Only one team played like a champion Sunday night in a meeting of the last two Super Bowl winners.
That team was the Giants. And the person most responsible for that just might be Adam Merchant, a 15-year-old Giants fan.
But Merchant is no ordinary fan. He was diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (now in remission). Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Merchant requested to attend a Giants practice and game. He was at Friday's workout and coach Tom Coughlin brought him into the post-practice team circle.
Merchant's message to his Giants was, "Play like champions."
So they did. Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes to become the franchise's career leader, sparking the Giants to a 38-10 rout of the Green Bay in MetLife Stadium. The game was similar to the 37-10 beatdown the Giants put on the Packers in a divisional playoff game last season.
The Giants resoundingly snapped their two-game losing streak and improved to 7-4. They hold a two-game lead in the NFC East over both Dallas and Washington. The Giants return to action next Monday against the Redskins in FedEx Field.
"The message was loud and clear," Coughlin said. "We had Adam in the locker room after the game as well and had him in the middle. Guys were very appreciative that he was here and really what he said was most meaningful. We picked up on that and that's basically the challenge that we kept throughout the weekend and in our Saturday night meetings, 'Play like World Champions.'"
"Obviously the Make-A-Wish program is something," Manning said. "We've had a number of kids and it's pretty special when you think about it. They've got one wish, and it's sad when you think about it, they've got one wish and what do you want to do? He wanted to come to the New York Giants practice and come to a game. He had the opportunity to come out and talk to the team, so Coach Coughlin does a great job and all the players do a great job of making him feel welcome and fired up. It can be kind of nerve-racking to come talk to your favorite team and have a little pep talk, but he did a great job and he said to go show everybody you're the world champions and why you're the world champions and play that way. I think it got everybody fired up and obviously we came out and played the way that we know we can."
Merchant was beaming in the postgame locker room.
"It just came from the heart," he said of his talk. "It was amazing. It was a dream come true.
It's been amazing to just be around people who are my heroes. The huddle (was my favorite part), giving them the speech. It was thrilling. It was awesome.
So was the game. Manning, who had not thrown a touchdown pass in a career high-tying three consecutive games, threw for scores to Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. That increased his career total to 200, one more than former record-holder Phil Simms.
Andre Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw rushed for one touchdown apiece and Lawrence Tynes kicked a 43-yard field goal for the Giants, who scored touchdowns on five of six trips inside the Packers' 20-yard line. That had been a season-long shortcoming. The defense registered five sacks of Aaron Rodgers and the coverage teams held the dangerous Randall Cobb in check.
So what was Merchant's review?
"They played like champions," he said.
Green Bay had its five-game winning streak snapped. The Packers scored on Rodgers' 61-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson and Mason Crosby's 28-yard field goal.
"Everybody is always doubting us because we give them reason to do that," said defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who had one of the sacks and a forced fumble. "But it was a very important game for us and we had to perform like the world champions that we are and I think we did that today."
"We're confident that when our back is against a wall that we'll come out and fight and perform and the big players will step up and make plays," guard Chris Snee said. "I think that's exactly what you saw and the defense was tremendous. To hold that offense to 10 points was just incredible and then we scored touchdowns. That's been our problem and we scored touchdowns and didn't have the turnovers."
The Giants jumped on the Packers early and never let up, opening leads of 17-7 at the end of the first quarter and 31-10 at halftime. It was their highest-scoring opening period and first half since Nov. 7, 2010, when they scored 21 first-quarter points and opened a 35-0 halftime lead on their way to a 41-7 victory in Seattle.
Each team scored a touchdown on its first offensive possession. The Giants scored on Brown's two-yard run just 2:22 into the game. It was the second time this season the Giants reached the end zone on their first series; at Carolina on September 20, Manning threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett.
Brown's touchdown was set up by a 59-yard catch-and-run by Bradshaw that gave the Giants a first down on the Green Bay two-yard line. On second-and-10 from the Giants' 39, Bradshaw caught a screen pass at the 35, turned up field and ran up the right seam until Davon House tackled him just shy of the goal line. Two plays later, Brown powered his way into the end zone for the game's first score.
Brown broke his fibula later in the game.
The Packers answered just 1:56 later when Rodgers' threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Nelson. On second-and-four, Nelson ran down the right sideline, caught the ball at the 32, three yards in front of cornerback Corey Webster, and motored to the end zone to tie the score. The 61-yard pass was the second-longest allowed by the Giants this season; on Oct. 7, Cleveland's Brandon Weeden threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Josh Gordon.
Less than four minutes after Nelson's touchdown, Crosby's 55-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left and the Giants took possession at their own 45. Bradshaw ran four times for 21 yards before Manning's 13-yard scramble gave the Giants a first down at the Packers' 21-yard line. It was Manning's longest run since Nov. 21, 2010 at Philadelphia.
"It's kind of one of those circumstances where if I slide, I wasn't sure if I had enough yardage for the first down," Manning said. "And the new rule that if you do slide it's from where you start your slide. I thought it might be close to the first down so I just thought I might have to go get an extra yard. … I'm sure I'll get some heat from it or maybe guys will be proud of me in the meetings tomorrow."
Three plays later, on third-and-five, Manning lofted a pass over House and into the arms of Randle, who stayed inbounds in the back of the end zone for his first professional touchdown and a 14-7 lead. Randle was the third receiver because Domenik Hixon was inactive with an ankle injury.
The score ended Manning's streak of consecutive passes without a touchdown at a career-long 106.
On the Packers' next offensive play, Webster stepped in front of Cobb and intercepted Rodgers' pass at the Green Bay 33, where, after a review, he was ruled downed by Cobb.
"It was huge," Coughlin said of the pick. "It was a well-designed scheme and we were able to make that play. Webby is a veteran corner and in that situation, the memory, he has a very bad memory (after being beaten)."
Bradshaw ran for nine yards on second down, but was stopped for no gain by Brad Jones and Morgan Burnett on third down. Tynes came on to kick a 43-yard field goal to increase the Giants' lead to 17-7.
The Giants didn't slow down in the second quarter. Manning's nine-yard touchdown pass to Cruz capped a 61-yard drive that featured a 25-yard pass to Nicks and increased the Giants' lead to 24-7 with 9:37 remaining in the quarter.
"That was just a play where I come inside and I get lined up one-on-one with the safety," Cruz said. "I just make a quick move to the inside and Eli threw a great ball, hit me right in stride and I went into the end zone."
Six minutes later, Crosby pulled the Packers to within 14 points with a 28-yard field goal. Green Bay drove from its own 27 to the Giants' 11-yard line, but Kenny Phillips stopped Alex Green for no gain on third-and-one, forcing Mike McCarthy to send Crosby onto the field.
After Steve Weatherford's punt, the Packers had a chance to cut their deficit before halftime when they took possession at their own 24 with 1:50 remaining. But it was the Giants who added to their point total.
They gained possession of the ball when Umenyiora separated Rodgers from the ball with one of his classic strip sacks. Jason Pierre-Paul recovered it and carried it 10 yards to the Packers' 23-yard line. After a 10-yard pass to Randle, Bradshaw took a handoff from Manning out of a shotgun and zipped up the middle for the score with 44 seconds left in the half, stretching the Giants' halftime advantage to 31-10.
"I had been setting my guy up with a little bull rush and then I faked inside, came outside and saw Rodgers and just knocked it out of his hand," Umenyiora said. "I thought (JPP) was going to go to the house with it, but they caught him. It was a good play. I was happy he picked it up."
Manning's 13-yard touchdown pass to Nicks was the only score of the third quarter. On third-and-goal from the 13, Manning threw a short pass in the center of the field to Nicks, who lunged for the end zone. The officials originally ruled Nicks down just shy of the goal line. Coughlin challenged the ruling, believing Nicks deserved a touchdown – his first since Week 2 vs. Tampa Bay. After review, referee Terry McAulay agreed. It was Coughlin's first challenge of the season.
"Honestly, I didn't know right away," Nicks said. "I felt like my hand touched down the same time my arm broke the plane, but I didn't know. I was just hoping I did score and I was confident, but once they declared it a touchdown, I was happy. Broke the ice."
It was fitting that Nicks scored the touchdown, because he set it up by catching a short pass that he turned into a 30-yard gain to the Packers' eight-yard line. Will Beatty's holding penalty pushed the Giants back 10 yards, but that proved to be just a temporary setback on the way to Nicks' score.
Neither team scored in the fourth quarter, but that was fine with the Giants. Their first three quarters of championship-caliber, Merchant-inspired play had already decided the game.