GREEN BAY, Wis. — The empty spot in the trophy case that Ben McAdoo has referenced since the spring will remain vacant for at least another year.
When the team first assembled under the rookie head coach in April, McAdoo made it clear that the goal this season was to add a fifth Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl title to the franchise’s collection. It was referenced in just about every meeting, reflected in every decision and action since. But on Sunday in Green Bay, the quest came to a crashing end with a 38-13 loss to the Packers in an NFC wild-card game.
A season the Giants envisioned culminating amid falling confetti instead ended with the falling of tears as many in the postgame locker room were overcome with the shock and emotion of its finality. Some took their disappointment to other levels — Odell Beckham Jr. apparently made his mark on a wall at Lambeau Field, if not exactly on the field in his first postseason experience — but for many, it was a somber, sad few moments.
The one blessing of the previous four years without a playoff berth was knowing exactly when the season would end. Having the rug pulled out from under them in their only real lopsided loss of the season left many overcome.
“There’s a lot of guys who will shed a tear or two today,” Eli Manning said. “When you lose a playoff game, and for a lot of guys it’s their first time in the playoffs, to have the season abruptly end like that is shocking. Everyone handles it differently.”
Rashad Jennings, who made the playoffs for the first time in his nine-year career, said he was one of those who wept.
“It’s an empty feeling,” he said. “A lot of guys shed some tears, and I was one of them after the game. Sometimes when you get in front of cameras and reporters, you try to say the right things, but it’s just emotional.”
Others seemed more angry than reflective.
“I feel like we’ve been in stride and we had a team that could go all the way,” linebacker Devon Kennard said. “Then we had a game where we played like crap and now we’re going home. It [expletive].”
The result may have been surprising, but the reasons for it certainly were not. The Giants’ inability to score points, an issue for them all year, finally doomed them. This was the sixth straight game in which they failed to score at least 20 points, and they never scored 30 in a game all season.
During the Giants’ first two possessions, Beckham and Sterling Shepard dropped potential touchdown passes and Beckham dropped another pass that would have produced a first down. A 51-yard catch-and-run by Will Tye later gave them a first down at the Packers’ 28. They settled for a pair of field goals and looked as if they were in control of the game for most of the first half, but things quickly unraveled as the vaunted Giants defense was unable to contain the red-hot Aaron Rodgers.
Even after the Packers scored two touchdowns in the final 2:20 of the first half, including a 42-yard Hail Mary to Randall Cobb at the buzzer, to go ahead 14-6, the Giants had a chance to stay in the game. They forced a three-and-out on the first series of the third quarter, forced a turnover on downs when they stuffed third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 runs at the Packers’ 42, and scored their only touchdown of the game on a 41-yard pass from Manning to Tavarres King. That cut the Packers’ lead to 14-13 with 5:16 left in the third quarter.
“That was the point in the game where I thought they were in trouble,” Kennard said. “Down one point, getting stops, offense is clicking. That was the point where I thought we were going to take over. And we let the complete opposite happen.”
Rodgers threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Cobb to cap a four-play, 63-yard drive that made it 21-13, beginning a run of 24 unanswered points. Rodgers finished with four touchdown passes, three to Cobb, and 362 passing yards. He has thrown 22 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in the past eight games.
“We couldn’t close on him, couldn’t finish on him,” Mc Adoo said of Rodgers, his former protege from his days as an assistant coach in Green Bay. “If you give him that much time in the pocket, he’s deadly.”
That pain in the postgame locker room was something many Giants players said they will carry with them for a long time.
“You really feel sick because you know you have the personnel to go the whole way,” Shepard said. “Knowing that you left it out there kind of makes you sick . . . I’m going to remember this feeling. It’s something that will stick with me for the rest of the time that I play football in this league.”
“I’m just soaking in this feeling because it feels like [expletive] and it’s going to motivate me next year,” Kennard said. “Being in the playoffs is a great thing, but I’m not satisfied just being in the playoffs. This organization, the teammates I have, we deserve to go all the way. So I’m just soaking in this moment. At some point I’m going to let it go, but it’s definitely going to rekindle in the playoffs next year. It’s something I’ll think back on and know I don’t want to feel that way again.”
The Giants had what most will consider a successful season. They won 11 games for a rookie head coach, revamped their defense from the worst in the league a season ago to one of the best this season, and made the playoffs for the first time since 2011. But the disappointment of this loss will mute those accomplishments a bit.
“Nobody is happy about anything right now,” McAdoo said.
Which is why he asked the Giants to remember the feelings from this postgame locker room as they move forward.
“We need to remember that when we go back to work in the spring,” McAdoo said.
That empty spot in the trophy case still will be there in 2017, and the Giants will take another crack at filling it.
The Giants smothered Aaron Rodgers for the first 27:40 of the wild-card game, sacking him four times and limiting him to 6-for-14 passing for 54 yards. But from that point on, Rodgers gave the Giants fits and drove the Packers to five TDs. His numbers in the last 32:20: