you dominated to score two touchdowns in under two minutes.
You allow yourself to take that deep breath you’ve wanted to take all afternoon.
You think you’ve done what you came to do and you’re now rolling pretty much the minutes and seconds remaining. Maybe you even said to yourself, “I want a good steak tonight…”
Except the job wasn’t done, and at the elite level of performance, even a slight slack can allow the other team to change momentum.
The Arizona Cardinals seemed to be flapping their wings in vain during the first half of their game against the Las Vegas Raiders and entered the locker room at halftime with a 20-0 lead. In his post-game interview, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury told reporters he urged his players to “settle down and do what we’re doing.” And that’s what they did. Their second half wasn’t brilliant, but it was “effortful,” Kingsbury said. “There were a lot of games that we had do, and we did them,” he added.
One play Las Vegas needed to make was an overtime field goal, which would have won the game. They were within goal range when they fumbled the ball, giving it to the Cardinals, who didn’t miss their chance, winning 29-23.
It’s easy to sympathize with losing teams. We’ve all prepared for something we knew was tough – a presentation, a sales call, a board meeting – and experienced the butterflies and lack of sleep that come with pressure. In such cases, it would be easy to breathe that sigh of relief when things seemed to be going well. But the match is not over until the referee blows his whistle. Just like the presentation isn’t over until the client asks the last question about the delivery or the board chair asks the last question about filling that C-Suite position that’s open for months.
The problem is that exercising the discipline necessary to complete a job and conclude victory, however “winning” is defined, goes against human nature, which is designed to seek to escape pressure. or other inconveniences – and the sooner the better. But it’s rarely better when you accept relief sooner.
That’s what LaFleur told reporters he was thinking when he spoke to his players at halftime. “Today was such a big lesson for everyone in the league,” he told reporters after the game. “Whether you win or lose, you have to be resilient. The Bears held on until the end. It was a tough match. Fortunately, our defense was able to buckle and our attack was able to drive it well.
A very sporty summary, certainly, from the coach. But luck had very little to do with his success that day.