It was never supposed to end like this for the 2011 Green Bay Packers.
No, Sunday’s 37-20 result wasn’t supposed to happen after the greatest regular season performance in franchise history, a 15-1 mark that can now only be topped with 16-game perfection.
It couldn’t have happened after seeing the Packers come out on the victorious side of 21 of 22 games, including a franchise record 19 in a row, that ensured they’d be hosting their first postseason game since 2007.
There was no chance it could end after watching the offense score 560 points, which was good for five touchdowns a game and finished as the second-highest single season scoring unit in NFL history.
And it was never an option after witnessing their 28-year-old quarterback, fresh off a Super Bowl MVP and perfectly positioned in the prime of his career, throw 45 touchdowns and set a new NFL record for passer rating in just 15 games.
All the stars seemed aligned for the Packers to win their second straight Super Bowl, the one definitive sign that this team would forever be remembered in the annals of NFL history and that the dynasty of 2010’s was taking shape right before our eyes.
But by the time Lambeau Field’s scoreboard hit quadruple zeros—00:00—the New York Giants, a team that snuck into the playoffs with just nine wins and had previously fallen to the Packers’ sword earlier in the season at home, confidently walked into the game’s most historic stadium and laid a Big Apple-sized beat down on just the sixth team in NFL history to finish the regular season with 15 or more wins.
There was nothing fluky about this win for the Giants, either.
The Packers scored 20 points, 15 below their season average, and you could make a convincing argument that two of those touchdown drives were allowed to continue because the eyes of Bill Leavy were seeing the game in some kind of other dimension that wasn’t readily apparent to 99 percent of other fans watching at home.
The Giants, on the other hand, needed no officiating help to run their total up to 37 points. They ran, they passed, they threw up prayers, and—save a two-series stretch in the third quarter—essentially did anything they damn well pleased against a Packers defense that allowed more passing yards this season than any other team in NFL history and couldn’t pressure an easily-rattled quarterback who made his night’s one mistake on arguably the Packers’ one successful blitz attempt.
The home team’s biggest offensive stars—or the same players that ran a Mike McCarthy machine this season that could break the back of any defense in a single playcall—faded into the Green Bay night.
A quarterback that missed maybe one hand’s full of throws during the regular season couldn’t connect on two or three completions that he would have made in a medically-induced coma anytime but Sunday night.
A pair of runners that have lost less fumbles during their NFL careers than I’ve had Mountain Dews in the last hour put the ball on the ground twice, each of which eventually resulted in points for the Giants.
A tight end that has as much untapped talent at the position as anyone who has ever played the game not only dropped passes, but also stutter-stepped routes and generally failed to take advantage of the Giants’ biggest weakness in their defensive 11.
An elite receiver—by any definition of the word—saw what could have been a game-changing touchdown in the corner of the end zone clank loudly off his hands and fall harmlessly to the Lambeau turf, a missed opportunity on third down that forced his team to line up for a field goal try instead of an extra point attempt.
And a receiver that many have started to call “White Lightning” was more “Casper the Ghost” on this night despite showing on so many occasions over the past 20 games that he was capable of stepping up for his team when other chips were down.
A soon-to-be 37-year-old receiver, that’s now talking about leaving the only franchise he’s ever known, was the only skill player from the Green Bay sidelines that really showed up.
The offensive no-shows had plenty of company from their defensive counterparts.
Those stars, which just a year ago shone brightly for this franchise, had begun their fade long before Sunday night. In all honesty, you would have needed the Hubble Telescope to find any remnants of those stars after the Giants came through Lambeau.
The veteran cornerback, who a year ago was the emotional centerpiece to a Super Bowl run, missed three tackles and couldn’t have been less a factor had he mistakenly showed up in MetLife Stadium Sunday rather than Lambeau.
Another cornerback, who deservedly was paid a handsome amount by the Packers this offseason after a couple of story book seasons that saw his name being mentioned with the game’s elite, completed his regression-steady year with another terrible showing against a top receiver.
The defensive line, which lost its best player last offseason and was then centered around a young mammoth, was more dance than performance both on Sunday and the majority of this season.
The backup safety, who decided that attempting to deck a 215-pound receiver instead of using his two arms like 100 percent of professional football players are taught ultimately wasn’t going to give up the long touchdown that his coaches had been preaching against allowing for two weeks.
Finally, a complete, and quite frankly unforgivable, lack of effort from several members of the Packers secondary allowed a Hail Mary completion in the end zone that even Bret Bielema’s yet to be conceived son knew was coming.
So, by Sunday’s end, the 2011 Green Bay Packers became—for so many reasons listed above—exactly what Ron Wolf proclaimed of his 1997 Packers: Just a “fart in the wind.”
Yes, the Packers have plenty of bright seasons ahead of them still. But the stink of the Packers’ performance against the Giants in the NFC Divisional Round will and should permeate into the offseason. It won’t and shouldn’t mean drastic changes, but Sunday’s performance will serve as a proverbial slap to the face of what seemingly was an unshakable giant.
The Packers were unfocused, undetermined and, maybe most importantly, lacking the hunger that every Divisional Round winner—much less Super Bowl winner—needs on every single play. The Giants had those things, and that helped them close the curtains on the worst ever loss in Packers’ postseason history.
This was a team that went 15-1 but rarely made it easy, and in the end, an opponent made it look quite easy in making the ’11 Packers the game’s worst ever 15-1 football team.
And with that, I need not speak another word about the performance I watched Sunday afternoon.——————
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