Green Bay Packers defender Morgan Burnett chases New York Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw during Sunday night's game at MetLife Stadium. Jim Matthews/Press-Gazette
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants again had too much pass rush and too much run game for the Green Bay Packers.
Barely more than 10 months after the Giants’ impressive front four and solid run game dispatched the Packers in a divisional-round playoff game at Lambeau Field, they dominated them even more thoroughly in a 38-10 win on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium.
The blowout defeat was tied for the second-worst in Mike McCarthy’s seven seasons as coach — the worst was a 35-0 loss to the New England Patriots in his first year as coach, 2006. It also dropped the Packers out of a first-place tie with Chicago for first place in the NFC North Division. The Chicago Bears (8-3) have a one-game lead after their win over Minnesota earlier Sunday. With five games to play, the Packers still have a one-game lead over three teams (Minnesota, Tampa Bay and Seattle) for the first of two wild-card spots in the NFC.
“This is a game that really makes everybody look inside and find out what you’re about,” McCarthy said. “I believe in what we’re about as a football team. I haven’t felt like this since probably the first game I coached as a Green Bay Packer head coach. Beaten very thoroughly tonight. Doesn’t taste good, doesn’t feel good.”
The defending Super Bowl-champion Giants (7-4), in the meantime, made a statement with their sharp performance coming off two straight losses and then their bye last weekend. They now lead the NFC East Division by two games and have blowout wins over San Francisco and the Packers, two leading contenders for this year’s NFC championship.
The Packers lost this game at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. With outside linebacker Clay Matthews missing his second straight game because of a hamstring injury, they couldn’t get a handle on Giants halfback Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown, who combined to average 5.3 yards a carry (122 yards on 23 rushes). That left quarterback Eli Manning in more of a support role, where he was only 16-for-31 passing but took care of the ball and put up a 114.4 rating (three touchdowns, no interceptions, 249 yards passing).
Playing from behind most of the night, the Packers also had a terrible time protecting quarterback Aaron Rodgers against a Giants’ defensive line that probably is the NFL’s best. The Giants, led by a pass rush that includes two top outside threats defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul, sacked Rodgers five times and hit him hard just after he threw on several other plays before coach Mike McCarthy finally got his quarterback out of the game in the final five minutes.
“The New York Giants have an outstanding defensive line,” McCarthy said. “We knew that coming in, and we’ve known it for the last couple years. We had a plan, didn’t execute it very well. Got away from it, went to some spread things, that wasn’t the answer, that was poor play selection on my part. But they did a hell of a job tonight. They were dynamic, very talented, very productive.”
The best of the Giants’ pressure came from the 31-year-old Umenyiora, who beat left tackle Marshall Newhouse with several outside rushes and spin moves and made the biggest play of the game with a strip sack that set up the Giants for a late second-quarter touchdown that opened up the rout. Under constant siege, Rodgers finished with an 81.9 rating and completed only 14 passes (in 25 attempts) against a Giants defense that played similarly to last year in that playoff game, when they generally rushed four and kept both safeties back to protect against the big play.
“You win five in a row and everybody’s happy,” Rodgers said. “But like I said last year during the (15-1) run, there’s things that go under the radar that need to be handled. Sometimes it takes a loss to handle those things. That being said, I’ve never been on this side of this kind of loss before, but I know if you play long enough at some point you will. Hopefully we’ll remember this feeling and not have this kind of embarrassment happen again.”
The biggest play came when the Packers got the ball at their 19 with 1:50 left and a chance to cut into the Giants’ 24-10 lead. On the third play of the drive, Umenyiora cleanly beat Newhouse on a speed rush and hit Rodgers just as the quarterback was about to throw. Pierre-Paul recovered Rodgers’ fumble at the Packers’ 23 with 1:03 left in the half.
Set up with great field position, Manning needed only two plays to get the Giants in the end zone again and expand the lead to three touchdowns. On the scoring play from the Packers’ 13, the Giants ran Bradshaw on a trap up the middle, and the halfback jumped over diving inside linebacker A.J. Hawk before getting into the end zone with 44 seconds left in the half, which opened a 31-10 lead.
This game showed just how difficult it can be to defend a team that runs the ball well. In the first half alone, when the Giants scored on five of their seven possessions and opened a 31-10 lead, Bradshaw and Brown averaged 5.5 yards a carry (15 rushes for 83 yards) on runs mostly between the tackles.
That forced the Packers to play their 3-4 base defense on a decent amount of snaps and opened up the play-action passing game for Manning.
On the Giants’ first possession, for instance, Bradshaw turned a screen pass on his own end of the field into a 59-yard gain that set up the Giants for a touchdown from the Packers’ 2. The screen caught inside linebackers Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk in a blitz and left Bradshaw with a big alley down the right side of the field after he slipped a missed tackle by outside linebacker Erik Walden.
On the Giants’ next scoring drive, Bradshaw and Brown combined for 31 yards rushing on five carries — only one of the runs was for less than five yards. That set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Manning to rookie receiver Rueben Randle, who beat cornerback Davon House on a post route for the touchdown that put the Giants up 14-7 with 2:38 left in the first quarter.
“You start with (defending) the run,” McCarthy said. “They run the ball very well. They hit us on the screen on the first series against a fire zone (blitz). We didn’t tackle well, and it started on that particular play.”