Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he isn’t worried about what happened in the playoffs following the 2007 and 2011 seasons. Each ended with a home loss to the Giants, one in the NFC title game and the other in a divisional playoff.
“We’ve watched all the tape, but it has all been 2016 tape,” he said Wednesday of his preparation for the Giants’ visit to Lambeau for Sunday’s wild-card game. “I’m just focused on the team that we played earlier in the year (in October) and focused on the team that we are going to be on Sunday.”
At first it sounded as if McCarthy said he was focused on the team they were going to “beat” on Sunday. And maybe he did. That would be a bold prediction. And it wasn’t long ago that it would have been a given. The Packers at home in January? Chalk it up as a win.
All that changed on Jan. 4, 2003, though. That’s the day Lambeau Field lost a bit of its mystique. The day it ceased being an impenetrable frozen football fortress. The Packers had never lost a home postseason game in 13 tries — 11 in Green Bay, two in Milwaukee — until the Falcons came to town and beat them in prime time.
Including that defeat, the Packers are 4-5 in their past nine home playoff games. Besides the two losses to the Giants, they lost to the Vikings in 2005 and the 49ers in 2014.
No one knows that more than the Giants and Eli Manning, who has as many playoff wins at Lambeau (2-0) as Aaron Rodgers (2-2). He’s the only non-Packers passer with multiple wins in Green Bay, a history he’ll happily pack with him for the trip this weekend but won’t rely on to repeat itself.
“Each year is a new year, new team, different players,” Manning said. “It’s its own deal, so we have to go out there and play well, I have to play well, and I’m looking forward to that opportunity.”
Even Ben McAdoo, who coached at Green Bay for nearly a decade and once relished that home-field advantage, understands that some of the lore of the tundra has melted away in the past 14 years since that loss to the Falcons.
“It’s a tough place to play,” McAdoo said. “It’s loud. The end zone is closed now, so that makes it a little bit tougher to communicate. It’s a place that has a ton of tradition, a ton of history. It’s a tough place to go win.”
But when told that the gametime temperature could be in the single digits, McAdoo just nodded. “That’s good, that’s good,” he said. “We’re battle-tested and ready to go handle the elements.”
The coach to break the ice with the first road playoff win at Lambeau said he is not surprised that the Packers’ home invincibility has been shattered.
“It’s that kind of league now,” Dan Reeves, former coach of the Giants and the 2002 Falcons, told Newsday on Wednesday’s anniversary of that Atlanta win. “There’s not much difference between the top teams and the bottom teams. It’s more of a level playing field. It’s not that they’re not a good team, there are just more good teams. The top teams these days feel they can go and win anywhere.”
Reeves, a former Cowboy who played at Lambeau in the 1967 Ice Bowl, said he did not realize the Packers had never lost a home postseason game when he went there with the Falcons. He learned about it after the game.
“That’s an incredible statistic,” he said. “In Dallas we were a playoff team year in and year out, but we lost at home. To not lose at home, that’s something.”
Not anymore, apparently.
Lambeau Field is still not a day spa, and the Packers are a good home team. Since 1992, when Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren took over the franchise, the Packers have the best home record in the NFL at 152-47-1 (the Patriots are 145-55 in that span). Under McCarthy since 2006 they are 65-22-1 in the regular season, second in the league.
“It’s still historical, it still has a certain vibe and energy about it,” Giants running back Rashad Jennings said. “It’s going to be tough to go there and find a win. It’s going to be cold. I expect to see Cheeseheads everywhere. I expect to feel like a true away team and I expect to be booed.”
But the Giants also expect to win. For the third postseason game in a row.
That’s something that until 2003 would have been almost inconceivable.