Monday, January 16, 2012

Giants up-end Packers to go to NFC Championship

The bottom line on the season for the Green Bay Packers: 15-1-Done.

After posting the best record in the NFL coming into the NFC Divisional game at home, the Packers played what was arguably their worst game of the season. Six (or eight, depending upon who's counting) dropped passes. Passes off target. Missed tackles. Miscommunication. No pass rush. Soft pass coverage. Inability of the defense to get off the field on third down. Some questionable play calling. Giving up a no-time-left-on-the-clock-half-time Hail Mary touchdown. Four -- four! -- turnovers.

The list could go on and on. The ways in which the Packers handed this game to the NY Giants reached nearly epic proportions. That's not to take anything away from the Giants. They did exactly what they needed to do. They stifled the Packers' offense and made the defense look inept. Congrats to the men in blue. (Although I will be rooting for the 49ers this coming weekend. After all, rooting for the Giants at this point would be nearly as bad as rooting for the Cowboys. Ewwww...)

Looking back to 2002, the Packers have since lost four of their last six playoff games at Lambeau Field. Wow. The invincibility of the frozen tundra sure ain't what it used to be.

Now what?
Looking ahead, the Packers will have to address their defense...the last-ranked overall defense in the league, by the way. The loss of Cullen Jenkins left a bigger hole in the pass rush than was clearly anticipated. They need to get an outside linebacker who can balance out Clay Matthews and prevent defenses from keying on stopping him. They clearly need to address secondary issues. If Nick Collins is unable to return, there are major issues at safety. Charles Woodson will likely have to play more of that position than cornerback regardless of whether Collins returns or not. There was a drop off for some reason in the level of corner play by Tramon Williams this season. Ditto for Sam Shields, who actually was replaced in the starting lineup yesterday by Jarrett Bush. There are personnel issues that need to be addressed, it's as simple as that.

The offense was the second-greatest scoring offense in the history of the NFL. They had a 200+ point differential over their opponents. Whether venerable LT Chad Clifton hangs up the cleats after this season remains to be seen. Other than that, the offensive line seems in fairly good shape, although you can never have enough depth across the line. The receiving corps, despite their epidemic of drops yesterday, is the best in the league, although whether veteran Donald Driver returns is an open question. TE Jermichael Finley did not have the year he was hoping for going into free agency. My guess is he returns. The running backs, for the type of offense the Packers run, are adequate; and don't forget, rookie Alex Green was on injured reserve all season so we have yet to see what he can do. The quarterback...c'mon. Who would you rather have game in and game out than Aaron Rodgers? No one. Back up Matt Flynn will be off to bank some big dollars in free agency, so either Graham Harrell will get moved into the backup slot or the team drafts another one to fill Flynn's role.

So, this is it. This is what one-and-done feels like when the expectations were of a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance and victory. Not good. At all. Credit has to be given to the Giants for showing up. But as happened at Kansas City several weeks ago, the only way the Packers lose is to beat themselves. And they did just enough of that yesterday to make a good Giants team come out on top by a score of 37-20.

A final thought
On that last point about the score, I Tweeted immediately after the Giants beat the Falcons in the Wild Card game that the Pack would need to score at least 38 points to win this game. Guess I was on the money: if the Pack had scored 38, the final tally would have been 38-37 Packers. So it goes...for predictions...and the Packers' season.