As NFL fans, we should know by now to expect the unexpected. But it’s still a surprise when the team with the best record in the league led by the likely MVP loses its first playoff game.
There were warning signs for this 15-1 Packers squad, especially late in the year. But what happened Sunday?
This was an epidemic for the Packers defense, especially late in the year. Safety Charlie Peprah’s inability to wrap up led to the 66-yard score by Hakeem Nicks. Green Bay’s failure to bring down Ahmad Bradshaw on the second to last play of the first half cost the Packers seven points.
The Giants were trying to go into halftime, and the Packers essentially didn’t let them by failing to tackle Bradshaw. The next play, Nicks’ Hail Mary catch put the Packers in a big halftime hole. Speaking of which ...
The Packers didn’t have enough depth in the secondary all year. The Packers defense gave up 400 yards in seven of their last eight games. That only works if the offense is playing at a high level and you win the turnover battle. Even Tramon Williams and Charles Woodson were beat too often. Eli Manning averaged 10 yards-per-attempt on the game. Aaron Rodgers averaged 5.7. Manning found more receivers open under duress than Rodgers.
FOX’s broadcast counted eight drops by the Packers. ESPN counted six, the highest for a team all year. The Packers had a lot of self-inflicted wounds Sunday. John Kuhn lost a fumble. Ryan Grant lost a fumble. Whether it was the layoff or not, the Packers looked like a rusty team.
The Packers had their chances for big plays and couldn’t hit them. Rodgers missed Greg Jennings wide open for a potential touchdown in the first quarter. When the Packers looked ready to uncork a long score in the third quarter, protection failed and Osi Umenyiora got a strip sack.
With the Packers down only seven early in the fourth quarter, Rodgers missed a wide open Jermichael Finley in Giants territory. The drive ended one play later.
This loss doesn’t fall on Rodgers, but those were plays he made during the season. He has been sharper.
The wrong matchup
The first Giants-Packers game didn’t look like a mismatch. It looked like two evenly matched teams going at it. On that day, Rodgers was simply the best player on the field. Clay Matthews and Jordy Nelson may have been the next best, but top-to-bottom it was a very evenly played game.
The Packers’ stars didn’t step up in the big moments Sunday. The Giants’ stars did. It’s hard to argue with Aaron Rodgers: There the Giants were simply the better team.
The Packers know this is how the NFL goes. The team that sneaks into the playoffs is often better than the one that looked like the favorite all year.