On a "Black Monday" in Green Bay that few could have imagined while the Packers were flirting with perfection much of the season, there are any number of possible reasons being bandied about by team observers in an attempt to explain the defending Super Bowl champion's worst performance of the season by far in a 37-20 divisional-playoff drubbing by the Giants.
After becoming the first team in league history to win as many as 15 games and then lose its postseason opener, there are more than a few excuses worth considering one day after a decidedly subpar effort on both sides of the ball that was lame enough to trigger a very unusual mass exodus from Lambeau Field midway through the fourth quarter:
• Did the tragic drowning of Michael Philbin, the 21-year-old son of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, leave the Packers just too emotionally spent?
• Did rumors that Packers assistants Winston Moss, Dom Capers and Philbin could be coveted as head coaches elsewhere add to the distractions above and beyond preparing for a Giants team that was living large off the exact same kind of mojo the Packers were feeling a year ago at this time?
• Did Packers head coach Mike McCarthy make a tactical mistake, risking the possibility of too much rust on his squad after deciding to rest so many key players that were healthy enough to play in the regular-season finale, including Aaron Rodgers, who was playing Sunday for the first time since Christmas night?
• Did the absence of Pro Bowl FS Nick Collins for much of the season because of a career-threatening neck injury, which resulted in a lack of cohesiveness in the pass defense week in and week out, finally takes its ultimate toll at the worst possible time?
Let's just say that the confluence of all these factors could be greatly responsible for the very hollow feeling hovering over Packers Nation, although there's no denying one other fact: While the Packers stumbled and bumbled from beginning to end, the Giants simply played their butts off.
The PFW Spin
We've known all year that the Packers were playing with fire because their defense, Collins or no Collins, was laden with shortcomings — most notably a virtually nonexistent pass rush that put undue pressure on the secondary. While Giants QB Eli Manning was masterful, particularly on third down, the fact that he had time enough to make a pot of coffee on most of his dropbacks certainly helped his cause.
Looking for a few stats that speak volumes? It's bad enough that the Packers managed only six sacks in their last seven games counting Sunday. It's worse that only six of the team's 30 sacks on the season were registered by defensive linemen.
Especially after watching the Giants' D-line inflict tide-turning pressure on a Packers' starting offensive line that was operating together fully for the first time since Week Three, it would be a surprise if Green Bay GM Ted Thompson did not make pass rushers a major priority in the draft, as well as perhaps in free agency, which "TT" usually shuns.
Three other needs that must be addressed in no particular order are cornerback, safety and offensive tackle. It was impossible to ignore how much aging CB Charles Woodson, who along with OLB Clay Matthews provides the heart and soul of the Packers' "D," was a nonfactor Sunday. Same goes for aging OLT Chad Clifton, who ran out of gas early on and had to be replaced by Marshall Newhouse. As far as safety goes, while Morgan Burnett actually had a decent game, fellow starter Charlie Peprah was putrid, particularly when he bounced off Hakeem Nicks like a superball when trying to tackle the Giants' wideout on what turned out to be a 66-yard score.
As for the offense, it was a simple case of Rodgers just not having it — an unlikely handicap that filtered down to his teammates. Uncharacteristic fumbles (before Sunday, FB John Kuhn had never put the ball on the ground), errant throws and one dropped pass after another conspired to drop the previously perfect Packers out of this year's postseason derby.
Suffice it to say, it was a disappointment of "Giant" proportions that will linger long into the offseason.