Is playoff defeat a necessary evil?

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."

For a coach and general manager, defeat means the start of the offseason, with personnel decisions and immediate evaluations needed. There is no time to feel sorry for yourself, Billick said.

"You set the tone as a head coach," Billick said. "You can wallow in it, or you can move on. You can come in and curse everybody and put the loss right in front of their consciousness, but all you'll do is wear your organization out."

To Polian, one basic fact trumps all. "I don't know too many competitive people who wallow," he said.

In other words, when they lose, they address what they need to do to get better.

"Nobody needs or wants to lose, that's for sure," Polian said. "It's not something that you embrace, and it's not a goal. But that being said, coach [Don] Shula taught me a long time ago that every time you play, you have to take something positive from it."

Clearly a person who's wallowing in a loss won't be focused on making improvements. His mind is on the loss, the bad pass, the missed block or the missed tackle. Yukelson has a way to describe that approach in his work with athletes.

"I call it stinking thinking," he said. "It's overthinking. Trying to force a pass. Trying too hard. The composure is to flush it, so to speak, flush the bad play or just tell yourself, 'I just missed him. Work on letting go of that mistake."

Romo may suffer from "stinking thinking," where he tries too hard at certain times. But the way he approaches the situation also could affect him. How it's framed and how he assesses himself is vital, Yukelson said.

Yukelson will give players he works with a mental command that helps them get past the bad play. It might be a word used in the huddle -- the "break" from the quarterback, the buckling of a chinstrap or a deep breath before a play. That mental command signals to the player to forget what just happened and move on.

The same applies for moving on after a loss.

"If you're a true champion and motivated from the heart, not just from the external rewards and from the money, then you're going to do what you need to do," Yukelson said. "You're hungrier. If you have the opportunity you can't wait to get back."

Dalton, who has been to the playoffs in each of his first three seasons with the Bengals, said "You have to take advantage of every opportunity you get."

Luck has made it to the postseason in both of his pro seasons, and he spoke of leaning on veterans such as  Robert Mathis and Reggie Wayne, not because they'd lost, but because they'd been through it.

"I remember talking to Reg last year about what it takes to go through the playoffs," Luck said. "And we'll make sure we revisit those conversations."

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