I can think of two excuses and/or arguments for why the Packers have become the first team to ever win at least 15 regular-season games and fall short of the conference championship round.
1. They ran into a red-hot Giants team that presented a tough matchup at the wrong time.
2. They lost all of their momentum by going three weeks without having to play a game that mattered.
Neither properly explain what the hell just happened.
We’re not surprised that the Giants beat the Packers, although I’ll admit to being quite shocked at the 17-point final margin.
What’s really amazing, though, is that it should have been even larger than that.
Against a New York team that was on point, the Packers played their worst game of the year at Lambeau Field Sunday. What I can’t believe is that they seemed to have luck on their side.
For example, Green Bay came out on the right side of at least three controversial calls, all of which were disputed by former officiating czar Mike Pereira on Twitter. It looked as though Greg Jennings fumbled on Green Bay’s only touchdown drive of the first half, but referee Bill Leavy inexplicably did not overturn a bad call. The Packers also got away with a pair of roughing-the-passer penalties, while the Giants were called for a phantom roughing call on Green Bay’s only other touchdown drive. Without those calls, the Packers might not have reached the double-digit plateau on offense.
They also didn’t have to pay for their failed attempt to shock the Giants with an onside kick in the first half, thanks to a blocked field goal from Brad Jones. Oh, and the Giants got a horrible spot on what appeared to be a big third-down conversion in the third quarter.
But the Packers still couldn’t compete with the Giants. Three fumbles, one interception. Four turnovers for the first time since October of 2010. And according to Fox, they had a ridiculous eight dropped passes. Eight. Aaron Rodgers didn’t look like an MVP passer, but he saved the team with his legs by running for five first downs (four on third down).
As was expected, the Giants were more balanced (Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs put the game away). Their pass rush got to Rodgers, sacking him four times, while the Packers got next to no pressure in the first half and recorded only one sack for the game. Eli Manning was once again superb on third downs; Rodgers, with his arm at least, was pedestrian in such situations.
I find it hard to believe that a lack of recent action caused the Packers to deliver such a flat effort. The other three teams coming off of byes won this weekend, and Green Bay had benefited from the bye week with Greg Jennings, James Starks and Chad Clifton returning to health.
Did the Packers run into the wrong team at the wrong time? Maybe, but they would have lost to the 49ers or Saints tonight, too. Rodgers was badly outplayed by Manning. The Green Bay secondary sucked again. The receivers dropped a slew of passes. Mike McCarthy was outcoached by Tom Coughlin. New York’s defense made plays; Green Bay’s did not.
This is a Green Bay team that was unstoppable in September and October and just really good in November and December. It’s just too hard to dominate this league for more than a calendar year. That’s why only one team has repeated as champion this century, and only eight have done so since they played the first Super Bowl in 1967.
It’s already someone else’s turn.