"We really felt like we were back on track and we were playing some of our best football at the end of the season," Brees, in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Sunday, said about a six-game winning streak that pushed the defending champions' record to 10-3. "The funny thing was, we kind of knew all along that the Packers were going to roll through the playoffs. I think we all felt like they were playing some of their best football at the end, as well, and they had to fight tooth and nail to get into the playoffs.
"For us, we kind of had it on our map that we've got to go to Seattle, we win; we go to Chicago, we win; we know Green Bay's going to win their games and we'll see them in the NFC Championship Game in the dome. I think that's the way we had it played out in our minds. Obviously, it didn't happen like that but the Packers upheld their end of the bargain."
The Saints, however, did not uphold their end of the bargain, losing 41-36 at Seattle against a Seahawks team that won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. Thus, instead of being in position to host the season-opening game for a second consecutive year as repeat champions, the Saints will play at Green Bay to face the defending world champions at Lambeau Field on Thursday night.
By the time the Saints had started a so-so 4-3 last season, Brees was tired of hearing the words "Super Bowl hangover." In that respect, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said the lockout has worked to his advantage. To make up for the lost six weeks of offseason practices, McCarthy took an "aggressive" approach to getting the playbook installed. Moreover, with 27 rookies fighting for roster spots and a cavalcade of players returning from injured reserve, the competition during training camp was heightened. Following Sunday's practice, McCarthy said the only thing his team was guilty of was having too much energy.
"Complacency really hasn't been a topic of anything we've dealt with as a team," McCarthy said. "The landscape of this year has really eliminated that opportunity. Training camp was a challenge this year. It was different (because of the lockout). We've been busy. It's been a little bit of a sprint. We haven't had time for complacency."
The Saints' season gets to the heart of McCarthy's message of the Packers trying to win Super Bowl XLVI rather than defending Super Bowl XLV. It also serves as a case study on why only eight teams have won back-to-back championships in the Super Bowl era – compared to 13 teams who failed to even get back to the playoffs. It's hard enough for a team to be on top of its game for each game of a three- or four-game playoff run. It's that much more difficult to get back to the playoffs and do it again. Just like the 1997 Packers, who navigated the regular-season minefield to get back into the playoffs but picked the wrong day for a bad day against Denver in Super Bowl XXXII, the Saints avoided the post-Super Bowl hangover but picked a bad day to have a bad day against Seattle
"I think we caught them on a bad day for us, good day for them, you know?" " Brees said, interrupting himself twice for an incredulous laugh. "They played one of the best games they could have played against us and they beat us. That's all I can say about it. Yeah, there were mistakes made in that game. If we could have made one more play here, one more play there, we probably win that game. Unfortunately, it happened that way and all we can do is use it as motivation."
The Packers have some motivation, too. Like he did last year, McCarthy hung an empty picture frame in the team's main meeting room alongside photos of the team's 13 world champions. The message is unmistakable.
For further motivation, this is team that grasps what's at stake. To be mentioned as one of the great teams ever, they have to win multiple titles. That's what separates the Glory Years teams, which won five titles under Vince Lombardi, from the 1990s Packers, who won only Super Bowl XXXI.
"If you think about Teams of the Decades, those teams won multiple Super Bowls," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "The Steelers of the '70s, Niners of the '80s, Cowboys in the '90s, Patriots in the 2000s were multiple Super Bowl victors. We want to want to re-establish that tradition of going deep in the playoffs every year and making runs at Super Bowls."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport.