Don Banks: Narrow 2009 loss at Pittsburgh still harrowing to Capers, Green Bay - Sports Illustrated

Narrow 2009 loss at Pittsburgh still harrowing to Capers, Green Bay

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• The Roethlisberger Horror Picture Show is getting a lot of repeat viewings here this week within the Packers team complex. You remember that scary flick: Pittsburgh 37, Green Bay 36, in Week 15 of 2009, with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing for a career-high 503 yards and the game-winning 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace as time expired. Pittsburgh rolled up 537 yards of total offense that day against Green Bay, and Big Ben became just the 10th quarterback since 1950 to crack 500 yards in a game, setting a team record in the process.

It's a wonder the Packers defense and coordinator Dom Capers didn't burn the game video, but instead it's getting plenty of play because it represents the last time Green Bay and Pittsburgh squared off against one another.

"Oh, yeah, it was embarrassing,'' Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett said Wednesday. "To give up the kind of yards we gave up against Pittsburgh last year, we definitely are motivated. The tape wasn't easy to watch. They did everything they pretty much wanted on us. They just moved the ball up and down the field on us. It is kind of hard to watch.''

The Packers scored 22 points in the fourth quarter, remarkably mounting four different comebacks from deficits of at least six points, and taking a 36-30 lead with 2:06 to play. But the Green Bay defense couldn't hold on for the last play of the game, and Wallace's touchdown was reminiscent of the Super Bowl-winning Roethlisberger-to-Santonio Holmes pass against Arizona 10 months earlier. The loss snapped Green Bay's five-game winning streak and the win ended the Steelers' five-game losing streak. The Packers didn't lose again until the first round of the playoffs, when they dropped that 51-45 overtime thriller at Arizona.

"It was a tough game,'' Packers guard Josh Sitton said of the defeat in Pittsburgh. "It was a tough loss for us. And really it was kind of like all the games we lost this year. Last-second losses. Losing by a point or three points. You know, it's one of the games you've got to finish. There's a couple of drives that we could have put the game away on offense and obviously the last drive for the defense -- it's all about the finish. I think down the stretch this year we've learned how to finish those games. We've had a few of those close games, including the playoff games, so I think we've learned how to finish better.''

The Packers and Steelers combined for more than 900 yards passing in that game, and the lead changed hands four times in the final eight minutes. But it's not too likely we'll see a repeat of that type of defensive carnage. Pittsburgh and Green Bay ranked 1-2 in scoring defense this season, with the Steelers (14.5 ppg) giving up more than 24 points just once (39 in a loss to New England), and the Packers (15.0 ppg) allowing more than 24 just twice (26 to Detroit and 31 to New England).

• I thought the Packers moved smartly (if not all that quickly) to head off the potential Super Bowl-week distraction of Team Picture-gate. But really, Green Bay management had little choice but to reverse field and say the club's 15 players on injured reserve could take part in the Super Bowl team photo, taking the shot next Friday at the club's practice field.

But as I was told by one Packers team source, a Super Bowl team picture will still be taken next Tuesday at Cowboys Stadium, around the traditional Super Bowl media day festivities. And that photo will not have the 15 players on IR involved, since they will only be traveling to the Dallas area on Thursday, as originally planned. But the second team photo, taken on Friday, will be complete with both active and inactive players.

But if you're going to sell the message that you're all in this together, and the Packers are a team and a family, you had to find a way to include such notable injured stars such as tight end Jermichael Finley, running back Ryan Grant and linebacker Nick Barnett. It would have been a public relations disaster for Green Bay otherwise.

"I love that they're going to be a part of it,'' Green Bay receiver Donald Driver, the senior-most Packer in terms of continuous service (since 1999) told me. "This is something we all get to cherish for a long, long time. They're a part of this team and they were a big part of this team this year. Those guys have helped build this organization like everyone else and you can't take that opportunity from them. This is an opportunity that we all celebrate as one.

"It's no individual thing where this guy did this and this guy did that. If that's the case, then we should all take individual pictures. No, this is a team picture and those guys are part of the team. Even though they're hurt, they're still part of this team. We all started this thing together in March, and it's just unfortunate that those guys didn't get to finish the job.''

• It's easier said than done, of course, but the Packers are putting all kinds of focus on the importance of tackling Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl, and not letting him do his extend-the-play thing all night long. The Packers sacked Big Ben five times in that 2009 meeting, but according to Capers, they got their hands on him but missed plenty of other opportunities.

"We had five sacks and a legitimate chance at five other sacks,'' Capers said. "But it was just basically him being Ben, you know, where we missed him or we hit him and came off of him. And a couple of the times, he launched a ball up the field for big plays against us. We gave up by far the most big plays there than we did of any game last season?''

But as it turns out, sacking Roethlisberger is lot like the weather. Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything about it. Because how can you?

"It's like trying to tackle a lineman back there,'' Capers said. "He's like a fullback back there playing quarterback. I think you've got to try to hit him between the knees and the chest. If you get up high on him, you probably aren't going to get him down.''

Said Pickett: "He breaks more tackles than any running back I've seen. It's tough to bring him down once you get past the offensive line. Obviously not many people have the answer to how you get him down. That's why he's been to, what, three Super Bowls the last six years? It's no easy answer. When you get your opportunity, you have to try to tackle him, but that's not easy.''

Roethlisberger takes some of the aggression out of a team's pass rush, because he's so adept at shaking off tacklers that some defenders almost tip-toe up to him, thereby losing some of the head of steam needed to bring him down. They wind up just bouncing off Roethlisberger.

"When you get your shot, you can't just go full speed and reckless,'' Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. "You've got to kind of break down and be ready to move either way with (him). So you've got to come with some sort of controlled aggression, once you get to the quarterback. And when you get your hands on him, you can't let go. He's gotta go down.''

• Woodson and Pickett are the only two Packers with Super Bowl experience, and they both lost the big game in their only appearance -- Woodson with the 2002 Raiders, against the Bucs; and Pickett with the 2001 Rams, against the Patriots. Both players talked eloquently Wednesday of their long roads back to the NFL's ultimate game.

Woodson said he thinks about winning a Super Bowl "around the clock.''

"I don't know how much more than that you can think about it,'' Woodson said. "You feel good about winning the NFC Championship, but that's not the end� all. There's still some more to get to. But it's an everyday, every minute, every second thought for myself. Getting to the Super Bowl, it was a whirlwind. But we got into that game and we just didn't show up.

"So I know having been once, and that being 10 years ago or whatever it was, that they don't come very often for a lot of people. Some people never get there. So this is an opportunity that, it's all or nothing, and that's the way we're going to approach it. You want to be able to get there and win it.''

Pickett's Rams were upset by the underdog Patriots in February 2002, and he said there were times in the subsequent years in which he doubted ever getting back to another Super Bowl.

"My advice to (other players) is for them to enjoy this time, but stay focused on the game, because I went and lost and that wasn't a fun experience at all,'' Pickett said. "As a matter of fact, I'm still sick to this day that I got there and lost. I made it my first year, so I kind of thought 'This is easy. I'll be every year.' I mean, how crazy was that? But when you play, you just know how hard it is to get here. I mean, the ball has to bounce your way. You have so many tough teams and things like that to beat. This is hard.''

• It's probably more than yesterday's news at this point, but Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- Jay Cutler's opposite number in last Sunday's NFC title game in Chicago -- took time Wednesday to come to the defense of his fellow quarterback. And he didn't do it via Twitter.

Asked his reaction on the treatment Cutler received, Rodgers said: "I was real disappointed, to be honest with you. I've known Jay for a few years now and know what kind of competitor he is. I thought it was disrespectful, some of the stuff said about him.

"I admire his teammates. I saw Chris Harris' interview on ESPN. I thought the questioning (of Harris about Cutler) was ridiculous. But I appreciated the way he supported Jay, and Lovie (Smith) has, and Brian (Urlacher's) comments I thought were right on. To attack a guy's toughness, when you're not playing in the game especially, I thought was very inappropriate.''

• With President Obama in Wisconsin on Wednesday to tour the state and talk about the new economic measures he outlined in his Tuesday night State of the Union address, Woodson took it upon himself to try to recruit the nation's leading Bears fan to a Green Bay perspective for the upcoming Super Bowl.

Woodson sent his signed No. 21 Packers jersey to Obama Wednesday morning, inscribing it "See ya in the White House.'' After beating the Bears on Sunday, Woodson in the post-game took note of Obama having said he would come to the Super Bowl if the Bears were in it, and said the Packers still wanted to see the president next spring in the White House -- for the Super Bowl champs' traditional Rose Garden photo op.

"I voted for him,'' Woodson said Wednesday, smiling. "So why is he not a Green Bay fan? That was really the thinking behind it. I jumped on his bandwagon a couple years ago and voted for him. So for him to only go to the Super Bowl because Chicago was there, I thought it's not fair to me. I'm a voter. I'm a taxpayer. So I want him to root for the Packers as well.''

Rodgers seconded that emotion.

"(Woodson) took the words kind of out of my mouth,'' Rodgers said. "I was wanting to say something like that. I was going to say, 'Hey, we'll still invite you, President Obama. I know he's a big Bears fan, but we'd love to see him there.''