Normally, drawing an opening-round playoff match-up on enemy soil in a notoriously tough place to play against a division champion with six straight wins to its credit and the league’s hottest quarterback is enough to spark panic in the locker room and send a team’s fan-base into an instant state of despair. But for the New York Giants, anything less just wouldn’t seem right.
With 10 wins in their final 12 games, including last Sunday’s 19-10 victory at the Washington Redskins, the fifth-seeded Giants have secured their first playoff appearance in five years and drawn a date with the dreaded Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. However, after marching through Green Bay in each of their last two trips to the post-season—both resulting in Super Bowl victories, the Giants won’t be seen as just another underdog when they take the field on Sunday.
Memories aside, it’s been five years since Eli Manning’s Giants last knocked Aaron Rodgers and the Pack out of the post-season in the second round of the 2011 playoffs. Sure, Manning is still New York’s star signal-caller, but with just six players from the 2011 championship team on the current roster, and only two that played on both Super Bowl-winning teams still wearing a Giants’ uniform, expecting this team to rekindle any lost playoff magic is asking too much.
Nevertheless, one of the two current players to play on both championship teams is Manning—the city’s resident sports hero in the same way that Patrick Ewing, Joe Namath, and Derek Jeter once were. And while it’s been quite some time since the city’s football faithful watched Manning guide the G-Men to a second improbable playoff victory in Packer-Land on the way to winning Super Bowl XLVI, there’s still an unwavering belief among the majority of Giants’ fans that Eli can do it again.
When asked if Big Blue’s defense will be the engine that drives his team through Green Bay and beyond, Giants’ linebacker Jonathan Casillas made it clear that the unconditional belief in Manning’s playoff powers extend beyond the franchise’s fan-base.
”No, I think Eli Manning will be.”
”Because I think the way he’s played in the playoffs in the past, the way he’s played on the big stages, we’re gonna need that from him,” continued Casillas when asked why the veteran quarterback will once again be key to New York’s potential playoff success. ”We’re gonna need him to play Eli Manning ball. We’re gonna need it.”
With the fourth-highest winning percentage in post-season history [.727], a pair of Super Bowl M.V.P. trophies on his mantel, a few heroic post-season performances on his resume, and victories in eight straight playoff games, seven of which came on the road, Manning’s supporters aren’t worried about his aging arm, declining numbers, or the fact that he’s totaled just six touchdowns while throwing six interceptions during the final five weeks of the regular season.
Despite trailing Green Bay in almost every offensive statistic of consequence and defensively out-ranking the Packers in several key categories, the Giants will be relying on their veteran quarterback to magically level the playing field on Sunday. But Manning finished the regular season with his fewest passing yards, his lowest passer rating, quarterback rating, and touchdown total in three years, and wisely, he recently told reporters that a Wild Card win will only materialize with a total team effort.
”We want to pick it up, but hey, you run the ball, don’t turn it over. We’ll hopefully have some opportunities to hit some big plays in the passing game as well,” said Manning. ”But if we can run the ball, defense is playing great, protect the ball, we’ll be in good shape.”
Finishing fourth in points per game [27.0 ppg], Green Bay dug itself out of a mid-season slide that saw the Pack drop five games in six weeks to win each of their last six contests and claim this year’s NFC North title with a Week 17 win over the Detroit Lions. As usual, Rodgers has been the driving force behind Green Bay’s recent run of success, throwing 18 touchdown passes without a single interception during his last seven starts, and limiting the Pack’s star quarterback will obviously be New York’s main concern.
There are a few positives unrelated to the past for the Giants to build upon ahead of Sunday’s game. After failing to establish a respected run-game through the first 14 weeks of football, New York totaled 100-plus rushing yards in each of its last three games due largely to the play of rookie Paul Perkins. Despite an offense that’s struggled to score, the Giants’ defense held three of their last four opponents to ten points or less. And more importantly, two of those teams—the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions, made the playoffs, and Washington was the third.
But if the Giants do manage to knock the Packers out of the playoffs for a third time, we shouldn’t at all be surprised if Eli Manning is the reason.