EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Truth be known, it wasn't that big. That's not something a coach is going to tell his team, but the fact of the matter is the Packers' 38-10 loss to the Giants on Sunday night, a loss that hurts because of the pride it dented, will likely have cost the Packers' nothing, as long as they win in Chicago and finish no worse than tied with the Bears at season's end.
"It's one game. We have five games left, four against division opponents. Everything is right in front of us. Win the division. That's our goal, to win the division," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
He gets it. It's about tiebreakers. He understands that last night's loss will not have damaged the Packers' pursuit of the NFC North title, as long as they start winning again.
Should they do that, and win in Chicago, the Packers will own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Win or lose last night, the Packers likely would need to win in Chicago to win the division title.
So that part is still OK. What's not OK is the Packers' failure to protect their quarterback. With last night's five sacks, Rodgers has been bagged a startling 37 times. That has to change for the Packers to have any hope of taking this season to the championship level.
"A couple of days and I'll be OK," Rodgers said when his postgame press conference began with a question about his health following a night of being chased by the Giants' front four. The crazy part is that Jason Pierre-Paul, the most feared of those rushers, is the one guy that didn't get a sack; he didn't even get a hurry. Pierre-Paul went sackless because his teammates beat him in their race to Rodgers.
"They did a lot of things everybody else has been doing against us, two high," Rodgers said, referring to two safeties in the deep middle of the field. "We didn't execute very well."
The Giants are able to do one thing very few teams in the league are able to do: Get pressure with four, which allows them to cover with seven. It's a leaguewide belief the intent to rush the passer doesn't even begin until a fifth rusher is included in the scheme.
Truth be known, the Giants are built to beat the Packers, which is to say the Giants are built for the modern game. They're built to beat a team that lives and dies with the pass.
"You have to run the ball effectively, throw at a high percentage," Rodgers said of the ingredients for combating the Giants' pass rush.
The Packers weren't able to do enough of either. Should the Packers and Giants make it into the postseason, it would be favorable to avoid the Giants for as long as possible. Hey, it's a game of matchups.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy was in no mood to find anything positive in his team's play. The coach was an exercise in tough love in his postgame press conference, and that might turn out to be the one great positive from a game that, to a man, embarrassed a proud football team.
The Packers got whipped; there's no denying it. The tape of this one will demand that they become a more physical team, because that's where the Packers fell short of the Giants, and this is a good time of the season to recommit to the physical element of the game because you will not beat teams such as the Bears and 49ers without playing a physical brand of football.
"I thought they were a step ahead of us and a step faster. I thought they were more physical than us," McCarthy said of what he told his team. "We have too many good people, too many talented people in our locker room to perform like that. I did a poor job tonight."
The Vikings will likely see a different team this Sunday than the one they'll see on tape this week. The Vikings will likely see a more physical team. Will they see a team that protects its quarterback better than it did against the Giants?
That's a question the Packers must answer in the affirmative, because a team built to throw the ball must, first and foremost, protect the man who throws that ball. Jared Allen is coming to town, followed by the Lions, possessors of a front four to rival the Giants'.
Any hope of becoming a hot team late in the season begins with protecting Rodgers.
"Teams are going to play us like this. We're going to have to execute," Rodgers said. "I've never been on this side of this kind of loss before. Hopefully, we'll remember this feeling and not have this embarrassment happen again."
If this loss has that effect on the Packers, it will have been a big game. Additional coverage - Nov. 25