EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The raw emotion hit them hard, far harder than they hit any New York Giants. In the locker room, shortly after the crowd had emptied into the parking lot and the home team had ascended in the standings, the Green Bay Packers tried to sum up their showing.
In front of 80,365 screaming fans and a national TV audience, with revenge in their hearts from a humbling playoff loss 10 months ago, and with some prime postseason real estate at stake, the Packers failed to respond. To anything.
Giants cornerback Corey Webster surprised Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for an interception at Green Bay's 28-yard-line late in the first quarter to set up a field goal, and it was never close after that. The G-Men seized control of the NFC East with a resounding 38-10 win at MetLife Stadium, coasting through the final 15 minutes. It was the worst Packers loss since a 35-7 defeat to the Chicago Bears back in Week 16 of 2007.
"We weren't prepared to play," said tight end Jermichael Finley. "We got it handed to us against a great team."
The lack of grit was evident. The Packers didn't block well, tackle well, take care of the ball on offense or run to it on defense. Coach Mike McCarthy told the team at halftime that the Giants looked faster than they did, and it was true.
For the Packers, though, the questions stacked up. How could they, winners of five straight, ride into town and deliver THAT performance? And what did it mean?
"We got our behinds beat tonight," said defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who had three tackles for a defense that allowed two rushing touchdowns and sacked Manning just once. "It doesn't happen here too often, but tonight it happened. Being a veteran team, I thought we'd be ready for this game, a prime-time game on Sunday night. But evidently, it wasn't good enough tonight."
In the heat of the moment, mirages can appear. Teams can feel invincible after a win, despondent after a loss. To fully comprehend the magnitude of what happened, they must take a step back. That is Green Bay's task. To figure out whether the Sunday night debacle was a warning shot. A sign of things to come. A shot worthy of a mulligan?
"It's a blip," Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We don't see it as a step back. But we want to come into these types of games and win and even compete. Just looking at the scoreboard, it says that you weren't even in the game."
After five in a row, it's not a step forward. In the playoffs last year, the G-Men dismantled the Pack with turnovers and sound defense. More of the same this time, which isn't good news for Green Bay.
With the Packers already trailing 17-7, Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for 25 yards to spark a drive, then found Victor Cruz in the seam for a salsa-infused score. Just like that, 24-7 in the second. After a strip-sack by noted bandit Osi Umenyiora set up a 13-yard touchdown run from Ahmad Bradshaw, it was a rout. Ten first-half points off turnovers. And every time Rodgers dropped back to pass, he was under duress from that furious front four and found no one open against the Giants' crowded secondary. It was ugly.
"Doesn't taste good," McCarthy said.
As disappointed as the Packers are, there is the larger picture. Those five straight wins weren't by accident. And at some point, sack-master Clay Matthews and receiver Greg Jennings will return. They still got game. But was this a telling loss or just a random one-game occurrence?
Giants 38, Packers 10Check out the best photos from the Week 12 matchup between the Giants and Packers.
"That's a good question," Raji said. "It's tough to say. But it's not something we can't overcome. We have everything in front of us. We can still win our division, still have home field, but we're not going to do that the way we played tonight. A lot of people, when this happens, tend to look elsewhere, but we have to look at ourselves."
Should they be considered among the NFC's dangerous teams?
"We have the potential, the talent, the skill level," Finley said. "I'd put us up there."
Perhaps they will learn. Perhaps it wasn't just, as many players suggest, an emotional failure. Maybe there was a lesson.
"You win five in a row, everybody's happy," Rodgers said. "But there's often things that go under the radar that need to be handled. Sometimes, it takes a loss to handle those things. Hopefully, we remember this feeling and (do) not have this kind of embarrassment happen again."
When the Packers exited, they were down. Just like on the field. Raji noted the body language "wasn't real positive out there." But there is a positive in here somewhere. Maybe, just maybe, this won't be the last meeting. Just like last year.
"I'm pretty sure we'll see them again," Williams said. "It's almost a given."
What else is going on? Here is a rundown:
RG3 is smart -- no surprise
Last Tuesday at the Washington Redskins facility, I wondered if Robert Griffin III can tell when teams are unprepared for his college-style read-option offense, since they never practice against it. And while he agreed, the rookie took it a step further.
"There is so much focus on the new things that we're doing," Griffin said, "they don't really focus on what we have done."
As in, opponents prepare for the college attack rather than the staples of coach Mike Shanahan's offense. In Thursday's 38-31 win over the Dallas Cowboys, RG3 was 20 of 28 for 311 yards with four scores. He hit touchdown passes of 59 and 68 yards. And the Cowboys seemed a step late on traditional offensive plays. That's the danger of playing the Redskins, with their quirky looks. It's what Wildcat teams are after. Against RG3's Baylor-style looks, it seems the NFL is still trying to get there, which hurts preparation in other areas.
As Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan said, "We did all the college (expletive) well; it was the other stuff. You put that kid in there with Mike Shanahan, that's a pretty good combination, and it's going to be pretty good for a long, long time."
Buffalo being Buffalo
There comes a time in every struggling team's season when the coach's status becomes a topic. For the Buffalo Bills, now 4-7 after losing a very winnable game against the Indianapolis Colts, that time is now. But it's not because of the on-field performance. That, sadly in Buffalo, is not new. The longest playoff drought in the NFL looks like it will continue. But that's not why Chan Gailey's job status is a topic. Nor is the fact that he's just 14-29 in his third year. It's that players are beginning to question him. On Sunday, following the 20-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, receiver Stevie Johnson spoke out.
"How I see it, I think we need to let our quarterback call these plays," Johnson told reporters. "He's out there on the field. He sees the adjustments that need to be done. I think we just need to let him make adjustments on the go."
I can't ever recall a team's star asking the coach to give up play-calling duties -- even if the offense scored just 13 points, even if Buffalo can't win with Ryan Fitzpatrick's stagnancy and even with C.J. Spiller becoming a star. Those kinds of quotes will lead the Bills organization to question everything. No doubt, that will cause them to take a long look at Gailey's status.
A month ago, in the aftermath of the Houston Texans destroying the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night, Baltimore's defense was in shambles. The Ravens had given up 43 points to Houston, and spent much time afterward talking about the loss of leader Ray Lewis and cornerback Lardarius Webb to injuries. And yet, all I got from pass rusher Terrell Suggs was sunshine. While fans were up in arms, Suggs preached perspective.
"After seven games, we're 5-2," Suggs told me on Oct. 21. "You're telling me that's a downside? There are some teams whose season is over now, can't get in the playoffs. But that's not us. We still can get the 1 or 2 slot."
I nodded, but privately wondered if he was slightly delusional (not that I'd say so to his face). Yet defensive tackle Haloti Ngata sang the same song heading into the bye. He told me, "I think we'll have a good bye week and get back to the drawing board."
Well, well, well. Look what they've done. Four-and-zero since the bye, with the defense allowing 14.5 points per game. They've gotten it together, even if it hasn't been perfect. And while Sunday's overtime win over the San Diego Chargers was closer than it should've been, it only happened because the defense limited Philip Rivers to 228 passing yards and didn't allow a single play longer than 26 yards. Guess we should cancel those obits for the Ravens' D.
Some rapid-fire takes:
» The Cleveland Browns were up six with three minutes to go, having just intercepted Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch. And starter Brandon Weeden was injured. How much faith did Cleveland show in backup Colt McCoy? None. No throws in six plays, all of which were Trent Richardson runs. It could not have been clearer: The Browns don't think McCoy's a capable quarterback, even as a backup.
» Think the Browns' win was meaningful for new owner Jimmy Haslam, who used to own a piece of the Steelers? "The biggest thrill was to see who was leaving early," Haslam told The Plain Dealer. He's seeing some inspired play from his new team.
» One more note on that game: The Steelers had eight turnovers. Eight. That's astounding. Yes, Pittsburgh would've had a far better chance if Ben Roethlisberger had been available. Of course. But this wasn't all on Batch. This was a collective failure, and it put the Steelers' playoff hopes in jeopardy.
» After a likely season-ending injury to Denver Broncos running back Willis McGahee, the team needed someone to step up from its group of backs. Would you believe it was former first-round pick Knowshon Moreno? He had 20 carries for 85 yards, showing the kind of promise that had come too irregularly in his past. Peyton Manning told CBS that Moreno's experience this season on the scout team was "humbling." Maybe that's what it took.
» The most amazing thing that's happened with the San Francisco 49ers isn't the quarterback controversy. It's that Randy Moss has been a diligent, attentive blocker. He keyed that early, 7-yard touchdown run by Colin Kaepernick. My guess is the accountability expected in the 49ers' locker room has made it a necessity.
» The Atlanta Falcons, who earned a gritty, 24-23 win over the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers, seem intent on running the ball, somehow, some way. So perhaps it's no surprise that Jacquizz Rodgers received 10 carries for 49 yards, while starter Michael Turner had 13 for just 17 yards. A changing of the guard?
» I'm always amazed at people like New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Dallas Cowboys boss Jason Garrett, who never noticeably react to trying times on the field. They are the smart ones. The opposite is Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who let emotions get the best of him when he threw the faulty challenge flag that removed the review possibilities from a similarly faulty touchdown call. For fans who want their coach to show he cares or look engaged, this the downside. It can take you over.
» All those Cincinnati Bengals fans who have cursed or booed Carson Palmer should take it back. His departure stocked the team with draft picks and left them with a better quarterback in Andy Dalton. How clear was that Sunday during Cincy's 34-10 win over Palmer and his new team, the Oakland Raiders?
» Did Tim Tebow's broken ribs leave him unable to play for the New York Jets? Lots of questions after coach Rex Ryan's press conference. Ryan needs to get on the same page with himself. If Tebow wasn't available, how could the Jets possibly not have dressed Greg McElroy? Inexcusable.
» What happened to those questions about Giants quarterback Eli Manning's "tired" arm? He wasn't perfect, but he was 16 of 30 for 249 yards with three touchdowns. "When you're down, people kick you," Packers cornerback Tramon Williams told me, on the subject of Manning. "Eli's won two Super Bowls. For people to question his arm, it's ridiculous. The guy's a good QB. He took a lot of heat, but came out and showed what he can do."
» For all the promise he shows, Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker still takes one too many steps back, as evidenced by his late interception. Credit him for saying, "That's on me." But he needs to be better.
» It wasn't quite like Peyton Manning in Indianapolis, but Jay Cutler continues to prove his value to the Chicago Bears. What did the Bears need to become good again? Cutler suiting up. He completed 23 of his 31 passes for 188 yards with a touchdown and a pick, but most importantly, he was sacked just once. The way he makes the line better is the most crucial thing he brings to the table.
» The sound you heard Sunday evening was the air going out of the New Orleans Saints' playoff balloon. No, it's not over. But every time Drew Brees looks mortal, it's jarring. Throwing two pick-sixes will do that. Because if Brees isn't a megastar, the Saints' same issues -- notably with tackling -- still exist.
» Games like Sunday's remind me how essential Percy Harvin is to the Minnesota Vikings' offense. It just didn't look the same. No receiver had a play longer than 13 yards in the 28-10 loss at Chicago.
» Speaking of essential, amazing how efficient the Bengals are when BenJarvus Green-Ellis runs for 100 yards. The team is 2-0 when that happens, and it does wonders for the big-play facets of its offense.
» The Seattle Seahawks have made great strides this year, but the fact is, they look completely different on the road than they do at home. That's a sign that they still have work to do.
» There are no consolation prizes, but the Kansas City Chiefs are still fighting. And Romeo Crennel's defense -- now that he's not coordinating it -- held Peyton Manning to 17 points. It wasn't enough, though, which is typical of the way it's been in Kansas City.
» Two pick-sixes for St. Louis Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins? Guess that's why you need to work with him on his off-the-field issues rather than cast him away. What a talent.
» Mike Mularkey's job prospects are looking up with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Is it possible Blaine Gabbert was the problem? If this keeps up, the Jaguars' staff might get to start anew next year. And suddenly, quarterback Chad Henne has had a rebirth.
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