Sudden end to season 'a hard pill to swallow'

Jan. 16, 2012

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The absence of sound dominated every corner of Lambeau Field after the Packers watched their season end in a 37-20 loss to the Giants in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

The Packers locker room resembled a tomb before the media began to ask its questions. For the first time since Oct. 17, 2010, fans spilled into the parking lot without cheers of “Go Pack Go” which normally turned into “Bears Still Suck.”

There was none of that Sunday. The jubilance replaced by silence.

“It’s embarrassing because the whole year we were fine,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. “Emptied the clip. We were on point.

“You look at the scoreboard and you’re like, is this really happening? Because expectations around here were so big and high. It’s just one of those looks like looking into headlights. Like what’s going on?”

Three hundred and forty-three days ago the Green Bay Packers reached the pinnacle of football. They were crowned Super Bowl champions on the turf of Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, amid a shower of confetti and admiration. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had finally stepped out the shadow of Brett Favre and was named Super Bowl MVP. Charles Woodson, owner of so many individual awards, now had the ultimate team title. The preferred phrase was: The Lombardi Trophy is coming home.

The franchise picked up right where it left off after the lockout ended. Thirteen consecutive victories. Records being shattered on a weekly basis. Rodgers making a run at his first regular-season MVP. The wonder if this team would join the 1972 Dolphins as the only team in league history to go undefeated throughout the regular and postseason. Dynasty stories were written.

“Just brings you back down to reality,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We’ve been on a streak of winning for so long, you never think about losing. Once you lose, it’s like, aww, that’s what this is? We’re not used to this.

“So, you’re just kind of lost. I’m kind of lost at this point because we’re not used to losing at this point. It’s a hard pill to swallow.”

The Packers entered the playoffs with a 15-1 record and a first-round bye. There was a confounding 19-14 loss in Kansas City in Week 15 that seemed more of an anomaly than anything else. The league’s highest scoring offense with the MVP caliber signal-caller could overcome anything.

But not everything.

The Giants came to Green Bay and smothered a Packers receiving corps that was supposed to be unstoppable.

The vaunted offense turned the ball over four times, including a fumble and interception by Rodgers. He had thrown just six interceptions in 16 games and hadn’t lost a fumble all season.

Those sure-handed receivers had six drops.

And that bend-but-don’t-break defense gave up 30-plus points for the fifth time this season and was gashed by Eli Manning for 330 passing yards and three touchdowns.

“Another slice of humble pie, I guess,” cornerback Jarrett Bush said. “Discouraged. Disappointed. Stunned. It didn’t seem the way I thought it was going to go.

“We made some mistakes that you can’t make. That you just can’t make in a game. You just can’t do it. You can’t do it on Madden and expect to come back. That’s a video game. This is reality.”

Safety Charlie Peprah added, “I don’t think anybody doubted for a second that we were going to (win) the game, even in the situation we were in.”

The scene that played out inside the Lambeau Field bowl during the waning moments said it all. Packers fans streamed towards the exits en masse and a significant contingent of Giants fans formed a blue mob behind the visitor’s bench. It was the same mass that Packers fans had formed on the road at seven stadiums this season alone.

Soon-to-be free agent quarterback Matt Flynn found guard Josh Sitton near the 35-yard line and gave him a hug. This was likely his last game wearing Green and Gold.

Thirteen-year veteran Donald Driver, who set the franchise record of playoff receptions at 49, sprinted off the field and was the first Packer up the tunnel. He did not stop to shake hands or say good-bye. He did not appear in the open part of the locker room after the media entered. His future in Green Bay is also in question.

There was a feeling of finality even if the team is loaded for the foreseeable future.

This was not how it was supposed to end.

The silence spoke volumes. and follow on Twitter @kareemcopeland

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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