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Decisions loom for Packers after early playoff exit

New York Giants coach Coughlin talks with Green Bay Packers coach McCarthy after the Giants defeated the Packers during their NFL NFC Divisi
New York Giants coach Coughlin talks with Green Bay Packers coach McCarthy after the Giants defeated the Packers during their NFL NFC Divisi

By Simon Evans

(Reuters) - After a disastrous playoff performance, the Green Bay Packers have gone from a team that was on the cusp of creating a dynasty to one which could undergo significant change.

The big question being asked during the National Football League's (NFL) 2011 season was whether anyone was good enough to stop the Green Bay Packers from a second consecutive Super Bowl title? The answer came so much quicker than expected.

A perfect regular season was in the cards for the Packers and although it ended with a 15-1 record, few predicted the dreadfully below-par performance displayed in Sunday's loss to the New York Giants.

The Packers were unbeaten at home for 15 months and had lost just one of their previous 22 games yet fell 37-20 to a Giants team that only qualified for the postseason on the final day of the regular season.

"We've been winning for so long now, it's a sense of loss that it's just over just like that. I don't think words can explain the way we feel right now," said Packers cornerback Tramon Williams.

The decision by head coach Mike McCartney to rest key players in the regular season finale may well have back-fired with Rodgers and several of his team mates looking rusty after an extended break since their NFL-best record earned them a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Receiver Jordy Nelson, however, rejected the notion that the team had been ill-prepared for the playoffs.

"We had two practices in the week off and a week to prepare, so I think we were fine with the time off," Nelson said in comments reported by the Green Bay Press Gazette on Monday.

"I don't think anyone will ever regret getting that first-round bye. We came out and made plays, but we just turned the ball over and made drops. We practiced well all week and were in good rhythm (going in)."

The inquest will likely focus on a Packers defense that allowed an NFL-worst average of 411.6 yards per game in the regular season, but whose limitations were masked given a potent offense led by Rodgers.

But now the Packers have to deal with some major personnel issues during the offseason.

Cornerback Jarrett Bush, tight-end Jermichael Finley, running back Ryan Grant, center Scott Wells and back-up quarterback Matt Flynn are all set to become free agents.

The future of veteran safety Nick Collins and inspirational receiver Donald Driver is also uncertain.

Driver, the franchise's all-time leader in receiving yards, has been with the Packers since 1999 and although he was injured early in last year's Super Bowl he was a key part of the team's successful season.

Bur Driver, who turns 37 next month, knows there is a chance the Packers may move him to make room for younger receivers.

"The thing is, it's not up to me," Driver told reporters on Monday, "If they decide to keep me then I'll come back. If not, I guess I'll have to go somewhere else to play. It has always been my goal, to retire here and it's going to up to them to make that decision."

There are plenty of other decisions to be made by the Packers this off-season as they look back on a year of many wins but one big and costly post-season defeat.

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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