Somewhere, there's a box of "Green Bay Packers, NFC Champions" T-shirts headed for India.
The New York Giants rewrote the ending of the Packers' storied season with a 23-20 overtime win in the NFC Championship on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
This one hurts.
The game was minus-1 degree at kickoff and dropped to minus-4 by the end, but it was the hometown Pack who looked most affected; most notably Brett Favre. The man whose legend was predicated largely on his cold-weather prowess has now, in two games, looked less-than-mortal in ill conditions. On Dec. 23, the Packers went into Soldier Field and left a steaming hunk of nothing on the field en route to a 35-7 loss to the Chicago Bears. The temp was 16 degrees with a minus-18 wind chill, and Favre went 17-of-32 for 153 yards and two interceptions.
This Sunday, he went 19-of-35 for 236 and two TDs and two INTs. The last INT was simply a bad throw to CB Corey Webster (who he'd beaten for a 90-yard TD early in the game), which gave Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes a chance to avenge two missed field goals by hitting a 47-yarder that decided the game.
While it was cold for everyone, Favre looked more uncomfortable than most, ducking back under cover after each offensive possession; the camera caught him stuffing handwarmers inside his headscarf like he'd just discovered a new snack. He looked like he'd just gotten off the bus from Mississippi, when in reality his Giants counterpart, Eli Manning, also hails from the Magnolia State and didn't seem nearly as uncomfortable.
During those possessions, Favre's passes were often off target, negating the team's ability to go deep and take advantage of the Giants' starting two backup CBs. (Favre's last pick was on a deep out, which he usually makes.) So for all the Packers' troubles going deep, the Giants' defense did an outstanding job covering the short, high-percentage stuff as well. LB Antonio Pierce single-handedly blew up an otherwise wide-open screen pass; DT Justin Tuck another. The Giants also shut down the Packers' rediscovered running game, holding Ryan Grant to 29 yards on 13 carries a week after he'd gashed Seattle for 201 and three scores.
Manning didn't even wear a headscarf. He finished 21-of-40 for 251 yards. He wasn't outstanding, missing as badly as Favre on many throws, but he didn't look rattled either. The Packers slowed monster RB Brandon Jacobs (21-for-67) but had no answer for Plaxico Burress. The 6-foot-5 WR hauled in 11 balls for 154 yards against one of the best cover-corner duos in the league.
The Giants converted just 6 of their 16 third-downs; the Packers just 1-of-10.
But they had so many other opportunities. ... Tynes missed field goals of 43 and 36 yards, the latter of which would've won the game but for a bad snap and a bad hook left. ... R.W. McQuarters got Favre's first pick, early in the fourth quarter with the Giants leading 20-17, but he fumbled it on the return and the Packers' right tackle (and Auburndale native) Mark Tauscher recovered. The Packers tied it on a Mason Crosby field goal. ... Of the Giants' 6 third-down conversions, two were on huge penalties called on the Packers. One was a questionable (translation: complete bullshit) roughing-the-passer call on FS Nick Collins. Another was a more legitimate call on CB Al Harris for illegal use of hands while intercepting Manning early in the third at midfield. ... After McQuarters fumbled a Packer punt with 2:30 to play in the fourth, CB Jarrett Bush tried to pick it up, bobbled it, and the Giants wound up recovering. Bush, a young player who either was trying to get onto SportsCenter or was simply hoping to provide the spark his team's offense couldn't, could have given the Packers a 1st-and-10 near midfield. ... On the next play, Ahmad Bradshaw broke loose for a TD run that was called back on a holding penalty, and sighs of *whew* went up across Packerland.
But enough X's and O's.
My issue with Favre's duck-and-cover routine is because of the message I would think that sent to the rest of the players. Maybe they didn't care; it just looked bad to me on the other end of a TV feed, on a nice cushy sofa in a warm living room.
But it's easy to look for a scapegoat when you've invested so much emotion into this team. After an overachieving season that had the Packers as 75-to-1 odds to make the Super Bowl in August, we found ourselves wishing for a classic storyline of Old Man Favre spoiling the Patriots' bid for a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII before riding off into the sunset. This after watching the Giants upset the Dallas Cowboys a week ago and thus routing the road to the Super Bowl through Lambeau.
But this was the second time I've felt it was the Packers' last, best chance to win a Super Bowl; the other being the team's 20-17 overtime loss at Philadelphia on Jan. 11, 2004. That one, too, ended largely due to an inexplicably awful INT by Favre.
This one is going to take a few days, as it's difficult to decide right now if I want Favre to come back and put this young-but-burgeoning team over the top and into the Big Game, or walk away and let Aaron Rodgers, who is entering a contract year, take the reins.
Pending anything official from Favre, I guess I've got time to think about it.