EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Giants secondary has a message for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers this time around:
It’s not going to be as easy as last time.
The communication problems and blown assignments that allowed Rodgers to hit a wide-open Donald Driver in the first half and lead a last-minute, game-winning field goal drive in a 38-35 victory in early December have been fixed, and everybody is seemingly healthy.
Aaron Ross, who had to leave Sunday’s 24-2 win over Atlanta in the NFC wild-card game with a head injury, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and said he would play Sunday in Green Bay in the NFC divisional round.
What’s more is there is a sense a confidence and a belief that the Packers can be beaten.
“To me, it’s another game,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “I don’t put any opponent on a pedestal. I understand they have a lot of weapons on this team and they are an awesome opponent, and so are we.”
The Giants (10-7) have evolved over the past month from an inconsistent defense that gave up big plays both on the ground and in the air to one that suddenly has found itself. The last three opponents — the Jets, Cowboys and Falcons — have combined for 30 points, with the Giants offense contributing two to that total with a safety last week.
A big part of the transformation has been getting the defensive line back. Osi Umenyiora has returned from an ankle injury. Justin Tuck has overcome neck, groin, ankle and toes woes. Combine those two with All Pro Jason Pierre-Paul and the front line is harassing opposing quarterbacks.
What’s also different is the play of the back seven, particularly the secondary. The talent has been there with Ross, Rolle, cornerbacks Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara, and safeties Kenny Phillips and Deon Grant.
However, getting them and the linebackers on the same page in pass coverage has been a yearlong effort that finally has everyone reading the same lines.
“We’ve come a long way,” linebacker Michael Boley said. “Early on, we were so up and down, the linebackers and the secondary. One week, one thing would hurt us and the next week it would be something else. The last couple of weeks, we’ve brought everything together, not really simplified things, but made sure that everyone was on the same page.”
Grant said the Giants weren’t doing that the day they played the Packers for a number of reasons.
Umenyiora didn’t play that game. Tuck was limited by injuries. Boley was just coming back from a hamstring injury and was only 70 percent. Phillips sprained a knee in the first half and Amukamara, who was still working his way back into shape after breaking his foot in training camp, ran out of gas, and was replaced in the second half by recently signed Will Blackmon.
“The first game we had to move around so much, it was hard to get a key because we were playing different positions,” Grant said, noting the he had to take over at safety for Phillips and Ross had to play the nickel, something he hadn’t done much.
Still, the Giants were competitive with the league’s highest scoring team.
“After that game, our confidence level just went sky high,” Phillips said. “It was the undefeated team that was supposed to be the best team in the league and we were right there with them. There is no such thing as a moral victory, but we got a lot of confidence from that game.”
Rodgers threw four touchdowns in that game, hitting 28 of 46 passes for 369 yards. He also ran four times for 32 yards to keep a couple of drives alive.
“He’s an elite quarterback, one of the best,” said Ross, who passed the concussion protocols even if he was not certain whether he actually suffered a concussion. “His balls are pinpoint. He has the receivers to get the ball to and he’s a smart quarterback.”
Rodgers also should have his full compliments of receivers. Greg Jennings, who tore a ligament in his left knee the week after playing the Giants is ready to return to the lineup, bolstering a receiving corps that includes Jordy Nelson, Driver and tight end Jermichael Finley.
“Playing them the first time, I think they understood what challenges we presented,” Rolle said. “I think we could have helped ourselves out in certain situations, but we were a step away. It was minor things that led to big things that led to a couple of touchdowns.
“We’re a different team right now. We understand that and we’re going to keep that focus and keep that drive. We’re going to keep playing at that same level and we’re going to pick it up a bit. We’re coming in here expecting to win this game that is going to be our mindset and stay our mindset. No one is going to tear that away from us.”
Rodgers has seen the difference.
“They are not just letting guys run free, they are in their rush lanes getting after the passer and they are making plays,” he said. “They are tackling well and they are doing everything really well. I have a lot of respect for that defense because they play hard, play well, they play within the whistle and they have respect for the game.
“It is going to be a tough challenge for us.”
NOTES: RB Ahmad Bradshaw did not practice because of back spasms. … WR Victor Cruz became a father for the first time on Monday. His girlfriend gave birth to a baby girl. All are healthy. … Coach Tom Coughlin said that when the Giants coaching staff learned of the drowning of the son of Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, the room went “absolutely silent.” ”Many guys know Joe Philbin. You have tremendous empathy, but you can’t (have) anywhere near the feeling that his family’s going through. Just tragic.” … The Giants have scored 84 points on their three-game winning streak.