Message from Packers' veterans: Playoffs are different, but don't play the game differently

QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Davante Adams
QB Aaron Rodgers and WR Davante Adams

GREEN BAY – On the first snap of his postseason career, Aaron Rodgers threw an interception. Then he threw for more than 400 yards and four touchdowns that day.

So if there's anyone who can speak from experience about handling the emotions and intensity of the NFL playoffs both the wrong and right way, it's the two-time MVP quarterback as he leads a Packers team with a lot of newcomers to do-or-die January football.

"I was definitely nervous the first one," Rodgers said Wednesday, recalling the 2009 wild-card game at Arizona. "I felt like I needed a splash play maybe early."

It wasn't the right mentality, a message Rodgers and the Packers' other veterans are trying to impart this week as Green Bay makes its first postseason appearance in three years Sunday in the NFC Divisional playoff vs. Seattle at Lambeau Field.

The franchise's two-year playoff drought after eight straight postseason appearances has created a different type of roster for this go-round – one that's more than half postseason neophytes.

Many of those who will be making their playoff debuts on Sunday aren't just backups or bit players, either. There's the starting backfield of Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, three-fourths of the starting secondary in Kevin King, Jaire Alexander and Darnell Savage, linemen on both sides of the ball like Elgton Jenkins and Tyler Lancaster, all the regular receivers except Davante Adams, as well as punter JK Scott, and the list goes on.

The message to them is about finding the balance between understanding what's on the line without letting it feel so overwhelming it pushes anyone to get outside themselves.

"Obviously it's a more important game, because it's win or go home, but the mindset needs to stay the same," Rodgers said. "I think that's what can happen, is you just make it a little bit too big, you try to do a little bit too much more than you've been doing."

Rodgers, of course, learned his lesson quickly and went on to put together one of the greatest postseason performances in team history in that Arizona game a decade ago. He shook off the mistake and settled down early, another worthwhile perspective to share.

Five years ago, Adams made a big playoff debut as well, catching seven passes for 117 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys, even though he admitted he wasn't entirely in tune with "how intense it was going to be."

That's what he's trying to get across to fellow receivers Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jake Kumerow, while also stressing the balance needed to stay mentally and emotionally in check.

"I kind of compared it to the preseason-to-regular-season jump, but just times 100, really," Adams said. "But at the same time, letting them know it's the same game you've been playing. It's not going to change for you, as long as you've been having that type of urgency and attention to detail, I think everybody will be fine."

Head Coach Matt LaFleur's mantra all season has been for players to embrace their roles, which continues to apply. He also is keeping the preparation schedule as steady and consistent as possible this week.

Every piece to the process helps, and the young players who spoke with reporters after practice Wednesday seem to be in a good spot.

Williams, the third-year running back who's coming back from a minor late-season shoulder injury, admitted he's plenty excited and this will be the biggest game he's ever played in. But he's focusing on the day-to-day preparation, not the hype.

King, another member of Green Bay's 2017 draft class, spoke of trusting all the training and reps that have gotten him to this point, and not "try to overcompensate" for something that's not his responsibility anyway.

"When you try to see too much, you see none," King said.

Savage, the rookie safety, added the veteran players have emphasized staying in the same routine to get ready to play.

"Don't get too caught up in the moment in the game because that's when you start to tense up and make mistakes," Savage said. "Just play. Really remain focused on the little things and keep doing what got you here."

That's how Rodgers got himself back on track right away 10 years ago out west. Being a little uptight is only human, but it helps to step back and process the motivation as team-centered, not individually oriented. Not needing to make a "splash play."

"I think that's just the nerves of so desperately wanting to succeed," Rodgers said. "Instead of what the nerves should be, which is not wanting to let your teammates down and using that fear of failure to channel that into a positive direction."

Another moment of coming to balance with it all.

"The awareness is the biggest thing," Adams said. "It's not even about doing anything different, because we don't need any heroics out of anybody. We just need everybody to be fully aware of what's at stake."

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