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Eric Goska column: Manning's hot start scorches defense

Jan. 16, 2012
 

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Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop (55) pressures New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning during the first quarter of the NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. Manning threw for 274 yards in the first half. Corey Wilson/Press-Gazette

First-half frenzy

Quarterbacks who threw for more than 180 first-half yards in a playoff game against the Packers.

Yds Player Team Date
274 Eli Manning Giants Jan. 15, 2012
272 Troy Aikman Cowboys Jan. 8, 1995
198 Steve Young 49ers Jan. 11, 1998
191 Daunte Culpepper Vikings Jan. 9, 2005
187 Drew Bledsoe Patriots Jan. 26, 1997
181 Troy Aikman Cowboys Jan. 16, 1994

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Yes, turnovers were a factor in the Green Bay Packers' 37-20 loss to the New York Giants in an NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon. But even before the Packers started playing giveaway in earnest, Eli Manning had them reeling with a monster first half from which Green Bay never recovered.

Seeking to avoid becoming a ‘one-and-done’ Super Bowl winner, Green Bay ran smack into a quarterback intent on earning his own standing among the elite. That Manning had his way in the opening two quarters only solidified his case while leaving the Packers as just another team that failed to repeat.

Reliably and deliberately, Manning passed for more first-half yards than any opposing quarterback in Packers playoff history. He capped his effort with an unbelievable TD throw on the final play of the second quarter that stunned the crowd at Lambeau Field.

In guiding his team to scores on four of six first-half possessions – a fifth drive ended in a blocked field goal attempt – Manning completed 14 of 24 passes for 274 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. No player – not Troy Aikman, or Steve Young or Kurt Warner – had thrown for that many yards in the first half against the Packers in the playoffs.

Manning utilized six receivers in leading the Giants to 311 first-half yards. His favorite target was receiver Hakeem Nicks who snagged five passes for 152 yards including both TD passes.

Three times Nicks gashed Green Bay for more than 20 yards. Four times he came up with first downs.

Manning and Nicks hooked up for the first time on a 15-yard throw on the Giants’ second possession. Nicks then shrugged off a hit from safety Charlie Peprah just beyond midfield to score on a 66-yard catch and run as New York went up 10-3.

The two reunited on a 29-yard completion late in the second quarter. But it was Nicks' 37-yard TD grab while surrounded by Peprah and safety Charles Woodson on the final play of the half that sent Green Bay to the locker room down 20-10.

Eleven of Manning’s 14 first-half completions went for first downs. In addition to Nicks, receivers Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, and tight ends Travis Beckum and Jake Ballard moved the chains with receptions.

Manning was particularly effective on first down in the first half. The veteran completed six of nine passes for 170 yards and two scores.

Manning’s lone interception came on third down from the Packers’ 34-yard line. With Green Bay rushing six, Manning was hit by linebacker Desmond Bishop as he threw and safety Morgan Burnett made a diving interception.

The Packers failed to capitalize on the turnover when fullback John Kuhn lost the first fumble of his career four plays later.

New York was fortunate that Manning was as effective as he was. Until Ahmad Bradshaw broke off a 23-yard run to set up the final play of the first half, the Giants had gained 14 yards on 11 carries with no first downs.

Manning had a quieter second half. But he still had impact throwing for a touchdown and converting three third downs to help hold off Green Bay’s rally.

Manning had third-down completions to Manningham and Cruz on a 10-play, fourth-quarter drive that Lawrence Tynes capped with a 35-yard field goal. He quickly cashed in on Ryan Grant’s fumble with a 4-yard TD strike to Manningham that put New York up 30-13. He then found Cruz for a 17-yard gain on third down as New York moved to its final touchdown, a 14-yard run by Brandon Jacobs.

Extra points

• Manning completed seven of 11 passes for 98 yards on third down. Only Daunte Culpepper (106 yards) on Jan. 9, 2005, and Don Meredith (101 yards) on Jan. 1, 1967 threw for more yards on third down in a playoff game against the Packers.

• Nicks became just the second player to gain more than 100 yards receiving in the first half of a postseason game against the Packers. His 152 yards broke the record of 105 set by Plaxico Burress in New York’s 23-20 overtime win in the 2007 NFC championship game.

Eric Goska is a Press-Gazette correspondent, a Packers historian and the author of “Green Bay Packers: A Measure of Greatness,” a statistical history of the Packers. Email him at aegoska@sbcglobal.net.

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