And Tolzien made three of them, as three of those 10 passes he failed to complete were interceptions – including the momentum-turning, back-breaking play of the game: Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul’s leaping interception at the line of scrimmage, which he returned 24 yards for a touchdown.
“Honestly, I called it before it even happened, in the huddle. And sure enough, that was the play,” said Pierre-Paul, who’d been listed as questionable with a shoulder injury. “I read the formation, the tight end, how he was set. And I caught the ball.
“As soon as I caught it, I knew it was a touchdown. I’m not a receiver or anything, but I knew it was a touchdown.”
Now, it’s hard to fault a guy who started the season on the practice squad and who’d never thrown a regular-season NFL pass before last week for not being perfect in his first NFL start. But the stark reality is this: Rodgers threw four interceptions in the first seven-plus games this year and has eight career multi-interception games in 86 regular-season starts (93 games). Scott Tolzien has thrown five interceptions – three Sunday and two in last week’s loss to the Eagles – in the past eight days. And while Rodgers has thrown one career pick-six, both Flynn in 2010 and Tolzien on Sunday did it in their first NFL starts.
“The first thing you do after a game like this is you evaluate yourself. And (I had) three turnovers. That’s the bottom line,” said Tolzien, who took over for an injured Seneca Wallace last week after one series. “Those are killers. The guys work too hard, and that’s on me -- completely.
“My job is to control what I can control. I’m not here to say I should or shouldn’t play. It’s my job first and foremost to take care of the football. Guys work their tails off, and that’s Football 101. From the time you’re playing youth ball to every level, that’s the starting point for a quarterback. I did not do that today, and you’ve got learn from it. Saying it’s one thing. You’ve got to learn from it – truthfully.”
Truth be told, the Packers’ problems run deeper than just the quarterback position. For the third straight week, the defense didn’t get it done. Yes, the unit was playing without cornerbacks Sam Shields, a surprise inactive just before game-time with a hamstring injury that had cropped up on Friday, and Casey Hayward, who last week reinjured the hamstring that has plagued him since before training camp. And yes, the only other outside linebackers available beyond Matthews were green rookie sixth-round pick Nate Palmer and inconsistent ex-defensive end Mike Neal.
But even so, a defense whose calling-card had been its propensity for takeaways managed just one against the NFL’s most-intercepted quarterback in Eli Manning, whereas Pierre-Paul essentially won the game with his play.
The Packers had pulled to within 20-13 on Lacy’s not-to-be-denied 4-yard touchdown run with 12 minutes, 43 seconds left in the game, and then the other two phases did their jobs. Kicker Mason Crosby and the kickoff coverage team stopped returner Michael Cox at the 19-yard line. Then the defense, for the first time all day, forced a three-and-out by sacking Manning twice in a three-play span – for a 9-yard loss by Brad Jones and for a 7-yard loss by Matthews. Even after Davon House’s illegal block penalty on the punt cost them 10 yards, the Packers still had the ball at their own 30-yard line with 10:55 to go.
Then, Pierre-Paul made his play. He saw Andrew Quarles run a quick drag route to the left, held back on his rush against left tackle David Bakhtiari, snatched the ball out of the air and ran untouched to the end zone.
“As a defense, we definitely need to do that. You saw how that can change the course of a game,” Hawk said. “We had the momentum at the time, and that’s a huge play. You have to give them credit. But defensively, we need to start doing stuff like that.
“It is on us. Not just because Scott’s in; it’s just how it should be. Coach always wants to talk about us being a defensive team, and our offense puts up such crazy numbers and points that it’s hard to look at us like that. And, we haven’t been playing that well as a defense lately. So yeah, it’s tough to come in here and try to talk about the answers and what we can do. In the end, it’s still just talk. We have to do it.”
For his part, Tolzien took the full blame, saying Pierre-Paul “made a nice play” but that he “gave him a freebie there. That’s a huge momentum swing. We had a chance, and that kills you.”
Nevertheless, the Packers aren’t dead yet. They still have three division games left – against the Vikings (2-8) at home next Sunday, at Detroit for a Nov. 28 Thanksgiving Day showdown with the Lions (6-4), and the Dec. 29 regular-season finale at Chicago (6-4) – and winnable non-division games at home against the imploding Atlanta Falcons (2-8) and Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6) and a road game at Dallas (5-5). If the Giants, who started the season 0-6, can win four in a row, the Packers can win most of the games that remain.
Do they need Rodgers at quarterback to win those games? Will they have him at quarterback in those games? We shall see.
“I’ll just tell you this about this football team: This football team has a lot of character,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Leadership has grown immensely; times like this are when you see it.
“I’m proud of the way they’re handling these challenges. Every year you go down a different road. This road has had a lot of things thrown at us so far, and I fully believe it’s only going to make us stronger.
“We need to get better. We’re not playing well enough to win right now. We recognize that. We know what the issues are. We don’t need stat sheets or opinions to attempt to knock us off our focus. I think this football team still has a chance to be special.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.