Giants reaffirm heavyweight status

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It all got so annoying, the talk about what is wrong with the New York Giants and, in particular, their starting quarterback.

It was never ending. Eli Manning has a noodle arm. The team is soft. The Green Bay Packers were looking to avenge last season's playoff loss that was more a game the Packers lost than the Giants won. Eli isn't elite.

On and on it went, for nearly two interminable weeks. Consecutive losses in this country's largest media market will lead to the-sky-is-falling overanalysis. And though most NFL players and coaches pretend not to listen or read or care what the outside world is saying about them, most of them do listen and read and care. A lot.

So this was serious, players' only meeting serious, and then on Friday, two days before the 6-4 Giants were to host the 7-3 Packers, a 15-year-old broke it down for the team like only an outsider with the innocence of youth could. Adam Merchant has Burkitt's lymphoma and through Make-A-Wish, he got to attend the Giants practice on Friday and then the game on Sunday night.

"Go out there and play like world champions," Adam told the team on Friday.

The message stuck. Of course. Go play like world champions because you are world champions. This team has won two Super Bowls in the past five years. It needed to remember that and act like champions.

The result: Giants 38, Packers 10. After the first five minutes of the game, it wasn't that close. The Giants completely dominated on both sides of the ball. It was Green Bay's worst loss since a 2007 Week 16 beatdown by the Chicago Bears, and it ended the Packers' run of five consecutive wins.

The Giants don't have a three-game lead in their division like Houston, Atlanta, New England, Baltimore and Denver have. They aren't a dazzling 10-1 like the Texans and Falcons. They haven't won six straight games like the Broncos or seven by a touchdown or less like Atlanta. They don't have a quarterback conundrum like San Francisco -- 2-0 with Colin Kaepernick, 20-6-1 with Alex Smith -- and they didn't need to convert a fourth-and-29 to force overtime to win on the road against the woeful San Diego Chargers like Baltimore did.

No, they aren't flashy and they certainly seem to manufacture inspiration more frequently and perhaps better than any other team in the league, but the Giants do have a successful past from which to draw. They have had postseason success. They have won championships. The reservoir is deep. And to get to the all-important second season in the NFL, you have to do reasonably well in the first season. There's no such thing as losing your way into the playoffs.

It is understandable that a November game at Cincinnati might not pique the Giants' interest, but on the heels of Merchant's message, the Packers certainly did. The game was a rematch of a 2011 divisional playoff game that New York won 37-20 in Green Bay that wasn't really that close either. By that point, maybe nothing was going to stand in the Giants' way of making it to the Super Bowl and winning it.

Maybe nothing was going to prevent them from making a statement Sunday night. On their first drive of the game, the Giants needed just six plays to get into the end zone to take a 7-0 lead. The Packers answered with a four-play drive that ended with a 61-yard pass from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson that tied the game at 7.

On New York's third offensive possession, the tone was established. It was third-and-7 from the Green Bay 34-yard line. His receivers covered, Manning took off downfield. Packers cornerback Tramon Williams slid over to tackle Manning, and Manning lowered his right shoulder into Williams to gain an additional yard.

Manning said he didn't slide because he didn't know whether he had the first down or not, even though he gained 13 yards on the play and needed only seven. Whatever the case, "it sparked our sideline, that's for sure," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said.

"That wouldn't be recommended on a normal basis," he added, "but in that case, to see him do that, I think, sent a message to the rest of our team as well in terms of whatever you have to do to succeed, do it."

That they did. Manning was a serviceable 16-of-30 passing for 249 yards, with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. The Giants got 147 yards on the ground, although they lost third-year running back Andre Brown to a broken fibula, an injury that "takes a lot off the win, to be honest with you," Coughlin said.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Giants' defense had Rodgers under duress, sacked or hit while throwing on 17 of 33 (51.5 percent) dropbacks, the highest percentage of dropbacks a qualifying quarterback was pressured in a single game this season. And it affected Rodgers' performance; he finished 14-of-25 for 219 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, and he was sacked five times.

It was one game, but one complete performance coming off a bye week and starting what Coughlin described as "a six-game season" that has no cupcakes. The Giants next play at Washington, then play New Orleans at home, Atlanta and Baltimore on the road, and Philadelphia.

"We wanted to send a message to ourselves to remind ourselves that we can play good football and we can compete with any team in this league," wide receiver Victor Cruz said. "We just wanted to confirm that within ourselves, and I think that's what we did tonight."

The Giants heard Adam Merchant's message, and then sent it on to the rest of the NFL. They are the defending champs, and starting Sunday night, they're going to play like it.