AP Pro Football Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ All the missing pieces _ defense
and a running game _ are aligning at the right time for Eli Manning
and the New York Giants. And just in time to play the Packers.

After routing the Atlanta Falcons 24-2 Sunday in the NFC
wild-card game, the Giants head to Green Bay next weekend, a place
where they will need all the help they can muster.

Manning carried the Giants (10-7) for much of the season, hoping
the defense would get stingy, the pass rush would materialize and
the running game would get on track. Now, all of that is happening.

“A great mix of run and pass and these guys have a great
understanding of what our offense is,” Manning said of the help
he’s receiving. “If we can get that run game going like we did in
the second half, that opens up a lot of windows.”

And if the defense remains impenetrable, watch out.

“If we can play defense like that, we will continue to make
ourselves heard in this tournament,” coach Tom Coughlin said.

Manning punctuated his best pro season by throwing for three
touchdowns and scrambling for a 14-yard gain that woke up New
York’s offense in its first postseason victory since its Super Bowl
upset of undefeated New England four years ago. Next up is as big a
challenge: the defending champion Packers (15-1), who won here
38-35 in December.

`’We know they are a good team,” Manning said. “We played them
tough here, did some good things here, we scored some points. We
know offensively we are going to have to play strong, score some

The team that couldn’t run the ball will be sprinting there,
bringing along a defense the Packers actually might fear. Not to
mention the passing offense led by Manning, who hooked up on a
72-yard catch and run by Hakeem Nicks in the third quarter that put
away the inept Falcons (10-7). Manning also connected on a 4-yard
TD with Nicks in the second period, and a 27-yard TD throw to Mario
Manningham in the fourth quarter that finished it off.

The Giants’ last postseason trip to frigid Lambeau Field was a
23-20 overtime victory for the NFC championship two weeks before
they upset the Patriots.

“Cold, I remember that. I remember coach Coughlin’s face. I
remember (tackle) David Diehl sweating and it froze on his hair and
he had icicles on his hair,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “And
I remember us winning.

“Hopefully, we can go back there and do it again.”

The tempo in the first playoff game at MetLife Stadium was set
by New York’s defense, which never allowed Atlanta to get going,
and by the league’s lowest-ranked rushing game, which ran for a
season-high 172 yards, 92 by Brandon Jacobs and 63 by Ahmad
Bradshaw. The Giants averaged 5.5 yards a carry, 2 yards more than
in the regular season.

For all of Jacobs’ and Bradshaw’s success, it was Manning’s
escape and 14-yard dash on third down in the second period that got
the Giants rolling. Jacobs soon broke a 34-yard run, and Manning
hit Nicks on a post pattern to put the Giants up 7-2.

“I don’t think anyone is game-planning for me to run the
ball,” Manning said, “but obviously there were a couple of
situations where you have to do it. I am not scared of running to
get a few yards.”

The Giants never really had to look back as the Falcons bumbled
their way to their third straight playoff loss under coach Mike
Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan.

“They did a great job of defending us, especially in the second
half,” veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez said. “That shouldn’t
happen to a team like we have. We’re a lot better than this.”

New York was aided greatly by Atlanta’s penchant for gambling on
fourth downs _ and failing. Twice the Giants stymied the Falcons on
fourth-and-1 as Ryan’s sneaks went nowhere. The defense also
stopped Michael Turner, supposedly the most effective runner on the
field, on a third-and-inches late in the third period.

“That really inspired everybody, to be honest with you,”
Coughlin said. “Those plays that our defense made really inspired

Atlanta missed on a fourth-down try in overtime that cost the
Falcons a game against New Orleans during the season. While they
negated New York’s recently revitalized pass rush for much of the
day, the Falcons couldn’t gain any traction on the ground, being
held to 64 yards rushing.

“Our defense played great, kept us in the lead,” Manning said.

Other than some sporadic movement, Atlanta’s offense was
incompetent _ particularly in short yardage.

“It’s less than a yard, less than half of a yard. It’s a play
we go through all the time,” Smith said. “I felt it was the right
play both times, but we didn’t execute. We should be able to move
the ball there.”

Both offenses sputtered in the first half with an assortment of
penalties, drops and poor throws.

When the Falcons wheeled out the no-huddle offense, though, they
marched from their 10 to a fourth-and 1 at the New York 24. On the
first play of the second quarter, Ryan was stacked up on his sneak.

But it turned out positively for the Falcons anyway.

Giants guard Chris Snee was called for holding, and, from his
13, Manning was pressured back into the end zone by James Sanders.
He threw the ball away to avoid the sack, resulting in a safety.

New York had its own fourth-and-inches run on its first
touchdown drive. Jacobs ran over safety Thomas DeCoud on the play
from the Atlanta 6.

Nicks caught his post pattern over Dominique Franks, the fill-in
for injured cornerback Brent Grimes, to make it 7-2.

Notes: It was the first time a team scored exactly two points in
an NFL postseason game. … The Giants’ most recent home playoff
victory was a 41-0 rout of Minnesota for the 2000 NFC title. …
Atlanta’s last playoff win was in 2005 over St. Louis when Michael
Vick still was the Falcons’ quarterback. … Ryan was 24 for 41 for
199 yards and was sacked twice. .. There were no turnovers in the
game. … Giants CB Aaron Ross and RB D.J. Ware left with
concussions. … Gonzalez is 0-5 in playoff games in his 15-year

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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