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Getting hot late in season was secret to Giants' success

INDIANAPOLIS -- 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis won't get his shot this year. Despite a solid season, he won't get the chance to win a ring in Indianapolis. But Willis now might know as well as anyone part of what it takes to get to this point.

The first-hand lesson he learned over the past 2 1/2 months? Get hot late. Just like the Giants, who lost to the 49ers in Week 10 before later defeating them in the NFC Championship Game.

"They did what they needed to do to win -- and get to the point they're in now," Willis said. "So I'm happy for them, and I wish them all the best."

Players around the league say they've also taken notice of the way New York navigated its schedule, providing an example for them to remember in future seasons as they try to make runs of their own.

Here's what they saw happen: A formidable start to the year gave the Giants early hope before they lost five of six games. But then, as many recognized, something changed. The Giants found their groove.

"You know what, they came on hot right after beating Dallas to solidify their spot in the playoffs," Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "And after that, they just rolled. They just rolled straight through the playoffs. And now, they're in the Super Bowl."

The hot streak -- which is now up to five consecutive games -- actually started a week earlier in a 29-14 win against the Jets. But we'll let Revis off the hook since he's clearly trying to forget that game.

Either way, you get the point. And so does Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who also already understands the lessons the Giants have put on display just as New York also did in 2007. Last year, Woodson's Packers made a similar late run, winning six games on their way to claiming the Lombardi Trophy.

"I think the Giants essentially did what we did last year: They got hot late," Woodson said. "It's hard to stop a team when you're on the road, and they did it. They got themselves back into the Super Bowl. They're a tough team. Eli [Manning] is playing great as a quarterback, and that front they have on defense is pretty amazing."

Willis, Revis and Woodson were all involved in late-season losses to the Giants, but others around the league also recognize why this team is surging. And Manning, who has a passer rating above 100 in three of the past four games, is getting a good share of the credit.

"He's played really well, especially late in the year," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He's hot right now. He's playing well."

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While the Giants definitely made it difficult on themselves by losing five of six games in the second half of the season, they've managed to generate a level of chemistry and energy that has fueled them toward another Super Bowl appearance.

So when next season rolls around, you can be sure plenty of players from other teams around the league will be pointing toward this example as a means for hope.

"I'm sure it's going to be a good game," Willis said. "With the way the Giants have turned it on, you now have two really good teams playing for the Super Bowl."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington

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