Grading out the performances from the New York Giants' impressive 37-20 upset win at Green Bay in the NFC divisional playoffs.
Quarterback: Eli Manning began the season declaring that he was one of the league's elite QBs. He spent the rest of the season backing up his claim. Manning has now lifted the Giants to four straight must-win games down the stretch, none better than his performance against the 15-1 Packers at famed Lambeau Field. Manning out-dueled record-setting (and likely 2011 MVP) Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, with postseason career bests in yards (330) and TDs (3). He threw a first-half INT with an errant pass over the middle of the field. Grade: A-
Running Backs: The final numbers are not impressive. Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs and D.J. Ware toted the ball just 23 times for 85 yards (3.7 YPA). But Bradshaw (12 for 63 yards) and Jacobs (9 for 22 yards) were able to rip off big runs late as the Giants needed to chew up clock and put the game away. Jacobs ran 14 yards for the game's final score, his best and his longest run of the night. Grade: B
Receivers: Hakeem Nicks followed up a big two-TD performance last week against the Falcons with an even bigger two-TD performance Sunday in Green Bay: The first was a 66-yard score to give Giants a 10-3 lead in first quarter. On the second TD, he out-jumped Charles Woodson and Jarrett Bush to haul in a Hail Mary on the last play of the first half. It gave the Giants a shocking 20-10 lead at intermission. Victor Cruz had a quiet day (5 catches, 74 yards), but hauled in a huge 17-yard reception for a key first down late in the fourth quarter Grade: A
Offensive Line: New York's front five struggled for much of the season, especially in its effort to open up running lanes (the Giants averaged a league-worst 3.47 yards per attempt on the ground). But the unit was largely effective Sunday, keeping Manning clean (one sack) while taking control of the game in the trenches, especially in the second half. Grade: B
Defensive Line: The Giants did not get a lot of pressure on Aaron Rodgers but made it count when they did: Defensive end Osi Umenyiora registered two sacks and also stripped Aaron Rodgers of the ball to end Green Bay's promising first drive of the second half (safety Deon Grant recovered). The group was not dominant. But they were good enough to control the game up front against the NFL's best offense. Grade: B
Linebackers: Michael Boley overpowered James Starks to take down Rodgers and end a Green Bay drive at the end of the first half. He came up big again early in the fourth quarter, sacking Rodgers on 4th-and-5 to kill another Green Bay possession, this time with the Giants clinging to a 20-13 lead. Chase Blackburn picked up a fumble and nearly returned it for a game-sealing TD in the fourth quarter, before being taken down at the Green Bay 4. Manning threw a TD pass to Mario Manningham on the next play. Grade: B+
Defensive Backs: Deon Grant was the best of several playmakers for a unit that stifled the NFL's most effective receiving corps. Grant recovered one fumble and stretched out for an athletic interception in the final minutes of the game. He also appeared to force a Greg Jennings fumble at the end of the first half, though replay officials said otherwise. Aaron Ross returned from a concussion that he suffered last week against Atlanta and played well in coverage, often against Jordy Nelson. Antrel Rolle was a force against the run and also scooped up a John Kuhn fumble near the end of the first half, leading to a Lawrence Tynes field goal and a 13-10 lead. Kenny Phillips forced a Ryan Grant fumble with a big hit midway through the fourth quarter that effectively put the game away. Grade: A-
Special Teams: Derrick Martin alertly snapped up a surprise Green Bay onside kick early in second quarter. Victor Cruz scooped up another Packers onside kick, this time late in the fourth quarter. Lawrence Tynes connected on three field goals, the longest from 35 yards, but had another that was blocked. The return game was a non-factor. Grade: B+
Coaching: Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell's ball-hawking unit did something that appeared impossible just a couple weeks ago: it slowed down Aaron Rodgers and an offense that scored 560 points in 2011. His defense couldn't stop anybody through the first 14 games of the year (372 points). It's surrendered just six touchdowns over the last four games, including two by Green Bay.
Head coach Tom Coughlin has a knack for getting his team to click when he's under pressure over his own future. It happened for his 2007 club, which won a Super Bowl just a few weeks after fans were ready to run him out of town. His 2011 team was 7-7 just a few weeks ago, but is now one win away from an appearance in the Super Bowl. Coughlin lost one challenge, when he argued that Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings had fumbled the ball. Replay officials confirmed the on-field ruling, even as video evidence indicated that Coughlin had plenty of reason to throw the red flag. Non-issue there. Big picture: The Giants once again are peaking at the right time. Grade: A
Quarterback: A season in which Aaron Rodgers set an NFL record with a 122.5 passer rating ended with his worst performance of the year: 26 of 46 for 264 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT and a 78.5 passer rating. He missed a wide open Greg Jennings for what should have been a TD on the first drive of the game, but was also victimized by a very bad day by his receivers. Rodgers was extraordinarily effective with his legs, running seven times for a game-high 66 yards. Six of those seven runs resulted in first downs. Overall, though, Rodgers was simply not the same player on Sunday who had wowed football fans with A+ performances all year. Grade: B-
Running Backs: Ryan Grant ripped off 19 yards on the very first play from scrimmage for the Green Bay offense. But the team's ball-carriers were barely used the rest of the way: 15 more carries for 62 yards, and 29 of those on a single James Starks run in the third quarter. John Kuhn caught an 8-yard TD pass to make it 10-10 on the first play of second quarter. But he also fumbled near the end of the first half, leading to a New York field goal and a 13-10 Giants lead at the end of the first half. Grant also lost a fumble. Starks in the second quarter dropped a pass right in his hands for what could have been a first down in New York territory. The series fizzled out and Green Bay punted. Grade: C
Receivers: The only thing Green Bay receivers caught Sunday was a case of the dropsies. Jermichael Finley dropped a pass early in the game that appeared to set the tone for the day ahead. Tom Crabtree dropped a sure first-down on 3rd-and-7 in New York territory midway through second quarter, leading to Green Bay's first punt. Greg Jennings dropped a perfectly thrown pass in the end zone in the third quarter. The Packers had to settle for a field goal at a time when they trailed 20-10. Finley dropped another pass early in the fourth quarter when the Packers desperately needed a TD, one that would have converted a 3rd-and-5 deep in New York territory. Donald Driver was the team's top receiver with three catches for 45 yards, including a 16-yard score. Pitiful numbers by the gaudy standards we saw out of Green Bay's receiving corps this year. Grade: F
Offensive Line: Green Bay's front five (Chad Clifton, T.J. Lang, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, Bryan Bulaga) was not overwhelmed by New York's talented defensive line. But nor did the OL look like the unit that paved the way for a team to hang 560 points on the scoreboard in 2011. The group surrendered just 36 sacks all season, and then four in the biggest game of the year. It might have been more had Rodgers not been so adept at scrambling for several big gains. They punctured holes on the ground: Green Bay ran the ball 23 times for 147 yards (an impressive average of 6.4 YPA). But they did not run enough for it to be a factor, while 66 of those 147 yards were scrambles by the QB. Grade: C
Defensive Line: The defensive line, a strength in the Super Bowl-winning season of 2010, was one of the big problems for a widely criticized defense in 2011 (it ranked No. 26 on the Defensive Hog Index used at Cold, Hard Football Facts.com). Those weaknesses were exposed badly on Sunday: Green Bay couldn't pressure the quarterback and struggled to stop the run when the Giants were trying to eat clock late in the game. It was a non-impact game by the defensive line. Grade: D
Linebackers: Desmond Bishop made one of the few signature plays produced by the Green Bay defense all day. With the game tied 10-10, his big hit took down Brandon Jacobs for a 4-yard loss on 2nd-and-goal at the 1. The Giants were forced to settle for a field goal. Star Clay Matthews had a very quiet day with 5 tackles. Grade: C
Defensive Backs: Morgan Burnett stretched out for an INT near the end of the first half, on an errant Manning pass, to prevent a Giants scoring opportunity. But the Packers, who recorded 31 INTs in 2011, easily the best in the NFL, were ripped for several big game-changing plays, especially in the first half. They allowed Giants QB Eli Manning and receiver Hakeem Nicks in particular to have career performances. Safety Charlie Peprah led the team with 9 tackles. Grade: D
Special Teams: Brad Jones rushed in from the right side to deflect a Lawrence Tynes 40-yard field goal attempt and preserve a 10-10 tie in the second quarter. The team attempted two onside kicks and failed on both of them. Mason Crosby connected on both of his field goal attempts, the longest from 47 yards. Grade: C
Coaching: The Packers failed to execute an onside kick in the second quarter after forging a 10-10 tie. The ensuing New York drive ended with a blocked field goal, so the decision did not necessarily cost the Packers. But the strange decision to attempt an onside kick early in a tied game did provide a curious air of desperation for a 15-1 team that was heavily favored and playing at home.
A bigger question for coach Mike McCarthy surrounds his decision to take his foot off the gas at the end of the season. Aaron Rodgers, for example, did not play in the Week 17 finale against Detroit. So his last game before facing the Giants was three weeks ago, on Christmas Day against the Bears. Whether rust was a factor or not, the fact remains that Rodgers came out of the long rest with his worst performance of the season. The Green Bay family, meanwhile, faced a difficult week in the wake of the tragic death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's son. Grade: C