Vermont teen inspires Giants
AP Pro Football Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A week off, some rest and a poignant plea from a 15-year-old cancer patient got the New York Giants back on track.
Now the rest of the NFL has something to worry about. The Giants are playing like world champions again.
A refreshed Eli Manning came back from the bye week and threw three touchdown passes as the Giants embarrassed Aaron Rodgers and the streaking Green Bay Packers 38-10 on Sunday night.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak and gave the Giants (7-4) a two-game lead in the NFC East with five games left in the regular season. The dominating performance also ended a five-game winning streak for the Packers (7-4), who fell a game behind Chicago in the NFC North.
"We just had to go out there with a lot of confidence and play like we are capable," Giants center David Baas said. "I felt we did that. We showed everybody. People that counted us out, they better wake up."
No one was more pleased with the Giants than Adam Merchant. The 15-year-old fan from Barre, Vt., attended Friday’s practice and Sunday’s game, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Merchant spoke to the team after practice and seemed to remind them what it’s all about.
"I told them to go out and play like world champs," he said, sitting at a locker next to defensive captain Justin Tuck.
When asked why he gave the message, he shot back:
"Because we really needed to go out and play like world champs."
Against the Packers, the Giants did.
Manning, who had not thrown a touchdown in three games, had scoring strikes of 16 yards to rookie Rueben Randle, 9 yards to Victor Cruz and 13 to Hakeem Nicks. The last one gave him 200 for his career, breaking the team record held by Phil Simms.
"The thing I’m most proud of tonight is the way we played and getting a win," said Manning, who was 16 of 30 for 249 yards. "This was a big game, we needed to come out and play well and get a win. We finally got back to playing offense, defense, special teams, all of us playing at a high level, playing as a team, and hopefully we can build off of this momentum."
Everybody seemed to contribute. Ahmad Bradshaw ran 13 yards for a touchdown and went 59-yards with a screen pass to set up Andre Brown’s 2-yard TD run on the opening drive.
The defense sacked Rodgers five times and set up 10 points with Corey Webster’s pick leading to Lawrence Tynes’ field goal and Osi Umenyiora’s strip-sack and Jason Pierre-Paul’s 10-yard return setting up Bradshaw’s TD run that gave New York a 31-10 lead.
The 31 points were the most scored by the Giants in a half this season, and it pretty much decided the game.
The only negative was Brown broke his left leg in the second half and his season looks done.
The Packers were done before that, at as far as this game.
"I think this is a game that makes everybody look inside and find out what you’re about," coach Mike McCarthy said. "I haven’t felt like this since the first game I coached as a Green Bay Packers head coach. Beaten very thoroughly tonight. It doesn’t taste good. It doesn’t feel good."
Rodgers got Green Bay off to a great start, connecting with Jordy Nelson on a 61-yard scoring pass on its first series. There was little else to celebrate in a game where he finished 14 of 25 for 219 yards, an interception and a lost fumble.
"You win five in a row and everyone is happy, but like I said last year during the run, there are things that go under the radar that need to be handled," Rodgers said "Sometimes it takes a loss. ... We need to remember this feeling and not have this kind of embarrassment happen again.
The Packers were missing such key starters as linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive back Charles Woodson and receiver Greg Jennings, and it showed as they were manhandled by the Giants for the second straight time. New York beat them 37-20 in the NFC semifinal, a game some Packers said they lost more than the Giants won.
This one, there was no doubt who was the better team.
"We went out there and proved it," Merchant said.
Manning was impressed with the way Merchant handled himself, saying players felt it was special that the youngster had one wish and chose to spend time with the Giants.
"He had the opportunity to come out and talk to the team, so Coach Coughlin does a great job and all the players do a great job of making him feel welcome and fired up," Manning said. "It can be kind of nerve-racking to come talk to your favorite team and have a little pep talk, but he did a great job and he said to go show everybody you’re the world champions and why you’re the world champions and play that way. I think it got everybody fired up and obviously we came out and played the way that we know we can."
The Giants never trailed after Manning’s touchdown pass to Randle, the first of his career. Webster’s interception set up Tynes’ field goal for a 17-7 lead and Cruz capped a 61-yard drive early in the second quarter to push the lead to 24-7.
A short field goal by Mason Crosby got Green Bay within two touchdowns, but Umenyiora’s forced fumble set up Bradshaw’s TD run and the game was over by halftime.
NOTES: The Giants lost safety Kenny Phillips with a knee injury in the third quarter. He was making his first appearance since Week 4. ... Giants right tackle David Diehl sustained a stinger in the first half. ... Green Bay lost safety M.D. Jennings (rib), DE C.J. Wilson (knee), and RB Johnny White (concussion). ... Giants tight end Martellus Bennett caught a fan who leaned too far over the lower railing trying to grab a glove Bennett was giving a child after the game. The fan was arrested.
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