‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
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Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.”
Lambeau Field used to be the place where playoff teams went to die.
From its erection in 1957, Lambeau was 11-0 in playoff games up there until the Falcons beat them in the 2002 wildcard round. Since then, they had never lost to the same team twice.
Since Manning’s stalked around up there, twice in the last five years, he’s 2-0 against Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in postseason games. That first one, you may remember, happened in the 2007 playoffs, a 23-20 overtime win that put the Giants in the Super Bowl against the then-undefeated New England Patriots.
The second time was Sunday, a dominant 37-20 victory where the defense had Rodgers’ high-octane offense reeling and out of sync, and where Manning and his unit produced a tidy 420 yards of offense and three passing touchdowns. Among the offensive carnage were seven catches by big-play guy Hakeem Nicks, including a heart-stopper of a Hail Mary grab at the end of the first half to give the Giants an improbable 20-10 lead.
Nicks’ sure-handedness, agility, and ability to get open had a lot to do with the Giants’ success, as did a defense that has apparently cured all its ills over the past four weeks. Just ask Osi Umenyiora, whose two sacks, including a third-quarter strip sack, went as only part of an effort that dropped Rodgers four times.
But it was Manning who put his throws right on the money where his receivers could get them. He did throw one interception, but the defense forced a fumble that turned into a field goal three plays later. Other than that, he was cool in the pocket during the infrequent times the Green Bay pass rush did elude an efficient offensive front.
The Packers dirtied his uniform only once, that coming when linebacker Brad Jones dropped him to force a fourth-quarter field goal that made the score 23-13.
So why does Manning have this hold on the playoff Pack?
We might start with the raw passing numbers. In two games, he’s gone a cumulative 42-of-73 (.561) for 581 yards and three touchdowns. Perhaps a hair short of elite figures, but strong enough to win.
But more than that, it’s his overall maturity, the same quality that helped him produce a career year in 2012. He’s a more patient guy, now unwilling to try to force a ball into the end zone or into a tight spot and risk an interception. Instead, we saw him take his only sack on third-and-6 from the Packers’ 14, aware that he could give the five yards and still afford Lawrence Tynes a relatively easy 35-yard field goal.
That kick stretched the lead to 23-10, a deficit that all but did in the Packers.
It doesn’t hurt, either, that Manning has a better receiving corps than he did back then. Oh, Plaxico Burress was there, and Amani Toomer. But neither of those guys possessed the game-breaking ability of Nicks and MetLife folk hero Victor Cruz. Even on a rather quiet afternoon, while Nicks was grabbing all the headlines, Cruz caught five passes for 74 yards and converted third-and-5 and third-and-11 in the fourth quarter to keep two scoring drives — 10 points in all — going.
Manning’s accuracy was the reason Nicks and Cruz could do their thing. And his guidance of the offense is the reason the score eventually got out of reach. Anything less would have given Rodgers a chance, and that’s all he usually needs to do in a team.
With a running game that sputtered all year, and gained just 95 yards Sunday — it’s only that high because of Brandon Jacobs’ 14-yard touchdown run that ended the scoring — the weight has been on Manning to produce all season.
He has. And nobody knows it better than the Packers.
Or maybe we should call them Manning’s personal playoff souvenir.
How great has Manning been this season? Leave a comment below.