Giants Stun Packers to Reach NFC Title Game in San Francisco

Eli Manning of the New York Giants
Eli Manning of the New York Giants passes against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Photographer: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Eli Manning and the New York Giants left Green Bay’s Lambeau Field with another playoff upset, a 37-20 win that sends them to San Francisco to play for the conference title and a spot in the Super Bowl.

Manning threw three touchdown passes, including two to Hakeem Nicks, and the Giants’ defense forced four turnovers to end the Packers’ 13-game winning streak in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

New York entered yesterday’s game as 7 1/2-point underdogs against the defending Super Bowl champions, who this season became the sixth team in National Football League history to go 15-1 or better. While the Packers became the first of those teams to lose their playoff opener, the Giants advance to face the 49ers for the National Football Conference championship.

“Our team is playing well,” Manning said after tying an NFL record with his fourth career road playoff win. “Guys understand the way to win football games against good teams.”

The Giants won their previous playoff trip to Green Bay following the 2007 season, when as 7 1/2-point underdogs they beat the Packers in the NFC championship game before upsetting the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

“We were excited to come here and play. We knew what we were up against and I thought we did an outstanding job,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said at his postgame news conference. “It was a back and forth game for a while, we were able to push some late scores in and we had some turnovers.”

The Patriots will host Baltimore in the American Football Conference title game after the Ravens beat the Houston Texans 20-13 yesterday. Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes for Baltimore and the Ravens’ defense forced four turnovers, including two in the final eight minutes.

Both conference championship games will be played Jan. 22, with the Super Bowl scheduled for Feb. 5 in Indianapolis.

First Road Win

The Giants’ victory at Lambeau Field ended a run of seven straight playoff wins by home teams this postseason. It also helped New York avenge a 38-35 loss to the Packers on Dec. 4 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

For Green Bay, the defeat came six days after the 21-year-old son of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin was found dead in an icy Wisconsin river. The Packers, who had a bye in the first round of the playoffs, had eight dropped passes and three fumbles after totaling six in the regular season.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times and also threw an interception for Green Bay, which had been averaging an NFL-best 35 points a game.

“We didn’t play to our identity,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “No excuses. We practiced well. There was nothing in the preparation that led me to believe this was going to occur.”

Manning to Nicks

The Giants never trailed yesterday and opened a 20-10 halftime lead as Manning connected with Nicks for touchdowns of 66 and 37 yards. The second came on the final play of the first half, when Manning lobbed a pass into the end zone and Nicks out-jumped Packers defenders for a touchdown.

Green Bay’s defense this season allowed the most yards passing in NFL history.

The Giants pushed their lead to 30-13 in the fourth quarter when Manning hooked up with Mario Manningham for a 4-yard touchdown one play after recovering a Green Bay fumble.

While the Packers scored a touchdown with 4:46 remaining on a 16-yard pass from Rodgers to Donald Driver, their defense wasn’t able to get a stop. Manning led the Giants on a final scoring drive capped by a 14-yard Brandon Jacobs touchdown run with 2:44 left.

Peaking for Playoffs

“We’re peaking right when we need to,” said Nicks, who finished with seven catches for 165 yards. “Everyone is healthy and we’re stronger than we have been all season. We’ve got a bunch of guys who believe.”

Up next for the Giants are the 49ers, who are back in the NFC championship game for the first time since 1998. The 49ers beat the New Orleans Saints 36-32 two days ago in San Francisco on Alex Smith’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left.

San Francisco, which beat the Giants 27-20 on Nov. 13, is favored by three points, according to oddsmakers.

The Ravens opened a 17-3 first-quarter lead over the Texans yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium en route to their first home playoff win in 11 years. Flacco threw touchdown passes to Kris Wilson and Anquan Boldin, while the Ravens intercepted Houston rookie quarterback T.J. Yates three times.

The Patriots are seven-point favorites at home against the Ravens after routing the Denver Broncos 45-10 on Jan. 14 behind Tom Brady’s playoff record-tying six touchdown passes.

“It’s a big test next week. Tom is playing excellent,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. “What they did to the Broncos, I think they sent a message to whoever was coming up there. So we’ve got our hands full.”

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