EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants played a costly game of giveaway Sunday, first with the football, then with the game and ultimately with the ownership of their postseason destiny.
Six turnovers – the Giants' highest total in six years – short-circuited numerous scoring chances and led to 24 Green Bay points as the Packers rolled to a 45-17 victory in Lambeau Field.
"The thing I told the team is there's no way anyone wins in this league when you turn the ball over six times," said Coach Tom Coughlin, whose Giants lead the NFL with 41 giveaways. "It's a very, very bad component of our team and we've demonstrated a little bit of it this year. We thought we had it under control, but obviously we didn't have it under control tonight."
The Giants would have clinched a postseason berth with a victory. They are still alive, but now need help to make the NFC playoff field. The Giants fell to 9-6, the same record as the Packers, who now own the tiebreaker advantage. The Giants can make the NFC playoff field if they beat the Redskins next week in Washington in their regular season finale and Chicago defeats the Packers here, or if New Orleans loses tomorrow night in Atlanta and at home in its finale to Tampa Bay.
"All we can worry about is learning from this loss and coming back and trying to get it right next week," defensive end and captain Justin Tuck said. "We've got at least one more game left to play and if the season ends next week, I don't want it to end with this kind of taste in my mouth. We had destiny in our hands tonight and we came out and played like we didn't have anything to play for."
The Giants must help themselves before accepting aid from others and that means taking better care of the ball. Eli Manning tied his career high with four interceptions and Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs each lost a fumble.
"We didn't play well enough to win, plain and simple," Manning said. "We got down early, but fought back and tied the score at 14. But after that, (it was) just bad football – turnovers and miscommunication. Sloppy football all the way around and we didn't deserve to win that game.
"I've got to pull the trigger, so if you have interceptions it's my fault. I had four today and there's not one that wasn't my fault, so I've got to be smarter with the ball. At the end of the game, when you're in desperate mode, you try to force some things and they didn't go my way."
The Giants insisted they suffered no hangover from last week's stunning loss to Philadelphia, but they have allowed 73 points since leading 31-10 midway through the fourth quarter in that game and their frustration level continues to rise.
"It is at an all-time high," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "I didn't think it could be worse than last week. Last week was more stunning; this is just disappointing. You can't go out there and have bad performance after bad performance and keep saying that we will get it right. We just have a tendency not to play well enough."
"As individuals, we're just not doing our job at all times," safety Deon Grant said. "It was in our hands, we controlled it and we let it slip away."
Manning threw touchdown passes to Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham and Lawrence Tynes kicked a 38-yard field goal for the Giants. But the scores were more than offset by the six turnovers, including five in the second half; Manning threw interceptions on three consecutive fourth-quarter possessions.
The Packers scored on four Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes - to Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Lee and John Kuhn – plus Kuhn scoring runs of one and eight yards and a Mason Crosby field goal.
Manning threw his second interception with 9:47 remaining in the fourth quarter when San Shields picked off pass for Derek Hagan on the left sideline. That led to Rodgers' five-yard touchdown pass to Kuhn, which gave the Packers a 38-17 lead with 6:58 remaining in the game. The score was set up by Rodgers' 16-yard pass to Andrew Quarless.
After Nicks was penalized for holding on the first play of the Giants' next drive, the Giants were backed up to their five-yard line. Manning's deep pass down the left side was intercepted by safety Nick Collins at the Giants' 49. A 38-yard pass to Nelson put the ball on the one and Kuhn scored his third touchdown on the next play.
Rodgers' third touchdown pass, a one-yarder to Lee, extended the Packers' advantage to 31-17 with 4:44 remaining in the third quarter. Green Bay drove 70 yards in only three plays, including passes of 33 yards to Donald Driver (who made a terrific diving catch) and 36 yards to Greg Jennings, the latter bringing the ball to the one-yard line. Two plays later, Rodgers found Lee for the score.
The Giants were moving on their next possession when Jacobs had the ball punched out of his arm from behind by Clay Matthews, who sprinted up the sideline to catch up with the running back. Collins recovered for the Packers at their own 27-yard line. Kevin Boss could have retained possession for the Giants had he simply fallen on the ball, but he tried to pick it up and gain additional yardage.
"I felt like I had some space there to pick it up and advance the ball," Boss said. "Looking back on it now, obviously I should have just fallen on it. It was just one of those things – I just wasn't able to scoop it up."
Coughlin, who had won a challenge on a Nicks fumble on the kickoff to start the possession, tried again, but lost when referee Walt Anderson upheld the call on the field.
"It was an opportunity where we could have gotten the ball back," Coughlin said. "It could have been any number of things – the runner stepping out of bounds, the defender out of bounds, the guy recovering the ball stepping out of bounds; it could have been any number of things. I didn't have a whole lot of evidence, but it was an opportunity."
Tynes' field goal with 7:10 remaining in the third quarter pulled the Giants to within a touchdown at 24-17. The 46-yard drive prior to the kick was highlighted by Manning's 27-yard pass to Nicks. But Manning's third down pass to the same target fell incomplete and Tynes was summoned to kick the field goal.
A Giants turnover on the third play of the second half set up Crosby's 31-yard field goal, which increased Green Bay's lead to 24-14.
On third-and-two from the Packers' 41, Bradshaw took a direct snap, lost five yards running to his left before dropping the ball when he was hit by Charles Woodson. The ball was recovered by Atari Bigby, who brought it to the 50.
"They got penetration," Bradshaw said. "I switched the ball to my other hand and the penetration got a hand on it."
Two plays later, Rodgers threw a 12-yard pass to Jones and followed that with a 21-yarder to Tom Crabtree, who advanced the ball to the 15. But the Giants allowed only three more yards and Crosby came on to kick the field goal with 9:56 remaining in the third quarter.
The Giants trailed, 21-14, at the end of a first half in which both quarterbacks threw a pair of touchdown passes, including a long one by each - an 80-yarder by Rodgers and an 85-yarder by Manning.
But the only touchdown run of the half gave the Packers the halftime lead. Kuhn's eight-yard run up the middle with 1:54 remaining in the second quarter put the Packers on top by seven. On second-and-two immediately after the two-minute warning, Kuhn took a handoff and bulled his way through the center of the defense for the score.
Green Bay drove 79 yards in only six plays after a Giants touchdown. The drive included Rodgers passes of 26 and 11 yards to Jennings and a costly 15-yard personal foul penalty on Terrell Thomas, which moved the ball the Giants' 16-yard line. After Rodgers threw an eight-yard pass to James Jones, Kuhn scored on the next play.
The Giants, who had trailed, 14-0, tied the score on Manning's 85-yard touchdown pass to Manningham. The Giants had taken possession at their own 15 when Justin Tuck recovered a fumble by Nelson that was forced by Antrel Rolle. On the next play, Manningham threw deep down the left sideline for Manningham, who had a step on cornerback Tramon Williams. Manningham caught the ball at the Packers' 45-yard line and motored to the end zone for the touchdown.
The 85-yard throw was the longest completion of Manning's career and the Giants' longest since Dec. 6, 1998, when Kent Graham threw a 98-yarder to running back Tiki Barber at Arizona. It was the Giants' longest throw to a wide receiver since Nov. 27, 1988, when Jeff Hostetler and Stephen Baker hooked up for an 88-yard touchdown.
Manning's previous long pass was a 78-yard touchdown to Plaxico Burress at Oakland on Dec. 31, 2005.
The completion was also the longest of Manningham's career by 31 yards. His previous long was a 54-yard touchdown at Indianapolis on Sept. 19. That play and a 54-yarder to Kevin Boss against Tennessee on Sept. 26 had been the Giants' two longest passes of the season.
The Giants had closed to within 14-7 on Manning's 36-yard touchdown pass to Nicks with 11:40 remaining in the second quarter. On first down, Manning threw to the right side to Nicks, who was wide open near the sideline after Woodson slipped and fell. Nicks caught the ball at the 20 and ran untouched to the end zone.
The score concluded a four-play, 70-yard drive that included Woodson's illegal contact penalty just prior to the touchdown. Nicks also had an 18-yard reception on the drive.
Two Rodgers touchdown passes gave the Packers a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
The first occurred on the initial play of Green Bay's second possession. Rodgers threw down the middle to Nelson, who caught the ball at the Packers' 40 and outran Giants safeties Deon Grant, Kenny Phillips and Rolle to the end zone. It was the second-longest pass thrown against the Giants this season. On Oct. 17, Detroit's Calvin Johnson scored on an 87-yard touchdown pass from Drew Stanton.
Green Bay increased its lead to 14-0 when Rodgers and Jones hooked up for a three-yard touchdown. On third-and-goal, Rodgers bought himself some time by moving to his right. That gave Jones a chance to spin free in the right front of the end zone, where he caught Rodgers' pass.
The Packers drove 44 yards in 10 plays following Williams' interception of a Manning pass that was intended for Nicks. Williams returned the ball nine yards into Giants territory.
The longest play of the drive was Rodgers' 15-yard scramble to the three. Rodgers also threw to Brandon Jackson for 10 yards on the series.