GREEN BAY, Wis. — Eli Apple sat at his locker when it was over, still wearing the “NYPD Football” hat he had received two days earlier in honor of the Giants’ recently coined “New York Pass Defense” nickname.
But unlike in recent weeks, the cornerback and his colleagues were talking not about stopping an opponent’s passing attack but about what went wrong against the Packers in a 38-13 wild-card playoff loss Sunday.
The worst of it was a Hail Mary that Aaron Rodgers completed to Randall Cobb as time expired in the first half, a 42-yard completion that gave the Packers a 14-6 lead.
There were a half-dozen Giants waiting for Rodgers’ high, arcing throw, but Cobb inexplicably got behind them and caught the ball comfortably within the back of the end zone.
“I have to see the film — just an incredible play by them,” Apple said. “I didn’t have any idea he was behind me. They execute those plays well; we just weren’t where we were supposed to be.
“I don’t really know where he came from. As a collective unit, we didn’t do the job on that at all.”
Said safety Landon Collins: “I don’t know what went wrong. We thought the ball was overthrown . . . I mean, I was surprised that he caught the ball and stayed inbounds. He made a great play.”
Coach Ben McAdoo said it was “a possibility” to put receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on the field as a defender, as he has done in the past on Hail Marys. The Giants did not; the coach did not explain why.
Rodgers has completed three Hail Marys in the past 13 months, including one in the playoffs last season.
“Every single time, it’s fun,” said Rodgers, who threw for 362 yards and four touchdowns. “I think we’re starting to believe any time that ball goes up there, we’ve got a chance.”
The last time the Giants played a postseason game at Lambeau Field, Eli Manning completed a pivotal Hail Mary at the end of the first half to Hakeem Nicks.
Sunday’s desperation heave nearly did not happen at all. With 12 seconds left and no timeouts, Rodgers unwisely threw in the middle of the field to Jared Cook. He dropped it. Had he caught it, the clock likely would have expired.
Early on, the Giants’ vaunted defense gave Rodgers fits, but he eventually got on a roll and the defense unraveled down the stretch. “Once he got into a rhythm, it was tough for us to get back into it,” Apple said. “You can never let a quarterback like that get comfortable.”
Linebacker Jonathan Casillas said he sensed the Packers getting frustrated in the first half, and that the Hail Mary gave the home team psychological comfort heading into the break.
“That was it, like, ‘OK, we’re good,’ ” he said.
It was a bitter end to a season in which the defense made huge strides compared to 2015.
“This loss hurt us all, because we had the momentum we needed,” Collins said. “We had the mindset. We had the capability. We had the guys. We had the weapons. We just didn’t make it count.
“When you know you have the weapons, it hurts.”