Staggering Giants strive to shock unbeaten Packers
Make no mistake. New York Giants past and present are familiar with the scenario.
A matchup with an elite-level opponent aiming for perfection as a decided perception as a no-chance underdog.
And in two memorable cases this generation, they've been equal to the task -- defeating said perfect foe each time on the way to admittedly polar opposite end points of their own.
In Week 15 of 1998, the Giants hosted and beat a 13-0 Denver Broncos squad on the way to finishing 8-8 and missing the NFC Playoffs. The Broncos, meanwhile, went on to capture the Super Bowl anyway in what wound up being John Elway���s final season.
And in Super Bowl XLII to conclude the 2007 season, New York encountered an 18-0 New England Patriots team on the verge of joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only perfect world champions in NFL history -- and instead claimed the glory for itself with a stunning 17-14 win.
So when the 11-0 Green Bay Packers arrive Sunday at MetLife Stadium for their Week 13 showdown, Big Blue will know what���s at stake.
The question still remains, however: Do they have enough of anything needed to slay this unblemished dragon?
"It is a different circumstance when we played [the Patriots in the Super Bowl], but it is the challenge of playing a team that is obviously a very good football team," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. "That part is consistent."
Led by Aaron Rodgers' 33 touchdown passes against just four interceptions, Green Bay is five games from a perfect regular season and already installed as a heavy favorite to repeat last season's Super Bowl win. A victory on Sunday, in fact, could clinch the NFC North with four games remaining.
"The most important mindset that we have as a football team is staying in touch with reality, and the reality is we have to go to New York and beat the Giants," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's a challenge. That's a tough place to play. They're a physical football team."
The Packers have won 17 straight contests dating back to last season, four shy of the playoff-inclusive mark set by the Patriots between 2003-04.
"It is motivating to go out every week and compete better than you did the previous," Rodgers said. "We have been able to play the way we wanted to play consistently the first 11 games. We will see what happens when we get down this road a little bit."
Green Bay's streak began with a 45-17 home rout of the Giants in the next-to- last week of the 2010 regular season. New York would have clinched a playoff spot and eliminated Green Bay with a victory.
Instead, the Giants missed the playoffs for a second straight year and seem to be traveling a similar path in 2011. They have lost three straight and have a short week after allowing 577 yards -- the second-most in franchise history -- in Monday's 49-24 loss at New Orleans.
Now 6-5, New York is a game behind Dallas in the NFC East.
"We will bounce back and that is the thing I believe in," Coughlin said. "That is what we preach. It is a time for us to be bold and not sit back and listen to what all of you are saying. Rather, just to come out fighting and that is the position we will take."
The high-intensity pass rush that dogged Tom Brady in the aforementioned title win could be hampered against Rodgers and Co. this week, with two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora expected to miss the game -- and maybe several more -- with a severe ankle sprain.
Rodgers threw for 404 yards and four scores in last season's defeat of New York.
"We just executed really well," Rodgers said of that game. "We started off with the 80-yard touchdown to [wide receiver] Jordy Nelson and we were just able to make the plays that we needed to make."
On their side, the Giants own the NFL's worst rushing attack in yards per game (82.3) and yards per carry (3.2), but could get help if running back Ahmad Bradshaw returns after missing four games with a broken bone in his right foot. New York hasn't scored a first-half touchdown since Bradshaw went down.
"That is something that we have to fix," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "We have to find ways to get down there and get touchdowns."
Green Bay took a 26-21-2 lead in a regular-season series with the Giants that dates back to 1928 with last year's previously-mentioned pasting and has won two straight and five of the past six non-playoff meetings between the storied franchises. The Packers have also come out on top in three straight tests as the visitor in this set, claiming victories at Giants Stadium in both 1998 and 2001 in addition to a 35-13 triumph in 2007. New York last topped the Packers in the regular season via a 14-7 verdict at Lambeau Field in 2004, and its last home win over Green Bay occurred on Nov. 8, 1992, a 27-7 decision.
These two teams have also squared off a total of six times during postseason play, with the most recent clash taking place in the 2007 NFC Championship. The Giants won that game in overtime by a 23-20 count at Lambeau Field in what turned out to be Brett Favre's final appearance as a Packer. Green Bay and New York battled for the league championship in 1928, 1929, 1944 and 1961, with the Packers taking all but the first of those title games, and delivered a 16-7 win in a rematch of the NFL Championship Game held at Yankee Stadium in 1962 as well.
Coughlin is 2-4 against the Packers during his head coaching career, including an 0-2 mark while with Jacksonville from 1995 to 2002. McCarthy is 2-1 against both Coughlin and the Giants over his six-year tenure with the Pack, with the lone defeat coming in the above-noted 2007 NFC Championship.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
Rodgers is the first player in NFL history to post a 100-plus rating in 11 straight games. He also has a 110-plus rating in 19 of his past 22 contests (including postseason) and has thrown for two-plus scoring passes in each of his first 11 games this year, the third-longest streak to begin a season. In last year's meeting with the Giants, he completed 25-of-37 throws (67.6 percent) for 404 yards, four touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 139.9 rating. Fullback John Kuhn scored three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in that contest. Since the start of 2007, wide receiver Greg Jennings has 50 receiving touchdowns including the postseason, third-most in the NFL. He had seven catches for 142 yards in the teams' last meeting. Nelson has five receiving touchdowns in his past four games and had four catches for 124 yards, including the 80-yard touchdown, in last December's victory over the Giants. Wide receiver James Jones had three catches for 94 yards and a 65-yard touchdown in the Packers' 25-17 win at Detroit on Thanksgiving.
On defense, the Giants have won 20 of their last 24 games (including playoffs) when end Justin Tuck has a sack. He aims for a third game in row against Green Bay with a sack this week. Second-year end Jason Pierre-Paul has 15 sacks in his last 17 games, meanwhile. Cornerback Corey Webster has four interceptions in his past six meetings with Green Bay and picked off Favre in overtime to set up the winning field goal in the 2007 NFC Championship.
Statistically speaking, Green Bay's offense is first in scoring (34.7 ppg), fourth in total yards (401.7 ypg), third in passing (304.1 ypg) and 28th in rushing (97.2 ypg). On defense, the Giants are 27th in points allowed (25.2 ppg), 28th in yards allowed (381.6 ypg), 26th against the pass (251.2 ypg) and 24th against the run (130.5 ypg).
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Manning (3358 passing yards, 20 TD) is the fifth quarterback in NFL history with seven consecutive seasons with 3,000-plus passing yards and 20 or more touchdown throws and leads the NFL with a 123.7 rating in the fourth quarter this season. Running backs Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs each had a rushing touchdown in the 2007 NFC title game against the Packers and including the postseason, the Giants are 11-1 when Jacobs starts and has 21-plus attempts. Reserve running back D.J. Ware had a career-high eight catches in Monday's loss to the Saints, while wide receiver Victor Cruz had a career-best nine grabs for 157 yards and two touchdowns in the game. He aims for a third week in a row with six-plus catches, 125-plus receiving yards and a touchdown and has accumulated 80 yards or more in eight of his past nine games. Fellow wide receiver Mario Manningham had four catches for 132 yards (33.0 avg.) and an 85- yard touchdown in the teams' last meeting, but is questionable to play this week with a knee injury. Counterpart Hakeem Nicks had four catches for 93 yards (23.3 avg.) and a touchdown in last December's loss to the Packers.
On the Green Bay defense, cornerback Charles Woodson had an interception last week and has 36 picks since joining Green Bay in 2006, second-most in the NFL over that span. His nine interception returns for scores during that stretch are tops in the league as well. Opposite-side starter Tramon Williams had an interception in last year's win against the Giants and has four pick, including one returned for a touchdown, in his last four games. Linebacker Clay Matthews had an interception last week and nose tackle B.J. Raji had a sack in the teams' last meeting.
By the numbers, New York on offense is 17th in scoring (22.9 ppg), 11th in total yards (373.7 ypg), fourth in passing (291.5 ypg) and dead last in rushing (82.3 ypg). On defense, the Packers are 14th in scoring (20.6 ppg), 30th in yards allowed (393.4 ypg), second-to-last against the pass (287.8 ypg) and 13th against the run (105.5 ypg).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Whether Bradshaw will play, or is healthy enough to fully contribute, will go a long way to determining if the Giants can attempt to control the flow with a consistent ground game against an iffy run defense.
On the other side, going without Umenyiora deals a significant blow to the sort of disrupt-the-passer scheme that served New York so well in the Super Bowl with Brady and his prolific offense. The Giants have to apply steady pressure on Rodgers if they're to accomplish the difficult task of getting him out of rhythm.
At some point, it usually gets difficult for a team to maintain momentum. Although not probable, it could be a challenge for the Packers to re-ignite after an extended post-Thanksgiving break.
Yes, the Giants have been doubted in spots similar to this. And yes, they've at least two times delivered an upset against a previously unblemished team. But it doesn't seem the same this time. Though they'll be the home team and surely amped up, this New York squad is suffering from too many injuries and too much defensive upheaval to be counted on to stop the league's best team. Unless Rodgers has an uncharacteristic bad day and/or the weather makes an impact, it looks like a dozen wins in a row for Green Bay this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 35, Giants 24