GREEN BAY — Will history be kind to the Green Bay Packers, considering they were defending Super Bowl Champions, 15-1, the number-one seed in the playoffs for the first time since 1996, second-highest-scoring team (560 points) in NFL history and winners of 19 straight games?
The cruel reality of the National Football League is that on any given Sunday it’s for real — you can get your nose bloodied in this league. The New York Giants, the last team to qualify as NFC East Champs for the 12-team playoff field, did the punching Sunday.
They shocked the football world on a wonderful 31-degree, sun-splashed January day having come to town confident that they could play with the defending champion Packers, and they proved it. Losing that close 38-35 battle at home to the Packers on December 4 in the regular season in some ways sparked the Giants. They have played much better since.
They have now reeled off five wins in their last six games and will travel to San Francisco next Sunday to play the 49ers for the NFC Championship. The winner goes to Super Bowl XLVI February 5 in Indianapolis.
New York and Green Bay have a long history; these two venerable franchises have combined to win 20 NFL Championships. Five times they have played for the NFL title, and Green Bay has won four of five. This year the G-men ruin the Packers’ repeat plans 37-20. The NFL’s biggest city of 10 million people, New York, versus the league’s smallest, about 110,000 in Green Bay — it seems so unfair! Green Bay had won 13 straight at home and 19 of 20.
In many ways the Giants’ approach was like that of a hit man: Come in early, quietly, and size up your target in a little town, then confidently, very business-like, take them out. The job is done and so are the Packers.
A week off was supposed to be a benefit. Not this time for the Packers — it was evident they had far more rust than rest, dropping eight passes. Green Bay previously was 3-0 in the divisional playoff game and 15-3 all-time at Lambeau Field in the playoffs.
MVP Aaron Rodgers got treated so rudely, attacked by the great Giants defensive front, sacked four times and chased all day. Rodgers even missed wide-open receivers. The Packers defensively missed tackles and allowed quarterback Eli Manning to stand like the Statue of Liberty untouched in the pocket most of the day, choosing who to throw to. Boy, did Manning make them pay.
This game marked the first time that two previous Super Bowl MVPs, Manning and Rodgers, would meet in the playoffs.
Manning was great, 21-33 for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He met the challenge. He out-played the MVP Rodgers, who was 26-46 for 264 yards, two TDs and one interception. He was also the game’s leading rusher with 66 yards.
After a spectacular season, Rodgers was off just enough and the Packers never were able to get in rhythm, simply unable to keep up with the Giants. With just six seconds left in the first half things started getting away from the Packers.
The Giants were up 13-10 and delivered the Packers a punch in the gut. Manning at the Packers’ 40-yard line hurled a pass high towards the left end zone. Hakeem Nicks leaped in traffic and out-muscled Charles Woodson for position to grab the pass for a touchdown. What a boost for the Giants.
Just like that the Packers were down 20-10 and the already confident Giants now on cloud nine with a huge momentum boost that carried them the second half to victory. Nicks was spectacular with seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Five times in the history of the NFL there have been 15-1 teams: Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minnesota and Green Bay. Of those 15-1 teams, only the Packers have lost a divisional playoff game at home. For that, history may not be so kind.
One and done, a fart in a wind storm — for that there is much suffering and searching throughout the Diary State, now in a state of disbelief over what in the world happened to the mighty Packers.
The AFC title game is next Sunday also, New England vs. Baltimore. The winner goes to Super Bowl VLVI.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, and on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm; he also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2), and you can follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to [email protected], or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.