With one swift, unceremonious boot, the Green Bay Packers' amazing 2007 season went into the deep freeze while the New York Giants punched their ticket to sunny Arizona and Super Bowl XLII.
Giants' kicker Lawrence Tynes' game-winning field goal in overtime certainly atoned for the two earlier kicks he missed but the seeds for this brutal ending were planted long before the moment of truth. Simply put, the Giants were able to run and pass the ball all night long. Given that Green Bay's defense was supposed to be able rattle Eli Manning and slow down running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, it all made for a very long, frustrating evening for the 72,740 benumbed faithful in the stands. The Packers were supposed to bring the pass rush and their lock-down corners, Al Harris and Charles Woodson, were primed to disrupt New York's passing game. It didn't happen.
"He did a good job out there but he's been doing it for the last few weeks," said a subdued cornerback Tramon Williams in assessing Manning's play. "We weren't surprised because we knew he'd come in and play tough. But we also expected to come in and win."
Indeed, something really seems to have clicked for Manning. The game, as they say, is slowing down for him. He's making excellent decisions and avoiding the urge to panic. Despite the wind and frigid conditions, Manning patiently threw the ball with accuracy and precision, completing 21 of 40 passes for 246 yards and no interceptions. On the receiving end for 11 catches and 154 of those yards was lanky Plaxico Burress who was a major thorn in Harris' side all night long. The two were jawing at each other continually.
The Manning-to-Burress combo essentially attacked Harris in three ways. They used the stop fade route with Manning throwing the ball to Burress' backside shoulder and away from Harris. They also used Burress' size and strength as he pulled Harris away from his body on the bump-and run to create separation and get downfield. Finally, they took advantage of Burress' height by throwing high and letting him out-jump Harris for the ball.
"It's very disappointing," said a dejected Harris afterward. "They played better than we did tonight. They made more plays than we did. That's all it boils down to. He's prepared and I'm prepared. That's (jawing) is what you do when you compete."
When asked if he felt like Burress got the better of him in this game, Harris glared at a reporter and said, "I feel like they beat us. That's how I feel. They ended up with three more points than we did. We lost the game, the NFC Championship. There's no certain kind of disappointment. When you're disappointed, you're disappointed."
"We play a lot of man-to-man and they exposed that," added cornerback Jarrett Bush "They exposed that. They exposed our weaknesses. It's tough as a corner because, as you guys have your weaknesses we have our weaknesses in our scheme. They used it to their advantage.
"We had our opportunities," said cornerback Charles Woodson. "First you have an opportunity just to be in this game. You want to go out and play your absolute best. As a team, we didn't do it. To not play your best and still be in the game when the clock's winding down and then have it slip through your fingers at the end, that's a tough way to go out."
So how long before this team will be able to look back and appreciate how special this season really was? "I'm not sure," said Bush. "We had such high expectations and we were on a roll. The way this business is, some of us might not see each other again. This will stick with us for awhile. Maybe I'll think about it next year at this time. We've got to do something better, something more to get past this point right here. We've got to work hard, get better with our fundamentals and technique so our weaknesses won't be exposed so much."
The clock finally struck midnight for the 2007 Cinderella Packers. Now, they've got the entire off season to ask themselves why.
Tom Andrews is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.