The Giants put up a tremendous fight Sunday, but in the end they learned that you can't take out a champion unless you knock him down and don't let him regain his feet.
With the crowd at MetLife Stadium roaring, the Giants tied the score with a Hakeem Nicks touchdown and D.J. Ware's two-point conversion with 58 seconds remaining. But that was more than enough time for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, who marched down the field and won the game, 38-35, on Mason Crosby's 31-yard field goal as time expired.
For the second time in five seasons, the Giants lost a December home game to an undefeated team by a 38-35 score. In 2007, it was the New England Patriots, who completed their 16-0 regular season in Giants Stadium. The Packers improved to 12-0 and won their 18th consecutive game, including the postseason.
"(There is) no solace in playing well and losing," Coach Tom Coughlin said. "We are way past that." He had opened his news conference by saying, "We played hard and did a lot of good things but we didn't win."
"We should've won the football game and it just didn't happen for us," defensive end and captain Justin Tuck said. "We're professionals and we don't want to say we came close or we can build on this. Obviously, we can build on this momentum, but we let another one slip out of our fingers.
"We came up a little short, but we had our chances. Hopefully, something that we learn from it is that those are the champs and you have to knock the champs out. You can't let them linger around. You have to knock them out. Today, I think we had them on the ropes and let them off for whatever reason or maybe the bell rung. But when you have them like that you have to take advantage of it and get the job done. We weren't able to do that today."
The Giants lost their fourth consecutive game and fell to 6-6. But they control their path to the NFC East title. The Giants are one game behind Dallas and play the Cowboys twice in their last four games, including next week in Texas.
"We battled back," said wide receiver Victor Cruz, who caught seven passes for 119 yards. "We just kept fighting. It is definitely frustrating when we know going in it will be a tough game. But we knew we had things in place to keep up with this team and potentially beat them. We did that today. We came out and played hard on every drive. It's tough to walk away from this one the way that we lost."
"We played good football and are excited about where we stand," Eli Manning said.
He could have made that statement with less than a minute remaining, after he and Nicks hooked up for their second touchdown and Ware tied the score. But the Packers don't have the NFL's best record by accident. They traveled 68 yards in four plays to set up Crosby's game-winner.
"It hurt and it should not have happened," Coughlin said. "I thought we were in pretty good shape, but you try to play coverage and you don't get enough pressure on him and you try to put pressure on him and you leave some holes in your coverage. It was back and forth. Yes, we should have got this thing into overtime. With 58 seconds, they elected to stay in the end zone (on the kickoff), so they had 80 yards to go."
"I can't even remember (the last drive) because it was just too fast," safety Deon Grant said. "It shouldn't have happened. At the end of the day we have to play defense and make sure we stop them and get off the field. We have to take the overtime and we didn't do that."
The final series began with Rodgers throwing a 24-yard pass to the right side for tight end Jermichael Finley. He followed immediately with a 27-yarder to Jordy Nelson, who got behind reserve cornerback Will Blackmon. That put Green Bay on the Giants' 29-yard line with 44 seconds left. After the Packers lost a yard, Rodgers threw a short pass that Greg Jennings turned into a 18-yard gain to the 12. Green Bay ran the clock down to three seconds and summoned Crosby.
"Aaron Rogers is one of the better quarterbacks, if not the best quarterback, in the league," safety Antrel Rolle said. "He is going to make his plays at the end of the day. But I think we got him rattled throughout this game and I'm sure he would say the same thing."
The Giants had crafted their own impressive drive after Rodgers' touchdown pass to Donald Driver gave the Packers a 35-27 lead with 3:34 remaining. Manning was typically terrific late in the fourth quarter of a tight game, directing the Giants on a nine-play, 69-yard drive that included no third downs until the Nicks touchdown. Jake Ballard caught a pair of 15-yard passes and Cruz added a 22-yarder. On third down from two, Manning threw a perfect strike to Nicks. Ware then ran it for the two-point conversion that tied the game and completely erased what had been an 11-point deficit.
But in 58 seconds, the hope for an upset victory evaporated.
"You root for our defense and they played great," Manning said. "(We're) hoping maybe they get a sack-fumble or get an interception, maybe we can have a shot to get the ball. But Green
Bay is good in those situations and Aaron does a great job leading his team down there and getting them in field goal range. You have to give credit to them. With not much time they were able to hit a big play on the sideline and they're a good team."
The Giants scored on Manning touchdown passes of 67 yards to Travis Beckum, four and two yards to Nicks, Brandon Jacobs' one-yard touchdown run and two Lawrence Tynes field goals, one a 50-yarder.
Rodgers threw four touchdown passes: 12 yards to Finley, 13 and seven yards to Driver and 20 yards to Jennings. The Packers also got a 38-yard interception return for a touchdown by Clay Matthews.
Tynes' second field goal, a 50-yarder with 10:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, cut the Giants' deficit to a single point at 28-27.
The Giants took possession at their own one-yard line after a Packers punt and drove 68 yards in 13 plays prior to the kick. They converted two third downs on the series, on a 12-yard pass to Cruz on third-and-six and a 17-yard pass to Ballard on third-and-seven. But Manning was unable to connect with Nicks on another third-and-seven pass thrown into the end zone and Tynes came on to kick his longest field goal of the season.
The Giants closed to within 28-24 on Manning's four-yard touchdown pass to Nicks with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter. On second-and-goal from the four, Manning stepped back and threw a fade to the right for Nicks, who got a step on cornerback Charles Woodson and caught the ball with his right hand.
The five-play, 71-yard drive was highlighted by a 51-yard pass down the middle to Nicks on the first snap. That gave the Giants a first down at the Green Bay 20. Two more Nicks catches, sandwiched around an illegal formation penalty, gave the Giants a first-and-goal at the nine. After a five-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw, Nicks scored.
The Packers increased their lead to 28-17 on Rodgers' touchdown pass to Jennings with 9:50 left in the third quarter. The score was particularly frustrating because a) it was on third-and-nine and b) it was upheld on review despite the appearance that Jennings may not have possessed the ball long enough for the score to count.
Green Bay took the second-half kickoff and drove 80 yards in 10 plays, plus Prince Amukamara's 20-yard pass interference penalty. The Packers converted a third-and-seven on a 13-yard reception to Driver on the right sideline that was unsuccessfully challenged by Coughlin.
Green Bay jumped ahead 21-17 on Rodgers' 13-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Driver with 1:10 remaining in the second quarter. That was the score at halftime after Crosby missed a 43-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
On third-and-five, Rodgers had time to scan the field before throwing to the right side of the end zone for Driver, who eluded the entire Giants' secondary.
The Packers drove 80 yards in 11 plays after a Giants touchdown. The longest play in the series was a 23-yard pass to Finley, but the biggest was Rodgers' 11-yard scramble on third-and-10, which gave Green Bay a first down at the Giants' 32-yard line. Two plays later, Rodgers gained 13 yards on another run and three plays after that, found Driver for the touchdown.
Jacobs' one-yard touchdown run with 6:44 remaining in the second quarter enabled the Giants to regain the lead at 17-14. On first-and-goal, Jacobs powered his way up the middle and over the goal line for his fourth rushing touchdown of the season and the 54th of his career, one less than franchise record-holder Tiki Barber.
The Giants gained possession when linebacker Chase Blackburn, re-signed last Wednesday, intercepted a Rodgers pass for Jennings and returned it nine yards to the Packers' 12. Nicks' reception on the right side gave the Giants a first-and-goal and Jacobs scored on the next play.
Matthews' 38-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first play of the second quarter gave the Packers a 14-10 lead.
The Giants had a first down at their own 39 when Manning took the snap, moved to his right and threw a pass for Ahmad Bradshaw. Matthews stepped up, caught the ball and motored untouched down the sideline for the third touchdown on an interception return by a Giants opponent this season. Washington's Ryan Kerrigan scored on a nine-yard return on Sept. 11 and Seattle's Brandon Browner scored on a 94-yard return on Oct. 9.
Tynes' 38-yard field goal regained the lead for the Giants at 10-7 with two minutes remaining in the first quarter. The big play on the 51-yard drive was Manning's 42-yard pass to Victor Cruz, which gave the Giants a first down at the Green Bay 24. Bradshaw's eight-yard run advanced the ball to the 16. But the Giants were pushed back to the 20 and Tynes came on to kick the field goal.
Green Bay tied the score at 7-7 on Finley's 12-yard touchdown reception with 5:06 remaining in the first quarter. The Packers faced a second-and-eight when Rodgers drifted right before firing a pass that was caught just in front of the goal line by Finley, who went to the ground and rolled into the end zone for the score.
The score concluded a six-play, 64-yard drive that included Rodgers' passes of 33 yards to Nelson and 18 yards to Jennings, which moved the ball to the 14. After Rodgers scrambled for two yards, Finley scored.
The Giants scored first, just 1:36 into the game, on a 67-yard pass from Manning to Beckum. On first down from the Giants' 33, Manning threw a pass down the middle for Beckum, the third-year pro who had just one reception this season entering the game. Beckum caught the ball at the Packers' 38-yard line, faked left and then right to elude safeties Morgan Burnett and Charlie Peprah and scored his third career touchdown.
"That was a great job," Manning said. "A great route by him and that's what he can do. He has great speed. He just ran right by the safety, ran outside of him. I moved the safety with a little pump to Hakeem, the other one, so I was able to throw it deep down the middle. He did a great job catching it, zigzagging in for a touchdown. Good to get him into the mix and get him a touchdown."
It was the Giants' first first-half touchdown since their victory over Miami on Oct. 30 and their second opening-possession touchdown of the season. They also reached the end zone on their first series against Seattle on Oct. 9.
The Giants needed only three plays to score after fielding the opening kickoff; the first two were a catch and then a run by Bradshaw.
More than three hours later, the Giants were frustrated and disappointed after Crosby kicked the game-winner. But they believe the game can catalyze them to success in the season's final quarter.
"We have four big games left," Manning said. "We know what's ahead of us and we have to take whatever we can from this game, clean up a few things, but we have to play good football if we're going to run this down."
"I am extremely proud," Rolle said. "We fought from the first whistle to the very end. Unfortunately, we came up a little bit short but it is fine because we will see them again."
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