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Manning joined elite QBs a while ago

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Cold so bitter fingers can't feel the ball.

An experienced opponent led by an all-time great quarterback, playing on the tundra of Lambeau Field, intimidating as any venue in the NFL.

Eli Manning simply shrugged - and delivered perhaps the best game of his life.

So what does the Giants' quarterback recall of that 23-20 overtime victory in Green Bay four years ago that lifted New York into the Super Bowl?

Plenty, for sure. The problem is, as the Giants return to Lambeau on Sunday for a divisional playoff matchup with the Packers, Manning has no interest in reliving that NFC championship game.

"I think this is a whole new situation," he said Wednesday. "It's a new year, a new team, new players going against a new team."

Regardless of Manning's reticence to discuss that performance, it was the day he became Elite Eli. That he followed the victory over Brett Favre and the Packers with a stunning upset of the undefeated Patriots and Tom Brady in the Super Bowl adds flavor to the saga.

"His completion percentage for a day like that was incredible," coach Tom Coughlin said of the minus-23 degrees temperatures at Lambeau, "and the way he played. But that was `07 and this is 2011."

And in 2011, Manning had his best pro season, setting a league mark with 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes, surpassing the record set by John Unitas and some other quarterback named Peyton. He was instrumental in leading the Giants to a 6-2 start and, after a four-game slump endangered their playoff chances, wins in three of the final four games.

Then he threw for three TDs in a 24-2 rout of Atlanta in the wild-card round.

Now, it's back to Green Bay.

"It's definitely exciting. This is fun, though," Manning said. "It's not a situation where you say, `Hey, it's playoff time, let's get all tensed up and serious.' It's a time to be yourself. It is, obviously, a big game. It's important, but you have to go out there with the attitude that you're going to enjoy this opportunity, you're going to have fun with it, you're going to take everything in. The only way to really have fun playing football is to play at a high level, to play to the best of your ability and make plays. Hopefully we can do that as a team."

The Packers, of course, have their own star quarterback and Super Bowl MVP in Aaron Rodgers, whose spectacular season has overshadowed Manning's. As most NFL quarterbacks do in regards to each other, he appreciates Manning's numbers and skills.

"I don't know if it was Justin Tuck, or one of those guys said, `You can't spell elite without the e-l-i,' " Rodgers said. "I thought that was pretty intelligent there. But he's played great, for the majority of his career, especially the last five, six years he's been at the top of his game. It's fun to watch. He throws the ball efficiently, he has good feel in the pocket, he's a winner, he's consistent.

"He's playing great, which makes it difficult for our defense. Offensively, you've got to expect them to play well and us to need to score some points."

The Packers needed to score lots of points, 38, in their Dec. 4 victory at the Meadowlands, when the Giants scored 35. Rodgers led a late drive to a winning field goal after Manning rallied his team. Their head-to-head matchup produced some superb numbers, including 347 yards passing and three touchdowns by Manning.

Compares well with his NFC title-game showing on that frigid day in January 2008: 21 for 40 for 251 yards, with no turnovers.

Well, Manning won't discuss any parallels. Instead, he talks about objectives for Sunday.

"It's just a matter of guys executing, guys knowing the game plan, going in there, looking forward to the opportunity that's ahead of us, getting excited about it and have the attitude that we're going to go in there and play great football. That's what we need to do to get a win," he said.

Told the forecast isn't for anything resembling the Arctic conditions of `08, Manning wouldn't play along.

"It was chilly. That's about all I remember," he said. "The weather I haven't really looked at this week. The last time we played there we were not concerned with it. I didn't talk about it. We didn't make it an issue. I don't think we'll make it an issue this year."

What became a tabloid issue during the summer was Manning's comments about being in the class of Brady and other top NFL quarterbacks. It shouldn't have struck any chords because Manning has as many Super Bowl rings as his older brother, not to mention Brett Favre, Drew Brees and Kurt Warner.

"Well, the question was if I thought I was an elite quarterback and basically, I was just saying that I did," Manning said in November. "I'm usually not into the business of ranking and rating quarterbacks and comparing myself to other guys. Looking back, I thought I gave an honest answer, and I don't regret anything."

Nor does he have much to regret this season, when at times he's carried the Giants as they tried to find a running game, a dependable pass rush and people who can cover in the secondary.

It seems to be coming together for them, although making comparisons with the run in early 2008 might be a stretch - thus far.

"The team's excited. You have to enjoy these opportunities," Manning said. "That's the thing, it's great to be in this position - we're playing great football right now, we're doing some things. We have to take advantage of this opportunity.

"It's hard to get here. It's not easy. We have guys healthy. We have people in the right positions doing good things. It's just a matter of everybody coming together and continuing to play our best football during this time of the year."

Which is exactly what elite quarterbacks do.

AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., and Chris Jenkins in Green Bay, Wis., contributed to this story.

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