I sure didn’t see that coming. Except for a minor blip in Kansas City a month ago, the Packers were an efficient and precise scoring machine all season. Although their defense certainly could be porous, it made enough plays to win when combined with an offense that scored 35 points per game.

But in the professional sports league where the regular season matters most, it didn’t matter here. When many asked about the Packers and a march to a second straight Super Bowl championship, I cautioned that there would be a team peaking at the right time. In other words, the Packers of last year.

’08 Redux

It was déjà vu all over again on Sunday. In the 2008 NFC Championship, surely a Giants team coming off two road playoff games – at Tampa Bay and Dallas – would wilt in the frigid conditions of Lambeau. Not then, and not now. As to Eli Manning, I am a believer.

Was it the Packers? Was it the Giants? Was it as simple as a team laying an egg at the worst of times? In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The long and cold offseason has begun in Green Bay, as in 27 other NFL markets. Much work is ahead, the 15-1 season notwithstanding.

I always hated that days when things came to an end in Green Bay. Players would pack their boxes and trash bags and head out of Lambeau for warmer climes with some asking me “Do you have to stay here?” I would reply that it was my job and, uh, yes, I had to be there.

Looking past the sting of the Giants and ahead to 2012, the Packers’ talented scouting staff will uncover gems in the college game as they usually do. The front office will weigh many players under contract, including longtime fixtures such as Chad Clifton and Donald Driver. They will also have to address several free agent issues. There are several, including Pro Bowl center Scott Wells, but here’s a look at three difficult ones:

ICONGrant has played out his four-year contract from 2008.

Ryan Grant

I remember Labor Day 2007 when we acquired Grant from – you guessed it – the Giants, who were overloaded at running back with Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Derrick Ward.

Grant – for the price of sixth-round pick – proved a great value with a stellar 2007 season, followed in 2008 with some grumbling about desiring an upgraded contract.

Rather than stonewalling Grant after one good year, the Packers reacted. With the team embroiled in a messy divorce with Brett Favre -- remember him? -- Grant was the beneficiary of fortuitous timing and rewarded with a four-year, $18 million contract. Timing is everything (wonder if Brett received a percentage?).

Grant took a $1 million pay cut this season, reducing his salary from $3.5 million to $2.5 million in exchange for the Packers guaranteeing the lower amount. He is now a free agent with the unfortunate memory of fumbling on his last play.

My sense is the Packers move on from Grant due to (1) a hesitation to commit more guaranteed money to a 29-year old running back, and (2) the presence of younger running backs – James Starks and Brandon Saine – with more to come in the offseason.