Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was suspended two games for stomping on Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith in their Thanksgiving Day meeting.
Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji sees no benefit in holding back.
“I know coach,” he said, referring to Mike McCarthy. “You don’t win a Super Bowl by being scared. You just play. That’s the message he’s preaching. Just play the game because it’s the game. That’s the way you’re supposed to play it. You’re not supposed to be playing a game and looking at all of these scenarios of who you want to play. Generally, if you do things the right way, hopefully you get some luck in the injury thing.
“You have to respect the game of football. Obviously, we’re in a great position. We’re 13-0. We have a lot of things wrapped up. But ultimately you never accomplish anything great by being scared. We have an option to go either way, but if you want to make history and do some things that haven’t been done in a while, you have to take a chance.”
New England took the chance in 2007, Indianapolis didn’t in 2009. Both got to the Super Bowl and lost.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick barely broached the subject of a perfect season even while his team was marching through its schedule. It came up during news conferences, but only when he was asked about it. It did not come up in team meetings or during game-planning sessions or during flights home from the road. According to several players from the `07 squad that went 18-0 before being stunned by the Giants in the Super Bowl, Belichick’s approach never wavered.
“Even when we were 12-0 and 14-0, he always preached finishing what we started, finishing the game,” said former safety Rodney Harrison, a defensive leader in New England and now an analyst on NBC.
“Bill stressed each week improving and becoming a better football team, so he never really discussed 16-0. Instead, he pointed it out on tape what we can do to get better.”
Actually, the Patriots struggled a bit in the final weeks of 2007, even as they were going all-out. After routing virtually everyone in the first half of the schedule, they won three games by a field goal down the stretch, and neither playoff victory was lopsided.
Still, they’ve never questioned the path they chose.
“Pressure is self-inflicted. It’s how you handle it,” veteran running back Kevin Faulk said. “It’s what we deal with. We’re professional athletes. You’re going to be put in pressure situations. You just did what you had to do each and every week: go out there and win a football game.”
Indianapolis focused on staying healthy at the expense of making history. At 14-0 and leading the Jets 29-15 at halftime, coach Jim Caldwell sat Peyton Manning and many other regulars. The Colts dropped that one, and their final regular-season game in 2009. They turned up the heat for the playoffs, but lost to New Orleans in the Super Bowl.
Star defensive end Dwight Freeney hates the perception created by resting the starters.
“People were like, `You have the backups in there, so you’re trying to lose,’” Freeney said. “You’re not trying to lose.
“We didn’t full throttle go after it, but we still wanted to win those games. Maybe they didn’t put us in the best position or whatever, but it’s not like we weren’t trying to win. We were still trying to win and it didn’t happen.”