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Mike Vandermause column: Packers put '08 playoff loss to Giants out of their minds

Jan. 14, 2012
 
Green Bay Packers Donald Driver tackles New York Giants Corey Webster after Webster intercepted a pass during overtime of the NFC championship game on Jan. 20, 2008, in Green Bay.
Green Bay Packers Donald Driver tackles New York Giants Corey Webster after Webster intercepted a pass during overtime of the NFC championship game on Jan. 20, 2008, in Green Bay. / File/Gannett Wisconsin Media

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Can you blame the Green Bay Packers for wanting to forget about their last playoff game at Lambeau Field?

It occurred four years ago this week and ended with a bitterly disappointing and shocking overtime loss to the New York Giants in the NFC championship game.

The Giants return to Lambeau Field Sunday for another postseason clash, this time in an NFC divisional game, and have stirred up some bad memories for the Packers.

The Giants are a decided underdog once again, but a late-season surge has bolstered them with confidence and momentum. Coach Tom Coughlin and quarterback Eli Manning return, and the Giants still boast a dangerous defensive line that threatens to make life miserable for the Packers’ offense as it did in January 2008.

But the 16 players still on the Packers’ roster from four years ago, including eight starters, say the similarities between the two matchups are meaningless.

“That game doesn’t matter,” said Ryan Pickett, who is the Packers’ lone defensive lineman remaining from 2008. “We’re a whole different team. Honestly, we didn’t even watch film (of that game). Coach didn’t even talk about any of this. (It) has not even been mentioned.”

As far as the Packers are concerned, that miserable day four years ago has been stored in the vault.

“I don’t even want to talk about that game, it was so long ago,” said running back Ryan Grant, who joins tackle Chad Clifton, center Scott Wells and receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver as returning offensive starters from that game.

On defense, only Pickett, linebacker A.J. Hawk and cornerback Charles Woodson started four years ago.

“This is a different team,” Wells said. “They’re a different team.”

The Giants proved four years ago the Packers weren’t invincible, even at Lambeau Field in January, and even as a heavy favorite. Maybe that’s why the Giants were brimming with confidence this week, with defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul guaranteeing a victory.

But there’s a significant factor the Giants must account for this time around, and Pickett spelled it out succinctly.

“I think our team is better now than we were in ’07, most definitely,” he said.

The Packers’ 15-1 record bears that out.

Coming off a Super Bowl championship last February, the Packers are more seasoned and supremely confident. That wasn’t necessarily the case in 2008, when the Packers, despite their 13-3 record, were relatively young and inexperienced and still learning how to handle success.

Pickett acknowledges that regular-season records don’t matter in the playoffs, but he quickly adds: “We’re 15-1 for a reason.”

He could have added that the Giants finished 9-7 for a reason. They got swept by the lowly Washington Redskins (5-11), including a 23-10 drubbing at home on Dec. 18 when they were fighting for their playoff lives. They beat just one team during the regular season that finished with a winning record.

Much has been made of the Giants winning four of their last five games, but do victories over free-falling teams like the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets mean that much?

Sure, the Giants are capable of abruptly ending the Packers’ season again, but they will need more than good vibes and warm memories from a playoff victory four years ago.

Since then the Packers have undergone a significant upgrade at quarterback, the most important and influential position on their team. For as well as Brett Favre played during the 2007 season, he couldn’t hold a candle to Aaron Rodgers’ performance in 2011.

Favre compiled a respectable 95.7 passer rating and had 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions four years ago, while Rodgers set an NFL record with a 122.4 rating that included 45 touchdown passes and six interceptions this season. The Giants can’t expect to rely on a gift interception like they did four years ago, when Favre lobbed a terrible pass that was picked off by Corey Webster in overtime and led to New York’s game-winning field goal.

The Giants, who rank No. 27 in yards allowed this season, also can’t expect the Packers’ offense to sputter, as it did in that 2008 game with just 264 total yards. The Packers averaged an NFL-high 35 points this season, compared to 27.2 four years ago.

The Giants can’t even expect to exploit the Packers’ much-maligned defense. Although the Packers have allowed more yards than any team in the NFL this season, they rank No. 1 in interceptions, No. 2 in turnover differential and No. 9 in defensive passer rating.

There’s a reason the Packers are heavy favorites on Sunday. But unlike four years ago, they are more capable of living up to those expectations. If the Packers play at or near their best, the Giants will be hard-pressed to keep it close, and that NFC title game in 2008 will become an even more distant memory.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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