Packers no longer at top of mountain
GREEN BAY, Wis. — It was an unusual and unexpected scene in the Packers locker room Sunday night. Many of the players were so unprepared about the prospect of their season being over that they didn't know what was next for them in a week without practices and meetings.
"I have no idea what to do now," safety Charlie Peprah said after the Packers lost at home, 37-20, to the New York Giants in the NFC divisional playoff round.
Not only was Green Bay eliminated from the playoffs with the loss, but there was not a single aspect in which the Packers outplayed the Giants. Green Bay had three more turnovers than New York, far more dropped passes, more missed tackles, fewer yards, and most importantly, fewer points.
"We did not play very well today; I think that's stating the obvious," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Considering how dominant Green Bay was throughout the vast majority of a 15-1 regular season, it's understandable why Peprah and many of his teammates had expectations that went beyond Sunday.
This season, the Packers won the most games in franchise history while scoring more points than in any of the team's 92 previous seasons. Most of that was due to the record-breaking season of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who far surpassed the season he had a year ago when he led Green Bay to the Super Bowl.
Rodgers broke the NFL's all-time single-season record for passer rating and threw for more touchdowns and yards this season than any Packers quarterback ever.
A loss this early in the playoffs is hardly justification for that type of production.
"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," Rodgers said.
Rodgers reached the top of the mountain in more ways than one last year. He was the Super Bowl MVP and officially put an end to any possible lingering questions about whether the Packers did the right thing by kicking Brett Favre out of the starting spot before he was ready to go.
Being the Super Bowl MVP also meant being one of the faces of not just the Packers, but of the entire NFL. Rodgers was in the Disney parade, on late-night talk shows and appearing in nearly every other commercial shown on television.
Now, Rodgers is just another quarterback who was unable to win back-to-back championships and has to try to figure out how to return to the Super Bowl.
"I didn't think it was going to end tonight," Rodgers said. "We had a championship-caliber regular season and didn't play well today. Personally, I didn't play as well as I wanted to."
Rodgers was so good all season that he made up for the team's deficiencies in other areas. Defensively, the Packers allowed the most passing yards in the league and their respectable rank of 14th in rushing defense was largely due to the fact that opposing teams were rarely able to run the ball due to Green Bay's big leads.
But against the Giants, Rodgers was unable to make up for all of the mistakes, some of which were his. He finished 26 of 46 passing for 264 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and one fumble. He missed a wide-open Greg Jennings on the first drive on third down, and did so again later when he unnecessarily rocketed a pass to Jermichael Finley when a touch pass would have sufficed.
Rodgers had not played since Christmas night, resting during Week 17 after the Packers had clinched the NFC's No. 1 seed. Jennings had been out since early December while recovering from a torn MCL, plus linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson also had not played in two weeks, with McCarthy resting them for Week 17.
"No excuses," McCarthy said. "We practiced well. There's nothing in the preparation that led me to believe that this was going to occur today."
Last season, the Packers greatly benefited from having to play meaningful games late in the regular season. Just like the Giants did this season, Green Bay had to win its final two games just to qualify for the playoffs a year ago. They were hot then, entering the postseason playing their best football at the right time. This year, the Packers had the division won and a playoff spot secured with a month left in the regular season.
On Sunday, Green Bay's season ended at the hands of a team that seems to be this year's version of what the Packers were just 12 months ago.
"It sucks, that's all you can say," wide receiver Jordy Nelson said. "You're at a loss for words. We had one goal in mind and that was to win the Super Bowl. When you don't do that, you had an OK season. You didn't have a good season."
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