After being accustomed to having a "Victory Monday" on nearly a weekly basis this season, the Green Bay Packers players who trudged into team headquarters at Lambeau Field on Monday morning had a tough time processing why they were there.
"No one prepared for this," said receiver Donald Driver, the elder statesman on the Packers roster.
Rather than have the well-deserved day off that followed most of the team's victories in its 15-1 regular season, Driver and teammates spent this Monday in clean-up mode. Players gathered belongings from their lockers and said their goodbyes less than 24 hours after Green Bay's meteoric season crashed with a thud.
The fourth-seeded New York Giants sent the top-seeded Packers home for the rest of the season with a 37-20 knockout in an NFC divisional playoff Sunday at Lambeau.
"No one prepared to pack their bags up and move out," Driver said. "But, you play the way we played, and that's the outcome. You have to pack your bags and head down the road.
"I think, right now, a lot of guys are saying they don't know what to do, they don't know when to go home because no one prepared to leave this week."
Added linebacker Frank Zombo: “We weren’t prepared for this. We weren’t ready to come in on a Monday like this and have exit interviews and things like that. It’s my first time participating in these exit interviews because last year we didn’t have to have them. I’m definitely not used to it.”
A year after winning four straight games away from Lambeau to become the surprise NFL champions, the Packers never made use of the home-field advantage they had in the NFC bracket. They became the first team out of six that have finished a 16-game season no worse than 15-1 since 1978 to be eliminated in its first game of the playoffs.
Green Bay was a big favorite to defend its title in Super Bowl XLVI on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.
"It's very disappointing," head coach Mike McCarthy said after Sunday's game. "It's a locker room that expected a lot more and rightfully so. I wish I would've done a better job tonight.
"It was an excellent regular season. But, we clearly understand in Green Bay it's about winning championships. Just going to the playoffs is not enough. We're disappointed as a football team. We're disappointed for our fans. We had a heck of a run in the regular season.
"I thought we were playing very well down the stretch," he added. "Two of the five significant wins we've had throughout the regular season were in the last four weeks, so I was really anticipating us playing very well (Sunday). So, I have to look at myself and go back and find out why I didn't have the team in that mode because I thought the preparation was very good this (past) week."
The Packers never led Sunday, done in by a season-high four turnovers (three fumbles) from their highly productive offense and a league-worst pass defense that was torched for 330 yards and three touchdowns by Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Showered by boos' raining down from the stands at Lambeau, the Packers face a longer-than-expected offseason without another Vince Lombardi Trophy they felt would be theirs again.
"Oh, it's real," dejected quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the game. "We got beat by a team that played better tonight. That's the reality of this league. (I've) been in for a while and been in the playoffs four times, and three times you lose your last game and you go home, and the one time (last year's Super Bowl title) you have that euphoric feeling that you keep fighting for.
"It's tough. (I) didn't think it was going to end tonight - felt good about our chances, felt good about our team.
— FS Nick Collins said after Sunday's game and again on Monday that he expects to find out in March whether he will be able to play football again. Collins will meet with doctors at that time. The three-time Pro Bowl selection suffered a career-threatening neck injury in the Week 2 win at the Carolina Panthers and underwent surgery. Collins is optimistic about playing again.
— FB John Kuhn sustained a game-ending injury to his right knee in the third quarter Sunday. The severity of the injury probably won't be known until later in the week, when head coach Mike McCarthy will hold his season-ending news conference. His father told their hometown newspaper, the York Dispatch, that Kuhn will not play in the Pro Bowl and that two MRI’s “came back looking good.”
— WR Greg Jennings didn't finish Sunday's game because of a rib injury. He apparently suffered the injury in the first half but stayed in the game before dropping out in the fourth quarter. Jennings made the start after missing the previous three games because of a torn MCL in his left knee.
— OT Derek Sherrod couldn't say Monday whether he would be ready for training camp in the late summer. Sherrod does expect to be back to playing football by the start of the 2012 season. The team's first-round draft pick last year is recovering from a broken right leg he sustained in the Dec. 18 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs. He appeared in only five games - all as a backup.
— RB Alex Green said Monday he expects to be back for training camp. Green, a third-round draft pick last year, underwent surgery in mid-November for a torn ACL in his left knee, an injury he sustained in the Oct. 23 win at the Minnesota Vikings.
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