The signature play that will be most remembered from the Packers’ divisional playoff loss was the Giants’ Hail-Mary touchdown on the final snap of the first half, but the Packers insisted afterward it didn’t define the defeat.
There were plenty of other blunders and sloppiness to do that.
On offense, a handful of dropped passes, a couple of key missed throws and three lost fumbles told the tale. On defense there were missed tackles, a lack of pressure, receivers running free and, oh, yeah, that Hail Mary.
If there’s a prescription for how to lose, not just in the playoffs but anytime, the Packers wrote it in a season-ending 37-20 decision on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“You can’t shoot yourself in the foot,” safety Charlie Peprah said. “You can’t miss tackles, you can’t allow them to score before the half like that, can’t turn the ball over, can’t drop coverages like that and expect to win in the playoffs.”
For all that had gone wrong in the first half – a list that included quarterback Aaron Rodgers failing to connect with a wide-open Greg Jennings for what should have been a touchdown, Peprah’s missed tackle on Hakeem Nicks’ 66-yard TD and a John Kuhn fumble that led to a Giants field goal – the Packers still had a chance to get to halftime only down three points.
But with 15 seconds left and the Giants 60 yards from the end zone, running back Ahmad Bradshaw broke off a 23-yard run and got out of bounds, setting up quarterback Eli Manning for a heave to the end zone on the final play.
The Packers had four defenders in the end zone, but Nicks leaped between cornerback Charles Woodson and Peprah and came down with the 37-yard score, making it 20-10 at intermission.
“That’s just a play that shouldn’t happen,” Woodson said. “We shouldn’t as a defense allow a play like that to happen. That was definitely momentum for them.”
Still, the game was far from over. Head Coach Mike McCarthy denied his team was “deflated” after that and that the players had every confidence they could bounce back.
“Obviously, you don’t like to give up that right before halftime, but we felt going in at the rate we can score on offense the game wasn’t really that far away from us,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said.
Only the miscues continued, particularly on offense. Rodgers lost the ball on a strip-sack with the Packers on the edge of field-goal range to start the second half, and a third lost fumble occurred midway through the fourth quarter. With the Packers down 23-13, running back Ryan Grant had the ball punched out of his arm by Giants safety Kenny Phillips after a pass reception, and linebacker Chase Blackburn returned it 40 yards to the Green Bay 4.
The ensuing touchdown effectively ended the game, and a New York interception after the two-minute warning upped the turnover total to four – from a team that had turned the ball over only 14 times in 16 regular-season games.
“Extremely surprising, especially the amount of them,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “There’s not much you can say about it. It happened, we don’t want it to happen, it normally doesn’t happen to us. We probably had half as many turnovers in this game as we had all season. It’s not us. It’s not Packer football.”
Perhaps the most glaring sign of how out of sync the Packers were on offense came early in the fourth quarter. Trailing only 20-13, the Packers drove to the New York 39 and had a crucial third-and-5.
Tight end Jermichael Finley was wide open on a slant route, but Rodgers’ bullet pass was too far inside and just out of Finley’s reach as he dove for it. Rodgers was then sacked on fourth down and the Packers never got the ball back within one score again.
Finley was asked if he had stopped his route at all, causing the off-target throw, but he said he kept running through the ball.
“I put one hand out and still tried to get it, but I have to catch the ball,” he said. “It was one of those plays I couldn’t make.
“There was too much on it, and it was out there a little. It was just one of those things.”
Those things didn’t bother the Giants, who converted three more third downs in the fourth quarter as the Packers defense, which forced two punts in the third quarter, couldn’t keep it up.
“Today showed a lot of what we were during the regular season,” Woodson said. “A lot of big plays, a lot of missed tackles and missed assignments and those sort of things. Today it really bit us.
“For us not to have our best day today, it’s hard for everybody.”
Especially when a 15-1 regular season and a top playoff seed go for naught, just like that.
“It’s about winning championships around here, and we didn’t get it done,” Finley said. “Fifteen-and-two looks good, but it doesn’t look good right now.” Additional coverage - Packers vs. Giants