Passing Judgment – One Giant Step

For the second time in four years, the New York Giants went to Lambeau Field in Green Bay and sent the Packers packing.  On Sunday, the Giants completely outplayed the 15-1 Packers on their way to a 37-20 victory in the NFC Divisional Round.  In Week 13 of the regular season, the Giants lost to a then undefeated Green Bay team 38-35, but that loss gave the Giants the confidence that they could defeat them.  While the Packers did lose to Kansas City later in the year, the Giants arguably played them better than anyone and found a formula to dethrone the defending champions.

In what can only be described as a rollercoaster of a season for the Giants, they have been playing their best football at the right time.  Finally healthy, the Giants defensive line has generated a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks which has made the defensive backs look good as well.  The trio of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul have terrorized Mark Sanchez, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers in succession.  Additionally, Eli Manning has been playing at an elite level leading one of the league’s best offensive attacks.  All of this has translated to a trip to San Francisco against the 49ers in the NFC Championship.

Before the season started, I was amongst the many who criticized some of the personnel decisions made by Jerry Reese, including letting Steve Smith and Kevin Boss leave via free agency.  I was also convinced that the rash of injuries that the Giants sustained would be too much to overcome.  I also wrote off the Giants when they began playing the league’s toughest schedule including games against New England, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Green Bay and Dallas.  But, at the end of the day (hey Antrel Rolle, how ya doin?), it all comes down to who is playing the best at the end of the season.  With their destiny in their own hands, the Giants beat the Jets and the Cowboys to win the NFC East and get into the playoffs.

While their 2008 victory over the Packers was in the NFC Championship, their victory this past Sunday was sweeter on various levels.  First of all, the Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions and coming off an incredible 15-1 season.  They were, by far, the best team in the league.  They put up offensive numbers at an historic rate and were the odds on favorite to repeat as champions.  Plus, Aaron Rodgers had arguably the best season a quarterback could possibly have.  He played the position better than anyone else ever has for an extended period of time – that is how good he was this year.  In 2008, Brett Favre was nearing the end of his career and not playing at the same level as Rodgers was.

During the course of the season, both Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese came under a lot of fire and scrutiny for what was perceived as yet another late-season collapse.  After losing five out of six games, it certainly appeared to be heading that way.  But everything clicked at the right time and now the Giants are knocking on the door of another Super Bowl appearance.

Getting to Indianapolis will not be easy.  Not only did San Francisco already beat the Giants this year, but they are beaming with confidence after knocking off the New Orleans Saints 36-32 this past weekend.  Not many gave the 49ers a chance against the high-powered Saints, but Alex Smith led the Niners back for a miraculous win.  The 49ers are a very good defensive team, and they showed they can score points when they need to.  They are also very solid on special teams which has always been an Achilles heel of the Giants.  Look back no further than the last time the Giants played a playoff in San Francisco in 2003.  That was the infamous game where the Giants blew a 38-14 lead in the 3rd quarter and lost 39-38.  The final play of the game was a botched game-winning field goal attempt.  Instead, the Giants need to channel the memories from 1990 when Leonard Marshall laid out Joe Montana and Matt Bahr kicked a game-winning field goal to propel the Giants into the Super Bowl against Buffalo.

Regardless of the outcome, this season can now be revered as a success after winning the NFC East and two playoff games.  In fact, their victory against the Atlanta Falcons in the wild card round was the first home playoff win for Tom Coughlin during his tenure with the Giants.  At the very least, Coughlin and Reese have earned themselves another contract.  Their decision to let Smith and Boss go opened the door for Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard to become viable offensive weapons.  All Cruz did was set the Giants all-time record for receiving yards and become one of the league’s most dynamic and explosive wide receivers.  Teams have started to game plan against Cruz which has allowed Hakeem Nicks to explode in the playoffs.

The Giants are playing with house money now.  They are beaming with confidence and believe they can go back to the Super Bowl.  But even if they fall short, their dismantling of the Packers will always be remembered and is a crowning achievement for them.  If nothing else, maybe State Farm will stop running Aaron Rodgers’ discount double check commercials.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather