When Winning Matters in the NFL … and When It Doesn’t


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(Photos courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

Vince Lombardi believed the winning starts in August.

That’s when you set the tone for the season. Lombardi played to win — whether it was an exhibition game in August against the St. Louis Cardinals or a championship game in December against the New York Giants. Lombardi was all about winning.

His Packers went 5-0 in the 1961 preseason on the way to Lombardi’s first championship. Green Bay went 6-0 in the 1962 preseason on the way to consecutive NFL titles. The Packers again went 6-0 in the 1967 preseason en route to Lombardi’s fifth and final NFL title.

Lombardi won an NFL record 73.6 percent of his regular-season games (96-34-6). But he was even better in the preseason at Green Bay, winning 84 percent of the time (42-8). Lombardi even strung together a 19-game winning streak in the preseason from 1959-62.

And those games, remember, didn’t count.

They count even less in today’s NFL. The exhibition season was once a tool to prepare your team for a championship chase. Now it’s viewed as a roadblock to the regular season. Winning doesn’t matter. Good health is all that matters in today’s salary-cap era, so the starters play sparingly.

Anyone know the whereabouts of Brittan Golden? He led the NFL in receiving last preseason with the Arizona Cardinals. Lorenzo Taliaferro led the preseason in rushing with the Baltimore Ravens and Zach Mettenberger led in passing with the Tennessee Titans. Golden didn’t make the Cardinals out of training camp, Taliaferro spent the regular season as a backup and Mettenberger came off the bench at mid-season to start eight games.

Tony Romo threw only 23 passes last August, DeMarco Murray ran the ball just 14 times and Antonio Brown caught seven passes. But when the games counted, Romo won the NFL passing championship, Murray the rushing crown and Brown the receiving title.

The Cowboys were futile last August, failing to win a game in the preseason. They were outscored 116-60 and looked inept at times. But when the games counted, the Cowboys fired up the engines and roared off to a 12-4 record, winning the NFC East and reaching the conference semifinals.

The Indianapolis Colts also went 0-4 last preseason but rebounded to go 11-5 in the regular season, capture the AFC South and reach the conference title game. The Giants, on the other hand, went 5-0 last preseason but plodded home 6-10 in the regular season.

The 1982 Washington Redskins are the only team ever to finish a preseason 0-4 and go on to win a Super Bowl. Only eight of the last 16 Super Bowl champions managed to survive the preseason with winning records.

On the flip side, the 1990 New York Giants, 2000 Baltimore Ravens, 2003 New England Patriots and 2013 Seattle Seahawks all went 4-0 in preseasons on the way to Lombardi Trophies.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll is old school. In rebuilding the Seahawks, he also believed winning starts in August. The Seahawks won nine consecutive games over three preseasons leading up to their first Super Bowl championship in 2013. Carroll has a 13-7 career record with Seattle in preseasons.

NFL teams reported to training camps this week, and the 2015 preseason begins Aug. 9 with the annual Hall of Fame game between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s the first of eight preseason games that will be nationally televised.

It’d be nice if the NFL teams cared as much about these games as the television networks do.

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