Packer "nation" is mourning a playoff loss to the New York Giants that Packers players and their head coach struggled to comprehend and explain. Was it rust, Head Coach Mike McCarthy was asked following the Packers' 37-20 loss in a division-round playoff game at Lambeau Field on Sunday night?
"No excuses," McCarthy said. "We practiced well. I thought Wednesday's practice was as good a practice as we've had. There was nothing in preparation that led me to believe this would occur."
What occurred was an avalanche of fumbles and dropped passes that doomed the Packers' defense of their Super Bowl championship, before it really began. In a game in which the Packers never held the lead, a last-play-of-the-half, Hail-Mary pass from Giants quarterback Eli Manning to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was the one from which the Packers couldn't recover.
"The third quarter was a turning point. We had the ball the whole quarter and only had three points to show for it," McCarthy said.
Trailing 20-13 early in the fourth quarter, McCarthy put the game on the line on a fourth-and-five play at the Giants' 39-yard line. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked and the Giants marched 38 yards in 10 plays to take a two-score lead on Lawrence Tynes' 35-yard field goal.
"The fourth-down call; I don't have a problem with the call," said McCarthy, who was trying to give his team a spark against a Giants defense that was gaining in confidence as the game wore on.
Having moved the ball seemingly at will in a 38-35 win in New York on Dec. 4, the Packers offense struggled in this game. Rodgers threw for 264 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 78.5 passer rating that is, by far, his lowest rating of the season.
Winning the passer rating battle had become a telling stat for the Packers over the last two seasons. For only the second time since a game late in the 2009 season, Rodgers was outpointed by the opposing quarterback; Manning threw for 330 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 114.5 passer rating.
Rodgers, of course, was victimized by several dropped passes, but he was quick to point out a couple of off-target throws; he missed a wide-open Greg Jennings early in the game and a wide-open Jermichael Finley on the play immediately preceding the failed fourth-down conversion attempt.
"We all didn't play our best game. Personally, I didn't … I missed a couple of throws," Rodgers said.
The Giants, of course, are a red-hot team, just as they were in the 2007 season, when they roared out of the regular season to go on a playoff run that carried them to an NFC title-game win in Green Bay and to a Super Bowl victory over then-undefeated New England. The Giants and Patriots would meet again in this season's Super Bowl, should the Giants win in San Francisco and the Patriots defeat the Ravens in New England next weekend.
"We did not play well. I think that's stating the obvious," McCarthy said. "We did not do a very good job of covering the football."
The Giants scored 10 points off turnovers, but seven of those points were after the issue was decided. The Packers were winners on two challenges involving potential fumbles.
Nicks' Hail-Mary catch sent the Giants to the halftime locker room brimming with confidence. They appeared to be satisfied with running out the clock, but that changed when running back Ahmad Bradshaw broke loose on a 23-yard run that left the Giants in range of the end zone with six seconds left in the half.
"The defensive call was the right call. It's about making plays. That was a big play for the Giants. It was a big momentum play for them but we were not deflated," McCarthy said.
Rodgers was his usual, resourceful self, scrambling seven times for 66 yards, but the Giants' pass-rush started to get to him in the second half. It caused a fumble on a first-down play on the Packers' first drive of the second half, after the Packers had reached the Giants' 30-yard line. Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora knocked the ball out of Rodgers' right hand as Rodgers attempted to throw to Jennings.
"I had Greg probably for a touchdown and get the ball knocked out of my hand," Rodgers said.
"It doesn't feel good. It's not how I expected to feel standing here. It's a locker room that expected a lot more. In Green Bay, it's about winning championships. Just going to the playoffs is not enough," McCarthy said. "I have to look at myself and go back and figure out why I didn't have the team in that mode." Additional coverage - Packers vs. Giants