Giants ride road of redemption to Super Bowl XLII

GREEN BAY - The Patriots are going for history in the Super Bowl. The Giants will settle for destiny.

There's simply no better way to explain New York's improbable ride to the NFC championship, and the improbable heroes who were produced along the way.

Whether it was the season as a whole, or the Giants' 23-20 overtime victory over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday, New York seemed always to revel doing it the hard way. "We like to make it tough on ourselves," said quarterback Eli Manning.

Well, they don't really like to, but they did.

Call them The Redemption Team.

Their victory over Green Bay was the season in microcosm for the Giants, who became just the third team -- joining New England in 1985 and Pittsburgh in 2005 -- to qualify for the Super Bowl by winning three playoff games on the road.

Consider:

»In the first half, cornerback Corey Webster got shoved to the ground at the line of scrimmage by Packers wideout Donald Driver, leaving Driver free to take a short pass from Brett Favre and run 90 yards for the game's first touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, however, Webster stuffed Ryan Grant for a 7-yard loss on third-and-3 at the Giants 12-yard line, forcing Green Bay to settle for a field goal. And then, on the second play of overtime, Webster jumped in front of Driver to intercept a Favre pass, setting the Giants up at Green Bay's 34-yard line.

"I didn't throw it outside enough," said Favre.

Webster was a season-opening starter who lost his spot in the lineup after three games, was relegated just to special teams for a time, even made inactive for two games, but got back into the lineup as the playoffs began.

Redemption.

»Placekicker Lawrence Tynes, who missed only 4 of 28 field goal attempts in 18 previous games, and never more than one in any game, missed two in the fourth quarter. He was wide left from 43 yards with 6:49 remaining and the score tied at 20, and wide left again on the final play of regulation from 36 yards.

So, it was hardly surprising that coach Tom Coughlin admitted to some hesitancy when he sent Tynes out to attempt a 47-yarder in sudden death with the Giants facing fourth-and-5. "I thought about going for (the first down)," Coughlin said.

But Tynes nailed this one, ending the game after 2:35 of overtime.

Redemption.

"I just ran onto the field," said Tynes, whose 47-yarder was the first successful field goal of at least 40 yards in 16 playoff games at Lambeau Field. "I knew it was going to be close to 50 (yards), but I knew I could get it there. (Coughlin) had to make a decision when I was out there lining up to kick it. I kind of made the decision for him. . . . I wasn't going to let him say, 'Go kick.' He would have had to pull me off the field."

»Coughlin himself was on the verge of getting fired after the 2006 season. Instead, the Giants agreed to give him a one-year contract extension so he wouldn't be a lame duck in 2007. Now, he's certain to receive a new deal.

"I'm happy for so many other people that . . . it hasn't struck me yet, really," Coughlin said.

Redemption.

»Quarterback Eli Manning, completing his fourth NFL season, was coming under increasing criticism for his up-and-down play, never quite living up to what had been expected of him. His 20 interceptions tied for most in the league and he ranked 25th in passer rating.

In a November defeat to Minnesota, he threw three interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. But, starting with the season-ending loss to New England, in which he threw four touchdown passes, Manning has played superbly.

On a night so bitterly cold that Manning and his receivers, Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, cut their personal pre-game warmup routine short by about 75 percent, Manning made it through a third consecutive playoff game without losing a turnover.

He completed 21 of 40 passes for 254 yards. Several of the incomplete passes were dropped.

Redemption.

"It feels good, because this is what you work for," said Manning, who now will start a Super Bowl just a year after his brother, Peyton, won one. "This is how you spend your time. It's been four years and a lot of preparation, a lot of games, a lot of work, and we stuck with it."

»New York's special teams had a rough start.

After the Giants went ahead, 13-10, midway through the third quarter, they surrendered a 49-yard kickoff return to Tramon Williams, putting the Packers in position to drive just 39 yards to re-take the lead.

But the next time Tynes kicked off, the ball bounced into the end zone for a touchback. Meanwhile, later in the third quarter and in the fourth, the Giants got a boost from two good kickoff returns themselves.

Redemption.

»The Giants, as a team, started the season with losses in their first two games. They trailed, 17-3, at halftime of their third game.

"I don't think we ever doubted ourselves," Manning said.

Somehow, they rallied to win that one. In December, they trailed 14-0 in the snow and rallied to win a late-season "must" game at Buffalo that clinched a playoff spot, then arguably played their best game of the regular season in a final-game, 38-35 loss to New England.

Now, the Giants will face the Patriots again in the Super Bowl.

"We know what it takes to beat them," Manning said.

Strange, but true: The Giants clearly found something in that loss to the Patriots and whatever that something was, it salvaged their season. Their three playoff victories extended their strong of road-game wins to 10 in a row. They were only 3-5 at home.

"At the end of the season, we weren't playing great, we played New England, we played really good, and for some reason, that just sparked something," Manning said. "It kind of got us going a little bit, got us feeling good, and we've been on a little roll since then and played good football."

Redemption.

Only the Ice Bowl, the 1967 NFL Championship Game in which Vince Lombardi's Packers beat Dallas, ever was played in more frigid conditions at Lambeau Field. The gametime temperature was minus-1 degree, with a wind-chill of minus-23. Tynes said the conditions made it feel like "kicking cardboard," and these are conditions in which Favre and the Packers usually have excelled. Not this time.

Instead, it was Manning excelling in the conditions which some thought might overwhelm him. He said his left hand was numb when he quit his early practice routine, about two hours before kickoff. But he said he had seen enough in the truncated workout to believe he'd be able to throw the ball.

"On the sideline, they had the heaters," he said. "I stood by that the whole game. I never took my helmet off. I had big gloves around my hand. I kept my hand warm, that was the main thing."

Plaxico Burress, in particular, seemed unconcerned by the cold. Burress, using his size advantage, beat cornerback Al Harris repeatedly, catching 11 passes for 154 yards.

The Giants' secondary, meanwhile, considered the team's most significant weakness, played better than expected. The front seven did a magnificent job of stuffing Grant, who rushed for 201 yards against Seattle a week earlier, and filling the cutback lanes. Green Bay was limited to 28 yards rushing, and 13 of them came on one play. Favre basically was limited to a one-dimensional offense that allowed the Giants to control the tempo.

New York, which rushed for 134 yards, ran off 32 more offensive plays than Green Bay, 81 to 49, and controlled the ball nearly twice as long, 40 minutes to 22. The Packers were able to convert only 1 of 10 third downs into first downs.

Now, the Giants will spend the next two weeks hearing and reading about how they have no chance against the New England powerhouse, which is trying to complete the first 19-0 season in NFL history. But the Giants are buoyed by the knowledge of how tough they played the Pats in the regular-season finale, in which New York led by 12 points midway through the third quarter.

"We wouldn't want it any other way," said center Shaun O'Hara. "At least now, we know nobody can pick us (to win)."

Veteran NFL writer Ira Miller is a regular contributor to NFL.com.

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