It was four years and many games ago, but Greg Jennings still remembers the first few moments afterward, sitting at his locker in full uniform, distraught over the knowledge that an opponent was celebrating an NFC Championship on the Packers’ home turf.
“You never forget,” Jennings said. “You move on, but you never really forget. Guys will definitely play with that in mind, the guys who experienced that.”
That 2007 NFC title game was the most recent of six Packers-Giants postseason meetings and the second won by New York, 23-20 in overtime. Sunday’s divisional-round matchup is playoff clash No. 7, but just the second since the Packers won the 1962 league crown.
How much the current Packers team will be motivated by the tremendous disappointment from four years ago is hard to say. Jennings made it clear it matters to him, taking to Twitter last weekend immediately after the Giants earned their trip to Lambeau Field and expressing his thoughts.
Other veteran players, like fellow receiver Donald Driver and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett, brushed off any attempts this week to get them to relive the minus-23 wind chills and the devastation of that loss.
“I don’t go backwards,” Driver said. “I don’t look at the past. The past is the past. They won that one.”
“It was cold,” Pickett said. “That’s my memory.”
It won’t be as cold this time around, but the forecast calls for a rather typical, if not mild, Wisconsin winter day. The temperature should be around 20 with winds less than 10 miles per hour.
With the Giants as much a cold-weather team as the Packers, the elements aren’t likely to be the story. That doesn’t discount the Packers’ home-field advantage, though, as Green Bay has won 13 straight and 19 of its last 20 games at Lambeau.
The Packers’ only home loss in that stretch came in Week 6 of last season, a 23-20 overtime defeat to Miami when the team was trying to adjust to the onslaught of injuries from the previous couple of weeks.
“This is what we play all season for, to get home-field advantage so we can have a home playoff game,” Pickett said.
The Packers also used their 15-1 regular-season record to earn a first-round bye, and Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s teams have an impressive track record coming back from any extra time off.
Following a regular-season or playoff bye week, McCarthy’s Packers are 6-1 over six seasons, the lone loss a 19-16 overtime decision at Tennessee in 2008. Throw in the three times in the last five seasons the Packers have taken a weekend off following a late-season Thursday game before playing the following Sunday, and the record with additional recovery time climbs to 9-1.
When asked for his secret in such situations, McCarthy was more matter-of-fact than philosophical.
“I think it’s the ability to get guys healthy, get guys fresh, re-check yourself and get back on course,” he said.
In that vein, the Packers enter the 2011 playoffs the healthiest they’ve been all season. Only one player on the 53-man roster, backup linebacker and special-teamer Robert Francois, is doubtful on the injury report. Even for the season opener four months ago, three players were ruled out due to injury.
Assuming Francois is one of the gameday inactives, the remaining six will be healthy players.
“It’s been unfortunately easy to pick 46 in the prior weeks because the injuries have answered those questions,” McCarthy said. “It’s definitely going to be tough. There’s going to be some tough decisions.”
The Packers hope their good health will make things tougher on the Giants than when the teams played a 38-35, last-second thriller back on Dec. 4 at MetLife Stadium.
Green Bay has a handful of front-line players back who either didn’t play or weren’t at full strength in that game – two offensive linemen (left tackle Chad Clifton, right guard Josh Sitton), one running back (James Starks) and two linebackers (inside starters A.J. Hawk and Desmond Bishop).
Meanwhile, the Giants are just as healthy as the Packers at this point and will benefit from the return of defensive end Osi Umenyiora to their deep and active front four, plus center David Baas and receiver Mario Manningham are back. All of those veterans missed the first meeting as well.
The Packers have fielded questions all week as to whether or not they’ll be rusty, having not played in two weeks. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, cornerback Charles Woodson and linebacker Clay Matthews, who all sat out the regular-season finale, haven’t played in three. Jennings, due to injury, hasn’t played in five.
No worries, say the players. This is what they’ve been waiting for.
“We’re just eager to play,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “It’s the playoffs. This is what you want to play in. Obviously we experienced it last year and made that run, and we want to get that feeling back. That’s the ultimate goal and it will start Sunday.”
For more Packers-Giants stories from the past week, click here.