Column

Four teams still in NFL playoffs rebounded from rough starts

Packers' Aaron Rodgers told fans to relax after team's 1-2 start

Russell Wilson called it "heartbreaking."

Andrew Luck said "it stinks."

"We need to make sure we never have this feeling again," Tom Brady said.

"R-E-L-A-X," Aaron Rodgers implored fans.

All four NFL teams still in the playoffs — Seattle, Indianapolis, New England and Green Bay — survived rough patches this fall, times when their season was sliding sideways, yet now are one victory away from the Super Bowl.

Seattle, which plays host to Green Bay on Sunday in the NFC championship game, had three losses in its first six games.

Indianapolis, which plays at New England in the AFC championship game, began the season 0-2 — and only 12% of teams since 1990 have made the postseason after losing their first two games.

New England lost two of its first four games, including 41-14 at Kansas City.

And for the third year in a row, Green Bay got off to a 1-2 start.

Sure, all those teams wound up reaching a comfortable cruising altitude, but they had to endure some serious turbulence to get to that point.

"I think it's how you come out of those challenges is what can be powerful," Seattle Coach Pete Carroll said. "It's not so much that you have issues; everybody has issues. ... You have to have a mentality to develop your guys so that when things happen they can be strong enough to make it through."

The Seahawks are the first Super Bowl champions in nine years to win a playoff game the next season.

"We were 3-3, and kind of going against the odds," Wilson said. "And people said, 'There's no way they're going to get back to where they want to go.' And so that's something that we think about. We have that edge, and we believe in that and we believe in stepping up and finding a way. When we were 6-4, I knew we were going to go find a way to be 12-4."

Indianapolis began this season with consecutive losses, falling to Denver in the first Sunday night game, then blowing a lead at home to lose to Philadelphia.

"It stinks," Luck said after that 30-27 loss to the Eagles. "It's not good. It's not the end of the season by any means. Our minds are now on the next one."

The Colts would tear off five victories in a row, but then hit more bumps. They were blown out twice in three weeks, losing to Pittsburgh by 17 points and to New England by 22. Still, with playoff victories over Cincinnati and Denver, they found a way to get where they intended to go.

As for when New England was 2-2, there was a widespread belief that the Patriots were kaput, that Brady was too old at 37, and those dynasty days were a distant memory.

There were even talk-radio rumblings that the Patriots should trade Brady to Houston — perhaps for a high pick or two — where he'd be reunited with former New England offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, now coach of the Texans.

Scott Zolak, a former backup quarterback to Drew Bledsoe in New England and now a color analyst for the team's flagship radio station, told The Times in November that such water-cooler talk was "ridiculous."

"I thought it was embarrassing," Zolak said. "Reporters were asking [Coach] Bill Belichick, 'Are you going to reevaluate your quarterback position this week?' … The sky was falling around here."

Those Patriots would go on to win seven games in a row, and nine of their next 10. They would go on to win their sixth consecutive AFC East title and set an NFL record by getting a first-round playoff bye for a fifth season in a row.

Green Bay had its issues too, but Rodgers didn't allow the Packers to drift off course after they lost to Seattle in the Kickoff Opener and Detroit in Week 3.

On his radio show after that loss to the Lions, the quarterback had a simple message for Cheeseheads: "Five letters. R-E-L-A-X. Relax. We're going to be fine."

Twelve victories later, including Dallas in the playoffs, and it's fair to say Rodgers was right.

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