Eli Manning, Giants stun Packers for NFC title berth

Eli Manning Giants stun Packers for NFC title berth
Neither matters now.
Well-protected Eli Manning played pitch and catch in the first half, capped by a perfect Hail Mary pass, and the Giants' once porous defense made big plays in the second half to secure a 37-20 NFC divisional playoff victory Sunday night against the defending Super Bowlchampion Packers
The Giants, peaking at the right time just as they did on their 2007 wild-card run to a Super Bowl title, advance to the NFC championship at the San Francisco 49ers.
"We have a very good team we're about to go play inSan Francisco… but this is a team that we think we can go in there and compete with," said defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who had two of the Giants' four sacks against Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay, 15-1 in the regular season and coming off a playoff bye, is done.
"That's the way the game goes," said Packers cornerback Charles Woodson. "A team gets hot, and they're hard to stop. They (the Giants) are getting hot at this particular time to get themselves another shot at a trophy.''
Despite its regular-season dominance behind the passing of Rodgers, Green Bay allowed the most passing yards in NFL history in a season (4,796). A league-high 31 interceptions helped offset that, but Manning exploited it from the start at Lambeau Field.
On the last play of the first half, Manning threw high into the end zone. Wide receiverHakeem Nicks boxed out like a basketball player and did his own Lambeau Leap, outjumping Woodson and safety Charlie Peprah for the 37-yard touchdown that gave the Giants a 20-10 lead.
"It is one of few (Hail Marys) that I have thrown up, and it was the first one that was ever caught," said Manning. "… It gave us all the momentum going into halftime."
Said Nicks: "I was the jump man. … All I saw was the ball, and once I saw the ball I had to jump and get it."
In the first half alone, Manning hit 14 of 24 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns, and Nicks had five catches for 152 and two touchdowns, including a 66-yarder in the first quarter.
"Guys understand the way to win football games against good teams. … When we have a chance to make a big play, we are making them," said Manning.
Manning, whose outstanding season has been overshadowed by the other quarterbacks such as Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees, finished with 21 completions in 33 attempts for 330 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. He was sacked once and had all day on many throws.
Nicks finished with seven catches for 165 yards. "I have always been told that a big-time player steps up in big-time games," said Nicks.
The Giants won the NFC East with a 9-7 mark in the regular season. Their 38-35 loss here on Dec. 4 capped a four-game losing streak that included a 49-24 loss at the New Orleans Saints.
But they forced three lost fumbles by Green Bay, added an interception, sacked Rodgers four times and made key defensive plays in the second half. They forced a Rodgers fumble to blunt a Green Bay scoring drive in the third quarter. In the final quarter, another Packers' fumble set up a Giants touchdown that gave them a 17-point lead.
"We're a great defense," said Umenyiora. "We might not have showed most of it during the regular season, but that doesn't matter."
Rodgers, who threw for four touchdowns in December against the Giants, finished Sunday with 26 completions in 46 attempts for 264 yards for two touchdowns with an interception (in the final minutes on Green Bay's last drive).
"We just turned the ball over too many times to win," said Rodgers.
Rodgers lamented the season's sudden end.
"Disappointing. We play to win championships," he said. "You win a championship, have kind of the top of the mountain, and you forget how bad this feeling is."
On their opening drive of the second half, the Packers were at the Giants 30 when Rodgers was stripped of the ball by Umenyiora, the first time that has happened all season to Rodgers. Safety Deon Grant recovered to halt the Packers drive. New Yorkfollowed with a drive that was capped by one of Lawrence Tynes' three field goals to take a 20-3 lead.
In the final quarter, with the Giants up 23-13, Packers running back Ryan Grant lost a fumble that was returned 40 yards by linebacker Chase Blackburn to the Packers four. Manning hit Mario Manningham with a 4-yard touchdown pass with 6:48 left to give New York a 30-13 lead.
Early in the final quarter, the Giants defense made another statement. On fourth and five from the New York 39, the Packers went for it. Linebacker Michael Boley, who matched Umenyiora with two sacks, sacked Rodgers for 6-yard loss. The Giants then marched for another field goal midway through the final quarter.
"Our defense has played well the last few weeks, and that has been a huge difference for us in being able to count on today," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "…I think our defensive people got together and decided that they were better than the way they had been playing. Success breeds confidence, and they're a pretty confident group.''
The Giants had one turnover to Green Bay's four.

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