GREEN BAY, Wis. — This is not going to be just another regular-season game. No, the Packers’ upcoming matchup with the New York Giants means far more to coach Mike McCarthy’s group than the win or loss that will come from it.
It was the Giants who ended what was nearly a perfect season for Green Bay in 2011. A dominant Packers offense that led the NFL in scoring could muster only 20 points, while Eli Manning lit up the scoreboard for 37 points. It was a beatdown at Lambeau Field, one that finished Green Bay’s season in devastating and unexpected fashion.
Even if the Packers win the rematch that will take place Sunday night in New York, it won’t make up for that loss 10 months ago. No Week 12 game can ever trump a win-or-your-magical-season-is-over playoff matchup. But beating the Giants would be a significant hurdle for Green Bay to clear in order to reach the Super Bowl this season, one year after the team seemed destined to make a deep run at winning a second consecutive title.
That hurdle is a mental one for the 7-3 Packers. A small dose of revenge will certainly be on some of their minds, but the 6-4 Giants have no reason to fear or be intimidated by anything Green Bay might throw at them. Because, when it mattered most, New York came out victorious in a must-win game, leaving confidence squarely in favor of the guys in blue, red and gray.
As McCarthy has stated on many occasions this season, this year’s Packers team is different from last year’s. Technically he’s right, of course. But a vast majority of Green Bay’s 2012 roster returns from 2011. And, following the loss to New York, these were the same players sitting at home watching New York roll to a Super Bowl title while they dealt with the reality of a 15-1 regular season ending in a home playoff opener.
Most of the Packers’ holdover players will take the conservative route this week in the buildup to the game and say last year’s playoff loss is irrelevant in their preparation for Sunday’s contest. However, that loss is part of the footage McCarthy will put before his team as it gets ready for a rematch.
“We have history with the Giants, recent history, which, regardless of what happened, it’s still part of your preparation,” McCarthy said Monday. “Our game last year in the regular season, the playoff game, the games they’ve played this year. If it’s painful to the individual, I guess that’s something we’re going to have to deal with, but it is part of our preparation process.
“We can’t change it now. It’s video, and there’s things you did to prepare for that game that hopefully will help us in our preparation this week.”
Those should be some fun film sessions. The game many Packers tried to forget as quickly as possible has become homework on their iPads.
Even Green Bay’s rookies, many of whom will be counted on in significant roles, will soon get a sense for the deeper meaning of this particular game. Second-round picks cornerback Casey Hayward and defensive end Jerel Worthy had no rooting interest when these two teams last played. But assuming they were tuned in like the rest of the country’s football fans, they saw the Giants easily dismiss a team that was picked by most to return to the Super Bowl.
Packers-Giants is not a divisional rivalry, but make no mistake: It means more to Green Bay right now than any upcoming showdown with the Bears, Vikings or Lions. The Packers entered last year’s game with the swagger of a team defending its Super Bowl title in the most dominant way and left it defending itself from criticism. Amid the hard-fought, injury-scarred 7-3 start to this season, that confidence has yet to return, and games like this one – prime time, in front of a national audience – are the best way to get it back.
Green Bay has a five-game winning streak on the line, but a win over the Giants this weekend would surpass all additional achievements. It’s time to find out how far these two teams have come since they last encountered each other.
And for the Packers, it’s a game they need to win to remove the lingering doubts from a dreary Jan. 15 afternoon that still hangs over Lambeau Field.