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Giants advance to NFC Championship




The Giants have turned Lambeau Field into their private postseason playland.

For the second time in four years, the Giants traveled to Wisconsin in January and stunned a higher-seeded Green Bay Packers team. On Sunday, the fourth-seeded Giants rode another terrific defensive effort and three Eli Manning touchdown passes to defeat the top-seeded, 15-1, defending Super Bowl Champion Packers, 37-20, an NFC Divisional Playoff Game.

The victory advances the Giants into the NFC Championship Game next Sunday in San Francisco against the second-seeded 49ers. The Giants lost in San Francisco, 27-20, on Nov. 13.

It will be the Giants' first championship game appearance since 2007, when they defeated the Packers here in overtime, 23-20.

"I think we're a dangerous team," Coughlin said. "I like where we are. I like our attitude. I like the way we're playing."

"This team knows how to win on the road," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "Right now, it just seems like it's our time."

Yes, it does. The Giants have won four consecutive games, including two in the postseason. One of Manning's touchdown passes was a 37-yard Hail Mary on the final play of the second quarter. The defense again played superbly, holding a Packers team that had averaged 40.1 points at home to half its average and forcing four turnovers.

"Our defense has been outstanding for the last few weeks and that's been a huge difference for us," Coughlin said.

"For us to come in there, we knew we were going to have to come in here and play one of our best games – and I think we did that," Tuck said.

So did Manning, who put on another brilliant postseason performance. He completed 21 of 33 passes for a career postseason-high 330 yards and three touchdowns – 66 and 37 yards to Nicks and four yards to Mario Manningham. Brandon Jacobs scored on a 14-yard run and Lawrence Tynes kicked field goals of 31, 23 and 35 yards.

"I knew we were going to beat them on Wednesday, to be honest with you," Jacobs said.

"I think we are always confident going into games," Manning said. "Guys understand the way to win football games against good teams. Our defense is playing great with pressure and turnovers. Our offense, for the most part, is protecting the ball and playing smart football. When we have a chance to make a big play we are making them."

In two postseason games, Manning has completed 44 of 65 passes (67.7 percent) for 607 yards, six touchdowns and one interception, by the Packers' Morgan Burnett.

"I think it is his mentality, it is his approach," Coughlin said of Manning's success in big games. "Nobody sees what he does behind the scenes. He is a studier and a pounder."

The defense did its own pounding, sacking Aaron Rodgers four times – two apiece by Osi Umenyiora and Michael Boley, recovering three fumbles and getting a game-clinching interception from Deon Grant. Boley led the way with nine tackles (eight solo), and Antrel Rolle added eight unassisted stops.

"We did well," said Umenyiora, who has five sacks in three games since returning from an ankle injury. "We know we're a good football team and we're a great defense. We might not have showed most of it during the regular season, but that doesn't matter. This is the postseason and we're playing the way we're supposed to be playing right now. We've been playing well for the past four or five games now, so hopefully we'll keep it going and take this thing all the way."

The Packers scored on Aaron Rodgers touchdown passes of eight yards to fullback John Kuhn and 16 yards to wide receiver Donald Driver, plus Mason Crosby field goals of 47 and 35 yards.

It was Crosby's 31-yarder that beat the Giants as time expired last month. After that game, Rolle predicted the Giants and Packers would face each other again.

"I'm not surprised," Rolle said. "I said, 'We'll see them again.' We saw them again. This is the outcome."

The Giants led by a touchdown early in the fourth quarter, 20-13, when Boley sacked Rodgers for a six-yard loss on a fourth-and-five from the Giants' 39-yard line. The Giants kept the ball for almost five minutes before Tynes' third field goal, a 35-yarder with 7:48 left, increased the Giants' lead to 23-13

Two plays into Green Bay's next possession, Rodgers threw a short pass to running back Ryan Grant, who gained 10 yards before he was hit by safety Kenny Phillips and fumbled. Chase Blackburn scooped up the ball and returned it 40 yards to the Packers' four. On the next play, Manning fired a pass to the center of the end zone for Manningham, who scored his second touchdown in as many weeks. With 6:48 remaining, the Giants led, 30-13.

But the Packers wouldn't go down quietly or easily. Rodgers led them on a 76-yard drive that culminated in a 16-yard touchdown pass to Driver. Crosby tried his second onside kick of the game – the first was a surprise that failed when Derrick Martin fell on the ball - and Victor Cruz secured it for the Giants.

On third-and-11, Manning found Cruz down the middle for a 17-yard gain. On the next snap, Ahmad Bradshaw ran for 24 yards, aided by Manning's block – Tuck called it a "chicken-wing block." Two plays later, Jacobs ran around right end for the touchdown that pushed the lead back to 17 and the Giants' sideline erupted in celebration.

Crosby's 35-yard field goal with 3:50 remaining in the third quarter had cut the Giants' lead to 20-13.

Green Bay drove 58 yards in 10 plays after fielding a Giants punt. The longest play in the series was James Starks' 29-yard run, which moved the ball to the Giants' 22-yard line. Starks picked up five more yards on the next play, but the drive stalled at the 17 and Crosby came on to kick the field goal.

The Giants came up with a big turnover on the first possession of the second half when Umenyiora sacked Rodgers and forced a fumble that was recovered by Grant at the Giants' 37. But the Giants went three-and-out, setting up the Green Bay series that ended with Crosby's 35-yarder.

The Giants took a 20-10 halftime lead when Nicks leaped high to grab Manning's 37-yard pass as time expired in the second quarter. With six seconds remaining, the Giants lined up three receivers on the left side and sent all of them to the end zone. Manning threw a Hail Mary and Nicks out-jumped cornerback Charles Woodson and safety Charlie Peprah and came down with the ball for the touchdown. Nicks caught five passes for 152 yards in the first half.

"I was the jump man," Nicks said. "I got down there and I didn't even see who was around me. All I saw was the ball and once I saw the ball, I had to jump and get it. I don't even know where I landed in the end zone. Once I went up and got it, I looked around and it was exciting."

The sensational play capped a four-play, 69-yard drive in the final 41 seconds of the half after a Green Bay punt.

It began with Manning's nine-yard pass to Bradshaw. Two plays later, Bradshaw picked up 23 yards before running out of bounds at the Packers' 37. Manning and Nicks connected on the next play.

Tynes' second field goal, a 23-yarder, gave the Giants their third lead at 13-10 with 1:51 remaining in the second quarter.

The Giants took possession after Rolle recovered Kuhn's fumble and returned it nine yards to the Packers' 34. Manning immediately threw to the left side for Nicks, who gained 29 yards to the five. Bradshaw gained four yards running to the left on first down. But Jacobs lost the four yards on the next snap. On third down, Manning's pass into the end zone for Jake Ballard was tipped by Burnett.

Rodgers' eight-yard touchdown pass to Kuhn on the first play of the second quarter tied the score at 10-10.

Green Bay took possession at its own 40 after Tynes' kickoff sailed out of bounds.

Five plays into the drive, on a first down from the Giants' 38-yard line, Rodgers threw to the right side for Greg Jennings, who fumbled. The ball was recovered by the Giants, but after conferring, the officials ruled Jennings was down by contact before losing the ball. Coughlin challenged the ruling, but after review, referee Bill Leavy upheld the call on the field, despite replays that seemed to show Jennings lost the ball before he was down.

The play gave the Packers a second-and-four at the 32. Green Bay picked up a first down when Rocky Bernard was penalized for being offside. Two plays later, Rodgers threw a 16-yard pass to James Jones followed by Brandon Saine's three-yard run to end the first quarter.

When the teams moved to the other end of the field, Rodgers flipped a short pass to Kuhn, who leaped over Aaron Ross and into the end zone for the touchdown.

The Giants took a 10-3 lead on Manning's 66-yard touchdown pass to Nicks with 3:47 remaining in the first quarter.

On a first down that was earned by Nicks' 15-yard catch, Manning threw down the middle for Nicks, who caught the ball at the 50, ran through a tackle attempt by Peprah and sprinted to the end zone.

"I had an in-cut and I saw the linebacker drop," Nicks said. "I tried to stop before I got to the linebacker and Eli put the ball right where it needed to be. I bounced off the hit. Once I saw green grass – it's time to go."

The pass was the fourth-longest postseason play in Giants history and the second in as many weeks that was at least that long.

Manning and Nicks tied the record last week with a completion against Atlanta of 72 yards, the mark first set by a Scott Brunner-to-Earnest Gray pass on Jan. 3, 1982 at San Francisco. In third place is a 67-yard pass by Charlie Conerly to Frank Gifford against the Chicago Bears on Dec 30, 1956.

Crosby's 47-yard field goal tied the score at 3-3 with 5:33 remaining in the first quarter. The Giants thought they had the ball before the 50-yard drive began after rookie returner Randall Cobb fumbled the ball on the kickoff following Tynes' field goal. The ball was recovered by the Giants, but Packers Coach Mike McCarthy challenged the ruling, saying Cobb was down by contact prior to losing the ball. After review, Leavy reversed the call on the field and the Packers retained possession at their own 21.

Rodgers, going without a huddle on about half the plays, threw passes of 10 yards to Jennings and 19 yards to tight end Jermichael Finley, the latter which advanced the ball to the Giants' 31-yard line. But Green Bay gained only two yards on its next three snaps and Crosby came on to kick the field goal.

Tynes' 31-yard field goal gave the Giants a 3-0 lead at the conclusion of the game's opening possession (the Packers won the coin toss and deferred).

Manning passes of 19 yards to Manningham and 17 yards to Cruz highlighted the Giants' 13-play, 67-yard drive. The Giants had a first down at the Green Bay 18-yard line. But after Bradshaw gained five yards, he was stopped for no gain and Manning's pass to Ballard fell short.

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