What Do Players Mean When They Say They Need To “Play Within Themselves”? (Plus, the final week of regular seaosn picks)

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What Do Players Mean When They Say They Need To “Play Within Themselves”? (Plus, the final week of regular seaosn picks)

In throwing this idea out to one of my superiors here at steroidslive.com I said “And I’ve got this great idea for a column on players playing within themselves” and his response was simply “LMAO”.  Honestly, I didn’t really that sounded as bad as it did when it wasn’t being said by a professional athlete so I just want to ask you to hold your laughter as I honestly (and seriously) try to delve into my explanation for this oft used phrase.  {I’m hoping that we don’t run into a situation like in “The Usual Suspects” where all 5 men are in the police line-up and they can’t stop laughing at each other.  You see, originally, that wasn’t in the script.  During the filming they just couldn’t stop laughing and Brian Singer can be found in the extra interviews for the DVD version of the movie talking about how he was fuming off-camera and thinking “These guys are f***ing up my damn movie!”  Please don’t eff up my damn column by laughing before you’re done reading…I promise I have a good point.

You can hear this one in halftime interviews and postgame press conferences.  The reporter always says something like “What does your team need to do to improve on (fill in the blank)?” and the player ALWAYS says something like “Well, (fill in he reporter’s name), we just need to keep working hard, play within ourselves, and stick to the plan.”  You know, they’re giving the Phil-Jackson-non-answer-answer every time and we just accept it without even thinking about those 3 little words right in the middle of the “non-answer-answer”.

Play within ourselves.

(Suspend your laughter please…I know it sounds bad when you can’t watch it in an interview.)

Pro athletes throw this one out there all the time and we just dismiss it because we either:

a)  Don’t know exactly what they mean and don’t care
b)  Think we know what they mean and just assume it means “We need to stop sucking”
c)  Don’t’ pay attention to what the athletes and coaches are saying because we assume they’re giving us the “non-answer-answer” and automatically write it off

I’ve done all of these things in all the years I’ve closely followed sports and I think I’ve finally figured out what this one means.  When athletes and coaches say they need to “play within themselves what they really mean is this:

Sports are just games and we all too often reminded that they are just games by tragedy (like the recent passing of Chris Henry) and then we get right back into the “Winning isn’t everything it’s the only thing” mode that Vince Lombardi is so famous for espousing.  Well, games are supposed to be fun, and these players honestly want to have fun (well, except for someone like Stephon Marbury, but that’s different.)  So, “playing within yourself” means:  We’re going to have fun, not look ahead and live in the moment all game long.

Some franchises have had great success doing just that (granted this is easier when you’re winning) but just look at some good examples of teams playing within themselves.

The 1981-88 San Francisco 49ers:  This team won 4 Super Bowls in very short order and played in the NFC Title Game more times than that.  They routinely plowed over the competition and scored insane amounts of points at will.  They beat up teams like there was no tomorrow, but there was something they started doing in Bill Walsh’s new “West Coast Offense” that started a trend that still lives on today.  They scripted their first 15 plays of every game regardless of the situation.  They ran those 15 plays in order no matter what happened.  Now that’s playing within yourself if you asked me.  If you’re running 15 plays in order no matter what happens you better be determined to have fun and not look ahead because if you don’t your mind will go immediately to all the bad things that can happen to you if even one play doesn’t work.  There’s no looking ahead, there’s no “What happens if this defense does “so and so”, and definitely no “Oh no, how is this going to work?”  You just do it.  They did it and won 4 Super Bowls (and took that same premise to a 5th title with Steve Young under Center and it made both him and Joe Montana (along with Jerry Rice and a whole bunch of linemen) into Hall of Famers.

The 1996-2000 Yankees:  As much as I dislike the Yankees I have to give credit where credit is due.  This team played their brand of baseball with total disregard for their opponents on their way to 4 titles in 5 years.  They cultivated a style of play that took them to the playoffs over and over and supplied Yankees like Derek Jeter with early success that can’t be matched.  How can you say the Yankees were doing anything BUT having fun?  It has to be fun to know you’ve got it in the bag because everyone’s afraid of you and you’re just going out and playing your game everyday.  Very good team those were.

The 1999 St. Louis Rams:  This one is obvious.  Kurt Warner slung the ball all over the field all season and they really didn’t care what defense they were up against because they had already decided that they wanted to just outscore their opponents.  You don’t call yourself “The Greatest Show on Turf” unless you’re having FUN and not caring about anything but living in the moment.

Showtime:  The Lakers of the 1980’s won 5 Championships under Magic, Kareem, Worthy, Green and Cooper and (much like the aforementioned ’99 Rams) you don’t call yourself “Showtime” unless you’re having the time of your life.  In the 80s they went to The Finals 8 time.  Yes, I said EIGHT TIMES!  (And we thought the Pistons were cool when they went to the East Finals 5 times in a row.  Yeah, not really.  If you’re having fun, playing your game no matter what your opponent shows you, and living in the moment you go the NBA Finals 8 times in one decade…that’s just what happens.

So, you see “playing within yourself” isn’t just about the “philosophy” of playing within yourself but it’s a higher calling of success.  Think about it now.  When you hear someone from the Raiders or the Browns or the Chiefs or the Clippers or the Warriors say they need to play “within themselves” they’re talking about something they can’t achieve.  Is a championship in the remote future of any of those teams?  Nope.  However, that is what “playing within yourself” brings.  Now, teams that are contenders can play within themselves all day long because on some level they are capable of that or they wouldn’t be contenders in the first place.

Look at the Tennessee Titans.  They started the season playing outside themselves and went a nasty 0-6.  Right after that they went on a tear and were very close to making the playoffs until a hurtful loss against the Chargers on Christmas Day.  Somewhere in there when Chris Johnson said they could go 10-6 and make the playoffs they put Vince Young back in as their starting QB and they starting playing their game without regard for the other team.  They started to “play within themselves” but they just couldn’t sustain it.  They knew their calling but they couldn’t keep it up.

You could say that the Saints and Colts have been playing “within themselves” all season because they’ve done their “we’ll outscore you no matter what” game all season long.  Then the Colts started resting starters and gave up a game to the Jets because that’s their game (I still can’t believe I bought into the undefeated hype.)  The Colts rest people late in the season.  The Saints score thousands of points every game…that’s just what they do.  Nobody’s going to stop them from doing that.

This brings up an interesting question:  Who has the advantage then?  A team that just plays their game or the team that copies the “blueprint” to beat each one of their opponents every week?

I say the team that “plays their game…within themselves” has the advantage.  Look at the teams I mentioned above.  15 Championships between them.  We could add the Bulls of the 90’s to this list, the Lakers of the 2000’s and the Spurs of the 2000’s and you’ve got (just in the NBA) 14 Championships belonging to 3 teams in an 18 year period.  Yeah…playing within yourself works.

Well, let’s see if some teams can play within themselves long enough to get into the playoffs….the picks right after the jump.

Indy @ Buffalo:

It’ll be cold in Buffalo but the Bills have nothing to play for and the Colts are clearly resting for the playoffs.  This is our last chance this season to see if Turrull will get angry enough to blow his top before his season ends.  He’s already got a thousand catches and that’s probably enough for him.  Even with 2nd teamers in the game I just don’t see how the Colts could lose because the Bills are just so bad right now (really they’re in disarray which is making them bad and it’s a shame because I like it when the Bills are good.)

IND – 20   BUF – 3

Jacksonville @ Cleveland:

Because of the resurgence (that I still think impacts Eric Mangini’s job security negatively) that the Browns are having and the fact that the Jags are basically out of the playoff picture I’m going to take the Browns here.  Jack Del Rio had a good thing going, but losing their last game and pushing themselves to 7-8 showed me why the Jacksonville media doesn’t trust David Garrard.  They’ve leaned on him too much and they need to re-orient their offense in a way that features Maurice Jones-Drew more heavily and tasks David Garrard with managing the game and not winning it.

Jerome Harrison is writing himself a nice check right now and I don’t think he’ll stop.  It doesn’t matter who signs him because he’s going to be very productive in this league (and hopefully the Browns get better or he goes to a better team.)

The Jags could make the playoffs if I were picking them to win this game, but the shot is pretty long.  They would have to win and then 3 of these (Baltimore, Jets, Houston and Denver) would all have to lose.  That’s pretty thin (Then again, in “Lethal Weapon” they thought Dixie being involved in Amanda Huntsecker’s murder was thin and then Dixie’s house blew up, but I don’t foresee any exploding houses this Sunday.)

CLE – 27   JAC – 13

Chicago @ Detroit:

Here’s two teams that have little to nothing going for them.  Detroit is sans Matthew Stafford and Chicago is still playing Jay Cutler and hoping he’ll stop losing games for them by throwing 500 interceptions a game.  The good news for Detroit is they are looking up from their “defeated” season of 2008 and they definitely have all the tools on offense if they can just get Stafford some protection bolster their defense.

Chicago’s defense is slowly dying and we can see it in the decreased productivity and injury-prone nature of guys like Tommie Harris and Brian Urlacher.  At one time this was the most feared defense in the NFL and quite reminiscent of the Bears defenses of the 80’s but they’ve become a shell of themselves and when they took Jay Cutler they basically said they were trying to make a shift from defense-focus to offense-focus and that change in focus doesn’t work for this franchise.  (We’re seeing it kind of work for the Steelers, but I don’t think it can last forever) and the same can be said here.  The Bears need to run the ball and stop the run.  Right now they can do neither and that’s just a shame.

DET – 13   CHI – 6

San Francisco @ St. Louis:

St. Louis, with one win, is well on their way to doing what I’ve been hoping they would do all season (something I TOTALLY got right) and that is rebuilding their team by first moving Marc Bulger out and drafting a stud to fix their offense.  In much the same way that the Bears and Steelers run and stop the run the Rams are a team that slings the ball around and they need a Colt McCoy for that.  I know no one wants to throw a game, but they won’t have to because they 49ers are going to play for pride.

Mike Singletary is not messing around with this 49ers team and he’s going to squeeze every last ounce of play out of this team until the very last second of the season in preparation for next season.  It’s really quite amazing that they’ve had as many ups and downs as they’ve had with a coach like Singletary, but I suppose that is to be expected.  They’re still learning how to deal with such a hard ass when Singletary himself has said that many of his players were pretty lazy.  Add to that the reformation of Alex Smith and you’ve got some really big potential for 2010.  I’m excited (though I wish we were going to the playoffs) I am excited for the future and perhaps the future can start this Sunday.

SF – 27   STL – 3

Pittsburgh @ Miami:

The Steelers can make the playoffs if they beat the Dolphins and 2 of these (Baltimore, Jets, and Houston) lose this coming Sunday.  The Dolphins make the playoffs if they beat the Steelers and the Ravens, Jets, Texans, Jags all lose.

Personally, I think the Steelers’ transformation into a passing team will last long enough for them to win this game.  The Dolphins took a loss they shouldn’t have last week and I just don’t think they have the gas to finish this season off right.  They have lot of the right stuff down in South Beach, but it’s just not ready.  Ricky Williams looks like he could run until he’s 40, Chad Henne could be the answer at Quarterback, Ted Ginn Jr. can catch and return kicks like a monster, and their defense is learning.  I just don’t see it happening right now.

A 4000 yard passer, 1000 yard rusher and two 1000 yard receivers is enough (combined with James Harrison and the Steeler defense) is enough for a Steeler win.  Both the Steelers and the Dolphins are playing for next season at the same time, but that makes this game all the more interesting.

PIT – 34   MIA – 27

Giants @ Minnesota:

The Giants are out of it after closing the season in disappointing fashion.  The Vikings can be #1 or #2 in the NFC.  If they win against the Giants AND New Orleans loses to Carolina then they’re the #1 seed.  If that doesn’t work out then they’ll be the #2 in the NFC.  Here’s the question:  Are the Giants playing for pride or are they just done AND is Brett Favre over his little tiff with Brad Childress where Brad Childress conceded control of the franchise to Favre.  (Didn’t you see that an undisclosed former Vikings player said that Favre runs that organization anyways?)

The Vikings just have more to play for and I don’t think Favre is fading as much as his ego is getting in the way, but even his gigantic ego is going to mess this one up.  Right now all the Giants have is Eli Manning to Mario Manningham followed by Brandon Jacobs running up the middle.  Their secondary is like Swiss cheese and you can bet that Brett Favre will take advantage of it.

MIN – 35   NYG – 13

Atlanta @ Tampa:

The Bucs stunned the Saints this past Sunday in a way that I still cannot fully describe.  Because I was visiting my wife’s side of the family I wasn’t near an NFL package and the local game in Ohio was the Bengals then I only saw that they Saints lost to the Bucs.  Upon telling both my brothers-in-law and my Father-in-law they all responded the same way “Huh?”  It was as if I was playing a joke because the Saints lost to a pretty good Cowboys team and that was ok but there was no way in the world that they would lose to the Bucs so “You’re kidding, right?”  Nope.  Not kidding.

Now, Atlanta actually needs this win MORE than the Saints needed their win from last Sunday.  If the Falcons can finish 9-7 then they will have wrapped up the stat that only I care about…their first set of back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history.  They MUST have this because everyone thought this was a foregone conclusion at the beginning of the season when everyone thought the only offense in the league that would be better than the Falcons was the Saints.  With dreams of the playoffs gone the Falcons need SOMETHING and this is their something to build next season on.  Plus, if the fans in Atlanta have to wait another two seasons to get back-to-back winning season there might be riots in the streets down here because this will be a bigger letdown to the fans than any of the Braves’ failing…I can guarantee you that.

ATL – 27   TB – 17

New England @ Houston:

Here’s another in a long line of games that has playoff implications.  The Patriots might jostle back and forth with the Bengals between the 3rd and 4th seed in the AFC, but they essentially have everything wrapped up and I don’t think that this team is going to bring all their guns blazing.  I still think they’re stinging from the 2007 Super Bowl and they don’t want to go into the playoffs cold, but they don’t want to be too hot either.  They’ll play it safe.

Houston HAS to win if they want the rest of their playoff scenario to play out for them.  They have to beat the Patriots and 2 of the following teams has to lose (Baltimore, Jets and Denver.)

With Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson and a pretty nice defense they can make this thing happen.  I know Randy Moss had a couple good games to come back from his “quit game” after he got sent home from practice, but I think he was putting on a show because he can just turn the switch on and off at will.  He’s waiting for the playoffs because he is still “sans ring” and I know that drives him nuts.  Once again, he’s still stinging from the 2007 Super Bowl and a guy like Randy Moss will never REALLY get over that loss.  He’s packing it up for the playoffs and that will make him a little easier to defend.

HOU – 35   NE – 28 (A lot of those points will come from the heavy use of Wes Welker who is a shorter, whiter, faster, smarter, better teammate version of Moss.)

Philly @ Dallas:

These two teams are playing for the NFC East, and that’s Door #1…the winner of this game wins the NFC East.  Now, if Philly wins they also clinch the #3 seed in the NFC.  If Dallas wins AND Arizona loses then Dallas is the #3 seed in the NFC.

Let’s look at what’s going on here.  I watched the end of the Redskins “quitfest” against Dallas and Dallas looked pretty nice (even though the Redskins are really bad) and I’m thinking that we might be over the whole “The Cowboys suck in December thing”.  Tony Romo looked good, Wade Phillips didn’t look like a deer in the headlights, and the Cowboys defense made some sick plays (I mean, it was like they weren’t even being blocked…well they might not have been, but you get the idea.)

Philly is coming into this game hot as well.  They’ve got everything to play for and they are the team that “came out of nowhere” and lots of people (including me) are wondering where they came from and if I can get the number of the truck they just ran me over with.

Well, if you take two hot teams with hot defenses, hot QB’s and put them in a steel cage and let them fight it out for the toughest division in the NFL what does the game come down to?

Brian Westbrook.  He’s been cleared to play but not a world-beater anymore and he’s just so beat up that if I gave you the choice between Marion Barber and Brian Westbrook I think most of us would take Marion Barber.

I’m leaving this game up to the legs of Marion Barber to slowly wear down the Eagles defense and win the Cowboys the NFC East.  I’ve already said he was a beast and I’m not taking that one back.

DAL – 24   PHI – 14

Kansas City @ Denver:

KC needs some serious rethought around their entire organization and that starts at the top with Scott Pioli.  I posited earlier this season that just about every coach in Bill Belichick’s coaching tree is an embarrassment to him and Pioli isn’t making things any easier.  He took Matt Cassel off the Patriots’ hands and now Cassel isn’t producing for the Chefs.  Todd Haley just had too much of a job to do this season to even consider the fact that his defense is pretty bad too.  I’m not sure at what point the Chefs begin to fix their team but I AM willing to concede that an offense can be fashioned for Matt Cassel that will work as long as he has protection.  I say the draft a lineman high (Defensive or Offensive, it doesn’t matter.)  I bet they could take just about everything they have on offense and do something with it.  Dwayne Bowe to catch the ball (he could easily be a 1000 yard receiver), they take a late 1st day running back, let Tim Castille block for him/run in short scores, and they’re set.  Losing Tony Gonzalez was NOT the end of the world for the Chiefs, but they acted like it was and their offense hasn’t performed all year.  If they get out of the mindset that they need him to survive then they will play much better next year.

With this game upcoming I don’t see any way that the Chefs defense can stop Kyle Orton from picking them apart and throwing the ball in Brandon Marshall’s direction at least 15 times, and who’s going to stop him from catching it?  Donald Washington, Mike Richardson, Ricky Price, Maurice Leggett, Brandon Flowers or Brandon Carr?  No way.  Denver’s going to pick this KC defense apart.

Denver’s road to playoff glory is a little more complicated than most teams because they were already in and then they lost last week and made the whole thing more complicated by not sewing up a playoff spot in Week 16.  If the Broncos beat the Chefs and 2 of 3 lose (Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and the Jets) lose then they’re in OR they beat the Chefs, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston win OR they lose to the Chefs and Pittsburgh loses and 3 of 4 lose (Baltimore, Houston, Jacksonville, and Jets) OR they lose to the Chefs and Baltimore, Houston, Jacksonville, the Jets ALL lose.  (Yeah, that’s a lot.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to figure it out.  Thank the folks at FanHouse Newwire for this information…I know I do.)

DEN – 31   KC – 10

Baltimore @ Oakland:

Baltimore and Oakland are both in interesting positions.  Baltimore’s in if they beat the Raiders so they are the other pivotal game in this weekend’s set because if they lose they could set into motion a host of other things that will allow the playoff picture to go down to the wire.  If they win then things get less interesting.

Here’s the problem…the Raiders have played in spurts this season and that includes against good teams so I have to ask myself if I think the Raiders will have a spurt during the Baltimore game.  Here’s the thing:  I bet on the Ravens in the AFC Title Game last year and they lost, and I decided last weekend to not allow myself to get sucked in by them again and it worked because they lost and I was right.  I know Oakland is depleted but there’s something going on in Oakland.  I don’t know if Tom Cable has rallied the troops, or if they rallied themselves or what but they seem to have a purpose.  Look at it this way…Okaland’s 5-10.  Did anybody think they’d have 5 wins going into the final weekend of the season?  Especially after the whole “Tom Cable alledgedly tried to kill on his assistants and broke him jaw” incident?  I didn’t.  Heck, I almost thought about branding them the next “defeated” Lions before the Rams came in and sucked all the suck right out of the league and kept it for themselves.  Jamarcus Russell may be an expensive backup but he isn’t playing horribly and maybe the Raiders can sneak up on the Ravens.

I just have a hard time trusting the Ravens enough to think that they can win a game that they MUST have.

OAK – 21   BAL – 20

Green Bay @ Arizona:

This could be a shootout because when Aaron Rodgers is on he’s on and Kurt Warner is slowly building a hefty Hall of Fame resume.  For me this one comes down to defense and I don’t see any reason why the Green Bay defense won’t prevail.  I’ve listed all their names before:  Hawk, Raji, Kampman, Woodson, etc.  They are just too much and it’s not that the Cards won’t score, it’s just that they won’t score enough.  I know they’re “hot” and everything but if you want to see hot you should look it up in the dictionary and see the picture of a Packers helmet next to the definition.  Aaron Rodgers still has a steady target in Donald Driver and Ryan Grant is a monster out there.  That’s more than enough convincing for me.

GB – 34  ARI – 27

Washington @ San Diego:

Ok, I have no desire to actually believe in the Chargers (so I won’t) but they’re playing the Redskins and after witnessing their quitfest (which spurned the first entry in the General’s Sports Dictionary I would think that they are totally done.  I’m not even sure they’ll make it onto the field for this one…plus the Chargers want to go into the playoffs with a bang.

SD – 28 (because they’ll take their foot off the gas after the first half)   WAS – 0 (because they are pitiful)

Tennessee @ Seattle:

The Titans are out of the playoff hunt after that tough loss they took to the Chargers, but I think they’re playing for pride this time around.  They want to make sure that this season was all about turning things around and for them that means finishing 8-8.  If they finish at .500 after starting 0-6 that is a momentous acheivement and one that is noteworthy.

The Seahwaks are in disarray and I don’t know that Jim Mora is the problem but the early word is that the Seahawks may be looking to make a change and I don’t really that’s very fair to Mora.  A good comparison would be when Mike Vick broke his leg and Dan Reeves got fired because he was missing the best player on the team.  In Mora’s case the best player on the team is Matt Hasselbeck and he’s a timebomb waiting to retire because he’s too beat up to continue.

If I had to choose someone here it would be the Titans for both team’s own good.  The Titans need the
“pick me up” and the Seahawks need a higher draft pick to pick a lineman on either side of the ball (and I know Walter Jones plays for Seattle but Hasselbeck needs more protection than that.)

TEN – 31   SEA – 14
Cincinnati @ Jets:

Here’s the final part of the scenario.  If the Jets win they’re in.  If the Bengals win AND the Patriots lose then the Bengals take the #3 seed in the AFC.  If the Jets lose then they could also contribute to the endless number of possibilities in the AFC playoff situation.

The Jets have Mark Sanchez and Rex Ryan.  The Bengals are fired up over Chris Henry’s death, they are coached by Marvin Lewis who said something to the effect of “Enjoy this win and clinching the AFC North, but get over it because now we have another championship on our minds…the AFC.”  Well, if that isn’t dogged determination I don’t know what is.  I think this might play right into my hands here.  The Bengals are going to play their game and to hell with the Jets.

The Jets will play it tight but I don’t think they can beat such an inspired team as the Bengals.  Have you seen the kind of player Chad Johnson has been since Chris Henry’s death.  He’s a man on a mission.  He’s making catches that we all knew he could make but I think he was just too lazy or ego-ridden to care before.  NOW he’s on top of it.  If this game comes down to the wire Chad Johnson will catch the game-winner…let it be written (oh, it just was)

CIN – 28   NYJ – 27

According to my picks I have the Steelers, Texans and Broncos in.  Now, we must apply tiebreakers:

In case you didn’t know them, when all three teams are in different divisions you check:

Head to Head:  The Steelers beat the Broncos in the Regular Season.  Neither one played Houston so there’s no head to head sweep.

The Broncos are 6-5 in conference so they’re in because the Texans and Steelers are both 5-6 in conference.

If you take the common game thread and flesh that one out the Steelers have a better record in common games and they would make the playoffs (a miracle if you asked me!)

That means the AFC (for me) is:


New England


San Diego




(I could be totally wrong, but we’ll see.)

As always…love me or hate me or by commenting right here on steroidslive.com

Tune in next time for a look at more college bowls and how the national championship chase should shake out.

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