GREEN BAY, Wis. - All week they spoke with confidence that the fourth-quarter defensive collapse against the Eagles was an aberration, that blowing a 31-10 lead in a 38-31 loss would only steel their resolve, not weaken it.
Defensive end Justin Tuck even told former teammate and mentor Michael Strahan to stuff it after his critical remarks about the defense, including the statement that the Giants "should be ashamed of themselves."
But after what happened Sunday against the Packers, looks as though Strahan was on the mark. The Giants were obliterated, 45-17, and now their playoff hopes no longer rest solely in their own hands. They'll need a win over the Redskins and some help from elsewhere. A Bears win over the Packers would back them into the playoffs, and a three-way tie with the Buccaneers and Saints also would get them in. Either way, they can't count on just themselves to earn a spot in the tournament.
"We didn't play well, for whatever reason," Tuck said. "We need some expert help [to figure it out]."
Was this a hangover from the loss to the Eagles?
"I don't think so. I think we just came out and played a good football team, and they played well and we didn't," Tuck said. "Guys came here knowing what was at stake. I don't think mentally we were still thinking about Philly. We came out mentally prepared to play a great game. It didn't happen. They played harder than we did. It's a sick feeling in my stomach to say that, considering what we had at stake."
Funny, but the Giants had almost expressed a sense of relief at putting themselves in this backs-to-the-wall situation, suggesting after last week's nightmare against the Eagles that they thrive in this environment.
They harkened back to some of their most perilous moments in the Tom Coughlin regime, such as the time they needed a win over the Redskins in the final week of the 2006 regular season to reach the playoffs, which they got. And the following year, when they faced an almost identical situation to yesterday's: a bad loss at home to a divisional rival (Washington, in that case) followed by a win on the road the next week (at Buffalo) to qualify for the playoffs.
But a hallmark of those teams was the Giants' ability to summon a superior defensive effort, something they desperately needed against the Packers.
With Aaron Rodgers returning from a concussion, even a solid performance would have allowed the Giants to have a shot at beating Green Bay and guaranteeing themselves a playoff berth. Instead, Rodgers picked apart the same defense that allowed Michael Vick and the Eagles to produce one of the biggest fourth-quarter comebacks in franchise history.
Rodgers wound up matching his career high with four touchdown passes, threw for a career-high 404 yards and had his way with the Giants the entire game, continuing the collapse that started halfway through the fourth quarter against the Eagles.
Aberration? Sure didn't look that way as Rodgers came out slinging from the start and answered the Giants at every turn. Using an assortment of the Packers' trademark slants, skinny posts and quick timing routes, Rodgers shredded the Giants' secondary as badly as Vick did in the final minutes last week.
Said defensive tackle Barry Cofield, "We were looking at this as a must win, and we didn't get it done. We've been taught the right way to do things, but we haven't been doing it. We'll have to look in the mirror. If guys aren't playing well, we'll suffer. We got another game, so we owe it to ourselves, our coaches and our fans to show a good product."
Rodgers threw for 216 yards and two touchdowns in the first half as the Packers built a 21-14 lead after going up 14-0 in the first quarter. Even when the Giants were able to pressure Rodgers, he deftly slipped aside in the pocket and found his targets. On the touchdown that put the Packers up 31-17 with 4:44 to play in the third quarter, under pressure from Tuck, Rodgers avoided the sack and bought enough time to hit tight end Donald Lee for a 1-yard score.
This game was a much different ending from the last time the Giants played in Green Bay. In a transcendent performance against Brett Favre, they produced a stirring 23-20 overtime win to reach the Super Bowl.
Things didn't go as well this time.