The Giants' road to Indianapolis was not one of ease by any means. Their hardships, aside from the lockout, began in Week 2 of the preseason when star cornerback Terrell Thomas tore his ACL against the Bears.
It was a devastating loss for a talented defense. Thomas was the cornerstone of the secondary. The Giants never really found a replacement for Thomas while ranking 29th in passing defense this season, allowing 255.1 yards through the air per game.
From the get-go, it was obvious that the offense was going to have to step up if the Giants wanted to make the playoffs.
After their two-touchdown loss to the Redskins in Week 1, the playoffs looked like a far cry for the guys in red and blue.
Another three-game winning streak, including an impressive, perhaps crystal-ball-like win on the road against the Patriots in Week 9, put the Giants at 6-2 and in the driver's seat of the NFC East.
A 6-6 record and a road game against the conference rival Dallas Cowboys could have done in New York's season. It was the most important game of the season for the Giants, although players would argue that every game is the most important game.
The Cowboys had a nice 34-22 lead with under six minutes to play in the game. The Giants cut the lead to five at 34-29 after a touchdown catch by tight end Jake Ballard with just over three minutes left. Dallas would eventually give the ball back to the Giants after quarterback Tony Romo overthrew a wide open Miles Austin on the previous drive.
Manning promptly drove the Giants down the field which ended in a Brandon Jacobs one-yard touchdown, followed by a two point conversion by running back Danny Ware, giving the Giants an improbable 37-34 lead with 86 ticks left on the clock.
Romo drove Dallas into field goal range where Dan Bailey's kick would be blocked by Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, arguably the most pivotal play of the Giant's season to that point.
All the momentum from the hard-fought win against the Cowboys was nonexistent in a 23-10 loss to the Redskins at home in Week 15.
Trash talk and palpable, mutual hatred led to a showdown with the in-state rival Jets in Week 16 that ended in a convincing 29-14 win for the Giants.
Go figure that the NFC East division would be decided in the last game of the season between the Giants and Cowboys. Needless to say, New York came out victorious after a vicious Manning/Victor Cruz aerial assault.
It wasn't pretty, but the Giants were NFC East champions after a roller coaster season culminating in a 9-7 record and a trip to the postseason.
Looking at the stat sheet, specifically on defense, one would think there was no way the Giants could have made the playoffs. Their net point total was minus-6 for the regular season. That was worse than the Seahawks (6) and Dolphins (16). They were, as previously mentioned, 29th in passing defense and 19th in rushing defense.
They did, however, finish fifth in the league in passing offense after Manning's 4,933 yard season and Cruz's breakout campaign in which he was third in the NFL in receiving yards.
As the saying goes, a team's best defense is a good offense.
After such a tumultuous and trying regular season, the Giants were ready for anything come playoff time, and they needed to be.
Wild Card weekend saw New York dominate the Atlanta Falcons in a 24-2 shellacking. After disappointing in the regular season, the Giants' defense came up with their best performance of the year, not even allowing a field goal to one of the most talented offenses in the NFC.
The Giants had lost a 38-35 heartbreaker at home to Green Bay in Week 13 of the regular season and would have a shot at revenge in the second week of postseason play.
In what many thought would be the last game of the season for the Giants, the defense came up big again and promptly forced four turnovers en route to a somewhat dominating 37-20 win against the "NFL's best."
Heading into the NFC Chamionship game the Giants had the one thing the 49ers did not: a proven, veteran quarterback, which is what got them through the game in my opinion.
Manning showed his toughness and grit on the second biggest of stages against San Francisco, a team that allowed a meager 61 rushing yards per game during the regular season. Everyone knew it was up to Manning to get the Giants back to the Super Bowl.
It seemed like Manning hit the ground on Sunday more often than he completed passes, but most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over and led the Giants to a win. It was Manning's fifth playoff win on the road, more than any quarterback in league history.
Sure, New York got some fortuitous bounces near the end of the game; that's life. The Patriots made the Super Bowl on an opposing team's missed field goal.
So the stage is set. The Patriots are licking their chops with the taste of revenge in their mouths while the younger Manning has a chance to win his second Super Bowl on the home field of his brother, which would, ironically enough, give Eli more Super Bowl wins than older brother Peyton.
If the Giants win it will be the first time in Super Bowl history that a 9-7 team won the daddy of 'em all.
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