It's been three years since the Green Bay Packers took their reputation as the best team in football into the postseason, only to watch it crumble at Lambeau Field.
The memories are faded for right guard T.J. Lang. Three years, he said, feels like a long time ago. Lang was in his first season as a full-time starter on the offensive line. He, and the rest of his teammates, long since stuffed the disappointment of a shocking divisional round loss to the New York Giants in the past.
But lessons can be learned from failures.
Now, the Packers are in the same situation, coming off a wild card bye to host a playoff game against a team they're expected to beat. Yet, Lang said, this does not feel like 2011.
"Thinking back to 2011," Lang said, "I think there was a lot of outside pressure on us because we had the great start. A lot of talk was about the undefeated season. Once we lost to Kansas City, I guess our goals were kind of changed a little bit. You never talk about being undefeated and going 16-0. It's always winning the division.
"I think the outside influences put going undefeated at the top of our goal list, which it shouldn't have been. Once we lost that game, I don't know if it set us back. It felt like it was a weight lifted off our shoulders."
There has been no weight lifted off Green Bay down the stretch this season. With the Packers playing for a division title and playoff bye in their finale, there was no opportunity to coast.
Throughout December, the team played under plenty of pressure. Unlike three years ago, they haven't been able to relax. No resting starters in Week 17. No breezing into the playoffs.
Lang said it will be beneficial this postseason.
"I think it simulates, obviously, what you're going to go through in the playoffs," Lang said. "Now, it's obviously win or go home, but that's kind of the mindset we had all throughout December. We had to fight for every win that we got."
Lang sat at his locker following the Packers' win against the Lions, and there was no sense of celebration. All around him, teammates showed the same calm. Yes, they appreciated what their victory earned – a fourth straight NFC North title, a first-round bye in the playoffs, a home game in the divisional round.
After their recent playoff disappointments, Green Bay also knew more is left to accomplish.
"This year just has a different feel to it," Lang said, referring back to 2011. "You can tell after the Lions game. We came into the locker room, and there wasn't a lot of rah-rah, we're-the-division-champ-type stuff. It was, 'Hey, our first goal is locked down.' You just got a sense of nobody was really satisfied yet."
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