Coming into Sunday night’s came, the Green Bay Packers (7-4) looked like the hero in a Broadway musical. They were riding on a five-game winning streak and were poised to take command of the NFC North. Their look, complete with Broadway-esque mustaches, was determined and the momentum was on their side.
The plotline was worthy of a Broadway musical as well. The Packers were looking for revenge against the New York Giants (7-4), who upset the top-seed 37-20 in last year’s playoffs.
It was also a meeting of the two most recent Super Bowl Champions.
In every way, the game was worthy of a Broadway script. The Giants were coming off a two-game skid and were in an offensive slump worse than NFL kickers. In the last four games, the Giants defense had given up 20+ points to the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Cincinnati Bengals.
But when the lights came up and the stage was set, it was Eli Manning who stole the show. Coming off a bye week, Manning threw for 249 yards in the 38-10 rout of the Packers. He also became the Giants career touchdown leader with 200 touchdown passes in his career. “I never thought my arm was tired,” Manning said in a post-game interview, “After 10 weeks, it definitely needed some time off.”
In the beginning, the game looked like it would live up to its expectations. After the Giants set the tone with an early score, the Packers responded with 61-yard touchdown reception from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson.
After that, it was clear that the Packers missed their star performers. Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson, and Greg Jennings were once again sidelined due to injury. Also, their offensive line had more holes than Swiss cheese. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked five times before the Packers finally put backup Graham Harrell in for the last four minutes of the 4th quarter.
“When your quarterback is under pressure like that, it affected me tonight,” said Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. “I probably didn’t call the best game I’ve called. You have to protect your quarterback. It’s your No. 1 responsibility.”
In some ways, the game looked very similar to last year’s playoff loss. The Packers suffered from the same problems and got pushed around on both sides of the ball. Without Matthews the defense was unable to pressure Manning while the offense was never able to get into rhythm. “They outplayed us in all phases of the game,” defensive tackle Ryan Pickett told reporters for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The biggest difference between this year’s game against the Giants and last year’s is that the Packers have some time to regroup and refocus. The loss to the Giants puts them in 2nd place in the division. If the season were to end today, the Packers would, once again, play the Giants in the first round of the playoffs, this time as the Wild Card.
The Packers have four big division games coming up at the end of the season. They still have one game against the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears and both divisional games against the Minnesota Vikings. If they were to lose any of these games, the Packers’ playoffs hopes would be in jeopardy.