(Long Island, N.Y.) In hockey, a hot goalie can carry a team through the playoffs and at times, all the way to the Stanley Cup. But in football, it takes more than just one player to advance. It’s a total team effort and if one facet isn’t doing their job, then all the hard work on the other side of the ball may in fact go for naught.
Such is the case with the New York Giants. They had been inconsistent throughout the majority of the 2011 regular season but seemed to gel in December. Convincing victories over the Jets and Dallas Cowboys gave them the division title and a home playoff game and the visiting Atlanta Falcons ran into a buzz-saw.
The defense pitched a complete game shutout (the Falcons only score came on an intentional grounding penalty on quarterback Eli Manning in the end zone for a safety) and the offense heated up in the second half to pull away for a 24-2 win in the Wild Card round.
“Our defense played outstanding,” Manning said. “A good job stopping the run and some third and fourth down stops. Those were huge. They were momentum swings and those situations have been flopped with us in some playoff games and if you don’t convert on fourth down, third down, third-and-short…that is tough to overcome.”
While the defense was keeping Matt Ryan and company in check, Manning and the offense began to hit on a number of big plays that put some distance between the teams. But all of that is in the rear-view mirror now that Big Blue is headed to Green Bay to take on the 15-1 Packers in the Divisional Round.
“I can’t wait to get there and play them,” Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. “We’ve got to have a good week of practice and go up there and do what we have to do.”
Manning added, “We know they’re a good team and we played them tough here (a Week 13 38-35 loss). We did some good things offensively, scored some points, and our defense is playing some great football now so hopefully they can continue to do that. But we know offensively we have to play strong.”
As soon as the game was announced, talk was aplenty of the rematch from the NFC Championship Game four years ago. While there are some similarities with the Giants, Green Bay is a much stronger team than the one that was defeated in overtime in a game played in arctic conditions.
The Packers are the defending Super Bowl champions and have a potent offense led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They would have gone undefeated during the regular season if not for an uncharacteristic loss to a less than average Kansas City Chiefs squad. And the game will again be played in Lambeau Field.
“I remember us winning and that’s the most important thing,” defensive end Justin Tuck recalled. “Hopefully we can go back there and do it again. That’s a talented football team.”
As is the one that walked out of MetLife Stadium on Sunday with their heads held high.