New York Giants cornerback Derrick Martin (22) talks with Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, right, before an NFL divisional playoff football game at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. Martin is a former Packers player. The body of Philbin's 21-year-old son Michael was recovered from the Fox River in Oshkosh on Monday. A preliminary autopsy found that he drowned. Mike Roemer/AP
The day after he buried his 21-year-old son, Michael, Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin stood in front of the Packers’ players and told them how much he wanted to be a part of Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game against the New York Giants.
On Saturday morning, Philbin went into the offensive, defensive and special teams meetings and spoke to each group.
“It took a lot of courage for him to come in and do that,” Packers right guard Josh Sitton said. “We definitely appreciated that, and we were definitely thankful that he came in and did that.”
By game day, Philbin was back in his usual perch in the press box on the headset with coach Mike McCarthy. Before kickoff, Philbin roamed the field and received greetings and condolences from everyone from game officials to members of the Giants.
“It was great that Joe was back at work, I think that’s stating the obvious,” McCarthy said. “Joe called me (Saturday) morning and wanted to know if we’d have an opportunity to sit down and talk about him coming back to work. It was something he had discussed with his family. His family wanted him to be a part of the game. We talked about it (Saturday). He had a chance to talk to the team before we broke meetings. Then we visited (Saturday) night, and I just said, ‘Hey, why don’t you sleep on it and let’s make sure you’re ready to come back’ because I didn’t want him to feel he had to come back.
“We had prepared to go into the game without Joe. We had our staff responsibilities already moved around. If anybody knows Joe, as a lot of you do, he was here all day (Saturday) and again this morning just to make sure he was ready to go. I think we got together about 8:30 or 9 o’clock, and he said he wanted to do it, so we went right back to status quo. Really, from a communication network standpoint, I thought it was just like a normal game. It was great to have him back.”
The second-oldest of Philbin’s six children, Michael, drowned in the Fox River in Oshkosh. His body was recovered on Monday. Visitation was held Thursday, and the funeral was Friday. Earlier in the week, McCarthy said he wasn’t sure when Philbin would return to the team.
“It meant a lot,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “He spoke to us Saturday morning at his usual time. Everybody was surprised to see him in there. Tough for him and his family this week, obviously, and tough for the guys, too. Thursday was at the wake and Friday the funeral, as were a lot of us supporting Joe because we care about him; we love him. I think deep down a lot of us wanted to kind of get this one for him and give some happiness to him and his family during a tough week. It didn’t happen.”
Rodgers, Finley can't connect
One of several big plays in the Packers’ loss to the Giants on Sunday was a misfire from Rodgers to tight end Jermichael Finley on a third-and-5 play early in the fourth quarter with the Packers trailing 20-13.
Finley ran a slant route and Rodgers fired a hard pass that forced Finley to make a diving attempt at the catch. He got a hand on the throw but couldn’t snag the ball, and on fourth down Giants linebacker Michael Boley sacked Rodgers. The Giants then ran five minutes off the clock and kicked a 35-yard field goal that gave them a 23-13 lead with 7:48 to play.
After the incompletion, Rodgers reacted as if he were upset at Finley, perhaps for slowing down or not cutting as sharply as he should have. After the game, Finley at first said he should have caught the pass, but when pressed said Rodgers led him too far.
“I didn’t sit down (on the route) at all, I was still pushing through the ball,” Finley said. “It was one of those plays I couldn’t make. There was too much (pace) on it and it was out there a little. The fans think it was me probably. If you’re looking on the outside, everybody thinks I dropped the ball. It was just one of those things.”
Said Rodgers: “I missed my spot maybe a little bit. But have to go back and look at the film and see what happened.”
The Packers’ loss ended what turned out to be a sometimes difficult season for Finley, the fourth-year pro who will be a free agent in the offseason. Coming off a knee injury that ended his 2010 season in Week 5, Finley caught 55 passes, a 13.9-yard average per reception and eight touchdowns — good numbers but not the kind of production he or the Packers projected going into the season. He also dropped several passes late in the season and was booed by fans several times.
The Packers didn’t extend Finley’s contract during the season, though it seems a given they’ll at least strongly consider placing their franchise tag on him — the tender is expected to be for about $5.5 million. If they don’t designate him their franchise player, chances are he’ll end up signing with another team.
“If (the tag) happens, it’s a business decision they made around here,” Finley said. “If I’m back in Green Bay — I’d love to be back in Green Bay. It’s all a business decision. I’m going to do my best whatever I get put in front of my face.”
Defense looks to the offseason
The Packers’ dead-last ranking in passing yards allowed and sacks percentage suggests finding another pass rusher or two will be a high priority this offseason.
“We’ve got to,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “I think that’s pretty sure that will be a priority, as far as getting a couple guys in here that can get to the quarterback. We have an exceptional pass rusher in Clay (Matthews), but he needs somebody to help him out.”
The Packers on Sunday made a non-injury-related change in their cornerback rotation for the first time this season. When they played their nickel defense on early downs, they used Jarrett Bush at cornerback ahead of Sam Shields. Then on third downs, Shields played in the nickel. They did it presumably because Bush is a better tackler in case the Giants ran the ball on early downs.
Either way, the Packers’ cornerbacks, more specifically Woodson, Shields, and Tramon Williams, did not play at the same high level as last season.
“Obviously we didn’t play as well as we did, for whatever reason,” Williams said. “We just didn’t get it done like we did last year. That goes for the whole defense. When it rains it pours, it just didn’t happen, it just didn’t click this year. I don’t know the reason.”
Collins ponders his future
Safety Nick Collins couldn’t help but get a little emotional before he left the Packers’ locker room following Sunday’s loss.
He wasn’t sure if it was the last time he would do so.
Collins, who sustained a season-ending neck injury Week 2 and then underwent neck fusion surgery, doesn’t know if he’ll play football again. He hopes to learn his future when he meets with his surgeon and team doctors in March, six months after surgery.
“This is tough for me because I never pictured myself being in this position where either I’m coming back or I’ve got to retire,” Collins said. “Hopefully, I don’t have to end it this way. At the end of the day, I want to be able to walk away from this game on my own free will.
“At the end of the day, you want to be able to walk around with your family and kids whenever they grow up, and I’d rather do that stuff instead of being in a wheelchair.”
Collins’ doctors will make the decision.
“It’s going to be cut and dried,” Collins said. “If they say I can play, I’ll play. If they say I can’t or shouldn’t, I won’t.”
Collins said he will return to his home in Florida and continue to work out until March.