EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Sometimes I think Tom Coughlin's Giants team should come with a disclaimer label attached: "For best results, apply pressure.''
We've seen the same pattern for years now. You have to shake these Giants up a little bit to get their best, because if you don't poke or prod or challenge them from time to time, they tend to get stale and flat, and lose whatever it is that motivates them and gives them their winning edge.
There's really no other team in the NFL quite like the Giants in that regard, and their ability to forever be reversing course, reeling off winning streaks and predictable swoons in almost equal measure, makes them one of the more interesting teams in the league to watch and follow.
Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, the pendulum swung once again. In dramatic fashion and unexpected fashion. What resulted was what the rest of the NFC's playoff contenders most assuredly did not want to see: A New York team looking rested, re-focused and re-energized. This version of the Giants (7-4), coming off a re-invigorating bye week and inspired by a child's reminder, dismantled the visiting Green Bay Packers 38-10, and served notice that the defending Super Bowl champions are still the team to beat.
A third consecutive loss and New York's once-comfortable lead in the NFC East would have been shaved to a mere game as next week's Monday night showdown at resurgent second-place Washington (5-6) loomed. Instead, the Giants played with intensity and passion against a Packers team that entered with an NFC-best five-game winning streak, blowing out to a 31-10 halftime and never remotely resembling the sloppy and self-destructive team that lost to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the two games before its Week 11 bye.
The sense of urgency New York needed to generate for this statement game came from within, with a little help from Adam Merchant, a 15-year-old Giants fan from Barre, Vt., who was the team's guest this weekend as part of the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Merchant, who has cancer, was direct with his message to his favorite team.
"He said, 'Go show everybody you are the world champions and why you are the world champions, and play that way,' '' said Giants quarterback Eli Manning, whose three-touchdown game was a spectacular rebound after he went three consecutive games without throwing a touchdown pass. "Everybody got fired up and played the way we know we can.''
It sounds simplistic, but that's the way these Giants roll. They were challenged to play like world champions, and the pressure of fulfilling that demand reminded them of who they are and what they're capable of. New York responded with its best performance of the season, with the 28-point margin of victory representing Green Bay's second-worst loss of the seven-year Mike McCarthy coaching era. The 31 points New York scored in the first half were more than Green Bay (7-4) had allowed in any full game this season. Give the Giants a week off to get both healthy and motivated for a quality opponent, and there are few teams that can look so dominating on both sides of the ball.
"It was a huge win, coming off the bye and facing a team like Green Bay,'' New York receiver Victor Cruz said. "You could easily come in and falter and be lackadaisical, but we came out firing and we understood this was a game we needed to win, and you could see it in the way we played. We played with passion, integrity and it really came out tonight. I think we definitely played like world champions tonight.''
The formula for the blowout of the Packers was vintage Giants: A relentless pass rush that looked fresh and energetic again after the break (five sacks of Aaron Rodgers and near-constant pass pressure); a clock-eating running game that set a physical tone for New York's offense (147 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, 4.7); and a resourceful and efficient Manning who threw for three touchdown passes to three different receivers (Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and rookie Rueben Randle), didn't turn the ball over and finished with 249 yards passing.
Talk of Manning's "tired'' arm were washed away by his showing, and with the three touchdown passes, Manning, 31, passed Phil Simms and is now the Giants' career leader in that department with 200.
"There was no doubt he was going to come back and play well, in my mind,'' said Coughlin, whose team was 6 of 12 on third downs, five of six in the red zone, with 390 yards of offense and 23 first downs. "I think the rest really helped (Manning) as well as all of our players. As a matter of fact, Eli said he felt as if he was coming back for the start of a season. I was very confident he that he would come back and redeem (himself).''
The question now is, how far can these refreshed and renewed Giants ride their new-found momentum? With no truly elite team in the NFC, how can anyone in Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago not take acute notice of what New York did to the Packers Sunday night? Much like their 17-point upset of the Packers at Lambeau Field in the NFC divisional round playoffs last January, the Giants were clearly the superior team in this game. There was nothing fluky about it.
With three road games remaining at Washington, Atlanta and Baltimore, combined with home games against New Orleans and Philadelphia, there are plenty of challenges that remain for Coughlin's team. But with the exception of running back Andre Brown's costly broken fibula, and safety Kenny Phillips' re-injured right knee, the Giants came out of this game healthy and with a whole new outlook on the rest of the season. This isn't just about fighting off another second-half swoon any more, it's about using the final six games of the season as a springboard to the postseason. And we know what the Giants are capable of when they get hot and stay hot throughout the playoffs.
Especially when their defensive front starts pressuring the quarterback like it did against Green Bay, dropping Rodgers (14 of 25 for 219 yards, one touchdown, one interception) three times in the first half and five times overall. The NFL's reigning MVP never had a pocket to work in all night, and threw most everything on the move, rolling either left or right trying to get free of the consistent New York rush.
"All week, the message was that this game is on us, this game is about us and our execution,'' said Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who led New York with a pair of sacks. "If we do what we know we can do, we're going to be okay. Defensively and up front, we have the ability to affect every aspect of the game, run, pass, whatever it is. We know we have to get it done up front and the rest of the team is going to play off us. We've had good games before. We've had quarters, halves, or what not, but as a complete game, that's probably the best this year.''
Which is bad news for the rest of the NFC. Because while the Falcons, 49ers, Packers or Bears probably still believe this will be their year, three of those likely playoff-bound teams also know they lost to the Giants in last year's postseason. Coughlin's team thrives on pressure, and only gets its best results when the stakes are the highest.
Sunday night's dissection of Green Bay was just a reminder of how good these Giants can be when motivated. They were implored to show everyone why they were world champions, and they went out and did it on national television, in a big-stage game. Now New York has some breathing room in the NFC East, and its swagger back. And we've all seen where that can lead.