GREEN BAY, Wis. — Booed off the field at halftime by their own fans, the collapse of the once-perfect Green Bay Packers was as swift as it was complete.
The defending Super Bowl champions bumbled their way through Sunday’s 37-20 playoff loss to New York with turnovers and drops, letting Eli Manning and the Giants rule every inch of Lambeau Field. Whether it was the bye last weekend or the shocking death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s 21-year-old son days earlier, the Packers were sloppy and sluggish.
“We play to win championships. You win a championship and you’re kind of at the top of the mountain, and you forget kind of how bad this feeling is,” Aaron Rodgers said. “We had a championship-caliber regular season and didn’t play well today.”
The Giants now face the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship next Sunday night. The Packers, meanwhile, will be cleaning out their lockers for an off-season that came unexpectedly early.
“It’s very disappointing. It’s a locker room that expected a lot more, and rightfully so,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “It was an excellent regular season. But we clearly understand in Green Bay it’s about winning championships. Just going to the playoffs is not enough.”
The Packers have no one to blame but themselves for the dismal finish to a season that started with such promise.
Green Bay won its first 13 games, extending the winning streak that carried the Packers to their fourth Super Bowl title to 19 games, second-best in NFL history. Rodgers and the high-powered offense were piling up points by the bunches, more than enough to bail out the shaky defense, and the Packers seemed on their way to another Super Bowl.
But the defense, maligned all season for its penchant for giving up big plays, was even worse than advertised. It was powerless to stop Manning, who threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns and coolly moved the Giants down the field drive after drive. Hakeem Nicks made the secondary look downright silly with 165 yards receiving and two touchdowns, the second of which he plucked out of the air above a scrum of Green Bay defenders just before halftime, prompting Packer fans to boo as their team trotted of the field.
“It’s about big-play opportunities in big games. And that was a big play obviously for the Giants,” McCarthy said.
The Green Bay offense has usually been potent enough to make up for the defense’s shortcomings, scoring a franchise-record 560 points during the regular season. But turnovers and dropped passes kept the offense at bay and ended the Packers’ run.