The Green Bay Packers’ pursuit of a perfect season reaches its most perilous regular-season destination Sunday against the New York Giants at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.
Yes, the Giants (6-5) hobble in on a three-game losing streak against NFC West-leading San Francisco, division rival Philadelphia and NFC South-leading New Orleans in Monday’s blowout defeat. But the Giants don’t bow before unbeaten teams.
In 2007, quarterback Eli Manning and an aggressive defense gave unbeaten Tom Brady and the New England Patriots all they wanted in a narrow Giants loss at the regular season’s close.
Weeks later, MVP Manning wrecked the Patriots’ perfect season plans at the worst possible time — in the Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
The franchise also upended a 13-0 start by Denver in 1998.
Now, with the team losing its grip in the NFC East race, Manning, under-fire Coach Tom Coughlin and a desperate defense need a home victory badly as Green Bay (11-0) and MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers arrive for a fierce late-afternoon game outside the Big Apple.
For Green Bay, the road game stands as the most difficult threat remaining to the second 16-0 regular season in NFL history.
The defending Super Bowl champion has strung 17 victories since last December — its version of Miami’s perfect season of 1972 — and has three of its next four games at home against 7-4 teams: Oakland, Chicago and Detroit.
The only other road venture is to last-place Kansas City.
“The toughest part of our schedule is over,” Packers Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters after a Thanksgiving win at Detroit capped a stretch of three games in 11 days. “One of the beauties of [playing] Thursday is it gives you a second-type bye week.”
So McCarthy let his Packers get rejuvenated and soak their pains and strains — linebacker A.J. Hawk’s calf has bothered him — before heading back to practice Wednesday.
Coughlin, meanwhile, is dealing with calls for his head on a platter after the traditionally tough defense surrendered 577 yards in a 49-24 loss Monday as New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensive end Osi Umenyiora sprained his ankle in the loss, and fellow defender Justin Tuck has said it’s “impossible” not to consider the Giants’ reputation under Coughlin for crumbling in the season’s second half. Part of that reputation was defined last year in a 45-17 loss to the Packers.
“We weren’t able to cover,” Coughlin told reporters afterward. “We didn’t stop them.”
Such words don’t inspire confidence with Rodgers (3,475 yards passing, 33 touchdowns) coming to town.
The Giants need to ease the pressure on Manning by running better, but it remains unclear whether Ahmad Bradshaw can return from a foot injury.
Cincinnati (7-4) at Pittsburgh (8-3)
The AFC North rivals meet for a second time in three weeks, both trying to stay with division leader Baltimore (8-3, with two wins over Pittsburgh). The return of Bengals rookie receiver A.J. Green is significant. He made the key catch that set up last week’s 23-20 victory over Cleveland. The Steelers might get Troy Polamalu back.
Atlanta (7-4) at Houston (8-3)
The Falcons are fighting for a playoff spot and will look to exploit the Texans’ unsettled quarterback situation. Third-stringer T.J. Yates was eight for 15 last week after replacing injured backup Matt Leinart (broken collarbone), who was replacing Matt Schaub (broken foot).
Detroit (7-4) at New Orleans (8-3)
Star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh picked a bad time to act up, drawing a two-game suspension just as the Lions face Brees, who’s poised to break the NFL’s season passing-yardage record in a Sunday night showcase.