The New York Giants became the only road team to win in this month’s NFL playoffs, stunning the Green Bay Packers 37-20 Sunday to advance to the NFC championship game.
With huge plays from their offense and defense, plus plenty of help from the mistake-plagued Packers, the Giants got their second consecutive playoff victory at Lambeau Field. The previous win, in 2008, lifted them into the Super Bowl. This one got them a trip to San Francisco for the NFC championship game next weekend.
Eli Manning threw for three touchdowns for the second straight week, Hakeem Nicks caught two of his scoring throws — one a 37-yard desperation pass at the end of the first half — and the Giants (11-7) forced four turnovers from the usually precise defending Super Bowl champions and had four sacks.
The Packers were sloppy, rusty and perhaps dispirited by the shocking death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin’s 21-year-old son. There were the turnovers, dropped passes, poor tackling and indecisive pass coverage — things that didn’t damage them in a 15-1 regular season that included a 38-35 win at the Giants.
On Saturday, the NFC West champion 49ers (14-3) rallied in the final moments to beat New Orleans 36-32 in an epic playoff game. New York lost 27-20 at San Francisco in November.
Baltimore forced four turnovers and beat the Houston Texans 20-13 Sunday in the AFC divisional round. The Ravens are 9-0 at home this season.
Ed Reed’s interception late in the fourth quarter sealed it, and the Ravens (13-4) didn’t commit a penalty or have a turnover. The only scoring in the second half was Billy Cundiff’s 44-yard field goal with 2:52 remaining.
Baltimore’s prize: a trip to Foxborough next Sunday for a berth in the Super Bowl.
“When we got up 17-3, the No. 1 thing I told them is: ‘They’re going to make a rally,'” linebacker Ray Lewis said to his teammates. “Every great team makes a rally. And this is what playoff football is all about. I mean, year after year and time after time, great competition going against each other, it really does get no better.”
On Saturday, New England silenced Tebowmania 45-10 as Tom Brady tied an NFL record with six TD passes and broke another with five in the first half.
“We know we have a big test next week,” Lewis said. “Tom is playing excellent up there, and what they did to the Broncos last night, I think they sent a message to whoever was coming up there. So, we’ve got our hands full and we’ve got to go up and get ready to play in the AFC championship.”
The Texans (11-7), who made the playoffs for the first time in their 10-year existence, had five sacks and held the Ravens to 227 yards. But Joe Flacco’s TD passes of 1 yard to Kris Wilson and 10 to Anquan Boldin, plus Cundiff’s field goals of 48 and 44 yards were enough offense for Baltimore.
49ers 36, Saints 32
The 49ers rekindled memories of their glory days, when Dwight Clark made “The Catch” and Terrell Owens made “The Catch II.”
Alex Smith, never before confused with Hall of Famers Joe Montana (the original catch) or Steve Young (the second one), threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis with 9 seconds left just after Drew Brees put the high-powered Saints ahead.
“You’ve got to call it ‘The Grab,'” Davis said. “We were down. I had to make it happen to take my teammates where we want to go.”
It looked as if the Niners (14-3) were headed to the conference championship game when they, uh, grabbed a 17-0 lead thanks to mistakes by the Saints and Smith’s TD throws to Davis and Michael Crabtree. But the record-setting Brees and his offense came back, with a 44-yard catch-and-run by Darren Sproles giving them a 24-23 lead with 4:02 to go.
Smith put the 49ers back on top with a 28-yard run on third down, but the 2-point conversion failed. That put New Orleans (14-4) in position to retake the lead on a 66-yard connection with Jimmy Graham — only to see Smith and Davis win it.
The Niners became the first team in NFL history to score two lead-changing touchdowns in the final three minutes to win a playoff game.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and that’s all I kept telling myself over and over and over: ‘Vernon, you got to step up, the team needs you,'” Davis said.
Patriots 45, Broncos 10
New England (14-3) snapped a three-game losing streak in the postseason with a dominating performance from the opening snap. Three-time Super Bowl winner Brady was unstoppable, as were his tight ends, with All-Pro Rob Gronkowski scoring three TDs and Aaron Hernandez getting one.
“It’s all about winning,” Brady said. “You lose a few playoff games and it’s a very bitter way to end the season and it sits on your mind for quite a long time. For us to come out and play the way we did, have a very solid performance in the most important game of the year is very gratifying.
“From this point on, everyone will be focused on what we need to do to be better next week and hopefully come out and play for another championship.”
It was a helpless ending for Tim Tebow, whose sensational run of comeback wins turned around the season for Denver (9-9) to win the AFC West. But the Broncos were exposed by the AFC East champs on offense and defense.
“The run was a lot of fun, had a lot of ups and downs,” Tebow said of his second pro season. “But, we really tried to block everything from the outside off and just enjoy the relationship with teammates and coaches. Work and try to get better, and I feel like we did that all year. We just didn’t put forth a good enough (effort) tonight, you’ve got to give a lot of credit to a really good team.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.