Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin can gain a place in National Football League history this weekend when the New York Giants take their “Road Warrior” mentality to San Francisco to play for a spot in the Super Bowl.
The Giants upset the defending-champion Green Bay Packers in the second round of the playoffs last week at Wisconsin’s Lambeau Field, an extension of the road success the team had in its postseason run to the Super Bowl title after the 2007 season. The Giants’ championship rings from that season have an inscription on the side that reads, “Eleven straight on the road.”
The Giants (11-7) are 2 1/2-point underdogs in the Jan. 22 game in San Francisco for the National Football Conference title. If they upset the 49ers, Manning would have five road playoff victories, the most for an NFL quarterback. Coughlin, 65, would tie Hall of Famer Tom Landry with seven postseason road wins, the most for a coach.
“There’s a battle readiness you don’t see in the league,” Steve Young, the Hall of Fame quarterback with the 49ers and now an NFL analyst for ESPN, said of the Giants in a telephone interview. “You don’t see these road warrior teams, and that’s got to be a compliment to the coach.”
The Giants and Philadelphia Eagles, each 5-3, were the only NFC teams to have a better record this regular season in road games than at home. The Giants haven’t had a losing record in road games since the 2004 season, when Manning was a rookie and Coughlin was in his first season with the Giants.
New York is the only team to win on the road through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
“It’s just the concept of us against the world, I guess,” Giants defensive end Justin Tuck told reporters yesterday. “You don’t have anything else to fall back on except your teammates. That goes a long way with building trust, with building that belief in the fact that, regardless of who we go face, we can come out victorious. That’s just a mindset that has been instilled in us ever since Coach Coughlin has been here.”
The 49ers (14-3) have an 8-1 record at home this season, including last week’s 36-32 playoff victory against the New Orleans Saints.
The Giants have won each of their past four games -- all to keep their season alive -- by at least 15 points. It’s the first time they’ve had four straight victories by that margin since the end of their 1986 championship season.
The Giants were 7 1/2-point underdogs at Lambeau Field a week ago, when they ended the Packers’ 13-game home win streak. Manning, Coughlin and the Giants also won on their trip to Green Bay following the 2007 season, beating the Packers for the NFC championship before upsetting the undefeated New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Aiming for Landry
Coughlin is 6-4 in postseason road games, including two wins when he coached the Jacksonville Jaguars, and last week’s victory moved him ahead of Joe Gibbs for second behind Landry, who won two Super Bowl titles in 29 years with the Dallas Cowboys.
“There’s some ability he has to laser focus a football team when it’s most important, kind of Knute Rockne almost,” Young said, comparing Coughlin to the former Notre Dame coach who won six national titles and gained fame for his ‘Win one for the Gipper’ speech. “To me, Tom Coughlin is constantly able to draw out the most from these guys.”
Manning, 31, has four postseason road wins, tying him with Roger Staubach, Len Dawson, Jake Delhomme, Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets and Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens. Flacco also has a chance to add to his total this weekend when the Ravens visit New England in the American Football Conference title game.
Manning didn’t talk to the media yesterday after leaving practice early with a stomach virus. He rejoined the team on the practice field today.
“There’s nothing like going into a stadium and what’s left of the fans at the end of the game is your fans,” Giants linebacker Michael Boley told reporters. “There’s nothing like it.”