Is playoff defeat a necessary evil?

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."

Yukelson admitted much of what he discusses -- the importance of routine, of thinking play to play, of a coach creating the environment to win -- could sound like "flippant psychobabble," but he points to Pete Carroll, a coach who works hard and works his team hard but also has almost a playful routine at practice that helps players.

Carroll creates the routine for success, just like Bill Belichick in New England. Different styles, same results.

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