Is playoff defeat a necessary evil?

That means a player is motivated neither to forget nor to wallow, but to garner whatever wisdom he can from defeat. Yukelson tries to get inside players' and coaches' heads to make sure they are programmed and pointed the right way, win or lose.

"You can't control the wins and losses; there are too many variables," Yukelson said. "But you can control the effort you give, and you can also control the composure and the focus you put toward a goal."

The NBA is rife with stories of players and teams that seemingly had to lose before they won. The Bad Boy Detroit Pistons of the late 1980s lost five times in the playoffs before finally breaking down the wall to win the championship. The Chicago Bulls, with Michael Jordan, had to break down the same wall to get past the Pistons. The Utah Jazz could not break through the wall, nor could Charles Barkley. Shaquille O'Neal didn't win a championship until his eighth pro season, and LeBron James didn't win a title until his ninth.

Although pro football is a much different sport, a player's reputation is often similarly based on perception. Dallas' Tony Romo fights a losing image because he's 1-6 in elimination games and hasn't been to the playoffs since 2009. Romo's career record as a starter in the regular season is 63-45 (.583). But since that last playoff appearance, the Cowboys are 25-28 with him taking the snaps.

"It's hard to separate him from what's going on with the entire team, but I'm getting concerned about Romo," said Brian Billick, who coached Baltimore to a Super Bowl title and now works as an analyst for Fox and the NFL Network.

Perception can be fickle -- and cruel. Brady is considered the ultimate winner, but he has lost the last game he has played the past seven times he went to the postseason. Nobody would ever question Peyton Manning's ability to win, but he has been one-and-done in the playoffs in eight of his 12 appearances.

The entire notion of using the word "loser" regarding a player, team or coach who reaches the playoffs angers many of those in the game.

"Nonsense, completely absurd," bellowed longtime Bills, Panthers and Colts executive Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst. "You've got to win 10 games just to get into the playoffs. That's a great season. That idea is cooked up by people who have never been competitors."

But the stronger the competitor, the tougher the loss is to take. In the playoffs, the suddenness of the ending hits like a Mack truck. One day a team is getting ready for the biggest game of the season, the next it's packing boxes and cleaning out lockers.

But it's also an inherent part of the profession. From the time players are kids, they have to learn how to deal with the worst side of competition other than injury.  As they quickly learn, it's not the crisis that defines them, but the response.

The sight of Billick after a loss in Baltimore in January 2004 sums up the attitude NFL teams seem to take about a playoff loss. Billick's team had gone 10-6 and lost a wild-card game to the  Tennessee Titans. As he stood and dressed in his private locker room, he chatted as if he'd just watched a movie.

"You move on pretty quick, don't you?" Billick was asked. His answer: It burns, but what are you gonna do?

"You have to flip the switch, because there's so much to do," Billick said more recently. "That's probably a good thing. The disappointment gets over quick."

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