By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
By the time Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense got finished with the Giants in Sunday’s 38-13 wild card victory, it looked like Big Blue’s defense had been the ones on that Miami party boat.READ MORE: Suspected Human Remains Found In Florida Wildlife Preserve Where Authorities Are Searching For Brian Laundrie
Oh, Odell Beckham, Jr., and Sterling Shepard did their share to bring an end to the Giants’ season, but their gaffes had less to do with the team’s demise than their shutdown defense. Sure, Beckham and Shepard both dropped touchdown passes, but those came early in the game, when there was still plenty of time to correct matters.
Besides, after watching Eli Manning struggle through the whole season without a running game and basically a one-man scoring operation, no way were they going to win a shootout. They simply were not going to kick it into gear overnight. The offense was only playing to form when two first-half penetrations forced field goals that prevented the building of any meaningful momentum.
In other words, the offense was just being the offense, circa 2016.
But what the defense did — the same defense that held opponents to a league second-bests of 17.8 points and 15 passing touchdowns — was almost unthinkable.
This was a unit that never let an opponent reach 30 points; a group that held half the schedule under 20 points. Had it performed anywhere near its regular season form, Manning at least would have had a chance at pulling off a third playoff win in Lambeau’s meat locker.
Instead, starting with Rodgers’ Hail Mary to Randall Cobb that gave the Packers a 14-6 lead as the first half ended, Green Bay put up 31 points to the Giants’ only touchdown the rest of the way.READ MORE: New York City Mayoral Candidates Eric Adams, Curtis Sliwa Meet For First Debate
Granted, the Giants played without one of the major pieces of a secondary that nicknamed itself the NYPD (New York Pass Defense) before Rodgers kicked his gunslinger act into gear. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had gone out in the first quarter with a knee injury, leaving his spot to rookie Eli Apple, a definite experience deficit.
But that still doesn’t explain how Cobb got loose near the end line on a desperation heave that should have been knocked down. Instead, Apple, Landon Collins, and Leon Hall wound up helpless in front of the receiver as he hauled in a throw that recalled Manning’s own Lambeau prayer to Hakeem Nicks that helped trigger the 2011 Super Bowl run.
Had it ended there, the Giants might have had another week of work ahead of them. But the first-half pass rush that got to the mobile Rodgers four times stopped, and touched him only once after halftime. Meanwhile, Rodgers cut up the secondary, compiling most of his 362 passing yards in the final two quarters.
He answered Manning’s touchdown throw to Tavarres King that cut the Packers’ lead to 14-13 almost immediately with a second scoring toss to Cobb as the receiver beat Trevin Wade.
Cobb’s third score, which coincidentally allowed Rodgers to tie the Packers’ postseason record for passing touchdowns, came at the expense of Apple and put the winners up 31-13.
By the time fullback Aaron Ripkowski ran in the final touchdown late in the fourth quarter, it wouldn’t have mattered what the offense did.
The collapse came suddenly, and was jarring. The offense was the worry. Always was.
The defense was the sure thing.
It surely wasn’t on Wild Card Weekend.
On Sunday, the defense looked like it was shaking off a party boat hangover.MORE NEWS: Mayor De Blasio Announces Vaccine Mandate For All New York City Municipal Workers, Including First Responders
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino