The Green Bay Packers (15-2) picked an awful time to play their worst game of the 2011 season, and the New York Giants more than capitalized on it Sunday in knocking the defending champions out of the playoffs with a 37-20 win at Lambeau Field in the NFC Divisional Round.
Here are five observations from the game:
1. Capping a tough week
There was some this week, including Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who opined that the Packers could be more focused on Sunday in light of the terrible tragedy that struck that the Packers family early this week. But maybe those people underestimated how difficult the transition could be from a Friday funeral to a Sunday football game.
The Packers made their fair share of mental mistakes on the offensive side of the football—dropped passes, missed throws, back-breaking fumbles—that were very uncharacteristic of the Packers in 2011. Could that have partly been due to a week of grieving for the Philbin family and missing their offensive coordinator? Professional football players get paid a lot of money to separate the two, but these guys are human beings, not football robots.
2. Rusting the machine
Hindsight is 20/20, but you’d have to think Mike McCarthy will do some self-reflection on his decision to sit starters during the final week of the season. His team Sunday looked like one who hadn’t played a full game together in three weeks. The Packers offense, in particular, was never able to find the kind of rhythm that seemed so easy to achieve during the regular season.
Depending on who you ask, the Packers dropped five to eight passes on Sunday. Every single one of them was a momentum-killer. They also lost three fumbles—as many as they had all season—on their way to a season-high four turnovers. Finally, and maybe most importantly, the quarterback was far from his best on a night when the Packers needed him to be.
Would playing the starters in Week 17 have made a difference in any of those? Maybe, maybe not. But the Packers certainly looked like a rusty football team on Sunday. Execution all-around was in short supply.
3. More of the same
Packers fans wondered all season what would happen if the offense struggled and a hot quarterback was on the opposing sidelines. They got their first taste of that answer in Kansas City, and the Giants and Eli Manning showed Sunday that wasn’t an aberration. Manning threw for 274 first-half yards, including a 37-yard Hail Mary touchdown with no time left in the half, and finished with 330 yards and three scores.
The Packers’ defense did have a couple of positives—a second quarter interception by Morgan Burnett after pressure from Desmond Bishop, and no first downs allowed in the third quarter—but we mostly saw the same lacking defense on Sunday as the Packers showed all season. The pass rush was almost non-existant, receivers ran free in the secondary and the tackling was miserable. The Giants converted several third-and-longs where all three of those problems were visible. One turnover simply wasn’t enough to bailout that side of the ball Sunday.
Big changes should be coming to the Packers’ defense. I think defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be back, but the personnel has to be better. There’s no easy fix, either. I’ll have more on that in the coming days.
4. Lacking the big one
The Packers had the second-highest scoring offense in NFL history this season largely due to an abundance of big plays in the passing game. Even when the offense lacked rhythm for stretches, you could count on one or two big plays that would break open games. One of those plays never materialized Sunday, but you can’t say the Packers didn’t have their chances.
Rodgers kicked off the blown opportunities by missing a wide open Greg Jennings in the first quarter. Later on, Jennings had a catchable ball bounce off his hands after getting a step behind Antrell Rolle in the end zone. Rodgers also had the ball stripped from him while preparing to unleash a sure-touchdown to Jennings in the third. And finally, Jermichael Finley stutter-stepped his route on a third-and-5 play in the fourth and Rodgers led him too far. If any of those plays are made—and there isn’t one you wouldn’t expect the guilty parties to execute—it’s a whole different game.
5. Jumbled thoughts
This isn’t a singular observation, but more a mix of random thoughts. Try and stick with me here through them all: Questionable decision from McCarthy to call the onside kick in the first half. He’s pulled off that move in the past, but the timing of this choice didn’t add up. Can’t kill him though after praising his genius on the move so many times…Desmond Bishop and Donald Driver showed up. Brad Jones had a couple impact plays. But those three were in the minority Sunday….The Packers have a huge decision to make with Jermichael Finley. He’d be hard to let walk, but few players are as frustrating as the enigmatic tight end. I still bet on the franchise tag, but who knows…The Packers offensive line played better than anyone expected them to, especially with Chad Clifton and Marshall Newhouse shifted in and out at left tackle. Surprisingly enough, the Giants defense fared better when they brought extra pressure against Rodgers. He typically tore apart blitzing defenses in 2011…Without being a prisoner of the moment, I think you could call this the worst Packers playoff loss in franchise history. 15-1 regular season, MVP quarterback, second-highest scoring offense, and a one-and-done showing in the Divisional Round at home.
Finally, a HUGE thanks to all the readers and commenters during this season. You guys helped make my first full season helping to cover the greatest football team in the world a wonderful experience. I occupy a small part of the Packers blogosphere, but I hope you enjoyed the majority of what I wrote for you guys this season. Thanks again.——————
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2