Well, I finally got around to watching the film of the Packers' playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl-winning New York Giants. The Packers' offense was lousy in that game, certainly nowhere close to their regular-season performances, but seven plays stood out to me in particular. All of them occurred at critical times, most of them in Giants territory. All of them ended offensive drives, either with turnovers or missed passes/catches. The conditions were not good--it was both cold and extremely windy--but the Giants didn't appear to have nearly the trouble with the elements that Green Bay might have. Here, without further introduction, are the Maleficent Seven.
Third and 3 from the Giants' 31-yard line, 5:52 to go in the first quarter. The Packers send out three wide receivers, including Greg Jennings in the slot right side. The Giants blitz a man off left tackle, who's picked up by John Kuhn. Jennings fakes a quick-in, then runs deep, having shaken off Giants safety Antrel Rolle. As Aaron Rodgers steps up in the pocket and scrambles to his right, he spies Jennings wide open at around the seven-yard line of the Giants. Rodgers either misjudges the wind or just makes a terrible throw; instead of hitting Jennings in stride, the ball is to the wrong shoulder and about two feet high and wide of him. It's a total miss. The Packers have to settle for a field goal that ties the game, 3-3.
Third and 7 from the Giants' 43-yard line, 9:17 to go in the second quarter. The Packers again send three wide recievers out and put TE Tom Crabtree next to RT Bryan Bulaga. At the snap, Crabtree runs straight for ten yards, then digs in his feet and comes back. He's open under the coverage of LB Michael Boley, but drops the ball when Rodgers throws it to him. It hit him directly in the hands. The Packers punt it away and it remains 10-10.
First and 10 from the Packers' 38, 5:27 to go in the 2nd. After a Morgan Burnett interception of Eli Manning, the Packers get the ball and are driving. Rodgers has just converted a third and 7 with a great catch by Jennings, and the Packers give the ball to Kuhn on an inside handoff. The Packers are in an I-formation with three wides. The play is an inside zone run left, and Bulaga pulls to that side. Nobody is blocking DE Justin Tuck. When Kuhn cuts back to the right, his arm appears to hit Bulaga's back as the tackle goes by, dislodging the ball. Kuhn is sandwiched by Tuck and DT Rocky Bernard, the ball goes flying as he tries to secure it, and it's recovered by Rolle. Four plays later, the Giants kick a field goal to make it 13-10.
First and 10 from the Giants' 31, 10:36 remaining in the 3rd. Again, the Packers are in an I with three wides, with Jennings split wide to the left. Jennings fakes in towards the center of the field as Rodgers pump-fakes, then runs straight up the sideline, completely wide open (Aaron Ross bit on the fake). As Rodgers reloads and prepares to throw it deep, disaster strikes. Right end Osi Umenyiora had given LT Chad Clifton a big arm-over and now gets right in Rodgers' face. LG T.J. Lang tries to slow Umenyiora down, but can't do that without holding him. Umenyiora jumps right through Lang's arms and smacks the ball out of Rodgers' hand before he can throw. Clifton has a great chance to recover the football but misses and the Giants recover. Instead of a touchdown to cut the lead to 20-17, it remains 20-10 in the Giants' favor.
Third and 5 from the Giants' 17, 4:07 to go in the third. As missed opportunities go, this is the only one where the Packers did everything right and still couldn't punch it in. Jennings is in the slot to the left with Rodgers in the shotgun, covered by Antrel Rolle. Jermichael Finley, split wide left, runs a short stop route and is open for the first down; Rodgers, however, throws it deep to Jennings down the left sideline. The pass could not be better aimed, but it hits Jennings right in the left hand and bounces harmlessly away. At the last second, Rolle reaches in with his left arm and prevents Jennings' right hand from getting to the ball. Without that interference, Jennings would most likely have caught it. It's unquestionably pass interference, more so because Rolle had his back to the ball, just subtle enough to be missed but just consequential enough to prevent the catch. However, it went uncalled.
To be fair, the Packers caught a break earlier when Jennings' fumble was called down-by-contact in the second quarter; they scored a TD later on that drive, so you might call this one even. Jennings almost certainly lost control of that football before going down. But this play, which came at a critical time for the Packers, was a killer. The Packers would kick a field goal to cut the game to 20-13, but would never again come that close.
Third and 5 from the Giants' 41, 13:06 to go in the game. The Packers had just forced a three-and-out and had all kinds of momentum going; this is the seventh play of a sustained drive, and one of the Packers' most infamous in the game. The Packers send out four wide recievers, plus Finley split wide right. At the snap, the man (Corey Webster) on Finley turns his hips and can't stay with him when Finley cuts to the middle of the field. He's open about six yards past the first-down marker. It's pitch and catch.
Finley was visibly angry after the play, while Rodgers just looked disappointed. It looks like Rodgers' throw just leads Finley too far; Finley doesn't appear to slow down on his route, which was my suspicion. At any rate Finley dives, fully extending his arms, and the pass clangs off his outstretched right hand; it's too far to his right for him to use the left as well. As hard as the throw was, it's questionable whether he could've hauled it in one-handed even under ideal conditions. Only the toughest of graders would call that a drop. The Packers went for it on fourth and 5, but Rodgers was sacked and the Giants took over, eventually kicking another field goal. 23-13.
Second and 5 from the Packers' 34, 7:10 remaining in the game. Down by 10, the Packers weren't done yet, but it felt like they were. This drive represented essentially their last chance to get back into the game. Rodgers checks down to Grant for 5 on first down, then checks it to him again on second down in the left flat. Grant breaks the tackle of Michael Boley, shakes off Aaron Ross, then fumbles when hit by safety Kenny Phillips. Phillips's hand appeared to snake into Grant's breadbasket and punch the ball free. The Giants returned the ball down to the Packers' three-yard line, from which they scored one play later. The touchdown ran the score to 30-13 and effectively ended the Packers' hopes.