McGinn: Packers turn tables on Manning, Giants
GREEN BAY - Eli Manning, a certified Packers killer, never faced a Green Bay defense like the one he did Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
Old No. 10, wearing that familiar Giants’ visiting white uniform with blood-red trim, forever will be remembered in Wisconsin for dealing the Packers those pair of crushing playoff defeats in 2007 and 2011.
In those upsets that propelled New York to Super Bowl rings, the Giants were an 8-point underdog in the 2007 NFC Championship Game and an 8 ½-point underdog in the 2011 divisional playoffs. This time, they were a 7-point underdog.
The difference was a short-handed defense that rose to the occasion over and over again, harassing Manning into an ineffectual showing and powering the Packers to a 23-16 triumph.
Manning completed just 18 of 35 passes for 199 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. His passer rating of 78.2 was well below his career mark of 88.7 against the Green Bay, and his overall record in the series fell to 4-4.
The Giants were limited to three field goals until a touchdown pass to Odell Beckham Jr. with just less than 3 minutes remaining accounted for the final margin of victory, exactly as the oddsmakers figured it would be.
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Fresh from a bye week, the Packers improved to 3-1. Forced to play a road game six days after losing at Minnesota, the Giants slipped to 2-3.
“Good home win,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Our defense kept them out of the end zone even with the field position. Our D-line and our run defense were what it needed to be trying to slow down that no-huddle offense. I thought our defense played very well.”
The Packers reached the quarter mark of their season 1 ½ games behind the unbeaten Vikings in the NFC North Division. Minnesota (5-0), Atlanta (4-1) and Dallas (4-1), which visits Lambeau Field next Sunday, also have better records in the conference. Philadelphia and Seattle are 3-1 as well.
McCarthy improved to 16-9 against NFC East teams and 63-23-1 in home games over his 11 seasons. He is 9-2 after byes.
New York, with an explosive passing attack, was limited to 219 yards by a defense that played without cornerbacks Sam Shields (concussion) and Damarious Randall (groin). Its longest completion was just 27 yards, and Beckham had only five catches for 56 (long of 16).
“I thought our young guys in the secondary did a heck of a job,” said McCarthy. “The pass rush was there. We played good red-zone defense.
“Special teams were not good enough. Kick coverage and ball placement in the punt game. The field position was definitely a huge factor and put a lot of stress on our defense.”
Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers hit 23 of 45 for 259, two TDs and two interceptions for a passer rating of 65.0.
“We ran the ball well but we have a lot to clean up,” said Rodgers. “Randall (Cobb) is an extremely tough individual and played well. I was able to stay in the pocket, which is a tribute to our offensive line.”
Statistically, the Packers controlled the first half, piling up a 251-93 advantage in yards, a 15-4 bulge in first downs and possessing the ball for 20 minutes, 2 seconds compared to 9:58 for the Giants.
In the first quarter alone, Green Bay outgained the Giants, 141-18. The Packers finished with 406 yards.
The Packers’ first possession was a thing of beauty. Mixing seven runs and nine passes, they drove 75 yards in 16 plays and used up 8:42.
The touchdown came on second and goal when Rodgers faked a run to Lacy off zone-read action and zipped a 2-yard shot to Jordy Nelson, who slipped away from cornerback Eli Apple in the right corner of the end zone.
BOX SCORE: Packers 23, Giants 16
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It was a back-to-basics opening salvo for McCarthy, who chose to slow down tempo by employing a huddle before every play. Lacy started at running back but James Starks, Randall Cobb and Ty Montgomery all took turns in the backfield.
McCarthy used an inverted-wishbone formation on the second play, gave fullback Aaron Ripkowski more snaps than he has had in any other game and aligned tight end Richard Rodgers all over the field.
“We went with a little different format,” said McCarthy. “A standard huddle. We had a lot of really good things but we have some areas we need to work on.
“We got our total play count (77). We want to be at 75 plays. We will look at the efficiency.”
The Packers converted four third downs, with 1, 6, 4 and 10 yards to go. Time after time the offensive line blunted the Giants’ pass rush enabling Rodgers all day either to pick out a receiver or take a gap and run.
“That offensive line is solid,” an NFL executive in personnel said. “But the guy (Rodgers) is a magician out there. He helps them (the linemen) out.”
The Packers went right back to their ball-control ways on their second possession, moving 71 yards in 10 plays. Once again, Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo played it safe, almost always rushing four and keeping safeties in coverage to protect his injury-riddled secondary.
In turn, McCarthy asked Rodgers to throw a cluster of short passes to Cobb, Nelson and others.
“They got it out quick because the Giants were hanging back,” the personnel man said. “There was no blitzing at all.”
The Packers might have taken a 14-0 lead on a 21-yard screen pass to Starks. However, with a clear field and blockers ahead, Starks dropped the ball.
Rodgers’ 21-yard touchdown pass on the next play to Cobb behind Leon Hall, the aging nickel back, was wiped out by a penalty for an illegal shift. Then Nelson dropped a dig route at the 10 and the ball ricoheted to Janoris Jenkins for the first of his two interceptions.
As effectively as the Packers moved the ball in the first quarter, they were almost equally ineffective in the second.
They went three and out when David Bakhtiari’s holding penalty took away an 11-yard completion to Davante Adams, and what would have been a 22-yard completion on third and 20 was dropped by Cobb.
When Jacob Schum’s 33-yard punt went out of bounds as fans booed, the Giants took advantage of a short field for Josh Brown’s 47-yard field goal.
Green Bay hiked its lead to 14-3 with 6 minutes remaining in the first half on Rodgers’ 29-yard touchdown pass to Adams. He beat cornerback Michael Hunter, a free-agent cornerback from Oklahoma State who was forced to play after starter Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Apple, the nickel back, departed in the first half with injuries.
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Adams took an outside release against Hunter, caught a perfect pass over his outside shoulder and tight-roped the sideline keeping his feet barely inbounds before slipping inside the right front pylon.
Rodgers suffered the rare indignity of a second interception in one half when, on third and 6, he rolled to the right and threw a bad ball back inside to Adams that Jenkins caught at shin height. The Giants didn’t have an interception in the first four games.
Once again the defense stiffened, allowing one first down before nickel back Micah Hyde broke up a lazy sideline pass by Manning that was intended for rookie Sterling Shepard.
Three straight Rodgers’ incompletions later, the Giants took over at their 39 with 1:27 left.
On first down, tight end Will Tye used his 4.57-second speed to get wide open down the right seam behind linebacker Jake Ryan without a safety in sight. What probably would have been a 61-yard touchdown went for naught when the pass was overthrown.
On the next play, Manning fumbled when hit by linebacker Kyler Fackrell, who slipped past right tackle Bobby Hart for a sack. Mason Crosby’s 44-yard field goal closed the half, increasing the Packers’ lead to 17-6.
“That was a 10-point swing,” said the scout. “If Manning throws a good ball it’s a touchdown, then on the next play he fumbles. Instead of 14-10 it’s 17-6.”
Lacy was in the process of putting together a strong performance before leaving with an ankle injury after two touches to start the third quarter. He finished with 11 rushes for 81 yards.
“Ran hard,” said the scout. “Broke tackles. He was impressive.”
Another poor punt by Schum, this one only 32 yards, gave New York the ball at its 47. Two passes gained 31 yards to the Green Bay 11, but on the next play Nick Perry beat left tackle Ereck Flowers for a 6-yard sack and eventually Brown had to kick a 30-yard field goal when a touchdown was essential.
Nelson’s dropped pass led to another punt, but the offense at last regained form late in the third quarter on a nine-play, 65-yard push capped by Crosby’s 33-yard field goal for a 20-9 cushion.
On their next series, the Packers reeled off four first downs in a 13-play march that included seven passes and five runs. The big play was a third-and-9 completion to Cobb from the left slot in which he used second effort to extend the gain.
When neither Richard Rodgers nor Nelson could make contested catches in the corner of the end zone on second and third downs, Crosby came on to boot a 25-yard field goal and it was 23-9.
The Giants broke through for a touchdown, driving 63 yards in 12 plays. Manning completed four passes for first downs before finding Beckham in the back of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown.
As the Packers attempted to run out the last 2:48 with a 7-point lead, Starks fumbled on a check-down but managed to recover at the bottom of pile that also included middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and Devon Kennard.
On the next play, Cobb easily shook free from journeyman cornerback Trevin Wade and caught an out-breaking route for 13. Rodgers knelt down three times and the 78,401 fans filed out celebrating a hard-won victory over an opponent that had tormented them in the last decade.