Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers bows his head after losing to the New York Giants in the NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette
Everything the Green Bay Packers worked for and prided themselves on during a glorious 15-1 regular season went down the drain in a matter of a little more than three hours Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.
Given the expectations for the reigning Super Bowl champion Packers, who had won 21 of their previous 22 games, their 37-20 defeat against the New York Giants will go down as the most disheartening playoff game in team history.
The Packers had everything going in their favor. They were healthy, confident, well-rested and playing at home, where they hadn’t lost in more than a year. They also boasted the most potent offense in team history and the best quarterback in the NFL.
They took all that momentum and promptly laid a giant egg in front of 72,080 stunned spectators and a national television audience.
“It’s tough,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Didn’t think it was going to end tonight. Felt good about our chances, felt good about our team.”
All the good feelings about the Packers’ record-setting regular season meant squat against the Giants, who despite their modest record were the far superior team.
The Packers, in simple terms, were an absolute mess. They put on display a comedy of errors and couldn’t stop tripping over their feet.
It was an epic pratfall, and the timing couldn’t have been worse in the most important game of the season.
“For whatever reason, today wasn’t our day,” safety Charlie Peprah said. “We weren’t in sync.”
That would be a classic understatement. The Packers were abysmal on both sides of the ball.
After losing six fumbles in 16 regular-season games this year, the Packers coughed up the ball three times in one afternoon against the Giants. They dropped at least a half-dozen passes. Rodgers endured his worst game of the season with a 78.5 passer rating, one interception, one fumble and one blown touchdown on an overthrown pass.
The defense wasn’t any better. It allowed an unforgivable Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play of the first half that handed the Giants a commanding 20-10 lead and seemed to take the life out of the crowd and the Packers. There were missed tackles and blown assignments. Giants quarterback Eli Manning had all the time he needed in the pocket and torched the Packers for 330 passing yards and three touchdowns.
“There’s nothing in the preparation that led me to believe that this was going to occur today,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
No one in the Packers’ locker room saw this coming, and maybe that was part of the problem. Perhaps the Packers were so full of themselves and their dazzling 15-win season that they forgot what carried them to the best record in the NFL.
How else do you explain a team that plays fundamentally sound, winning football for four months, then loses its identity and purpose when its season is on the line?
“I was really anticipating us playing very well today,” McCarthy said. “I have to look at myself and go back and find out why I didn’t have the team in that mode because I thought the preparation was very good this week.”
There should be a lot of soul searching in the offseason as the Packers try to figure out how their season ended so badly.
The specter of this ugly playoff loss will overshadow what had been a memorable regular season.
“We’re used to playing well on the big stage,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “I wasn’t anticipating it ending like this.”
No. 1 seeds aren’t supposed to take a one-and-done dive in the playoffs. They aren’t supposed to let a team with a 9-7 regular-season record come into their house and act like they own the place. They aren’t supposed to save their most dreadful performance of the season for last.
But that’s what the Packers did, and they have no one to blame but themselves.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.