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Rest turns to rust for Aaron Rodgers as Packers fall to Giants

The Giants’ Michael Boley (bottom) Corey Webster jump AarRodgers second half. | Jeffrey Phelps~AP

The Giants’ Michael Boley (bottom) and Corey Webster jump on Aaron Rodgers in the second half. | Jeffrey Phelps~AP

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Updated: February 17, 2012 8:20AM

GREEN BAY, Wis. — If it makes you feel any better, Bears fans, when Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers sealed the Bears’ fate on Christmas night, they inadvertently sealed their own.

Rodgers torched the Bears for five touchdown passes in Week  16 at Lambeau Field, capped by a gratuitous two-yard scoring pass to Jordy Nelson in the first minute of the fourth quarter in a 35-21 victory. It ended the Bears’ playoff hopes and probably clinched the MVP award for Rodgers.

As it turned out, that would be Rodgers’ final moment of glory. The Packers correctly sat him for the rest of the fourth quarter against the Bears, but also tempted fate by resting him in Week 17 against the Detroit Lions. So when he started against the New York Giants on Sunday at Lambeau Field, he had not played in a full three weeks.

And it showed. Rodgers was rested but rusty, and the Packers, as they have done all season, followed his lead. They dropped passes, lost three fumbles, missed tackles and gave up a Hail Mary touchdown pass as their season as defending Super Bowl champions ended with a hollow thud in a 37-20 loss to the Giants in an NFC divisional playoff.

Eli Manning, who had thrown three touchdown passes without an interception in Week 17 against the Dallas Cowboys and in last weekend’s wild-card victory over the Atlanta Falcons, had all the momentum coming in and clearly was the better quarterback. Manning was 21-for-33 for 330 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 114.5 passer rating as the Giants advanced to the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Candlestick Park.

But, as always seems to happen in the best of times for Manning, the focus wasn’t on what he did but what the other guy didn’t. Rodgers, who completed 68.3 percent of his passes this season and set an NFL record with a 122.3 passer rating, was 26-for-46 (56.5 percent) for 264 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 78.5 passer rating.

While disappointed in the Packers’ overall performance, Rodgers and coach Mike McCarthy were defiant when the subject turned to McCarthy’s decision to sit Rodgers in Week 16 against the Lions. Rodgers responded before the question could be finished.

‘‘Did the bye week work against you . . .’’

‘‘No,’’ Rodgers said.

‘‘Especially not playing in Week  17?’’

‘‘No,’’ he said, just as curtly.

McCarthy also was in denial.

‘‘No. No excuses,’’ he said. ‘‘We practiced well. I thought our Wednesday practice was as good a practice as we’ve had. There’s nothing in preparation that led me to believe that this was going to occur today.’’

McCarthy wouldn’t even acknowledge that Rodgers was off his game.

‘‘[From] where I was standing, I thought he played like he normally plays,’’ he said.

With all due respect to the Packers’ Super Bowl-winning coach, he wasn’t watching the same game I was. Rodgers was victimized by a number of drops, but he has overcome that before. This time, he was just as off-target and out of sync as his teammates. He overthrew a wide-open Greg Jennings in the first quarter and threw behind Jennings in the third. He has looked better against the Bears — and they defend him better than most.

The Packers thrived all season on early leads, with Rodgers leading the way. They led at halftime in every game at home this season: 28-17, 28-17, 24-0, 17-0, 21-10, 31-0, 14-3 and 24-19. This time they were down 20-10 — and not just because of Hakeem Nicks’ 37-yard touchdown on a Hail Mary pass from Manning at the end of the half.

‘‘I didn’t play as well as I wanted to,’’ Rodgers said.

Said Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul: ‘‘They weren’t on their game, but that’s not my fault. We knew what we had to do, and we played some great football.’’

That they did. But they had help.

‘‘Frankly,’’ McCarthy said, ‘‘I think the biggest thing was the self-inflicted wounds.’’

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