The Kansas City Chiefs designed the blueprint. Now it’s up to the Giants to follow the plans, build on the foundation and put the same kind of hurt on the Green Bay Packers.
The Giants, convinced they can ride their “believe” theme all the way to another surprise championship, will face the Packers Sunday in Lambeau Field in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game. To say it’s a daunting task for the visitors is a vast understatement.
Green Bay has won 13 home games in a row and 19 of 20 in Lambeau. The Packers averaged 35.0 points a game, the fifth-highest figure in NFL history. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers set a single-season record with a 122.5 passer rating. He holds the career postseason marks for passer rating (112.6), completion percentage (67.8) and yards-per-attempt (8.72). The Packers have outstanding players up and down their lineup on offense, defense and special teams.
But they are not unbeatable. That was proven on Dec. 18 in Kansas City, where the Chiefs defeated the Packers, 19-14. It was the only blemish on Green Bay’s 15-1 record and the only defeat the Packers suffered in their last 22 regular season and postseason games dating back to December 2010.
The Chiefs shut out the Packers in the first half and held them to 10 fewer points than they scored in any other game. Green Bay tied its season low with 16 first downs and was well under its season averages for total yards and passing yards. Rodgers was sacked four times and had a season-low rating of 80.1.
Kansas City stifled the Packers just two weeks after Green Bay invaded MetLife Stadium and piled up 29 first downs, 449 yards and 360 passing yards in a 38-35 defeat of the Giants. Rodgers threw four touchdowns against the Giants for the second time in less than a year to lead the Packers to a victory that was not secured until Mason Crosby kicked a 31-yard field goal as time expired.
The Giants have been candid in saying this week they have studied the Chiefs-Packers game to see how Kansas City succeeded where so many teams came up short.
“They held them to 315 total yards (90 below the Packers’ average),” Coach Tom Coughlin said. “They ran the ball. When Green Bay went through here they had time of possession on us (33:03-26:57). Kansas City had way (more) time of possession on Green Bay (36:11-23:49). Green Bay had some things that occurred in the game where they weren’t as efficient, let’s put it that way, as they might have been in other situations. I think Kansas City was very physical in that game.”
“When I looked at the tape, I thought Kansas City did a nice job,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. “They were very physical with them. Their desire up front to get after the quarterback and putting multiple hits on the quarterback, I thought, was good. I thought their corners covered their receivers well. I thought Kansas City may have wanted it a little bit more and they played like they wanted it a little bit more. From an X’s and O’s standpoint, there were things that we learned from the tape that, you know, we hoped we could use. I thought it came down to desire in that football game and Kansas City played with a lot of desire.”
The importance of playing a physical brand of football against Green Bay is a theme the Giants have repeated often this season. The players also studied the Kansas City game and they are convinced that was a key to the Chiefs’ victory.
Here’s a sampling of what a few Giants had to say after studying the Packers’ only defeat:
Safety Antrel Rolle: “That was the first film I watched. They attacked them defensively. They were very physical. I think they were more physical than Green Bay on that given day and they won the game.”
Linebacker Michael Boley: “You can take a lot from that game. KC did some things that a lot of teams didn’t do, they hit them in the mouth and made it a real physical game.”
Defensive tackle Chris Canty: “The Chiefs did a great job of being physical. They tried to slow the game down as much as possible and contain Rodgers in the pocket as much as possible. Rush him as a group with their front four, they rushed him as a group. They did a good job working together. Collectively I think everyone understood the task at hand and responded. You have to do that as a defense, to collectively be on the same page.”
Defensive end Justin Tuck: “It looks like they (the Chiefs) were more physical. The Chiefs missed a lot of opportunities, too. Obviously, I saw a lot of dropped passes from the Green Bay Packers that they normally wouldn’t drop. But I think at the end of the day the team that wins this game is the team that is more physical.”
Clearly, the Giants’ defenders will do everything they can to take Rodgers and Co. out of their comfort zone. The Giants believe it is imperative that they win the physical battle. They will go after Rodgers. They will challenge the Packers’ receivers. And they will look to punish any green-clad player with the ball.
“Get pressure on the quarterback,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. “Stop the run and make sure you get to him early and often, and if you jam the receivers and get pressure on the quarterback, it throws their entire offense out of rhythm. So that’s what we need to do.”
The Giants are in better condition to do that than they were in the first Green Bay game. Tuck was not at full strength with an ankle injury after dealing with neck and groin problems earlier in the season. Osi Umenyiora was sidelined with a sprained ankle he had suffered the previous Monday night in New Orleans. He didn’t return until the NFC East-clinching victory over Dallas on New Year’s Night and has three sacks in the two games he’s played.
The strength of the Giants’ defense is the line and its ability to harass opposing quarterbacks. Jason Pierre-Paul was fourth in the NFL with 16.5 sacks, and Umenyiora had 9.0, despite missing seven games.
“Everybody is healthy and the rotation is good and that is less stress for all of us,” Pierre-Paul said. “We are fresh when we go in there so we can rush the passer and play the run. If any of us gets tired, we can go out there and get a spell because we have each other’s back.”
“We’re not going to make excuses coming in or going out of a game,” Kiwanuka said. “We go in to win with the people we have. We would have liked to have fared better with the people we had. But you know when you have Osi coming off the edge, it’s going to affect the game. It’s a big deal for us.”
Boley was not at full strength for the Packers after missing the previous 2½ games with a hamstring injury. He was expected to play only in a limited number of packages, but a hamstring injury suffered in the game by rookie Spencer Paysinger forced him to take on a larger role.
Boley had four tackles.
“I was about 70 percent when I came back for that game,” Boley said. “Going into that game, my plan was to play very limited, and unfortunately we had an injury so I had to go and that led me to play more snaps than I thought I was.”
In addition to the players who were sidelined or less than full strength, safety Kenny Phillips hurt his knee in the first half and did not return.
“Kenny’s such a good athlete, we want to do a lot of different things with him,” Fewell said. “Last Packers game we played, we had a specific role for him but he was injured in the ballgame and we didn’t see that role come to fruition. We’ll use Kenny’s talents in certain situations. This week, we’ll try to use Kenny’s talents and try to get that quantum leap from Kenny this week.”
With Umenyiora, Boley and Phillips – an important linemen, linebacker and defensive back - ready to go, the Giants are eager to line up against the Packers with a healthy defense.
“I think we are playing a lot better,” Umenyiora said. “For whatever reasons, I don’t know why. I think everybody seems to be coming together now. In the back end we are playing better now and in the front we are playing better. The calls are coming in better and we just seem to be playing better than we were back then.”
The Giants have no illusions about the difficulty of the task they face this weekend. They lost by four touchdowns in Lambeau just over a year ago, on Dec. 26, 2010. Last month, they competed to the final play, but couldn’t close the deal.
Now they face the NFL’s leader in victories and points scored, a team with an array of playmakers and a quarterback that has played almost flawlessly at times, and they must do so in a stadium where the home team seldom loses.
Despite – or perhaps because of – all those seemingly disadvantages, the Giants relish the challenge.
“This is the type of thing you hope for when you’re walking off a regular season loss,” Kiwanuka said. “(You say), ‘I hope we see this team again.’ Especially when you feel like, had we done this, or had we done that, we would have fared better in that game. So to get a rematch is great, but it’s just a step in our goal.”
“That (Dec. 4) game could have been different if we had a few components that were missing,” Rolle said. “Justin Tuck wasn’t healthy. We were missing Osi. Boley went in with a banged-up hamstring and other things that he had at that particular moment. But we don’t hang our heads on that. We made adjustments and we made strides missing key people on our defense all year long. We’re just fortunate enough to have everyone healthy and everyone all on deck. We’ll see what the outcome is come Sunday.”
*Linebacker Mark Herzlich (ankle) has been declared out of the game. Everyone else on the Giants’ injury report is probable: running backs Ahmad Bradshaw (foot/back), D.J. Ware (concussion) and Da’Rel Scott (knee); cornerbacks Corey Webster (hamstring) and Aaron Ross (concussion); safety Deon Grant (quad); and Umenyiora (ankle/knee). Webster, Grant and Umenyiora were limited in practice, while the other players practiced fully.
Bradshaw downplayed his back issue, which surfaced this week.
“It is no big deal,” he said. “It is just a lot of tightness. It feels better now and I feel good. I feel good about it. It is nothing serious.”
Bradshaw also had some positive comments about his oft-injured foot, which forced him to miss four games in the middle of the season.
“I have been taking some Forteo, I don’t know if it is like a steroid but it is a protein that helps you grow bone,” he said. “The foot looks great, the fracture is healing in with the bone, we are excited about it.”
*The Packers are the sixth team in NFL history to finish the regular season with a record of 15-1 or better. The Giants played five of them. They hosted each of the last three of those teams in December and lost each game by three points: The 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers (33-30), the 2007 New England Patriots, who finished 16-0, and this season’s Packers, both by a score of 38-35. The Giants turned the tables and beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, 17-14.
The Giants lost to two other 15-1 teams: The 1984 San Francisco 49ers (31-10 in the regular season and 21-10 in a divisional playoff game) and the 1985 Chicago Bears (21-0 in a divisional playoff). The only 15-1 team they did not face was the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.
*Although the Packers won the Super Bowl last year, this will be their first home playoff game since the 2007 NFC Championship Game against the Giants. They lost a wild card game at Arizona in 2009 and as the NFC’s sixth seed last season, won three postseason road games before defeating Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.
*The Giants have 15 players on their current roster who played in the title game in Green Bay four years ago.
Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs, Chris Snee, David Diehl and Kareem McKenzie started on offense. Current starters Bradshaw and Kevin Boothe were reserves.
Umenyiora and Webster are the only defensive starters remaining. Ross, Tuck, Chase Blackburn and Dave Tollefson were reserves.
Kicker Lawrence Tynes and long snapper Zak DeOssie (who then handled only the punt snaps because Jay Alford did the placekicks) are still in their respective positions.
*Since the advent of free agency in 1993, there has been just one season - 1999 - that didn’t include either the Giants or Packers in the playoffs.
*This is the fifth time the Giants and Packers will meet in the regular season and in the playoffs in the same season. It also happened in 1938, 1944, 1961 and 2007. Each team won two of the postseason games.