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Sunday, January 15, 2012
Halftime thoughts: Hakeem the dream

By Dan Graziano

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Well, you're all going to want to talk about the call that should have been overturned and wasn't, and I understand being mad. Looking at the replay, I was 100 percent sure Greg Jennings fumbled the ball in the final minutes of the first quarter and that the New York Giants were going to get the ball back in Packers territory with a 10-3 lead. I can't explain why the call wasn't reversed on replay, and I understand that, if the Giants lose, that's what the vast majority of you will want to talk about all week. Maybe all offseason.

But I'd rather talk about Hakeem Nicks, who had five catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns to help the Giants take a 20-10 lead into the half of a playoff game that could send them to the NFC Championship Game. Nicks delivered the Giants' patented long catch-and-run touchdown with a 66-yarder in the first quarter, and he went up to catch Eli Manning's 37-yard Hail Mary as time ran out on the second quarter. Those two plays were the highlights of a dazzling offensive first half in which the Giants outgained the Packers 311 to 170 and in which many more good things happened for them than bad.

Even on the call, if you'll allow me to play devil's advocate (since that's part of my job description), the Giants weren't exactly blameless. That drive, you'll remember, started from the 40-yard line after Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes shanked a kickoff out of bounds. And the tackling by the Giants before and after the bad call was worse than the call itself. The Giants had chances to make plays that would have at least limited the damage to a field goal, and they did not.

Besides, to focus on the call would be to ignore the incredible number of things that went right for the Giants in the first half, in spite of their own poor tackling, Tynes' poor kickoff and Tynes' blocked field goal. The Packers' tackling was even worse. The Packers dropped at least four passes. The Giants' defense drastically improved its coverage and tackling in the second quarter, and even seemed to be working on ways to stop Aaron Rodgers from scrambling for third-down pickups against them.

The Giants were 5-for-9 on third down and possessed the ball for 16:38. If the defense can continue the improvement it showed in the second quarter, and if they can get any kind of running game going at all (23 of their 37 yards came on an Ahmad Bradshaw run just before the half-ending Hail Mary), they have a pretty good chance to cash this in and earn a trip to San Francisco to play the 49ers next week for a shot at the Super Bowl.

Rodgers and the Packers get the ball back to start the second half, so we'll see if the Giants can keep the momentum on their side.