One of the more interesting aspects of the playoffs was the approaches taken by the Jets' Rex Ryan and the Packers' Mike McCarthy in motivating their teams through the playoffs. This was readily apparent in the Divisional Round.
Ryan went straight to a highly emotional approach leading up to the Jets - Patriots game. Ryan called the game "personal" between him and Belichick. During the week, several Jets players began chirping through social media and the standard media. Ryan's approach could be called successful - that week - as the Jets hammered their archrivals at Gillette Field.
The problem with that emotional high, however, was maintaining it the subsequent week in the AFC Championship game against Pittsburgh. Ryan's only hope to counter an emotional letdown was to ratchet up the emotional appeal, yet Ryan engaged in none of the bluster that rallied his troops against the Patriots. Ryan and the Jets spoke respectfully of the Steelers, the players laid off the Twittering. The Jets paid a heavy price for the emotionally-charged Patriots game. Against Pittsburgh, the Jets came out very flat and were run over by the Steelers in the first half, falling behind by an insurmountable deficit. While the Jets rallied, outscoring the Steelers 19-0 in the second half, the damage was done in the flat first half.
While Ryan's bluster resulted in a very convincing win over the Patriots in the Divisional Round, Ryan's motivational approach contributed significantly to his team's loss at Pittsburgh as that emotional peak could not be sustained.
By contrast, Mike McCarthy knew he had a young team with limited playoff experience. McCarthy took a macro approach to motivation, instructing his players before the Wild Card round that the playoffs were a 16 quarter affair. This method eliminated placing focus on particular opponents and dialed everyone into the larger task at hand. The Wild Card win at Philadelphia was not only a victory over the Eagles, but a successful completion of the first four quarters of the 16 quarter task. Emotionally, the Packers seemed to maintain an even keel during their four-game run to the title, each game another four quarters completed toward their goal. McCarthy didn't simply highlight the next opponent for his squad: he laid out a vision for winning the Lombardi Trophy and explained to his young team an approach that focused on each upcoming game while maintaining the larger picture. Win these four quarters and we'll advance to our goal of winning 16 quarters. I thought it was a brilliant strategy.
I also praise McCarthy for his seemingly audacious act of measuring the players for their Super Bowl rings the night before The Big Game. What a quiet confidence builder. The entire 2010 season was a remarkable coaching job by a man who didn't receive a single Coach of the Year vote. Still, I'm sure McCarthy feels quite vindicated by having his fingerprints all over the Lombardi Trophy. The Packers and their fans are in good hands.