GREEN BAY—Judging by the personnel, Sunday’s Packers-Steelers showdown at Lambeau Field is no Super Bowl rematch.
That has nothing to do with the Packers’ quarterback situation, either.
Three years is practically an eternity in the NFL. As far as Green Bay and Pittsburgh are concerned, three years has meant turnover of more than half of each roster from Super Bowl XLV.
The numbers are remarkably similar for the two franchises. Whether that says something about the makeup and philosophies of the two organizations, in addition to the nature of the league in general, is a discussion for another day, but here’s the data:
Of the 53 players on Pittsburgh’s roster for Super Bowl XLV, 20 are on the Steelers’ current 53-man roster. That includes 10 players who started in the Super Bowl (four offense, six defense), two who left Pittsburgh and returned (TE Matt Spaeth, S Will Allen), and four who came off the bench in the Super Bowl and start now.
For Green Bay, 21 players from the Super Bowl roster are on the current 53-man, including 11 Super Bowl starters (five offense, six defense), one who left and came back (QB Matt Flynn), and four Super Bowl reserves who start now (aside from Flynn).
Only one position group of starters for either team remains intact, and that’s Pittsburgh’s secondary of cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay, plus safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.
“You’re talking about two different teams now,” said Packers guard T.J. Lang, one of those non-starters from three years ago turned current starter. “They’ve got a lot of veteran guys on their team, but each of us have a bunch of young guys who weren’t even here when we played in the Super Bowl.
“This is a new team this year, they’re a new team, and it’s going to be a whole new battle.”
The battle will also be quite different from what it might have been just a month or two ago.
The Steelers have changed significantly in 2013, showing progress as they retool at key positions with youth. They lost their first four games and averaged 18 points per game in their first seven contests. But they’ve won four of their last six to get to 6-8 and stay on the fringe of the AFC playoff race while averaging 28 points per game since the start of November.
The Packers’ biggest change has been more recent, and it’s had to do with the fourth quarters of games.
Even when Aaron Rodgers was starting, the fourth quarter was a trouble spot. The team struggled late in early losses at San Francisco and Cincinnati, and it didn’t finish strong in victories over Washington, Baltimore and Minnesota.
Then after Rodgers’ departure from the lineup, the fourth-quarter collapses were even more pronounced, as the Bears and Eagles both put together clock-killing nine-minute drives to protect leads and the Giants snagged a pick-six with the game still in the balance late.
But Flynn’s emergence has coincided with stronger finishes by the team overall. As he has put together late rallies against the Vikings, Falcons and Cowboys, the defense has come up with three key fourth-quarter turnovers in the last two weeks, plus two additional big stops late against Atlanta.
“You really don’t want to play bad in either half, but if you’re going to play bad in one and good in the other, I’d probably do it the way we did it,” Lang said of the franchise record-tying comeback from a 23-point deficit at Dallas.
“At least give yourself a chance late in the game to win. That’s something we always talk about. The game is 60 minutes for a reason.”
The season is also 16 games for a reason. Its length has provided the Packers enough time to get the help they’ve needed to be in control of their playoff fate, while they’ve also continued to work toward playing a complete game, start to finish.
“It’s very fortunate the way it’s turned out,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Now we have the opportunity to control our own destiny, and we need to make the most of it.
“You have to play good football. It’s about quality of play, and everything will take care of itself.” Additional coverage - Dec. 20