The Giants will show their improvements as they return to Lambeau Field Sunday:
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – If the Giants' season had a nadir, it very well could have been the game in Green Bay on Oct. 9. They did not reach the end zone until 2:54 remained in the game and left Lambeau Field with their third consecutive loss, 23-16, dropping their record to 2-3.
"We went through some hard times early in the season," coach Ben McAdoo said yesterday. "We stayed focused, stayed together, fought through the hard times and learned how to win."
That they did. The Giants began a six-game winning streak the following week vs. Baltimore. They won nine of their last 11 games, and finished 11-5. And on Sunday, the Giants will return to Green Bay to face the Packers in an NFC Wild Card Game.
"I think we're two different football teams," McAdoo said of the Giants then and now. "I think we've learned how to win since then. We've grown together and we've learned a lot about each other. We just have to prepare for the game and let the game play out."
The Giants are in the playoffs for the first time in five years, when they won Super Bowl XLVI. That four-game postseason, as well as the one that culminated in a Super Bowl XLII victory, included upset victories against the Packers in Lambeau, the first in the NFC Championship Game, the second in the divisional round. Now the Giants are underdogs again, although they finished with one more victory than the Packers.
That's fine with Eli Manning, who quarterbacked the playoff victories in 2007 and 2011.
"I think that you like to prove people wrong," he said. "That is always kind of an exciting thing to do. I try not to read too much into it or read the headlines or buy into it too much. But I think that it is not about – I think the most important thing is just going out there and being there for your teammates and wanting to step up for your teammates and for the organization and everybody who is working their tail off every week to go win and you want to go out and do your part to help them get that victory."
Many themes have been discussed and written about this week, including the Giants returning to the site of their playoff victories against the Packers in 2007 and 2011; the weather (wind chills expected to be around zero); whether Manning can recapture the magic he had nine and five years ago; the Giants' recent run-game improvement; the 38 playoff first-timers on the Giants' roster; Green Bay's season-ending six-game winning streak; the Packers' injury-depleted cornerback corps; and the problems posed by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who last threw an interception on Nov. 13 at Tennessee.
But perhaps the most prevalent storyline has been the Giants' improvement since their visit to Lambeau three months ago.
Here's a quick quiz: can you name the player who led the Giants in both rushing and receiving in that game? That would be Bobby Rainey, who had 22 yards on five carries, and six catches for 52 yards. Orleans Darkwa, now on injured reserve, was second in rushing with 11 yards on seven attempts. Rookie Paul Perkins (two carries for nine yards vs. the Packers) and Rashad Jennings, who was inactive with an injured thumb, are now the Giants top backs.
"I think we've made some progress running the football," said offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan, whose unit rushed for a season-high 161 yards last week in Washington. "We're really excited about a lot of the things that happened, particularly last week, in a game where the opponent had to win to get in, and to be able to have 40 rushes and put up those type of yards and not have any negative rushes is something that gives us the type of confidence and momentum that I think you need. Whether it's, certainly we don't expect it to be 75 degrees and sunny there in Wisconsin on Sunday, and to be able to have an all-weather type of offense and do those type of things is going to be something that we need to rely upon."
Manning completed 18 of 35 passes for 199 yards, including a late 8-yard touchdown to Odell Beckham, Jr., who made an acrobatic catch in the back of the end zone. Beckham had five receptions for 56 yards. Other than Rainey, no other Giants player had more than two catches.
Defensively, the Giants gave up a season-high 147 rushing yards, including a combined 114 to Eddie Lacy and James Starks, neither of whom will play on Sunday because of injuries.
Rodgers completed 23 of 45 passes for 259 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, both by Janoris Jenkins. But his longest completion was 29 yards.
"Against anybody, you don't want to give up big plays, and certainly not against this football team," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "The thing that I remember about that game was that we didn't tackle very well, and I think that we have to begin there first. Whether they run the football, or get it to wideouts, we have to limit the yards after catch. They are going to complete balls. That is just the way it is going to be. That is what he does. We just have to make sure that wherever the receiver catches it, he needs to be tackled there; and when they do run the football, we need to tackle better than we did last time."
The Giants know what they must do to win the game. Now, it becomes a matter of executing their plan.
"I feel like the character that we have in the locker room, especially on the defensive side of the ball, the guys that I see day in and day out," linebacker and defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said of his unit's preparation this week. "The guys I see away from the facility, there's no question about it. Are the guys going to be prepared, are the guys going to be ready, are the guys going to be ready for the speed? There's no question in my mind about it."
"This is my eighth year in the league, and this is my first time making the playoffs," Jennings said. "This is the playoffs, guys are going to be excited. Some of the guys that I've known, throughout their career that have never made it to the playoffs. They've played 10 years and some guys never made it to the playoffs. So own this and take advantage of this. Don't let it slip. Extra hour here, extra hour there, studying, doing what you need to do so we can do it at a high level. Put ourselves in the position to go for the 18th game."
*If the Giants win, their opponent in the divisional round will be determined by who wins the Seattle-Detroit game today. If the third-seeded Seahawks triumph, they would be in Atlanta next Saturday, and the Giants would play the Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday. Should the sixth-seeded Lions pull off the upset, they would play in Dallas, and the Giants would visit the Falcons in the Georgia Dome.
These five players could make a key impact in Sunday's matchup with the Packers