Fennelly: Giants One and Done After Deflating Loss to Packers

The Giants came into their NFC WildCard showdown with the Green Bay Packers sporting one of the stingiest defenses in the league. The Packers were red hot, too. QB Aaron Rodgers was on a roll closing out the season with 15 touchdown passes, no interceptions and a 121.0 passer rating during the team’s six-game winning streak. Something had to give,

Early on, it was Rodgers and the Packers who gave in. The Giants kept them off the scoreboard for the first 27 and a half minutes with a dominating defensive performance, sacking Rodgers twice and forcing punts on the Packers first five possessions. Then Rodgers went to work, throwing two TDs in the final two and a half minutes of the half, the second a “Hail Mary” to WR Randall Cobb that seemed impossible considering the number of Giant defenders in the area.

“We all jumped, but thought it was overthrown,” safety Landon Collins said after the game. “Cobb just stayed in bounds, reached out and caught it. I was surprised that he caught the ball and stayed in bounds. That’s what great players do. That’s what you’re supposed to do. Get the ball. I guess that was what the assignment was. He did a great job at what he did.”

The Packers led, 14-6 at halftime despite all the Giants’ efforts to stop them. It was their offense that let them down in this game, managing only two field goals in the first half after several impressive drives. Dropped passes by the much-maligned wide receivers, who took a ton of heat for their South Florida jaunt after the win over Washington last week, were the major culprit of the offensive failures.

Odell Beckham, Jr. and Sterling Shepard both dropped passes in the end zone. Beckham was held to just four catches for 28 yards on 11 targets and punched a hole in the locker room wall after the game out of frustration. Shepard fared better with four grabs for 63 yards, but all in all the group was disappointing.

“There were plays early in the game that were just inches away,” Beckham said. “It’s right there, but you just don’t come away with them. As easy as it is to say that you have to take it and grow from them, you really do. You have to sit here and embrace this feeling. You have to swallow it and go on about your business. That’s really all I can say. It’s inches away. They were right there.”

The frustration carried into the second half, which was owned by Rodgers and Green Bay. The Giants could only muster a 41-yard TD pass play from QB Eli Manning to reserve WR Tavarres King while Rodgers carved up the Giants’ suddenly benevolent defense for 24 points. He did it without the services of his favorite receiver, Jordy Nelson, who exited the game with broken ribs in the first half.

The final was 38-13 and by the time it ended the Giants’ competitive first half was a distant memory. The loss took the air out of an 11-win season that finally shone some light on an organization which was coming off three losing seasons. On Sunday, they looked as if they reverted back to those times.

“Tough way to end a season,” said head coach Ben McAdoo. “Give Green Bay credit. They played well tonight. We struggled to play complete team football in all three phases and we didn’t handle the ball particularly well.”

He was right. The Giants didn’t do many things right on offense and then on defense. Their special teams, which were above average all season, also underperformed. Punter Brad Wing, who won consecutive Special Teams Player of the Week awards down the stretch, had his worst game of the season. His line-drive punts gave the Packers optimal field position on several occasions.

The bottom line is that the Giants’ offense, which did not exceed 30 points in a single game this season, sputtered again. They hadn’t eclipsed 20 points in their last six games coming into the playoffs. If they were going to win in Green Bay, they needed to play 60 minutes of shut down defense because they offense simply couldn’t get the job done, even thought they were facing the NFL’s 31st ranked pass defense.

“We just didn’t score enough,” Manning said, sounding like a broken record. “Teams were going to double Odell and we knew that. We tried to create ways to get him the ball. You have to run the ball in those situations. Today, we had some third down opportunities and converted some, but just didn’t convert enough in the red zone and didn’t convert enough early on. Offensively, we weren’t as explosive as we thought we could be. Credit to teams for game planning and not giving us those explosive plays.”

We will, but we’re getting tired of doing that.

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