The New York Giants are coming to Lambeau Field next weekend believing they have a good shot at knocking off the defending champions.
If the Packers (15-1) have any doubts, all they have to do is look at what Eli Manning and the Giants did to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday in a dominating 24-2 win in the NFC wild-card game. And if that doesn’t convince them, maybe they should remember their game against the Giants on Dec. 4.
Aaron Rodgers had to lead a late drive to set up a last-second field goal in a 38-35 win at MetLife Stadium.
If that game was tough, this will be tougher.
The Giants (10-7) have changed. There’s more to Tom Coughlin’s team than Manning and his talented pool of receivers. New York has rediscovered its defense and found its running game. This is once again a complete team, much like the team that came into Green Bay in early 2008 and captured the NFC Conference title with an overtime victory on a brutally cold evening.
“We are going to out there and give all our effort and we are going to walk away with a win,” All Pro defensive end Jason Pierre Paul said after the Giants won their third straight game and fourth in five since the loss to the Pack.
The win over the Falcons (10-7) was the Giants’ best game of the season in terms of a total team effort. New York gained 442 yards, held Atlanta to 247 and controlled the clock for more than 34 minutes. The only mistake was giving up a second-quarter safety when the line protection broke down and Manning was called for intentional grounding in the end zone.
Two-time Pro Bowl guard Chris Snee is excited about the way the Giants are playing.
“We’re playing very good and I’m just glad offensively we performed better in the second half,” Snee said. “We’re still searching for that full game. Maybe it’s too tough to achieve but we’re going to strive for it.”
Manning and the defense, which had two sacks, came close to achieving it Sunday in sending Matt Ryan and the Falcons to their third straight playoff loss under coach Mike Smith.
Manning ignited a listless offense with a 14-yard second-quarter scramble, a drive that he capped with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Hakeem Nicks. The two also hooked up on a game-breaking 72-yard catch and run in the third quarter. The 31-year-old quarterback put away the inept Falcons with a 27-yard TD throw to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter.
Now it’s back to Green Bay. New York went there last season with a playoff berth on the line and was blown out. The Giants’ last postseason trip to Lambeau Field was a 23-20 overtime victory for the NFC championship two weeks before they upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
“Cold, I remember that. I remember coach Coughlin’s face. I remember (tackle) David Diehl sweating and it froze on his hair and he had icicles on his hair,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “And I remember us winning.
“Hopefully, we can go back there and do it again.”
The tempo in the first playoff game at MetLife Stadium was set by New York’s defense, which never allowed Atlanta to get going, and by the league’s lowest-ranked rushing game, which ran for a season-high 172 yards, 92 by Brandon Jacobs and 63 by Ahmad Bradshaw. The Giants averaged 5.5 yards a carry, 2 yards more than in the regular season.
For all of Jacobs’ and Bradshaw’s success, it was Manning’s escape and dash on third down in the second period that got the Giants rolling. Jacobs soon broke a 34-yard run, and Manning hit Nicks on a post pattern to put the Giants up 7-2.
“I don’t think anyone is game-planning for me to run the ball,” Manning said, “but obviously there were a couple of situations where you have to do it. I am not scared of running to get a few yards.”
The Giants never really had to look back as the Falcons were embarrassed in the postseason for the second straight year. As the conference’s top seed last season, they were stunned by Green Bay 48-21 in the NFC semifinal.
“We can’t lose like this in the playoffs,” defensive end John Abraham said. “We should have been able to do something different. We played well in the beginning, but it kind of got away from us in the end.”
The Falcons had chances but they failed to convert on two fourth-down sneaks by Ryan inside the Giants 25. Michael Turner, supposedly the most effective runner on the field, also failed on a third-and-inches late in the third period.
“We just came up short,” said Ryan, who completed 24 of 41 for 199 yards. “In a playoff game against a very good football team, you have to make those plays and we didn’t make them.”
The Giants hope to make them next weekend in Wisconsin.
“We know they are a good team,” said Manning, who completed 23 of 32 for 277 yards. “We played them tough here, did some good things here, we scored some points. We know offensively we are going to have to play strong, score some points.”
Notes: It was the first time a team scored exactly two points in an NFL postseason game. … The Giants’ most recent home playoff victory was a 41-0 rout of Minnesota for the 2000 NFC title. … Atlanta’s last playoff win was in 2005 over St. Louis when Michael Vick still was the Falcons’ quarterback. … There were no turnovers in the game and the Giants have not had a turnover in their last two games. … Giants CB Aaron Ross and RB D.J. Ware left with concussions. … Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez is 0-5 in playoff games in his 15-year career.