GREEN BAY, Wis. – With their own star quarterback and a dominating defense, the New York Giants exposed the Green Bay Packers for what they now are – former Super Bowl champions.
The Packers dropped passes, fumbled the ball and simply couldn’t stop Eli Manning and his receivers in the Giants’ shocking 37-20 divisional playoff victory Sunday. To the Giants’ delight, a Green Bay team that had a real shot at an undefeated season less than a month ago is heading home.
And that the win came at Lambeau Field, well, that was just as sweet. The site has become a familiar launching pad for the New Yorkers. After beating the Packers (15-2) at home for the second time in four years, they only hope this trip ends the same way – in the Super Bowl.
The Giants will play the 49ers in San Francisco for the NFC championship Sunday.
“I think we’re a dangerous team,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “I like where we are and how we’re playing.”
The Giants (11-7) have been on a roll ever since beating the rival Jets on Dec. 24, beating the Dallas Cowboys to get in the playoffs and then blowing out Atlanta in the wild-card round.
They took down the Packers on Sunday, as Manning threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns.
The Giants are 3-4 against the 49ers in the playoffs, including their memorable collapse in a wild-card game at San Francisco on Jan. 5, 2003. New York led 38-14 in the third quarter but fell apart and lost 39-38.
That probably won’t be a worry for this year’s Giants, who were oozing confidence even before they beat the Packers.
“This team knows how to win on the road,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “It seems like right now it’s our time.”
The Giants stunned the Packers with a touchdown off a long heave from Manning to Hakeem Nicks just before halftime, then knocked them out with a late touchdown off a turnover.
The win came four years after the Giants beat a Brett Favre-led Packers team in the NFC title game.
Manning found six different receivers against a porous Packers defense. But Manning did the most damage with his throws to Nicks, who caught seven passes for 165 yards and two TDs.
Nicks’ biggest play was a 66-yard TD catch in the first quarter. His score at the end of the half came on a 37-yard pass into the end zone with defenders all around.
“It was a big momentum play for them, but we were not deflated as a football team,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Giants’ defense also was able to defuse the big-play abilities of Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense.
Rodgers was 26 of 46 for 264 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. He also was the Packers’ leading rusher with 66 yards on seven carries.
The Packers fully expected to go back to the Super Bowl, but the reality hit Rodgers quickly.
“Oh, it’s real,” Rodgers said. “We got beat by a team that played better tonight. 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. We had a championship-caliber regular season and didn’t play well today.”
The Packers’ past problems with dropped balls by their talented group of wide receivers returned at the worst time.
And while the Packers’ defense has been vulnerable all season, giving up far too many yards and big plays, they’ve typically made up for it by forcing turnovers.
This time, the Packers were the ones giving the ball away.
Green Bay, which had lost only six fumbles all season, lost three to the Giants – including one by Rodgers who hadn’t lost one all season. The Giants also sacked Rodgers four times.
After carving up the Packers in the first half, the Giants’ offense hit a lull in the second half. But they broke out of it to drive for a 35-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes to take a 23-13 lead with 7:48 left to play.
Packers running back Ryan Grant then fumbled after catching a pass and the Giants recovered, taking the ball back deep into Green Bay territory.
Manning then threw a 4-yard TD pass to Mario Manningham and the Giants took a 30-13 lead. Rodgers rallied the Packers for a 16-yard TD pass to Donald Driver, cutting the lead to 30-20 with 4:46 left.
Green Bay’s onside kick failed and Brandon Jacobs scored on a 14-yard run with 2:36 left to put the game away.