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Mike Roemer/AP/Press Association Images New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (88) celebrates after catching a 37-yard touchdown pass.
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NFL Playoffs: Green Bay sent packing; Ravens hold off Houston
The Green Bay Packers cruised into the NFL Playoffs with a 15-1 record; now they’re going home. Here’s how the Giants and the Ravens booked their places in the final four.

New York Giants 37-20 Green Bay Packers

Nancy Armour, AP

THE GREEN BAY PACKERS walked off the field for the final time this season to a chorus of chants of “Let’s Go, Giants!”

Hey, it was better than the boos they heard at halftime.

Fumbles, drops, missed assignments and blown coverages — Green Bay packed a year’s worth of mistakes into a few hours last night, its dazzling season coming apart in a 37-20 loss to the New York Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs. Unbeatable only a month ago, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers had little response as Eli Manning and the Giants made themselves at home at Lambeau Field.

“We got beat by a team that played better,” Rodgers said. “That’s the reality of this league.”

(I’ve) been in the playoffs four times, and three times you lose your last game and you go home, and the one time you have that euphoric feeling that you keep fighting for. It’s tough. I didn’t think it was going to end tonight.

End, though, it did. Instead of rolling toward a second straight Super Bowl, the defending champs are clearing out their lockers and scattering for the offseason.

The Packers were powerless to stop Manning, who threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns and coolly moved the Giants down the field drive after drive. Hakeem Nicks made the secondary look downright silly with 165 yards receiving and two touchdowns, the second of which he plucked out of the air above a scrum of Green Bay defenders just before halftime.

YouTube Credit: monjaroturner

But in the regular season, the offense was always there to bail the Packers out. This time, they were every bit as much of a problem.

The Packers lost three fumbles and the normally sure-handed receivers may as well have had rubber on the tips of their fingers for as many balls as they dropped. Jermichael Finley dropped one. James Starks dropped another. John Kuhn watched one bounce off his fingers. Despite having their regular starting offensive line in place for the one of the few times this season, Rodgers was sacked four times.

“We hurt ourselves,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Give New York credit for making those plays, but it wasn’t up to our standards.”

Even Rodgers had an off day. He overthrew an open Jennings in the end zone on the very first drive, and lost his first fumble in a year when he was sacked in the third quarter by Osi Umenyiora. With the Giants secondary smothering the receivers as few defenses have this year, Rodgers was often forced to scramble or dump off for short gains.

“We play to win championships. You win a championship and you’re kind of at the top of the mountain, and you forget kind of how bad this feeling is,” Rodgers said. “We had a championship-caliber regular season and didn’t play well today.”

Houston Texans 13-20 Baltimore Ravens

David Ginsburg, AP

THE BALTIMORE RAVENS couldn’t be beaten at home this season, an accomplishment that earned them a trip to a place that’s has long been torturous for visiting teams.

Baltimore secured a berth in the AFC championship game by defeating the Houston Texans 20-13 yesterday. Now they’re heading to Foxborough, Massachussets, for a matchup with the top-seeded New England Patriots.

Baltimore is 1-6 all-time against New England, but that one win was a 33-14 rout in the 2009 playoffs.

“We’ve gone out there and played before,” said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw two touchdown passes against Houston. “We have won in New England.”

They are one of the teams, like us, that’s tough to beat at home. We know how tough it is to go into a place like that, a place like here, and win a football game. So we’re going to have to make sure we prepare well all week and bring our A-game up there.

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The Ravens didn’t have their A-game going against the Texans. They had almost as many punts (nine) as first downs (11), got only 80 yards from Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice (60 on the ground, 20 through the air) and scored three points over the final 46 minutes.

“I would anticipate, against the team we’re about to play, you have to do a better job offensively in terms of stats and points,” Ravens coach Jim Harbaugh said.

But Baltimore did not get called for a single penalty, didn’t commit a turnover and registered four takeaways — including three interceptions of rookie quarterback T.J. Yates.

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“I always say there is a right way to do things, there is a wrong way to do things and there is just the Ravens’ way of doing things,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It wasn’t pretty but we’re not really a pretty team. We got the W and now it’s on to the AFC championship.”

The Texans (11-7) are headed home, but with their heads high. Their first foray into the postseason began with a 31-10 rout of Cincinnati and ended with a valiant effort behind a determined rookie quarterback and a defense that lived up to its No. 2 regular-season ranking.

“Guys are disappointed, but at the same time, being this was our first time, it was a great learning experience for us,” said wide receiver Andre Johnson, who had eight catches for 111 yards.

When we come back and get in this position again, we’ll know how to deal with it.

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