Commentary

Giants' surging D gets back at Pack

Dec. 4 loss is distant memory as Big Blue baffles Green Bay in postseason stunner

Updated: January 16, 2012, 3:09 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Hanging above Antrel Rolle's locker in the Lambeau Field visitor's locker room was a picture of Aaron Rodgers smiling.

Underneath the picture was a green arrow pointing to a lollipop with the word "sucker" underneath it.

"Aaron Rodgers is an exceptional quarterback and a great friend and I have the utmost respect for him, but when we go out to battle, he is the enemy," Rolle said of the motivational sign on his locker, given to him by an assistant coach.

"Just a little humor, just a little fun," Rolle continued. "He is not a sucker, man. We just try to have fun around here and have fun while winning, and that is exactly what we are doing."

[+] EnlargeAntrel Rolle
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesAntrel Rolle recovered a fumble in the second quarter, leading to a tiebreaking field goal.

A better sign would have been the movie poster from "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka." That's basically what the New York Giants' defense did all afternoon to Rodgers and his receivers in a 37-20 playoff victory over the top-seeded Green Bay Packers, and what they have been doing to opposing offenses for four straight weeks.

And it's why the Giants are heading to San Francisco for the NFC Championship Game, in a rematch they desperately wanted.

"We felt like we could've beat them," safety Deon Grant said of the Niners, who defeated the Giants 27-20 in San Francisco on Nov. 13.

The Giants' defense, which keeps surging with each victory, is playing dominant football and it doesn't matter whether it is Matt Ryan or Rodgers in its way.

Green Bay's big-play precision offense looked as if it were stuck in bumper-to-bumper Lincoln Tunnel traffic. The Giants forced four turnovers -- three of them fumbles -- while sacking Rodgers four times. They held a quarterback who had thrown four touchdown passes in each of their two previous meetings to just two -- in his own house.

The Packers' dangerous trio of Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley finished with a combined total of 11 catches for 116 yards receiving. And as for the big-play monsters from the Midwest, the Packers' longest play through the air was for 21 yards.

The defensive ends may get all the love and attention, and rightfully so. But on this day, the secondary hugged Green Bay's receivers tighter than some of the blankets clinging to fans in the stands.

"We are close," defensive end Justin Tuck said of the Giants' defense reaching its potential. "It just seemed like [Fewell] knew what they wanted to do to us and how to attack it and execute.

"It just seems like our time," Tuck added.

The Packers looked completely out of sorts. Perhaps the playoff bye and Rodgers sitting out the last game of the regular season led to some rust. The Packers also endured tragedy with the death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's son.

The Packers didn't look anything like the juggernaut that went 15-1 in the regular season. Packers receivers dropped six passes. There were also a few times when Rodgers, one of the most accurate quarterbacks we'll ever see, flat out missed his receivers.

But the Giants also had a large part to do with it. The cornerbacks and safeties played their best game of the season.

Having studied what Kansas City did in the Packers' only loss of the season, the Giants sent four or fewer pass rushers on 81 percent of Rodgers' dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The Chiefs did the same on 80 percent of Rodgers' dropbacks.

During Green Bay's 38-35 win over the Giants on Dec. 4, Rodgers completed 21 of 25 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns while throwing outside the painted numbers on the field. On Sunday, Rodgers was just 11-for-23 for 115 yards on those throws.

The safeties delivered their hardest hitting game, as Kenny Phillips forced one fumble and Deon Grant made a couple of hard hits. He probably should have been credited with a strip on Jennings in the first quarter, but officials ruled the Packers receiver down after instant replay.

Rolle had eight tackles and his coverage was outstanding at times. And even when Aaron Ross cramped up and Grant leaving for a portion of the game due to injury, the secondary didn't suffer any breakdowns with rookie Prince Amukamara, backup Derrick Martin and rookie safety Tyler Sash on the field.

Earlier this season, the Giants looked like they couldn't cover Betty White in those Snickers commercials. But in their last four games, they have allowed an average of just 12 points per game and have held wide receivers like Miles Austin and Roddy White in check.

"Our defense, we are versatile," Tuck said. "We can play with anybody. We can line up and play smashmouth football or they can line up in five wide and we can defend it, too. This team is built to be able to withstand anything."

The Giants said all week leading up to this game that they were a different defense than the one Rodgers faced in December. They had a healthier Michael Boley and they had Osi Umenyiora; Boley had two sacks and Umenyiora had two sacks and a strip that kept Rodgers from finding a wide-open Jennings for a potential touchdown.

After losing to Green Bay last month, Rolle said the Giants were going to see the Packers again.

"We saw them again," Rolle said. "And this is the outcome."

There didn't seem to be any guarantees coming from the locker room on Sunday. But it's a long week and the Giants' confidence continues to grow.

"I'm going to go ahead and ask this before you ask me: Do we feel like we are going to win in San Fran?" a coy Tuck said to reporters. "Yes, we feel like we are going to win in San Fran. Am I guaranteeing a win? No I am not.

"The confidence of this team, it is not an arrogant confidence," Tuck added. "It is not saying that we can't be beat. But we feel as though if we play our style of football game, we can beat any team."

Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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