GREEN BAY, Wis. — The New York Giants orchestrated a second consecutive playoff upset of the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, dispatching the No. 1 seed, 37-20, on Sunday to advance to the NFC championship game on the passing of quarterback Eli Manning, a virtuoso performance by wide receiver Hakeem Nicks and a resurgent defense.
The Giants quarterback outplayed counterpart Aaron Rodgers, completing 21 of 33 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those went to Nicks, whose 37-yard reception in the end zone as the first half ended placed the momentum squarely in New York’s corner and contributed to his 165 yards on seven catches.
Manning’s final scoring throw covered four yards to wide receiver Mario Manningham with less than seven minutes to play to put the game virtually out of reach, 30-13. Moments earlier, safety Kenny Phillips jarred the ball loose from running back Ryan Grant, one of three fumbles the Packers lost, and linebacker Chase Blackburn returned it to the 4-yard line.
Green Bay added a touchdown shortly thereafter, when Rodgers found wide receiver Donald Driver in the end zone with 4 minutes 46 seconds left, but it was far too little too late. The Giants recovered the onside kick and put an emphatic stamp on their fourth straight win when running back Brandon Jacobs galloped in for a 14-yard touchdown with 2:36 to play.
“The way Eli controlled the ball and threw it around and never put it in harm’s way, that tells me right there that we were going to win,” Jacobs said. “He does a phenomenal job, and we do a good job of protecting him. That tells it all. We played against a great football team, and we were the ones who finished, and we wanted it more.”
The Giants, who will travel to San Francisco for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVI, last came to Lambeau Field during the playoffs following the 2007 season and rallied for a 23-20 overtime victory on their way to winning Super Bowl XLII. Sunday’s triumph also avenged a 38-35 loss to Green Bay on Dec. 4 and gave the Packers just their second defeat after a franchise-record 15 wins in the regular season.
Rodgers was largely responsible for that success by posting MVP-worthy statistics, but on this day the Giants limited him to 26-of-46 passing for 264 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. The fourth-seeded NFC East champions also ensured there will not be a repeat Super Bowl winner by holding Green Bay, the No. 1 scoring offense in the league, to 15 points below its average one week after beating Atlanta, 24-2, in the first round.
“Oh, it’s real,” Rodgers said. “We got beat by a team that played better tonight. That’s the reality of this league.”
Trailing 20-10 in the third quarter, the Packers cut into the deficit with Mason Crosby’s 35-yard field goal. The Giants responded with a 35-yard field goal by place kicker Lawrence Tynes for a 23-13 lead before Grant’s miscue.
Tynes’s 31-yard field goal opened the scoring midway through the first quarter, and Rodgers went to work with completions of 10 and 19 yards, but on third and eight from the New York 29, he missed an open Greg Jennings for what looked to be a sure touchdown. The Packers settled for Crosby’s tying 47-yard field goal.
On the ensuing series, Green Bay safety Charlie Peprah tried to knock down Nicks, rather than wrap him up after a completed pass. The 6-foot-1, 208-pound Nicks bounced off Peprah and won a footrace to the end zone for a 66-yard touchdown.
But Tynes booted the kickoff out of bounds, giving Green Bay the ball at its 40-yard line and re-energizing the crowd. Nine plays later, Rodgers completed an eight-yard touchdown pass to fullback John Kuhn to knot it at 10 on the first play of the second quarter.
The Giants regained the lead on Tynes’s 23-yard field goal with 1:51 until intermission, and it appeared that’s how the half would end. The Giants had other ideas, with Bradshaw picking up gains of nine yards on a reception and 23 yards on a run to the Packers 37.
On the next play, Manning heaved the ball into the end zone, where Nicks shielded cornerback Charles Woodson and Peprah for the catch and a 20-10 lead as the half expired.
“I didn’t even see who was around me,” said Nicks, who couldn’t recall another completed Hail Mary in his career at any level. “All I saw was the ball. Once I saw the ball, I said, ‘I’ve got to jump and get it.’ ”