by Troy Sparks
Green Bay – There was no playoff magic for the Green Bay Packers this year. They had home field throughout the playoffs and their second straight trip to the Super Bowl on the line, and they lost it in their first postseason game after a week off. Everything that they earned and played for during the regular season went down the drain in their NFC Divisional game at home, Jan. 15, with a 37-20 loss to the New York Giants.
In last year’s run to the Super Bowl that the Packers won, they played with a sense of urgency with fill-ins for key injured players who were out for the season. Those key players were healthy this year.
What would have been the best remedy for the 72, 080 fans who braved the cold elements? A Green Bay win and a date with San Francisco for the NFC Championship at Lambeau Field would have been nice.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for the green and gold, even though they were 8-point favorites against the visiting Giants. Whoever bet on the Packers lost some money. It seemed that the Packers had a flashback to their last playoff game at home against the same New York team that stole the trip to the Super Bowl in 2008. This game was about who wanted it the most.
It was obvious from the beginning who wanted to win the second round game. The Packers won the coin toss but gave the ball to the Giants to start the game. New York couldn’t run the ball effectively, so they went to the air. Quarterback Eli Manning threw the ball down the field for some big gains against the Green Bay secondary. They got as far as the Packers 13 before settling for a 31-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes for a 3-0 New York lead. He was the same guy who made the game-winning kick in overtime for a 23-20 victory here four years ago.
No sweat for the Packers, right? They came right back and got a 47-yarder from Mason Crosby to tie the game at 3-3 in the first quarter. New York got a touchdown late in the first quarter and Green Bay scored early in the second quarter as the game was tied at 10-10.
Green Bay got a lucky break on their first TD drive. Receiver Greg Jennings, according to TV replays, appeared to have the ball stripped after catching it before he hit the ground. New York coach Tom Coughlin threw out the red challenge flag. The Giants lost the challenge, costing them a second timeout. Manning already used a time out three plays into the game because it was too noisy in the stadium and it threw off his concentration.
In a New York minute, the Packers lost momentum when fullback John Kuhn, who caught the first TD pass, fumbled on a short run. The Giants recovered the ball and got a field goal to lead 13-10. Manning threw a Hail Mary pass in the end zone with no time remaining to Hakeem Nicks, who came down with the ball. There were no Green Bay defenders in front of Nicks to at least knock it down. It was New York leading Green Bay, 20-10, at the half.
“The defensive call was the right call,” Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy said. “The alignment showed you what was getting ready to occur from what they attempted. It’s about making plays. It’s about big play opportunities in big games. That was a big play obviously for the Giants. It was a 10-point game at halftime and we had the ball (to start the second half).”
Added quarterback Aaron Rodgers: “Going in at half 13-10, getting the ball (in the second half), (it’s) a little different feeling going in down 20-10. It’s one of those crazy, fluky plays. It gave them a lot of momentum and made it a two-score game, which is big going into halftime on the road. So it was disappointing.”
Rodgers was sacked in the third quarter and fumbled the ball at the Packers 37. No harm though because the Giants didn’t capitalize on the turnover. However, the Pack was in striking distance with a made field goal to cut the New York lead to 20-13.
In the fourth quarter, things got ugly for Green Bay. After New York made a field goal to push the lead to 10 at 23-13, running back Ryan Grant fumbled on a reception on Green Bay’s next possession. The Giants put a dagger in the Packers’ Super Bowl hopes with two more TDs. The Giants led, 37-20, late in the game, and it didn’t look pretty for the Pack.
When it is all said and done, the film in this game will show that dropped passes, giving up big plays downfield and fumbles ended the season for Green Bay, who finished at 15-2. Bring Grant back? No way. What about the next contract tight end Jermichael Finley is seeking? Forget about it. Green Bay doesn’t need him because he dropped a couple of catchable balls. It’s back to the drawing board for the Packers.
“It was disappointing,” Rodgers said. “We play to win championships. You win a championship and you kind of climb the top of the mountain and then you forget kind of how bad this feeling is. This team, this organization, this fan base expect championships. We had a championship-caliber regular season and didn’t play well today.”
That Lambeau mystique is gone. No visiting team fears losing in the Frozen Tundra now. The Pack is 2-4 in their last six home playoff games with the last two defeats here to the Giants. The Green Bay organization must do some soul-searching to get back on track next season. There will be new coaches and players arriving and old coaches and players departing.
It was good to see offensive coordinator Joe Philbin back with the team. Philbin lost his son, Michael, to a drowning accident when he fell in the river while visiting friends in Oshkosh. The team was prepared to go on without him in case he needed more time to be with his family during the grieving process. It is not clear if Philbin will stay in Green Bay or move on.