Here is the scenario: the Packers were big favorites going into the playoffs. They were the top seed in the NFC Division. They had lost only one game all season. They were the defending Super Bowl champions and they were playing at Lambeau Field, their home field. Everything was looking good for them. Unfortunately, the game did not turn out as expected.
An ESPN blog by Kevin Seifert tells the story:
But here, as they say, is the stone-cold truth: One of the most explosive and efficient offenses in NFL history -- the one that almost single-handedly was responsible for a 15-1 regular-season record -- stumbled at the starting line and never regained its footing. Credit goes to the Giants' defense for scheming to take away the deep pass, but independent of that, I think we can agree it's been a while since we've seen the Packers' offense play so poorly. ESPN Stats & Information had it with six drops, tied for the most by any NFL team in a game this season. The Packers committed a season-high four turnovers, including a fumble by Rodgers as he was trying to hit a wide-open Jennings in the third quarter. They had only two plays go for more than 20 yards, a 29-yard run by running back James Starks and a 21-yard pass to receiver Randall Cobb once the game was out of hand.
"This year," receiver Jordy Nelson said, "we've made the easy plays into big plays. And we didn't make the easy plays today. That's what hurts you. Every once in a while, you'll get a big shot, but if you can't make the easy plays, you aren't going to make any plays."
I couldn't have put it better if I tried. Why that happened, however, will be a mental mystery that will haunt the Packers all offseason.
Let's decipher that mental mystery right now.
Actually, it is not a mental mystery as much as it is a collective neurophysiological breakdown. In order to produce motion in the body, any motion, whether it is swinging a golf club or throwing a football, the signal about the motion has to go directly to the motor system and not be intercepted by the pre-frontal cortex. This ability of signals to go directly to the motor system has a crucial component attached to it. That component is the element of time.
The experience of time controls the muscles. When time is experienced normally, just like how you are experiencing time now as you are reading this article, then any signal you generate about motion will not be intercepted by the pre-frontal cortex and go directly to the motor system. But as soon as you start to over-anticipate an action that has not yet occurred, the pre-frontal cortex will intercept that signal and that is when motion starts to break down.
This is exactly what collectively happened to the Packers.
They were the favorite team. They were playing on their home course. They were the defending Super Bowl champions. They did not want to disappoint their fans, themselves or the millions watching on TV. All of this combined into one devastating experience—for the whole game, they were over-anticipating the outcome of the game. This over-anticipation (six dropped passes!), caused their bodies to freeze and not to be liquid enough to make last-minute adjustments, a crucial prerequisite for success in every sport. Collectively they were living in the future, expecting a certain outcome, and thus, systematically setting up the neurophysiological conditions that prevented their desired results.
The same is true in any sport. If you are over-anticipating an action that has not yet occurred, you will be doing what the Packers did. This is not sports psychology, but a deeper understanding of how the mind affects the body. If at any point during a motion, this over-anticipation creeps in, you will proportionally decrease your chances of executing. That is one of the reasons why many athletes excel in practice and sometimes fail to have that consistency at game time. Over-anticipation of the any motion prevents the body from having the freedom it needs to get the job done.
These dynamics are seen in every sport, especially in playoff situations. The player or team that does not over-anticipate actions is usually the one that comes out on top.