One of my favorite sayings is, 'if I only knew then what I know now' because it resonates with truth.
If I could talk to any NFL player who is on a losing team like Arizona, Kansas City, Jacksonville or Cleveland, now is not the time to slow down; now is the time to pick it up. Football is a tough game and it is at its toughest when you have nothing to play for. And by nothing to play for, I mean playoffs, not a paycheck.
Do players play for paychecks? Of course, we all do. But playing for paychecks and playing for playoffs are two different mindsets, especially in this day and age of seeing Wild Card teams get into the playoffs, play four road games and win it all.
When you play for a paycheck, you play for you. It is your paycheck and you're not going to divide it up with teammates once you get it because it is yours. But when you play for the playoffs, it is about everyone and different in approach and perception.
On Monday night, the Carolina Panthers beat the Philadelphia Eagles, 30-22 and it was a good game. There were lots of lead changes and the winner wasn't decided until late in the fourth quarter. The players were playing hard, even though both teams are now 3-8 and will end the season out of the playoffs.
I am convinced that more than skill or anything visually spectacular, sports fans, in general, enjoy and respect effort; players that are ready to go, play as hard as they can and whatever happens, happens. To a degree, I think it is why the Olympics are so popular and relate to so many because people are aware of the dedication and effort it takes to get there and, through that awareness, respect and admiration are pretty much automatic. The same effort given in a single life-determining moment should always be there, no matter if you are the Falcons and Texans at 10-1 or you are the Kansas City Chiefs at 1-10.
It is true to say that players are always being evaluated, whether winning or losing, as job security and fear are tremendous motivators but as a player, it should come naturally to be at your best all the time. Often people enjoy seeing the top teams playing. If Houston was playing Atlanta this week, it would garner the majority of attention but watching two teams on Monday night that have had tough and disappointing years was fun. The Panthers-Eagles game was a good one.
This week, a lot of attention will be given to Pittsburgh at Baltimore or Washington at the Giants but if my TV had an off-day and all I could tune into was Jacksonville at Buffalo or Cleveland at Oakland, I'd be happy. I would want to have scoring updates and highlights over and over again. Cleveland and Oakland would interest me to see how those two teams are progressing and regressing and to see who is a paycheck player and who is a football player filled with pride.
If you find a lot of players with the latter quality in abundance, within a short period of time, you become the 'game to see' and not just a game to play; it all depends on how you look at it. Whether you're winning or losing, you play to win as a team and on a personal level. That is what being a pro is all about.