GREEN BAY, Wis. — No out-of-towner would pick Lambeau Field as the right place to get hot in January. Except the New York Giants.
For the second time in four years, the Giants strutted away from Green Bay with a playoff victory, shocking the reigning Super Bowl champions 37-20 in the divisional round Sunday.
Now they’re headed to the NFC Championship game in San Francisco next Sunday, bursting with confidence that they can win another road game and get back to the Super Bowl.
“This team knows how to win on the road,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “It seems like right now, it’s our time.”
Eli Manning outplayed Aaron Rodgers, throwing for 330 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. The Giants’ defense sacked Rodgers four times and mostly kept his big-play receivers at bay.
And Green Bay finally paid for its season-long struggles on defense, providing little resistance and not creating enough turnovers to bail itself out. That high-octane offense sputtered, too, as the Packers dropped passes and lost three fumbles.
The Packers looked nothing like the team that was talking about an undefeated season less than a month ago. Instead of getting a chance to repeat as champions, they’re headed home.
“It’s a locker room that expected a lot more and rightfully so,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I wish I would have done a better job tonight. It was an excellent regular season, but we clearly understand in Green Bay it’s about winning championships. Just going to the playoffs is not enough.”
The result was reminiscent of the Giants’ overtime victory over the Packers in the NFC Championship game four years ago, even if some of the players were different — no Brett Favre, for one — and the weather wasn’t nearly as frigid.
That win sent the Giants to the Super Bowl. Now they have one step left to get back.
“We know we’re a good football team and we’re a great defense,” defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. “We might not have showed most of it during the regular season, but that doesn’t matter. This is the postseason and we’re playing the way we’re supposed to be playing right now. We’ve been playing well for the past four or five games now so hopefully we’ll keep it going and take this thing all the way.”
The Giants (11-7) have been on a roll since beating the rival Jets on Dec. 24, beating the Dallas Cowboys to get in the playoffs and then blowing out Atlanta in the wild-card round last week.
“I think we’re a dangerous team,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “I like where we are and how we’re playing.”
The Giants are 3-4 against the 49ers in the playoffs, including their memorable collapse in a wild-card game at San Francisco on Jan. 5, 2003. New York led 38-14 in the third quarter but fell apart and lost 39-38.
That probably won’t be much of a worry for this year’s Giants, who were oozing confidence even before they beat the Packers.
“I knew we were going to beat them on Wednesday, to be honest with you,” running back Brandon Jacobs said.
Manning did most of his damage throwing to Hakeem Nicks, who caught seven passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns.
Nicks found holes in the Packers defense early on, bouncing off safety Charlie Peprah on 66-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the first quarter. Then he stunned the Packers just before halftime, hauling in Manning’s 37-yard heave into a crowd of players in the end zone for a 20-10 lead.
The Giants’ offense hit a lull in the third quarter but the Packers couldn’t take advantage.
With New York later leading 23-13 in the fourth, Packers running back Ryan Grant fumbled the ball away deep in Green Bay territory. Manning cashed in with a touchdown pass to Mario Manningham for a 30-13 lead.
Rodgers rallied the Packers by throwing a touchdown to Donald Driver, but Jacobs scored on a 14-yard touchdown run with 2:36 left to put the game away.
Rodgers completed 26 of 46 passes for 264 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception. He also was the Packers’ leading rusher with 66 yards on seven carries.
Green Bay (15-2) fully expected to go back to the Super Bowl, but the reality hit Rodgers quickly.
“Oh, it’s real,” Rodgers said. “We got beat by a team that played better tonight.”
It was an emotional day for the Packers, who welcomed offensive coordinator Joe Philbin two days after the funeral service for his 21-year-old son, Michael.
Philbin had been away from the team all week after Michael Philbin’s body was recovered from an icy river in Oshkosh, Wis., on Monday. A preliminary autopsy showed that he drowned.
“I think deep down, a lot of us wanted to kind of get this one for him,” Rodgers said.
Tuck said the Packers had nothing to be ashamed of.
“Aaron and that offense have had a remarkable year,” Tuck said. “For us to come in here and win, we knew we would have to play one of our best games and I think we did that. I don’t think they have anything to hang their heads about. I just think it just seems like our time.”