It was the 1996 season and Capers had guided his Carolina Panthers to the NFC Championship Game. It was over before it started.
After all, the Green Bay Packers were in the middle of a 25-game home winning streak. The Lambeau Field Mystique was so real that you could almost reach out and touch it.
The Lambeau Mystique has vanished over the years. There were home playoff losses to Atlanta in 2002 and Minnesota in 2004. In 2007, the Giants beat the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. In 2011, the Giants bounced the one-loss Packers. In 2013, the 49ers handed the Packers their fifth home playoff loss in barely a decade.
Maybe, just maybe, the Packers are rebuilding the mystique. Green Bay is 5-0 at home this season. Since falling behind the Jets 21-3 early in the second quarter of their Week 2 game, the Packers have outscored their opponents 216-64. A lot of those points allowed have come in the fourth-quarter equivalent of an exhibition game. This is pure domination: In the last four home games, they’ve outscored their foes 66-0 in the first quarter and 128-9 in the first half.
“I certainly like the way we’ve played at home,” Capers said on Monday. “But each and every week is a different week. Our crowd has been great. We’ve been able to play well early and get the crowd in the game, our guys feed off that. I think our guys the more times we can get the ball in our offense’s hands with Aaron and our offense we have a chance to put points on the board. And it changes the complexion of the game if you can get a three-, four-touchdown lead. Then it becomes a different game. Our guys like playing that way.”
By the end of Sunday, the Packers were tied for second place in the NFC. That puts them in prime position to earn a first-round bye and, at least, a divisional-round home game. Maybe the Lambeau Field fear factor had evaporated in past playoff failures. This year, however, it looks like a potential house of horrors.
“We just take pride,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “When you’re at home, it’s just different. It’s really different. You want to go on the road and take somebody’s home as yours, but when you’re at home, it’s more like you’re defending it. I think that just brings a whole different energy.”
Of course, there’s a danger in counting on a stadium to win a football game. From that vantage point, it appears the Packers have the right perspective. There are six games remaining in the regular season. The margin for error in the NFC is small. Then again, look at the potential pot of gold, where the team with the best record in the NFC, Arizona, lost its quarterback to a torn ACL.
“Obviously, that’s one of our goals every year — to win the division and get homefield advantage,” guard T.J. Lang said after the game. “We’ve still got six games left and that’s going to shake itself out. We just have to make sure we’re not looking forward too far. We’ve got a big one coming up (at Minnesota), another division game coming up next week, and those division ones are always the most important. So, I don’t think we want to look too far ahead. We just want to keep doing the little things that we’re doing well and see how it shakes out. If we keep playing with the consistency that we’ve shown the last couple weeks, I think we’ll be a tough team to beat. We can’t really rely on anybody else losing or start looking at other games. We just have to make sure we stay focused on ourselves, keep getting better.”
Added MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers: ““Obviously, around here, it’s about winning division titles, getting a home playoff game and taking care of the advantage that we have here at home with the weather, with the way the weather affects the football and the footing. We seem to do a good job in these conditions, so we need to have a home playoff game.”
On Monday, coach Mike McCarthy said the Packers have a “great home-field advantage.” However, as history as shown, it doesn’t guarantee a thing. It’s not going to intercept any of Tom Brady’s passes in two weeks. It’s not going to keep Ndamukong Suh out of the backfield in Week 17. It’s not going to stop Tony Romo or Drew Brees or Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick in a potential playoff game.
“Respectfully, I don't think Lambeau will ever be feared,” McCarthy said in a telling statement after the game. “I think people enjoy coming here, players, fans, coaches. I can tell you time and time again when you have conversations in pregame, they're different when you stand on other fields. This is a unique, this is a special place. But, yes, you have to be dominant at home. To be successful in this league, you have to win your home games. That has been proven over time.”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.