GREEN BAY, Wis. – Ahmad Bradshaw had reversed course and Eli Manning saw his chance. As a general rule of thumb, Manning's goal each game is to avoid contact at all costs, but this was the playoffs and this was the fourth quarter and this was the New York Giants' chance to go up 37-20 and finish the Green Bay Packers once and for all.
So here came Eli the Pulling Quarterback, charging down the field and throwing a shoulder in on a Packer defender to spring Bradshaw for 24 backbreaking yards. Across the Giants' offensive line there was a measure of disbelief. Before anyone could ask if Manning had actually just thrown his weight around, he was pointing at the replay screen, pointing at his block.
"He said he got a pancake on that one," guard Chris Snee said. "Which, nobody fell so … "
History is written by the blockers; Or something like that.
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"He was pointing," Snee continued. "[I] said, 'Please, don't do that again.' … "
Oh, he's going to do it again.
Eli Manning keeps doing things no one thinks he can or would do, especially here in January, especially here on the road, especially when the Giants have morphed again into a giant-killing juggernaut. Who had Manning as the best quarterback on the field Sunday, 330 yards, three touchdowns and a memorable fourth-quarter joke with his lineman while Aaron Rodgers wandered about with the confused hangdog look? Who had Manning, ever polite, ever low-key, pointing at that Lambeau big screen, about as close to his version of the Discount Double Check as you'll ever see?
After the game, the big upset complete, Manning made no outward celebration. He just pulled his helmet off and began shaking the hands of Packers defensive linemen.
Always the second fiddle, always the little brother, and here is Eli, 60 minutes in San Francisco away from another Super Bowl, again with what's perhaps the hottest team in the playoffs. Fearless, ferocious and full of gumption like it's 2008 all over again.
"We're a dangerous team," coach Tom Coughlin said.
Yes, that's how confident the Giants are. A month ago they scored 10 points in a loss to the Washington Redskins that put the playoffs barely within reach. A lesser crew would have fractured. These guys regrouped, recommitted to trusting each other and then started delivering on both sides of the ball.
"And then when they had success [and] success builds confidence," Coughlin said.
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Manning isn't going to say many confident things. He isn't going to seek glory or much media attention. He conducts some of the NFL's dullest news conferences. As he walked to the postgame bus he noticed defensive end Justin Tuck was still chatting with reporters. Eli rolled his eyes, teasingly laughed and kept on moving. He carried his own bag.
This was supposedly the year of the quarterback, which meant Rodgers and Tom Brady and Drew Brees and, eventually, Tim Tebow. Even in New York, the Jets' Mark Sanchez is a bigger tabloid sensation. Manning's older brother, Peyton, got more attention this season, and he didn't play a single down.
Eli doesn't mind, his teammates say. Neither does his father.
"I don't play that quarterback matchup [storyline]," Archie Manning said when asked about Eli besting Aaron. "This isn't tennis or golf. The Giants beat a good team on the road. But Eli didn't beat anybody."
[ Photo gallery: Giants put Packers' season in deep freeze ]
The Giants' Corey Webster (23) and Michael Boley tackle Aaron Rodgers
The Giants' defense was, of course, brilliant in holding the pyrotechnic Packers to just 20 points. And Eli was quick to point to his running game, protection and receiving corps.
Still, when the Indianapolis Colts play well, Peyton gets the credit for setting a team-wide tone. And when they talk about the great students of the game, it's Peyton who is hailed for his endless film work. Across this locker room, though, they say older brother can't be outworking younger. It's a push at best.
"We see what he does behind the scenes," Coughlin said. "I mean he is a studier, he is a pounder. He's looking for every little advantage he can get."
Like on the final drive of the first half, where with 15 seconds left the Giants sought to just run out the clock. The call was an inside run but the Packers called time out. So New York switched up with an outside run to Bradshaw and there was Manning with a quick reminder, "Get out of bounds."
Bradshaw did after a 23-yard gain, giving New York one more play for Manning to uncork a Hail Mary to Hakeem Nicks that gave the Giants a 20-10 lead and all the momentum.
Moments later though, back in a soaring locker room, there was Manning, among the veteran players reminding everyone that nothing had been won, that 30 minutes remained, that to beat a 15-1 defending Super Bowl champion, they'd have to drive a stake through its heart.
It's all the stuff that stays mostly hidden from the public, but is precisely why these performances keep happening, why the Giants have a tendency to get historically hot.
"It's his mentality," Coughlin said. "He comes into big games, he loves playing against the best competition."
This wasn't knocking off the 18-0 Patriots to win the Super Bowl, but it isn't too far from it. The game plan, Manning said, was similar. "The guys understand the way to win football games," he said.
That means smart football, a strong pass rush (four sacks), forcing turnovers (four), protecting the ball (one pick) and not, for a single second, thinking anything was safe until the bitter end.
Or at least until Eli Manning sprung Ahmad Bradshaw down to the Green Bay 10 with just 3:30 remaining. A pancake block?
"Not quite a pancake," said guard Kevin Boothe with a smile.
"A chicken wing," Justin Tuck said.
"It might not have been the best technique but it got the job done," Manning deadpanned in defense.
The offensive linemen were already shaking their heads. This would soon become legend.
"We heard about his scramble last week [a 14-yard momentum changer against Atlanta]," Snee said. "Now we'll hear about his block. It'll be called, 'The Block' "
"I'm still staying proud of my block," Manning said with a laugh.
Even Eli could laugh. Even Eli could flash some actual personality. Here was another playoff moment in the books, here was another super team left in ruins, here was another January, the Giants morphing into the team no one wants to play.
Off to San Francisco now, another road game, another challenge, another big moment for the little brother, other-guy, biggest-of-games quarterback.
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