Well, well, well….The Giants are coming. And so is Eli. Prepare for a long week of tense concern. This is what life in the NFL Playoffs are all about. The weaklings were sent home already, and now the 8 heavyweights can figure this thing out in the next 3 rounds…
Eli Leads them to victory? …yes, he did…
Sunday’s wild-card playoff victory sent the Giants (11-6) to the second round of the N.F.L. playoffs for the first time in seven years. Next Sunday, they will play the Cowboys (13-3), a team they lost to twice during the regular season. But the Giants now tote confidence and an underdog’s ease. They have won eight in a row on the road, the last defeat coming against the Cowboys on Sept. 9, the season opener. They also lost to the Cowboys on Nov. 11 at Giants Stadium. Both games were unsettled until deep in the fourth quarter.
“You always hope, when things don’t go your way, that you get another opportunity,” Diehl said.
Similar words echoed around the Giants’ entire season, after first-round playoff exits the previous two years. The Giants considered firing Coach Tom Coughlin a year ago but gave him another chance.
Coughlin’s first playoff victory in four seasons with the Giants — and his first since the 1999 season, when he coached the Jacksonville Jaguars — would seem to erase lingering doubt that he would return as the coach, probably with a new contract. His current deal, thanks to a tepid one-year extension after last season’s playoff loss to the Eagles, runs through next season.
His career with the Giants has always been tied to his quarterback. Many of the doubts constantly swirling around Manning evaporated on a warm and sunny afternoon along the Gulf Coast.
“It’s about our team,” Coughlin said, deflecting individual attention from him or Manning. “Our team had to win the first phase of the playoffs. We hadn’t done that yet.”
The Buccaneers, with the league’s top-rated pass defense, thought they could tempt Manning into game-changing mistakes. Last week, cornerback Ronde Barber was quoted as saying that Manning “can be had.” It was bulletin-board material grounded in truth; Manning had thrown 20 interceptions, tied for the league high, during the regular season.
So the Buccaneers dared Manning to beat them. And he did.
Manning led the Giants to three touchdown drives on the strength of his arm and his wits. He reversed a 7-point deficit in the first half with consecutive touchdown drives, completing 9 of 10 passes for 99 yards along the way. Then, starting late in the third quarter, he commandeered a 15-play, 92-yard touchdown drive that chewed up 8 minutes 37 seconds of Tampa Bay’s dwindling season.
“Nobody underestimated Eli,” Tampa Bay’s defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, said. “We knew he could do that.”
Kiffin mentioned Manning’s strong game the weekend before, when the Giants gamely tried to beat the undefeated Patriots.
“Maybe he’s found himself a little bit,” Kiffin said.
Manning completed 20 of 27 passes for 185 yards. He threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jacobs in the second quarter and a clinching 4-yarder to Toomer in the fourth, and had no interceptions for the fifth time in 17 games this season.
“My thought process was to play really safe, don’t force anything,” Manning said.
Standing tall and zipping short passes to an array of receivers, Manning rarely threw beyond the first-down marker. Only two completions gained more than 14 yards, and the longest was 21. It was just as his coaches had scripted.
“Manage the game, and not turn the ball over,” said Coughlin, describing Manning’s primary strengths Sunday.
The Giants arrived with a minus-9 turnover margin, by far the worst among the 12 playoff teams. The Buccaneers had a healthy plus-15 margin, feasting on mistake-making opponents to assist a ho-hum offense and ease their way to a regular-season division title.
But the Giants had no turnovers against the Buccaneers, and they forced three of them.
First ever playoff meeting of Cowboys-Giants …
In their storied histories, the Cowboys and New York Giants have never met in the postseason.
That changes next week.
The Giants will make their second trip of the season to Texas Stadium after beating Tampa Bay, 24-14, Sunday in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
As the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record, the Cowboys took the weekend off, but they report to work today to begin their preparations in earnest. History is on the Cowboys' side.
The last two times they were the No. 1 seed in the NFC, they won Super Bowls XXVIII and XXX. Since the NFL adopted the 12-team playoff format in 1990, the top seed in the NFC has made it to the Super Bowl 11 times.
Here's a look at three storylines entering the week as the Cowboys look to win a playoff game for the first time since 1996:
Myth or reality?
The hardest thing to do is to beat a team three times in one season – at least that's a popular notion.
The Cowboys swept the Giants by scores of 45-35 (at Texas Stadium) and 31-20 (at Giants Stadium). The last time they faced an NFC East team in the playoffs was 1998 when they beat Arizona in both regular-season meetings but lost to the Cardinals in the wild-card round. In strike-shortened 1982, the Cowboys beat Washington in their only regular season meeting but lost the NFC Championship Game.
"I don't think it bothers anyone to play in Dallas," Giants defensive end Michael Strahan said.
In six playoff games against NFC East opponents, the Cowboys are 2-4. Both wins – against Philadelphia in 1992 and '95 – came at Texas Stadium.
Romo's big days
There was something about the Giants that Tony Romo liked to see this season. In two games, he completed 35 of 52 passes for 592 yards with eight touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
In 2006, the Giants weren't as kind. In the first extended action of his career, replacing Drew Bledsoe at halftime on Oct. 23, Romo threw for 223 yards and had two touchdown passes, but he was intercepted three times, including one that was returned for a touchdown. In his first start against New York, he completed 20 of 34 passes for 257 yards and was intercepted twice, but the Cowboys won.
Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo worked for years under Philadelphia coordinator Jim Johnson. The last time Romo faced the Eagles, he completed 13 of 36 passes for 214 yards, was intercepted three times and sacked four times. Spagnuolo will closely look at that game tape for any tips.
Get to the passer
Quarterbacks do not like pressure, and Eli Manning is no different.
In the first eight games of the season, Manning was sacked only eight times. In the ninth game, Manning was sacked five times by five different Cowboys.
Over the second half of the season, Manning was sacked 19 times. With center Shaun O'Hara's availability in question because of a knee injury, the Giants could be without one of their best linemen. Manning was sacked only once by the Buccaneers.
The Cowboys closed the regular season with their best three-game stretch in terms of sacks with 12 against Philadelphia (four), Carolina (five) and Washington (three). Coach Wade Phillips can dial up pressure when he wants, especially with DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis, who combined for 26 ½ sacks.
Can you beat a team 3 times in 1 season? ….11 of 17 have…
1982 Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets Won
1983 Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Raiders Lost
1986 New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins Won
1989 Houston Oilers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Lost
1991 Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Raiders Won
1992 Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Diego Chargers Lost
1993 Los Angeles Raiders vs. Denver Broncos Won
1994 Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears Lost
1994 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns Won
1997 New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins Won
1997 Green Bay Packers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Won
1998 Dallas Cowboys vs. Arizona Cardinals Lost
1999 Tennessee Titans vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Won
2000 New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles Won
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns Won
2004 St. Louis Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks Won
2004 Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings Lost
2007 Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants ???
But, if the Giants are going to win, They better have a plan for Tony Romo …
Romo is 3-0 as a starter against the Giants, and 4-0 against quarterbacks with the last name Manning. Against the Giants this season, Romo has completed 35 of 52 passes for 592 yards, with eight touchdowns against two interceptions.
Jeff Bolton, the mayor of Commonsenseville, offers this: Ban Jessica Simpson.com …
Exclusive Pictures of Romo, Jessica, and J-Witt in Mexico! …
Who is Ahmad Bradshaw? …
Dallas Cowboys players who watched the New York Giants' wild-card playoff victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday probably were impressed, but also perhaps confused.
Who was that Giants running back, No. 44, shredding the Bucs for 59 second-half yards?
His name is Ahmad Bradshaw. He is a 2007 seventh-round draft pick out of Marshall.
He didn't carry the ball in the Giants' two regular-season losses to the Cowboys. Heck, entering Sunday he had only 190 yards rushing all season, albeit on only 23 carries for an 8.3-yard average.
His coming out occurred three games ago, when he rushed 17 times for 151 yards against Buffalo. But the 5-9, 198-pounder sat out the regular-season finale against New England with a calf injury.
With Bradshaw and 264-pounder Brandon Jacobs, the Giants suddenly seem to have a running back tandem to rival the Cowboys' Marion Barber and Julius Jones.
"He's just a quick guy," Eli Manning said of Bradshaw. "He kind of hides in there, but he gets tough yards and he runs strong. He just kind of gives you that different look than Brandon.
"If we can keep them both in the game and mix them up, it just gives us a great one-two punch."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin said that "going forward, there's no question" Bradshaw could be a key player. "To get him back was big."
The June Jones saga continues …
Considering SMU football's struggles during the last 20 years, perhaps the wild drama that unfolded Sunday in the school's efforts to hire June Jones as its new football coach shouldn't be surprising.
As of late Sunday night, Jones was still deciding between taking the SMU job and returning to Hawaii, according to agent Leigh Steinberg.
Steinberg said he expected a decision Sunday night – or early this morning Dallas time. SMU athletic director Steve Orsini did not return a call seeking comment.
While Jones was in Dallas meeting with SMU president R. Gerald Turner, Orsini, trustees and the school's search committee and enjoying dinner with boosters at a local steakhouse, Hawaii supporters made a tremendous 11th-hour push to try to keep Jones.
It had seemed a foregone conclusion that Jones would accept SMU's five-year offer of between $1.7 million and $2 million a year, according to two sources, after reports surfaced Saturday that he had tendered a resignation letter before flying to Dallas.
But on Sunday, Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle called to intervene. David McClain, the president of the University of Hawaii system, called with a third, "amplified" offer, Steinberg said.
E-mails and calls continued to pour in from Hawaii's passionate fans and friends of Jones, who has coached the Warriors for nine seasons and has earned icon status on the islands for transforming the program.
50 MVP Votes. 49 Voted for Tom Brady. 1 Voted for Brett Favre. Who is that guy? ….The Packers writer voted for Tom Brady…
The lone Favre MVP vote came from Frank Cooney, according to the Associated Press.
His vote kept the NFL MVP award from being unanimous for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who got 49 of the 50 votes from a nationwide panel.
Cooney is the founder and publisher of the SportsXchange, an information provider for news organizations.
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