No Ceremonial Burials, But Lesson of 2010 Jets Resonates for Packers

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. –The Green Bay Packers were embarrassed 37-8 by the San Francisco 49ers less than two months ago in front of a national television audience. 

Even with a bye week to get healthy and create a winning game plan for the game on Nov. 24, the Packers couldn’t run the football, couldn’t pass the football, couldn’t protect the quarterback, couldn’t convert on third down, couldn’t stop the run and couldn’t prevent big plays.

The same thing happened to the New York Jets on Dec. 6, 2010, at New England. Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes and Mark Sanchez threw three interceptions as the Jets – winners of eight of their previous nine games – were embarrassed 45-3 in front of a national television audience.

When the Jets reconvened the following Wednesday to start getting ready for their next game, then-coach Rex Ryan took the team out of the meeting room for a cold walk to the team’s practice field. Ryan led the team to a hole in the ground. He took a ball that was used in the debacle against the Patriots, stuck it in the hole and delivered a short eulogy.

We’re burying this game and all that happened Monday night and we’re moving forward,” was Ryan’s message. “It wasn't us and I don’t want to hear another word about it.”

As the team walked away, Ryan took a shovel and buried the ball.

“It was kind of a symbol of what we need to do with the game,” running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. “I think it was definitely needed.”

Six weeks later, the Jets returned to New England and won 28-21 in the divisional round of the playoffs to advance to the AFC Championship Game.

On Sunday, the Packers will get another crack at the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game and, just like the Jets, they are back in the same stadium where they were embarrassed.

Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine was Ryan’s defensive coordinator.

“I think it was on a Friday practice when Jim Leonard broke his leg,” Pettine recalled on Thursday. “It was just a tough way, obviously, to end the week to see one of you leaders go down like that. We were zombies heading up to New England and I forget what the score was but it was a lot to a little. I just remember when we got to the playoffs, we were (11-5) and nobody expected us to be there. We had played the Patriots tough at other times and I think we felt good about our matchup. Had a good plan and our guys went up there confident. It’s one of the best wins I’ve been a part of.”

Other than the defense holding a players-only meeting the following Monday to figure out why it had been allowing so many big plays, there were no such dramatic moments following the Packers’ horrendous loss at San Francisco. Packers coach Matt LaFleur’s steady approach, one of hitting the “reset button,” win or lose, had worked thus far and he wasn’t about to change.

“This is the National Football League,” LaFleur said. “Stuff like that can happen. It’s all about how you respond when you get knocked down like that. We just went back to business. We’ve got great veteran leadership in that locker room and just got back to work.”

Regardless of the opposite tactics used by their coaches, the lesson from the 2010 Jets resonates. Nobody gave the Jets any chance to return to New England and turn the tables on the Patriots, who that season were 14-2, the best regular season record in the NFL. But the Jets did. Now the Packers are heavy underdogs for their return trip to San Francisco.

“They’re definitely favorited by what, seven-and-a-half, Tom?” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, looking for confirmation from public-relations staffer Tom Fanning. “They’re obviously expected to hold court and win. People know and they’re talking about how we played the last time, so I think if they look at pressure, the pressure is in a certain place and we should be nice and loose.”

Across the country, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan wasted no time using his own anecdote. Late in the 2015 season, when Shanahan was offensive coordinator in Atlanta and LaFleur was his quarterbacks coach, the Panthers improved to 13-0 by crushing the Falcons 38-3. Fourteen days later, the Falcons won 20-13 to ruin Carolina’s perfect season. So, does the Nov. 24 outcome portend a 49ers victory in the high-stakes rematch?

Don’t be that stupid,” Shanahan said. “That’s not real. This is about Sunday's game.”

When the players watch film on Friday, that first game at San Francisco will have been played 54 days ago. The score that night is irrelevant. At this point, it’s just another teaching tape for a team that’s won six in a row.

“We certainly look back – how did they attack us? What went wrong? What did we do well? What can we build on from that game?” Pettine said. “We don’t want to ignore it completely. But every game is different. We’re not behind on the scoreboard going in. I think if you go in there with that mentality then you’re in trouble. Our guys are going to be prepared, they’re going to be confident, and we’ll have taken that game and used it to your benefit. But it’s certainly showed us that we have to play at a very high level to beat that team. There’s a reason they are, they were the one seed. But there’s not much margin for error where you play them, but it certainly can be done.”

Due to that November game, the oddsmakers aren’t confident in the Packers. Many fans aren’t, either. But the belief in the locker room is real.

“It’s one game, you know?” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “You’re going to have (crap) performances. You want to win every game but sometimes it’s just not your day. In this game, it’s a week to week for teams, as you’ve seen. You’ve seen some of the best teams get beat by teams you would never expect. It’s any given Sunday.”

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