Football and Me Part XVII-B

36 hours later and I’m still sort of reeling from this Packers loss. I have to start by giving an immense amount of credit to the Giants for forcing this sloppy play and playing mostly error-free football of their own. There was absolutely no doubt that the Packers were outplayed in this game. As torturous as this is going to be, I need to try to figure out how and why it all happened so I’m re-watching the game and writing a Bill Simmons-style retro diary. I will write broader takeaways at the bottom if you want to skip down to that part without re-living individual plays from the game.

This hurts badly before I even hit Play on my Tivo remote. Times represent what is remaining on the clock…

First Quarter

12:19  – Giants 1st-and-10 just past midfield. Desmond Bishop drops an interception. Would have been a great play but I’m sure it’s one he’d like to make. Happens, though.

8:37 – After bending most of the way down the field and giving up two big 3rd down conversions, the Packers don’t break inside the red zone. 3-0 Giants.

7:55 – Jermichael Finley drops his first pass of the day, one that would have given the Packers a first down around midfield (although the refs missed a penalty on the play). The Packers move the chains on the next play so this one wasn’t costly but you can’t drop first downs in big games.

6:32 – And Finley drops another ball, this one is completely inexcusable – he was wide open and the pass was lofted perfectly. It would have given the Packers 3rd-and-1 at the very worst just outside the red zone.

5:38 – On third down, Rodgers misses a WIDE open Greg Jennings on what would probably have been a touchdown if he hit Jennings in stride. Worst case would have been 1st-and-goal inside the 5. I can count on one hand how many times Rodgers missed that pass this season. Packers have to settle for a field goal after that drive saw two drops and an errant throw. 3-3.

4:37 – On 3rd-and-11, Eli Manning has all day and hits Hakeem Nicks for a first down. He’s converted third downs for 8, 10, and 11 yards so far. AND NOOOOOOO….

3:47 – The next play, Manning hits Nicks over the middle, Charlie Peprah launches himself at Nicks but doesn’t wrap up, Nicks stands tall, and runs into the endzone without being touched again. AWFUL missed tackle. 10-3 Giants.

1:34 – Packers get extremely lucky. Greg Jennings fumbles before his knee is down, it gets ruled down by contact, and the Giants lose their challenge. This was pretty clearly a fumble and I’m not sure what the refs did or didn’t say on the replay. Unrelated question: why does the referee on the field have to rule challenges under the hood with what I imagine is a tiny screen? Why not have someone in the booth rule on reviews with a massive HDTV? Why not centralize challenges in NFL headquarters? It doesn’t seem as though the current system is optimal.

Second Quarter

14:54 – Kuuuuuuuuuuuuuhn touchdown catch! Bang on the Drums! 10-10…this was a completely undeserved touchdown, though, because Jennings definitely fumbled. Packers are lucky to be tied and not down two scores.

14:52 – Packers surprise onside kick! They fail to recover it, though. I actually said to the three people who would listen to me that I wanted this to be an onside kick. Good idea but it didn’t work out – The Giants got the ball on the Packers 40. Given that they probably would have gotten the ball that far anyway, I think it was worth the gamble for a chance to get the ball back. I think that Mike McCarthy sensed that something was a bit off and tried to give his team a spark.

12:32 – Brad Jones blocks the Lawrence Tynes field goal attempt! No harm, no foul on the failed onside kick. At this point, this feels like an everything-goes-wrong game for the Giants–they lost a challenge and a timeout on a bad call, gave up a touchdown, and got a field goal blocked. In games where you are underdogs by more than a touchdown, you can’t have those things go wrong. At this point, I’m feeling pretty good.

11:15 – Rodgers rushes for a first down on 3rd-and-10. Second time he’s done this so far today and it’s an invaluable aspect of his game. He rushes for another one two plays later before I finish typing this bullet.

9:17 – Relatively inconsequential drop by James Starks. Difference between 3rd-and-3 and 3rd-and-7. Doesn’t make it right.

9:12 – More consequential drop on the next play by Tom Crabtree on a ball that hit him squarely between the numbers–past the first down marker–and the Packers are forced to punt. It goes into the endzone. Damn.

5:34 – Eli Manning intercepted by Morgan Burnett after being pressured by Bishop! Miraculous what can be achieved when the pass rush works. I would have bet a lot of money on the Packers to win at this point.

3:37 – An unforced John Kuhn fumble KILLS what I was certain was going to be a Packers scoring drive. At the very worst, they were going into halftime tied, likely were going in up 13-10, and maybe going up 17-10. Because the Packers were receiving the ball in the second half, I had expected them to be up 20-10 the next time the Giants had the ball.

1:56 – Packers stop the Giants inside the 10 and force a field goal, and will get the ball back before the half. A little close for comfort but I’m feeling pretty good…

:06 – WTF?! Ahmad Bradshaw gets out of bounds on a 23-yard run that started in the middle of the field. Horrible defense. Good thing the Giants are stupidly going for it instead of kicking the 54-yard field goal…

:00 – WTFWTFWTFWTFWTFWTF??????!!!!!!!!! Hail Mary touchdown to Hakeem Nicks. Third time I’ve seen the Badgers or Packers give up a devastating hail mary touchdown in person this season. This has to be some sort of ignominious record? This play was shellshocking and the 13-minute halftime feels like hours. Lot of ballgame left but allowing the Giants to score from their own 40 with 15 seconds left was egregious. This series really hurt the crowd.

Third Quarter

14:52 – A drop by Ryan Taylor that would have made it 2nd-and-6 instead of 2nd-and-10. Not terribly consequential as the Packers picked up a first down on the next play but these drops have been contagious today.

13:12 – After uncharacteristically missing Jennings, Rodgers runs for another first down on 3rd-and-10. The Giants aren’t giving room for any big plays, though. This is where Favre would have started throwing INTs trying to get everything back at once.

10:28 – Man, after hitting Driver for a huge first down to get to the Giants’ 35, Rodgers gets stripped by Osi Umenyiora and the Giants recover. Jennings was wide open for a touchdown on the play. Split second difference and the Packers are only down a field goal. Every time the offense starts to get into rhythm, there’s a drop or a fumble.

9:06 – Giants go three-and-out. Other than giving up three huge plays, the defense has been pretty solid thus far. “How was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?”

6:56 – Ryan Grant drops a perfect pass that will make for at worst 2nd-and-1. Six drops so far for the Packers.

3:55 – Jennings drops a touchdown. Pretty good coverage but the ball was placed directly into his hands. Seven drops. Crosby hits a field goal and the Packers are LUCKY only to be down a TD.

3:30 – The crowd hasn’t been all that great thus far but after a holding call pushes the Giants back to 1st-and-20 (then 2nd-and-20) on their own 10, we come alive. Except in rare cases, the home team has to do something to get the crowd into it. The Packers haven’t really put together a period of football to galvanize the masses yet but the crowd is making a reasonable effort to get into this. We sense that there’s a chance to steal this game even while being severely outplayed. We have faith that this team will find a way. Giants have to punt, if ever there were a time for a big Packers touchdown drive…

:49 – Rodgers picks up ANOTHER first down with his feet. That’s his fifth. Not sliding, he opens up his body for punishment. But if there was ever a time and a place for this risky behavior…

Fourth Quarter

13:00 – Kind of a bad throw, but perhaps a catchable ball that Finley drops on 3rd-and-5. Rodgers is pissed about the route and the drop but Finley was WIDE open and the ball didn’t need to be thrown like a rocket. Not sure who to blame there but it’s an unforced error; Aikman says it’s on Rodgers which I suppose is fair. The frustration on offense had really started to compound. Rodgers gets sacked on 4th-and-5 and the Packers are running out of chances. They had no right to only be down seven points at this point and their tenuous hold on this deficit doesn’t feel sustainable. We can still steal this game but it’s starting to feel precarious.

12:48 – Woodson misses a tackle on Hakeem Nicks. Don’t see that often. Difference between 2nd-and-8 and 2nd-and-4.

10:00 – Victor Cruz picks up a huge first down on 3rd-and-5 and you can clearly hear the Giants fans yelling Cruuuuuuuz on TV. I would estimate that there were 7,000 Giants fans in Lambeau. Gotta give them credit. Green Bay isn’t the easiest place to get to–it requires an expensive, two-leg flight or a flight and a two-hour drive from Milwaukee or 3.5-hour drive from Chicago–and the Giants fans mobilized, got this trip scheduled one week’s notice, outbid Packers fans for tickets on Stubhub all week, and showed up in full force to perhaps make a 25% difference in net effect of the Lambeau crowd for a game that they expected to be played in a frigid climate when they bought their seats. Props. These things are more poignant in hindsight but significant nonetheless.

7:51 – Packers defense stands up and holds the Giants to a field goal. Still a chance to steal this game but those chances are wearing thin. Packers have had more than enough and failed as a team to capitalize.

6:53 – And Ryan Grand fumbles, Giants recover and return it inside the Packers’ 5 (great tackle by Rodgers). A touchdown catch by Mario Manningham on the next play will end it. Basically no way to erase three scores in less than seven minutes. Finishing this out would be an exercise in masochism above and beyond what this has been so far. Because my goal was to understand how and why this has loss happened–and I think by and large I do at this point–I’m going to spare myself the rest of this game.

****************

Unlike many big Packer losses over the past ten years or so since I really got into them, this one left me disappointed, not angry. Mistakes were made but they were physical and not mental–and thus more excusable. There were no horrifyingly bad coaching decisions and no lack of effort or passion. It’s hard to be angry at your favorite team when everyone is trying his best and nervous tension causes drops or fumbles.

Therefore, there will be comparatively less long-lasting feelings from this game. This team is full of likable players, is well-coached, and has a tremendous front office and a nucleus that by-and-large will come back strong next year. With the Packers likely still in the first half of their window of opportunity to win championships with Rodgers at quarterback, this game feels more like the end of a chapter than the end of a book.

Off the top of my head, this game was not among the four most hurtful Packers losses of recent memory. I’m not sure whether the 4th-and-26 Eagles game in early 2004 or the Favre-to-Webster-in-overtime game against the Giants in early 2008 was the worst – probably the Giants game because it meant the end of the Favre era and cost the Packers a trip to the Super Bowl – is #1 but they are definitely both 1 and 2. In similarly unclear order, 3 and 4 are the overtime loss to the Cardinals on the Rodgers fumble and the combination of the two games where Favre beat the Packers with the Vikings in 2008. I don’t know if I am more guarded now than in the past but I’m not feeling the sting as badly as I was for those games. I might be overlooking others that also hurt more badly.

That being said, it’s never easy. This was a special team that won the Super Bowl last year and went an emphatic 15-1 in the regular season. I had very high expectations and really didn’t conceive of them losing this game. Until they did. That they had opportunity after opportunity to steal it despite being monumentally outplayed, but failed to sustain any momentum on offense, was quite disappointing. But it’s been a great run and a great season and there is not a sense of finality with this loss.

As frustrating as the Bradshaw-getting-23-yards-and-getting-out-of-bounds/Manning-Nicks hail mary sequence to end the first half was, it definitely could have been overcome–the Packers were 7.5-point favorites in this game and that series accounted for seven of them. The Packers lost this game because drops, turnovers, and, yes, some errant passes prevented the offense from ever getting into a rhythm. Every time it looked like something was building, the drive stalled. They fumbled three times – which should have been four but Jennings’ cough-up was ruled incorrectly – and recovered none of them. Credit to the Giants for forcing many of these errors but this wasn’t the sharp Packers squad that had won 21 of 22 coming into the game. This was the worst game that they played–including the loss to the Chiefs–in that stretch.

The defense is not to blame. It missed some tackles and gave up some big plays generally got its job done. It stopped the Giants several times on short fields and prevented a few red zone possessions from ending in touchdowns. It would be outstanding if they had someone who could get to the quarterback when Clay Matthews is contained but this has been a hole all season. They only allowed two Giants touchdowns before the game was out of hand–it’s hard to blame them for preventing the Manningham TD when the Giants started the drive inside the Packers 5–and did more than enough to keep the Packers in the game while the offense was sputtering.

In the third quarter, the Giants didn’t pick up a single first down. A common motif of the Packers’ past two seasons had been winning their games with great starts to the second half as they outscored their opponents in the third quarter 241-84 over a 32-game stretch. But due to forced and unforced errors, they failed to capitalize. The Giants let them hang around far longer than would be advisable but ultimately found a way to put the game solidly out of reach late.

Once again, much credit goes to the Giants organization and their fans for a successful business trip. With the exception of one Giants fan that resembled a Jersey Shore character who took exception to my common “I really, sincerely hope that the Giants lose tomorrow” refrain, said with a smile, that gets a rise out of most people, everybody we encountered was friendly, courteous, and having a blast in Green Bay. After having iceballs thrown at them by Eagles and Jets fans, they could not believe the hospitality that they were received with and were more than appreciative. They loved Lambeau and everything about and around it.

But part of me will always feel that the Packers lost this game under the auspices of controllable factors. Over the past season and a half, we have become accustomed to coming up with a big play that dramatically shifts the momentum in the Packers’ favor. It never came and the Packers couldn’t put enough small ones together to equal a big one at any point in the third quarter or early in the fourth–when they had opportunities to do so and execution was desperately needed–and suffered an early exit as a result.

As it always is, the offseason will be long and harrowing. For me, nothing in sports compares to the beauty and excitement of the Packers on an NFL Sunday and the loss of those will leave a gaping void in my life forever until mid-September. But perhaps the scarcity of these wonderful days is what makes it so special when it’s football season.

Although they certainly could have done it again this year, you can’t win the Super Bowl every season; winning one every 16 years means you are doing it twice as often as expected. It isn’t just greedy to count every season that doesn’t result in a championship as a failure unconditionally, it’s a self-effacing practice that leads to substantially more unhappiness than joy.

I love this team, am proud of what it has accomplished thus far on its journey, and am optimistic for its future. It never feels like we will make it to mid-September, but we always do. Go Pack Go.

 

 

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One Response to Football and Me Part XVII-B

  1. aattarw says:

    I’d be harsher on the defense if I were you, they were sloppy with their tackling and soft in coverage. They went to sleep at the end of the first half, the Bradshaw run was inexcusable given that the Giants telegraphed the play prior to the timeout and were conceding the clock. Then they followed it up by assuming that the Giants were going for a quick out to set up a field goal AND Nicks beat two guys for the ball. Woodson isn’t the cover guy he was in the past, but that’s to be expected.

    The guy who’s getting off way too easy on this is BJ Raji. His drop off in play since the Super Bowl has been the single greatest reason why the Packers went from one of the best defensive teams in the league to a team that relies solely on forcing turnovers. You’re absolutely right that they need another pass rusher, but the guy they thought that they had to do it was Raji and he was a no show in this game and really all season. Last season’s Packers defense doesn’t let the Giants win this game.

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