It's tough for the Green Bay Packers corner to walk by the New York colors without thinking of what could've been, of everything his team lost by playing its worst game at the worst possible time. Williams can take you through each turn, even the minor ones, from that day.
Point is, Williams hasn't let it go. And if you think that's taking the loss hard, you ought to see how irked his coach is over it.
"It'll always bother me," Mike McCarthy told NFL.com on Thursday. The Packers leader then paused, before firing off five straight sentences about the respect he has for his Giants counterpart Tom Coughlin, to be sure his adversary on that afternoon got his due: "I think he's one of the top coaches in the league. I just really like the way he goes about it, always have." But then it was right back to describing how he felt, and still feels, about the 37-20 beatdown on the Packers' home turf.
"I felt in '07, we were beaten in the overtime game, they made one more big play than we did," McCarthy said, referencing that season's Packers-Giants NFC title game. "And for them to go on the road, I don't want this to come out the wrong way, because that win is special, that's a great win for their football team. The margin of victory they won with, too, is definitely to their credit. But I feel like we beat ourselves in this playoff game. Or better yet, we didn't give ourselves a chance to win the game.
"The '07 game was a heck of a football game and they made one more play than we did. We didn't give ourselves a chance to win this one. You'd rather someone beat you."
This week has been a busy one for the Packers coach. Sunday and Monday, he held his annual golf tournament, which raised $270,000 for American Family Children's Hospital. Mandatory minicamp kicked off Tuesday. McCarthy cancelled practice Wednesday to take the team to shoot clay pigeons, and wrapped up the offseason program Thursday. After a hectic two years with his young children and some home renovation, the coach is excited to shut it down soon and recharge for the season.
But Jan. 15 is still rattling around in his head, and probably will be until real games -- the ones that take place September through February -- are played.
And again, the reason is the problems on that cold Wisconsin afternoon were avoidable. The Packers turned the ball over just 14 times during the 16-game regular season, but had four giveaways that day. They allowed an inexplicable 37-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks on the final play of the first half. Osi Umenyiora's crucial strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers came with the Packers in a seven-man protection, and John Kuhn's fumble came when he crashed into one of his own blockers.
They also got into too many long-yardage situations, and the pass rush and tackling problems the defense had all year were accentuated by the sloppy play.
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"And that's kind of how the game went," McCarthy said. "We've been good enough to overcome those types of situations. We weren't that day."
These aren't excuses, in McCarthy's mind. In fact, the way he sees it, the laundry list of that day's problems are a way to look at accountability, personal and otherwise. The Packers were 10-6, and the NFC's No. 6 seed in 2010, and won the Super Bowl. They were everyone's darling in 2011, became a threat to the '72 Dolphins well into December and finished 15-1. But what did that get them? Tee times at a time of year when the practice field looks like the most appealing place to be.
"The biggest lesson is in adversity, and the Super Bowl team handled it, time and time and time again, and in bunches, in chunks," McCarthy said. "The Miami game. The Washington game. There were times during the season, it was just, 'Wow.' Detroit with Aaron, and then going up to New England. There are great examples. And then last year, we get in a tough situation in Kansas City, and we didn't handle it very well. I didn't handle it very well.
"That's the thing that kicks me around at night: Did I do the right thing the Giants week? Is there something I could've done differently with our team? That's what you learn from. Unfortunately, we had two subpar days that cost us, and one was in the playoffs. Trust me, I understand the importance of playoff football. I don't just chalk it up to a bad day, I don't believe in that thought process. I believe that you gotta be brutally honest with yourself and make sure it never happens again."
But McCarthy hasn't addressed that day, or the 2011 season, as a singular subject yet, because the nature of the newly tightened schedule of the allotted time in the spring has made each hour more valuable from a coaching standpoint, and because it's less common to have the team together en masse at this point in the calendar. Under the previous CBA rules, he says he might've done it by now, and he figures it will come summer, when the club gathers for training camp.
As for what he'll say, McCarthy's not going to give that away now, but he conceded that he wants to "make sure past experiences are applied to a new experience." Another part of the message will be that, in his words, "15-1's not cutting it. It's winning world championships here. They don't talk about 15-1 teams. They talk about the teams that won the Super Bowl."
It's easy to forget now that in December, the Packers were the toast of the NFL, coming off a Super Bowl championship, riding the wave of a 13-0 start, and threatening records for winning streaks and offensive production with a roster loaded with 20-somethings. It didn't take much to change that narrative.
The truth is McCarthy wouldn't want it any other way. The fact that a loss in the second round of the playoffs adds up to abject failure is something the coach gets. It shows where the McCarthy/Ted Thompson program is. But it also illustrates who the Packers are. And make no mistake, the coach has no problem with anyone else looking at last January as a disaster for his team. Because that's exactly how he sees it.
"Frankly, our history and tradition is our checks and balances," McCarthy said. "Four-game win streaks, 10-game winning streaks, we really don't have anybody beating their chest, because we know what it's all about. I'm not disrespecting other organizations, but some teams have never won, or done it once in 50 years. It's different. It's different when it's in your face every day, it's part of your workplace. I mean, it's what you sign on for. It's not only accepted and understood, it's the reality of working here."
Better now, as McCarthy sees it, for the Packers to confront all of that. As the coach says, don't forget what happened last year -- make sure it never happens again.