- Johnette Howard, ESPN.com columnist
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Today he is the best cover cornerback the Giants have, the man who week in and week out blankets the other team's best receiver. But Corey Webster, the man who made the overtime interception four years ago that sent the Giants to the Super Bowl when Lawrence Tynes kicked a 47-yard field goal to win the game, is also the best symbol of how much has changed since that unforgettable game. And why the Giants think they can go to Lambeau Field and pull off an even bigger upset of the Packers this year.
Green Bay's quarterback at the time was Brett Favre, the NFL's all-time leader in interceptions as well as touchdown passes. Today it's Aaron Rodgers, who was just a backup then, shivering in the minus-20-degree temperatures and stamping his feet to keep warm same as everyone else when Favre tried to throw a simple out pattern to veteran receiver Donald Driver in overtime, and, well -- why don't we let Webster tell you the rest
"Donald Driver and Favre had worked together for a long time," Webster remembered Thursday, "so you kinda think he's going to go to one of the guys he's familiar with. My goal was just to stay as close in coverage as I could to Driver and when I saw the ball come, I was able to undercut the route and make a play on it. I just wanted to catch it, being it was cold and freezing out there."
Giants captain Justin Tuck smirked Thursday and said his memory is what Webster did was a lot more difficult than that.
Tuck says he was too busy trying to sack Favre on the play to see Webster's interception happen live, and swears he doesn't remember any stunned silence falling over Lambeau when Webster made the pick, either. Tuck just said when he sees the replay even now, what strikes him is, "It's one of those plays, man, where if you give Brett Favre that ball and throw that out 10 times, he probably puts it away from Corey nine out of 10. But it just happened to be our time.
"I'm sure you could ask Corey this, you know -- it was probably one of the best breaks he got on the football. And with a hard football [because of the cold], I'm giving Corey a lot of credit here. Hard football. The wind was blowing like 100 miles per hour. It was a tough catch."
Webster's play was even more impressive when you know Driver, who is still with the Packers, had beaten Webster for a 90-yard touchdown catch earlier in the game. Webster admits shrugging that off took resilience, and he thinks the same trait will be required Sunday at Lambeau when the Giants' oft-maligned secondary has to face Rodgers, the league's probable MVP.
Rodgers has heard for much of this season that he's been playing quarterback better than the position has ever been played.
He's thrown for 4,653 yards and 45 touchdowns. He has only six interceptions. Favre sometimes was capable of throwing that many picks in a game and a half.
Rodgers has also completed an astonishing 68.3 percent of his passes, and they aren't just rinky-dink checkdowns to some running back in the flat. They're downfield arrows that he's often fitted into tight windows to gash opposing defenses again and again this season, including the Giants.
When Green Bay beat the Giants 38-35 the first week of December, a lot swung on a pick-six interception that Eli Manning threw to the Packers' Clay Matthews. But the Giants' secondary got shredded too -- never worse than when Manning and the Giants had just scored a touchdown and daring two-point conversion running play to backup D.J. Ware to tie the game, only to see Rodgers move the Packers from their own 20 to the Giants' 12 in the last 58 seconds, setting up a game-ending field goal that kept the Packers undefeated at the time.
When asked what the Giants' defense could take away from that game, Tuck sneered Thursday and said: "Nuthin'.
"We gave up 38 points, man."
But Webster went into more detail. He agreed with Tuck that Rodgers can't be counted on to sling the ball all over the yard like Favre always did. As Tuck put it, "It just seems like a lot of film you watch with Aaron and those guys, the ball just seems to find its way to be in the right place at the right time. When it doesn't happen that way, a lot of times normally that's when guys have knocked them off their rhythm and knocked their timing off. It just buys you that extra second for the rush to get there."
Webster also agrees the Giants' secondary has gotten much better the last three weeks as the Giants' pass rush has gotten better. But, he adds when he and the other defensive backs face Rodgers again Sunday, they can't surrender to the thought that he's the anti-Favre -- the guy who rarely makes the game-changing mistake.
"[Rodgers] normally doesn't give up turnovers, but it's our job to go out there and get turnovers," Webster said.
And if all of that doesn't work? Webster is proof that shrugging setbacks off, remaining stubborn, waiting for that one play when the Packers might slip up just a bit can be enough. This Sunday, same as that second coming of the Ice Bowl four years ago, one play might be all it takes.
Webster was in the right place at the right time against Favre because, he says, he never gave up. He thinks the 10-7 Giants are in the playoffs this year because of the same trait. They stayed together even during the murderous stretch of the schedule that had them playing the Patriots, Packers and Saints back-to-back-to-back. Then they got hot at the right time, knocked off Dallas and the Jets, and now look: They're one game away from the NFC title game berth no one predicted for them, and Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was gripping the podium Thursday and beaming as he said, "You've gotta believe."
So if Rodgers happens to put a ball out there and Webster gets another clean break on it, Webster knows what he has to do. His name is already one of those that fans rattle off from memory about that Giants Super Bowl run, same as Eli and David Tyree, Plaxico Burress and the Giants' front four that terrorized Tom Brady. But Webster admitted Thursday with a laugh, he doesn't even have the ball. He gave it to Lt. Col. Greg Gadson, a Giants honorary captain and double-amputee veteran of the Iraq War who spoke to the 2007 team several times about fighting for each other. If Webster gets another interception this time, he sounded Thursday like he'll keep it.
The Giants keep saying this is a different team, different year. They keep emphasizing Rodgers is not Favre. They keep pointing out that they're bigger underdogs now. This Green Bay team is 15-1.
But Webster says once Sunday's game begins, this won't have changed:
"Everybody knows it's win or go home."
Even without Brett Favre, Corey Webster knows one play can turn the tide.