World’s Best Preview: Sometimes, (Excrement) Happens

Bill Huber

How the mighty have fallen.

Behind an MVP candidate on offense and a big-play defense, the team jetted into California with a four-game winning streak. Instead of cementing its contender status, it returned home with a heaping helping of humble pie.

But enough about the Carolina Panthers, who got whacked 51-13 by the San Francisco 49ers a couple weeks ago.

The Green Bay Packers, who host the Panthers on Sunday, took a four-game winning streak to California for their game against the Los Angeles Chargers. As was the case with the Panthers against the undefeated 49ers, the Packers ran into a buzz saw against a star-studded Chargers team that went 12-4 last season but was in danger of falling out of playoff contention this season. The Packers were beaten 26-11, a score that hardly tells the story of how badly they were dominated.

“Most of the great games, most of the time, it doesn’t quite look as good as it felt,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on Wednesday. “This one kind of looked how it felt. It didn’t feel that great and it didn’t look that great. There wasn’t a lot of silver lining.”

No sport is filled with as much overreaction from fans and media alike as football. That’s the way it goes when there’s a week between games. So, while the outside world wonders if the Packers are 7-2 frauds, if they were exposed by the Chargers and if the world is caving in, Panthers coach Ron Rivera knows better.

Rivera played linebacker for nine seasons with the Chicago Bears before getting into coaching in 1997. He’s in his eighth season as the Panthers’ coach.

The occasional clunker of a game, like the one against the 49ers, “without a doubt” happens, he said. The key – unlike the outside world – is to not overreact.

“This is my 34th year in the league so, at the end of the day, I’ve been on both sides of those kinds of games,” Rivera said in a conference call with Packers beat reporters on Wednesday. “That’s the truth of the matter, and probably the one guy that handles it the best for me when I was a player was listening to coach (Mike) Ditka talk about, ‘Hey, I’m not even going to worry about this. What I’m going to worry about is how we react to our next game.’ That was kind of the approach I took.”

That’s not to say Rivera dragged the film of his team’s ugly loss at San Francisco into the trash bin of the team’s computer network when he returned to the office on Monday. However, one bad game didn’t undo what the team had accomplished during a four-game winning streak.

“I told our guys, I said, ‘Hey, this (excrement) happens,’” Rivera continued. “That’s just the way it is. That’s the nature of the game. You’re going to get beat, and you’re going to beat people. At the end of the day, how you get up off the mat will determine who you are going forward. So, we’ve had to get up off the mat. We’ve got to bow our necks and put our nose to the grindstone and go forward.”

The Panthers did just that, rebounding to beat the Titans 30-20 last week. The Packers will attempt to do the same on Sunday against the Panthers at chilly Lambeau Field.

The Packers have spent the last few days saying all the right things about what happened against the Chargers in hopes of preventing a repeat. But sometimes, in a game so driven by fire and emotion, it’s just not there. The Packers have been going nonstop since the start of training camp on July 25, so maybe a letdown shouldn’t have come as a surprise. That it happened against the Chargers – a preseason Super Bowl contender with a bunch of game-tilting players and a desperate need to earn a victory – only exacerbated things.

In other words, sometimes, (excrement) happens.

“Thank you, thank you. We needed that today,” Rodgers said with a wide smile when relayed Rivera’s comments. (See associated video.) “That’s what we would all love to say. I’m glad a fellow Cal Bear felt good enough to say that. Bu, yeah, it does happen sometimes. You just have to move on. Like I said after the game, it was important for us to be very critical. I don’t think it helps to just brush it under the rug as they say. I think it’s important to correct the correctable things and then move forward positively and learn from the mistakes and set your eyes on the next performance.”

The Packers have been good in such circumstances. In games the Packers lost while being favored by at least four points – the spread against the Chargers – they are 8-2 with Rodgers since the start of the 2010 season. Even last season, when they were upset by Arizona despite being a 13.5-point favorite – a verdict that coach Mike McCarthy his job – they rebounded to blast Atlanta.

Matt LaFleur, of course, is the coach of these Packers. This is his first real adversity as coach. How will he handle it? How will his team handle it?

“I think this is just kind of a game that we’re going to learn from,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, we didn’t start very fast on either side of the ball. On offense, we just didn’t have that normal juice that we do most game days. We started off with a couple of penalties and some three-and-outs and some negative-yardage plays. I think we just need to get back to the basics this week and get refocused. A lot of great teams have gone through kind of those dud games where they’re just sloshing through games. Now, there’s been games over the years where we’ve maybe been a little flat to start and found a way to win, but that’s a team that won 12 games last year and although they were 3-5, it meant a little more to them and they were a little bit more ready to play than unfortunately we were.”