After Slow Starts, Winning Streaks Follow

In 2010, 2012 and 2013, the Packers got off to slow starts marked by bitterly disappointing losses. Each time, they rebounded with a long winning streak. Why have the Packers started so slowly but rebounded so strongly?

The Green Bay Packers are 1-2.

No surprise there. The Packers were 1-2 in 2013 and 1-2 in 2012, as well.

With that history as a backdrop, it’s no wonder why quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the heels of a frustrating loss at Detroit, told the fans to “relax” on his weekly radio show this week. The season is young and the Packers have proven to be the masters of the turnaround over the last several seasons.

In 2013, the Packers suffered a bitterly disappointing loss at Cincinnati to fall to 1-2. They responded by winning the next four games, a streak that stalled only when Rodgers sustained a broken collarbone.

In 2012, the Packers were on the wrong end of the “Fail Mary” to fall to 1-2, then suffered a disappointing loss at Indianapolis to tumble to 2-3. Green Bay regrouped to win five consecutive games and nine of the next 10.

Going back even further, the Packers were stunned in overtime in back-to-back games at Washington and at home against Miami to fall to 3-3 in 2010. With all three losses by three points and major questions about the ability of Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy to win close games, Green Bay bounced back to win four consecutive games and, ultimately, the Super Bowl.

Added together, those teams were a combined 6-8 but rallied to win 13 in a row.

Simply put, the Packers have struggled early in seasons but have bounced back every time – typically right about now – with a long winning streak to dig out of whatever hole they’ve put themselves and push to the front of the playoff picture.

“There’s high expectations here for us every year, but we’ve underachieved on offense, so you understand it,” Rodgers said on Wednesday of fan anxiety. “But I think it’s just a reminder that it’s a long season and all of our goals are in front of us and within reach. We just have to play better. We have to peak at the right time. For whatever reason, other than maybe in (20)11, we haven’t started fast in many seasons. We usually kind of find our stride around this time, Game 5, Game 6, and go on a good run.”

The slow start is confusing and understandable all at once. After the final preseason game, McCarthy said, “I don’t know if I’ve felt this good coming out of the preseason as I do tonight.”

After the slow starts in 2012 and 2013, McCarthy thought he had his team humming coming into this season. Instead, a powerful offense sits near the bottom of most of the league rankings and the defense needed six quarters to start its season.

On the other hand, McCarthy – like every other coach – has a challenging juggling act on his hands. Training camp is shorter than ever, due in large part to a collective bargaining agreement that ended two-a-day practices. With fewer practices, it’s incredibly difficult to accomplish the primary goals of training camp: get the starters prepared for Week 1 while figuring out the bottom of the roster and getting young players ready to play.

McCarthy has opted to focus on developing the roster – perhaps at the expense of getting his front-line players ready for the season.

“I think that’s the balance and the philosophical approach that every head coach has to go through,” McCarthy said on Thursday. “Where do you tilt your time? Is it evaluation of your roster or is it about getting the guys that you feel pretty sure are going to be on your team ready for the first game or the first three games?”

If the solution is to play the starters more in the preseason, then the obvious trade-off is exposing those players to injuries in games that ultimately mean nothing in the regular-season standings.

Whether McCarthy’s approach is a big reason, a small reason or no reason at all for a third consecutive 1-2 start is anyone’s guess. McCarthy wouldn’t use it as an excuse, but he certainly didn’t argue our premise.

“I could tell you factors and things that I focus on, but they just would be viewed as excuses,” McCarthy said.

Guard Josh Sitton wasn’t sure if McCarthy’s approach was the reason but it agreed it takes an offense some time to gel.

“You really start figuring out the makeup of the team or the identity of the team come Week 4 or 5, in my humble opinion,” Sitton said. “Yeah, it just takes a little while. I feel like we’re not where we thought we would be right now. I feel like we had probably one of the best offseasons and training camps in terms of everyone having an understanding of what we’re doing since I’ve been here. I thought we would be a little bit further along than we are now. Yeah, it just takes a little time. Hopefully we’ll start clicking a little better in the next couple weeks.”

Rodgers thought the offense was getting close, an opinion that was shared by his teammates. Even during the game against Detroit, Sitton said that was his message. This offense has been too good for too long for the struggles to continue, and history suggests the turnaround will come sooner rather than later.

“I think it’s just one little thing on each possession last week that caused a problem that stalled the drive,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “You look at the week before, once we got rolling, we put up a lot of points and made some plays. It’s about getting into a rhythm and making plays. It’s nothing hard, to be honest with you. It’s guys doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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