As the final kick sailed through on Sunday night, Packer fans around the world were left scratching their heads wondering what had just happened. A season that started out as a question mark has concluded in much the same way.
With the â€˜football gods’ apparently watching over them, the Packers were ushered into home field advantage for the NFC Championship through the back door and looked to put an end to the improbable 9 game road winning streak by which the NY Giants had resurrected their season to reach the final Conference game of the year. Then, just when it looked as though the â€˜gods’ had forsaken them, the second of two missed field goals and a coin flip gave fans new hope that the Super Bowl was within reach. As we all know, that hope was crushed by yet another game ending interception and the rest as they say is history.
It should be easy enough to swallow the bitter pill of a loss such as this and look forward to the bright future which the Packers undoubtedly have, but as part of the greatest fan base in professional sports, PackerNation, we are compelled to examine what we just witnessed and how it came to such a tragic end.
The question of game plan is immediately brought to the forefront. Fresh off of a record setting performance in his first playoff appearance, Ryan Grant was expected to be a big contributor to the success of Green Bay on Sunday night. With the weather favoring a run heavy attack, the Packers failed to make use of the new found balance that had given them the look of a team to be reckoned with. Grant was never allowed to find a rhythm, finishing with a scant 13 carries and 29 yards for the game.
Along the same vein, the passing attack was just as confusing. The one obvious bright spot was Donald Driver, whose 141 receiving yards and 90 yd. TD reception brought life to an otherwise dismal offensive performance. What comes to mind is, what happened to the rest of the receivers? In several key situations when advancing the ball was paramount, passes were thrown behind the line of scrimmage to a stationary receiver, with little or no chance of gaining the necessary 1st down yardage. Result? 1- 10 third down conversions.
Given that fact one has to ask the question, WHAT THE HELL WERE THEY THINKING? If the thought process was to exploit a depleted secondary to open up the run game, that was clearly not adhered to. If the plan was to forget the run and let the efficient short passing game that garnered Favre one of the best statistical years of his career take them to the promised land, that plan was also not put into use. If the plan was to completely confuse the Giants (and GB fans) by coming out with no rhyme or reason to the way in which they would attack, well fellas….mission accomplished.
The offensive line, playing the defense that led the league in sacks, didn’t allow one; yet the same line that provided Grant with the kind of gaps that properly executed zone blocking can open up seemed to have forgotten the execution part of that equation. Some leeway should, however, be granted because they were also not allowed the chance to find a â€˜rhythm’ given the limited number of run plays called. So what we all found out is if you are going to abandon the rushing game AND the short rhythm passing game that produced the highest total of â€˜yards after catch’ in the league, what are you left with?
A couple of boxes of NFC Champion hats that will never get worn, a couple of cases of champagne whose corks will not be popped, and a nation of fans left wondering “how did this dream season turn into such a nightmare?”
The obvious shortcomings of the offensive game plan aside, there were several factors on the other side of the ball that contributed to the brutal conclusion of the Packers dream season.
The one offensive statistic that jumps off the page is Plaxico Burress and his 11 catches for 154 yards. Given the season long pat on the back of the Packers two “shut down” cornerbacks, they had few answers for Burress. Playing bump and run coverage led to too many inopportune flags, and playing a cushion provided just that, room to break off routes and pick up 8-10 yards, playing a crucial role in the 18 minute differential in time of possession.
The defense did a decent job shutting down the run while Brandon Jacobs had the ball, but the elusive quickness of rookie Ahmad Bradshaw proved to be too much when the Packers desperately needed a defensive stand in the fourth quarter
Contributing to these factors was what appeared to be a frustrated and/or undisciplined defense committing penalties at the wrong time. With the Packers up 10-6, the Giants opening drive of the 2nd half started on their own 31-yard line. On 3rd and nine from the NY 43 an illegal contact penalty on Harris negates an interception (though the call could have gone either way) and was followed up by another 3rd down a penalty, this time roughing the passer on Nick Collins after a pass was batted down at the line of a scrimmage.
Having started the drive at their own 31, the Giants eventually got in the endzone, needing to gain only 49 yards on their own to do so. One would like to think that stopping this drive would have given GB motivation enough to drive for another score of their own thus extending the lead and taking control of the momentum game. Fast forward to the 4th quarter…7:46 left on the game clock….4th and 6 at the GB 34…Giants elect to go for it… a bobble is tipped and grabbed by the Giants Steve Smith but is short of the 1st down, Woodson is flagged for interference extending NY’s possession.
Though they missed a field goal attempt to take the lead, that change of possession would have shifted momentum in the Packers favor, yet again, with plenty of time on the clock to drive down for a winning score. While penalties are going to be called on both teams, the timing could not have been worse for the GB cause.
In addition to all of this, there is one more statistic that cannot be ignored. The Giants had FIVE fumbles in this game, only ONE of which was recovered by Green Bay, and that came during the return of an interception.
In what could have sealed the game for the Packers with 2:30 remaining, Jarrett Bush elects to try and pick up a fumbled punt return at the Green Bay 41. Rather than DO THE RIGHT THING AND FALL ON IT he whiffs, thwarting another potentially huge swing in momentum. This play in itself was one of a number of examples of poor play on the part of special teams.
Though weather played a part, a 32.2 yard avg on punts is not what is required to be effective in a game of this magnitude. In addition, on five kick returns the Giants averaged 24.2 yards with a long of 36, as opposed to the Packers averaging 20.6, bolstered by Tramon Williams 49 yard return. Remove that and we are looking at 13.5 yards, almost 9 yards shy of their season average.
While fingers can be pointed at a number of things, plain and simple the Packers failed to take advantage of the Giants misfortunes whereas NY did not return the favor. It has been a great season by any measurement, but when the ultimate goal is of course playing in the last game of the season, and then winning it, a loss like this can only be considered a disappointment. One that will leave PackerNation asking that timeless question…what if? And for most of us, holding on to the thought….there’s always next year.