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Trial by fire

Overcoming hardship instrumental to playoff success

Posted: Tuesday January 16, 2007 12:05PM; Updated: Tuesday January 16, 2007 10:19PM
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Rex Grossman's struggles may have caused Chicago plenty of headaches during the season, but they may also have prepared the Bears for the challenges of the playoffs.
Rex Grossman's struggles may have caused Chicago plenty of headaches during the season, but they may also have prepared the Bears for the challenges of the playoffs.
Al Messerschmidt/WireImage.com
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Indianapolis Colts strong safety Bob Sanders is the inspiration behind today's column. When asked before the playoffs how Indy's defense could overcome its regular season problems, he said the unit would be better because injuries had ruined the team's continuity in the past. Now that the Colts were healthier, their execution would be sharper.

It sounded like the predictable response of an athlete in obvious denial about the state of his team, but Sanders was making a valid point that has larger meaning for every team in this postseason. The key to the Colts' playoff success, you see, isn't much different than that of the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears or the New England Patriots. It comes down to chemistry and confidence.

When you look at what's happened in the postseason this decade, it's impossible to overlook that most of the Super Bowl champions had the same formula working for them. Most weren't heavy favorites. Rather, they were the teams that hit their stride at just the right time, usually after overcoming some prolonged stretch of adversity that hardened them. Like this year's NFC and AFC finalists, those Super Bowl winners had a level of mental toughness that couldn't be measured on paper.

The 2000 Baltimore Ravens developed that tenacity because they went five games with an offense that couldn't score a touchdown. The '01 Patriots had it because they started 0-2, lost their starting quarterback to injury and then discovered that his backup, Tom Brady, had far more magic in him than anyone every imagined. The '04 Patriots? People forget they won their third Super Bowl in four seasons with a makeshift secondary. The '05 Steelers? They were on the brink of missing the playoffs until an eight-game winning streak landed them the Lombardi Trophy.

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