By Ernie Palladino
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The Giants spent much of the week unwillingly reviewing the fact that many believed their playoff win over the Packers was nothing more than a fluke.
That, apparently, was irksome enough to move this formerly slumbering squad into action. Away went the two-game losing streak. Put to rest, at least for the time being, should be any criticism of Eli Manning.
And hello playoff talk.
Their 38-10 win on Sunday night repositioned the Giants statistically and mentally, giving them a two-game lead over Dallas and Washington and putting about a million miles of separation between them morale-wise.
"We played like world champions," head coach Tom Coughlin said, echoing the demands of one Adam Merchant, a Make-A-Wish kid who implored the team to do just that during his visit to the practice locker room on Friday.
Manning certainly took up that cause. Not only did he throw three touchdown passes in an interception-less game, but he scrambled for a first down and threw a shoulder -- his throwing shoulder at that -- for an extra yard and a dose of much-needed adrenalin on the sideline.
"Eli's a competitor," said wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. "And it shows on that play. I was hoping he'd use his other shoulder, but that's his effort right there."
"I'm probably going to catch some heat for that," Manning said.
No problem. He'll happily take all the criticism as long as the wins keep coming.
And for those who aren't satisfied with their 7-4 mark against an NFC North team that should be headed to a playoff berth, consider that Manning passed Phil Simms as the Giants' all-time record-holder for passing touchdowns with his 200th, courtesy of Nicks' ample wingspan. There's nothing like a little history to make a team feel like a contender.
It was his third of the game, and it came after an uproarious first half that saw the Giants get off to their fastest start of the season with 17 first-quarter points. It all but ended with the Giants killing more than nine minutes of the fourth quarter on a non-scoring drive.
Indeed, the bye came at just the right time. It rejuvenated the quarterback, and that re-energized the whole team after a trying month of less-than-attractive football.
"There was a lot on peoples' minds, with the hurricane and everything" Manning said. "I thought we stayed focused, but after seeing the last week of practice and how crisp we were and how fast we moved, we could see the difference."
So could his receivers.
"We felt real good," Nicks said. "We went out and played hard as a team. Guys were flying around and it felt good."
"We knew what we had to do and how we had to compete," said Victor Cruz, another recipient of a Manning touchdown. "I'm excited for my team and excited for our future."
Ah, the future. Five games remain, all of which will unfortunately be played without the services of Andre Brown, whose broken fibula will likely end his season. But players have stepped up all season for the Giants, so this time it will be rookie David Wilson's turn to join Ahmad Bradshaw in a backfield that ripped off 147 rushing yards against Green Bay.
Washington on the road is next, and then New Orleans visits MetLife Stadium. And then comes Atlanta and Baltimore.
It's not an easy road.
But consider this: In the past calendar year, the Giants have now beaten Green Bay twice, San Francisco twice and Atlanta once. All are positioned for postseason berths, or are at least headed in the discussion.
That's a nice resume to bring into a five-game season. Mentally, it's huge.
That mindset wouldn't have been possible without Sunday night's complete team effort. It wouldn't have been possible without Manning looking like the quarterback of the first eight games.
That's how big beating the Packers and Aaron Rodgers was.
Did the Giants' dominating win over the Packers fully restore your confidence in Big Blue? Let us know in the comments section below...
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