GREEN BAY, Wis. -- New York won this football game because it was a football game, not a beauty contest. Had it been a beauty contest, Green Bay would have won. Nobody plays prettier than the Packers.
But this game wasn't pretty. Some of the stats for New York look pretty, like Eli Manning's 330 passing yards and Hakeem Nicks' two touchdown catches, but the Giants beat Green Bay 37-20 on Sunday -- advancing to the NFC title game next Sunday in San Francisco -- because this game was ugly.
|More on Giants-Packers|
|NFL coverage on the go|
And nobody does ugly, nobody embraces ugly, like the New York Giants. They were built to win games like this -- ugly games, brutal games, temperatures in the 20s, the wind howling, the crowd booing. The Giants enjoy playing football, but truth be told they'd rather just drag your favorite team into an alley and kick its ass.
After the game I saw just one sign in the Giants' locker room, but it was nasty. It was hand-written in big, bold letters on a grease board, and it implored the Giants to do two things:
"Play physical football ... and beat the hell out of No. 88."
See, that's just not very nice. But the Giants don't care about niceties. They aren't coming to your town to enjoy a cup of tea. They're coming to your town to beat the hell out of your team, and for some reason Sunday they really wanted to beat the hell out of No. 88, who happens to be 6-foot-5, 247-pound Packers tight end Jermichael Finley. Mission accomplished, seeing how Finley caught just four passes for 37 yards, a non-factor whose most notable play was a drop on the Packers' first series -- the first of five drops by the Packers, who weren't built for games like this.
That's a fact. Look at their schedule this season, at their results. The Packers played a beautiful brand of football 15 times, and won those 15 games. When it was going well, it was going as well as it has ever gone for any team in the history of the NFL. The Packers set all sorts of individual and team records on offense this season, led by likely MVP Aaron Rodgers, because nobody does pretty like the Packers do pretty. Green Bay found itself mired in the muck just one time, Dec. 18 against the Kansas City Chiefs, and it couldn't get out. Rodgers couldn't complete half his passes, the Green Bay defense couldn't stop the Chiefs from bludgeoning their way to 438 yards, and the Packers lost 19-14.
That was ugly.
But this was hideous.
|New York Giants|
|They deserved to win the game and they deserved to get the grade. New York came into Green Bay as a touchdown underdog and spit all over the Packers’ 15-1 regular-season dominance. QB Eli Manning showed why he deserves to be considered among the NFL's elite, and the defense forced four turnovers against a normally secure offense. The Giants’ 37-20 victory on Sunday was comprehensive.|
|Green Bay Packers|
|This is why you play the games. A rested, fully healthy No. 1 seed playing at home as a touchdown favorite against a wildcard road team they’d beaten earlier in the season? Didn't matter. The underdog Giants came into Lambeau Field on Sunday and had their way with the Packers, winning 37-20 by forcing four turnovers and throwing the ball all over Green Bay’s wretched secondary. Season over.|
|By James Carlton|
This was a New York game, is my point. It doesn't matter how mentally tough the other team is -- the Giants are mentally tougher. It could be a New York thing, the cauldron that is that city melting away all the fluff and nonsense that drags down so many other teams. It could be a Tom Coughlin thing, the Giants' head coach putting up with absolutely no nonsense. Under Coughlin, the Giants don't collect knuckleheads. They are the anti-Jets, valuing results over the superficial, and they fear nobody.
Remember, it was the Giants who ended the pretty New England Patriots' 18-0 march toward history in the Super Bowl four years ago. That came two weeks after the Giants were last here at Lambeau Field, upsetting Brett Favre and the Packers on a day that temperatures approached minus-30 degrees. It was frostbite cold, and Coughlin has the ravaged cheeks to show for it. He didn't protect himself that day, couldn't be bothered to safeguard his face from the cold, and when the game was over he looked horrible. But his team won, so he was happy. He hadn't come to Lambeau in January 2007 to look pretty. He'd come to win a football game.
Just like he did Sunday, when the Giants didn't punt until the second half, forced four turnovers, committed just three penalties, beat the hell out of No. 88 and held Rodgers to his lowest passer rating (78.5) of the season.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy played the "it wasn't them, it was us" card, opining that, "The biggest thing was the self-inflicted wounds ... we did not play to our identity."
So true. The Packers played beautifully this season, but the Giants dragged them into the gutter on Sunday. They chased Rodgers around the pocket, forcing him to run more than he wanted, and crushing everything that moved downfield. The Packers were so spooked, they dropped five passes. And when it was over, the Giants didn't feel bad at all.
"They had a great regular season," said Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. "But we're having a great postseason."
For some reason that comment cracked up the guy in the next stall, defensive end Osi Umenyiora. He started laughing and didn't stop for about a minute, finally did, then repeated Pierre-Paul's comment softly to himself and started laughing again.
Around the corner, Giants cornerback Corey Webster, a seven-year Giants veteran, was talking about New York's ability to win games like this one, and the NFC title game here four years ago, and the Super Bowl two weeks later against the undefeated Patriots. Not that it stops there. The Giants had to win their final two games of the 2011 regular season to qualify for the playoffs, and they had to win four of their final six games to win a share of the 2010 NFC East title, though the tiebreaker went against them. Basically, the Giants tend to win the games they have to. Why is that? Corey Webster was talking about it.
"We're mentally tougher than the other team -- it's been like that for years," he said. "It starts with Tom Coughlin, our leader, and it's also the players. When someone messes up, you don't see us getting down. We say, 'Keep it moving, we've got a game to win.' We handle adversity."
They did Sunday, swallowing hard after two early fumbles by the Packers were given back to Green Bay on instant-replay review. The Giants responded to the first faux fumble with a 66-yard touchdown from Hakeem Nicks, who caught Manning's pass at the 50, bounced off Packers safety Charlie Peprah and outran the rest of the defense. After the second quasi-fumble went against the Giants, leading to an eventual game-tying score by the Packers, New York had the chance to fold on the road. First, the Giants had a field goal blocked. Then Manning was intercepted after absorbing a crushing hit from Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop.
The game hung in the balance. New York led just 13-10, faced third-and-1 from its 40, and had 15 seconds left in the half. The Giants gave the ball to Ahmad Bradshaw, apparently content to go into halftime with a three-point lead, but Bradshaw broke a 23-yard run to the Green Bay 37. There were six seconds left. Time enough for one more play. Manning threw it into the end zone, and Nicks outfought Peprah and Charles Woodson for the ball.
It was the prettiest touchdown of the game, the prettiest thing New York did all day. Other than qualifying for the NFC title game next Sunday in San Francisco.