GREEN BAY PACKERS
Super Bowl XLV signs were hung in different parts of the Packers' locker room at Lambeau Field before they left Green Bay for North Texas on Monday. The uniform message on those placards was "4 More Quarters."
Their season indeed down to 60 minutes, unless they are part of the first overtime game in Super Bowl lore, the Packers will be counting on time being on their side one final time when they play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
"Any time you're going against a great offense, you want to be able to control the time of possession and the tempo of the game," Green Bay center Scott Wells said Thursday. "A key will be to go out there and extend drives and eat up some clock."
The timing of the Packers playing in the Super Bowl for the first time in 13 years has been right on cue, thanks in large part to working the game clock to their decided advantage.
Green Bay's season-long knack has been that once it gets out in front on the scoreboard it winds up staying there.
The Packers were in the lead for an average of 35 minutes, 12 seconds per game during the regular season, way more than the opponents' average of 9:44. Green Bay never trailed in five of those games, roughly a third of its schedule.
The play-from-ahead disparity has been greater in the postseason. The Packers through the first three rounds have been out in front an average of 43:53 per game, nearly 11 times more than the opponents' puny mark of 4:33.
Green Bay never was in catch-up mode in the wild-card and NFC Championship wins over Philadelphia and Chicago, respectively, the latter of which the Packers led the last 55:50 after turning the game-opening drive into a touchdown.
The lopsided numbers underscore the Packers' claim to fame for being the first team in the league since the 1970 merger to never have trailed by more than seven points in any game during the season. All six of their losses were by three or four points.
The Steelers, on the other hand, have fallen behind by more than seven points three times this season and won only one of those. That happened two games ago, when they erased a 21-7 halftime deficit against Baltimore and pulled out a 31-24 win in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Given their stubborn track record in the front-running position, the Packers realize the importance of jumping ahead early Sunday.
"Definitely, you want to come out and get off to a fast start, as in any game," Wells said. "With the emotions that go into this game, you have to handle the highs and lows. It is important to go out and have a fast start in this game, be able to manage the storm at the beginning and then relax and play football."
What's more, the Packers don't want to be the team that will be left to dwell and stew over a deficit during an inordinate break at halftime, which will last 32 minutes instead of the customary 12 minutes for every other game.
"I think I took a short nap and watched some re-runs of (soap opera) 'The Young and the Restless,'" Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said of what he did to pass the time between halves when he played in Super Bowl XXXVII with the Oakland Raiders.
"It is a long halftime, and I don't really know how you prepare for that because it really is out of the norm from the regular season," Woodson added. "What guys will have to do is try to stay loose because there is another half of football to play. I think our guys will understand that and the trainers will understand that and make sure guys stay hydrated throughout halftime because it's going to seem like an eternity once you get into the locker room for halftime."
Come halftime, it will already feel like it's been a long day at the office for the players and coaches.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said the entire team will leave its hotel at 2 p.m. local time for the half-hour ride to Cowboys Stadium. The game doesn't start until about 5:30.
"It is a little bit different because there is only one bus system" to take the players to the stadium, quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "I usually like to go over (later) on the second bus, so that I have an extra hour in my hotel room to relax and get my thoughts together."
SERIES HISTORY: 33rd meeting. Packers lead series, 18-14. The storied franchises are meeting for the first time in the postseason. The series started in 1933, when Pittsburgh went by the name Pirates until 1940. The Steelers have won the past three encounters, the last of which was at Pittsburgh on Dec. 20, 2009, when Ben Roethlisberger threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace on the final play of the game to turn a would-be 36-30 loss into a 37-36 victory. Green Bay's last win over the Steelers came at Lambeau Field on Christmas Eve in 1995, a 24-19 outcome that was cemented by a dropped catch by Pittsburgh's Yancey Thigpen in the end zone in the final seconds to clinch the NFC Central title for the Packers.
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 - Players on Green Bay's 53-man roster who have ties to the state of Texas by birth, residence and/or college. They are receiver Donald Driver, center Scott Wells, safety Charlie Peprah, kicker Mason Crosby, quarterbacks Matt Flynn and Graham Harrell, running back Dimitri Nance, linebacker Robert Francois and long snapper Brett Goode.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's going to be battle of the beards, battle of the hair. It's going to be one of those Super Bowls between Troy (Polamalu) and Clay (Matthews for the hair) and (Brett) Keisel and me (for the beard). We've got a lot of hair working out here." - Packers left guard Daryn Colledge, on whether this will be the hairiest Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh may not be as prolific throwing the ball as the Green Bay Packers, but the Steelers believe they have more balance between the run and the pass and can match anything their opponents can do on offense.
Such as score. That was the case on Dec. 10, 2009 when the Steelers beat the Packers at Heinz Field, 37-36, and they believe they can do it again if necessary - score a bunch.
"A lot of our people overlook us and are saying this and saying that," said the Steelers' leading receiver, Mike Wallace. "But I think the rest of my team gets more offended than (the receivers) do. We know what we can do and we know we're just as good as anybody else in the league."
Pittsburgh coaches have always preached balance as their goal on offense and they reached that in 2010. Steelers quarterbacks passed for 3,890 yards and 22 touchdowns. The team ran for 1,924 yards and 15 touchdowns.
As a team, the Steelers scored nearly twice as many touchdowns as they allowed, 41-22.
They also have a quarterback who has shown he can play under the greatest pressure in the biggest game after he drove nearly the length of the field to throw the winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XLII with 39 seconds left.
"You may not see Ben up there statistically with all the other quarterbacks in the league, but you can't knock what he's done," Hines Ward said. "To win his third Super Bowl (at 28), that's a remarkable feat."
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians believes the noise indoors on Sunday will hurt both offenses, but has a more conservative message for his own.
"We have to play solid, be balanced and not turn the ball over." We cannot give them anything cheap."
Rodgers rifled through them that December day at Heinz Field as if he were playing pitch and catch. He completed 26 of 48 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted and the Steelers sacked him just once in a wild 37-36 Pittsburgh victory.
"We'll have to get back there at Aaron Rodgers and put some pressure on him," linebacker Lawrence Timmons said, "because you can't let him sit around in the pocket and nickel-and-dime us all day."
The Steelers traditionally have trouble with such passers. They lost to both Tom Brady and Drew Brees in 2010 when the offenses of New England and New Orleans spread them out. They do not have a deep secondary, turning to little Anthony Madison as their sixth defensive back in severe passing situations. Madison was signed to play special teams, not necessarily cornerback.
Coach Mike Tomlin, though, said the Packers are different from those two teams.
"They have their own personality from a schematic and a talent standpoint," Tomlin said.
The Packers like to throw deep, unlike New England, which did nickel-and-dime the Steelers with shorter passes by Brady in a 39-26 Patriots victory that wasn't that close. Green Bay has better receivers than the Patriots, and if Rodgers is given enough time, the Packers could make New England's score look low.
The Steelers had the best rush defense in their history and in the NFL this season and the Packers do not run well, so the passing game will be the key for Green Bay Sunday.
It will be up to the pass rush to rattle Rodgers, something it did to Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez in their first postseason games.
"He's been really playing tremendously lately," said safety Troy Polamalu, the NFL defensive player of the year who was hurt and did not play against Green Bay in 2010. "He's got a really, really awesome feel with him and his receivers. They do a lot of amazing things as far as timing, as far as when plays break down. We've played against a lot of great quarterbacks throughout this season and he's in line with that."
No one had more than Pittsburgh's 48 sacks in 2010, and James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley will be the keys on separate edges to get that pressure. They combined for 20.5 sacks with Harrison's team high 10.5. Harrison had three in the AFC Championship Game and Woodley has a NFL-record 10 sacks in six postseason games.
Polamalu, though, is the key to Dick LeBeau's scheme when it comes to disguising what they play to do in the zone blitz.
"You just get Troy Polamalu in your backfield and he'll move around and disguise anything you want to do," LeBeau said. "Usually it works when he's doing it. The players make it come to life. We give them parameters and let them create and we've got some pretty good creators."
BY THE NUMBERS: 9 - Lombardi Trophies represented between the two teams, the most in any one of the 44 previous Super Bowls. The Steelers have six, more than any NFL team, and the Packers three.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Are you serious? You don't see Clay on any Head & Shoulders commercials." - Mike Wallace, on why Troy Polamalu's hair is better than Clay Matthews'