Woo hoo!! The Giants are going to the Super Bowl!
So what if they're just another speedbump on the Patriots' road to history, the Giants are NFC champs for just the fourth time, and reached that pinnacle by beating the Packers in the playoffs for the first time since the 1938 NFL Championship. Big Blue did it on the road (that's an NFL-record 10-straight road wins for the Giants) by winning the third coldest playoff game in recorded NFL history.
And the simple fact is that the Giants were the better team yesterday. QB Eli Manning controlled the game with his effective passing, threw with decent accuracy in -1 to -3 F temperatures with a 12 mph wind (the Giants had about six drops that hurt Eli's 21-40-254 line), Plaxico Burress had his best game in a month and made Green Bay Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris into his b*tch, Ahmad Bradshaw again ran effectively (including a 38-yard TD called back on a phantom holding penalty) and the defense crushed the Packers' game plan. The defense throttled the Pack's running game and contained the Green Bay passing game -- something it completely failed to do in the Pack's 35-13 win at Giants Stadium in week 2. Indeed, without the 90-yard TD from Favre to Driver in the second quarter, the Pack would not have cracked 200 yards for the game!
The Giants have ultimately made or adjusted to three changes this year that have immensely helped the team even though the talent level may be lower than in either of the two previous years: (1) the retirement of Tiki Barber forced Manning to become the leader of the offense because the man who had set the agenda for the offense was gone -- and Eli assumed the leadership when he actually piped up against Tiki in response to some of the latter's comments as an NBC talking head; (2) Coughlin took a better approach to his players in year four -- he communicated with the team, especially the leaders, and became more human to them without losing his toughness; (3) the injury to Jeremy Shockey deprived Eli of his preferred outlet receiver, which forced the QB to read the play better. Shockey was always in Eli's ear about how to throw and where to throw and that influenced Eli's decisions (e.g., three of the four interceptions he threw against Minnesota were passes intended for Shockey). Forced to be more resourceful, Eli has been.
So congratulations to the New York Giants -- a team whose coach was thisclose to getting sacked last year and even in the latter part of this year even though he's the first coach since Parcells to lead the franchise to three-straight playoff appearances; a team that lost its all-time leading rusher and yardage gainer (rushing and receiving yards) but still had the #4 running game in the NFL; a team whose QB went from first-round semi-bust to franchise player in the course of four weeks; and a team that went 1-5 against playoff teams during the regular season only to become the first NFC team to win three road playoff games en route to the conference title while becoming just the second NFC wild card team ever to reach the Super Bowl (1975 Cowboys).
Three notes: (1) Colin Cowherd (of all people) mentioned that the absence of Barber and Shockey may have helped the Giants' offense become a more cohesive unit working under Eli -- I need to credit him with the concept and I agree; (2) I'm bumping this post up; (3) I think Packers' fans are the Dukies of the NFL but with such a huge dollop of Wisconsinism -- cheesehead fans who noticed Archie Manning leaving the stadium to meet his son after the game were congratulating him and wishing Eli well.