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    Excerpt: "Frank Gore can still, very easily, name each and every running back who was
    selected before him in the 2005 NFL Draft.

    Two major surgeries during his years at the University of Miami had called
    his knees into question, of course. At just 22, he was on a limited warranty
    with low expectations, which made the exercise Friday all the more satisfying.

    Six years later, he could prop himself up with one of those sewn-up knees
    resting firmly on a stool in front of his 49ers locker and rattle off those five
    running backs.

    “First was Ronnie Brown, second was Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, then
    J.J Arrington, then the boy who went to Carolina from Louisville, (Eric)
    Shelton, then me,” said Gore, who wasn’t selected until the third round, as the
    65th pick.

    Not one of those five running backs is within 1,500 career rushing yards of
    Gore. Arrington and Shelton are no longer in the NFL.

    “Still, right now, today, I got that chip on my shoulder,” said Gore, who, at
    28, had the fifth-most carries in football this season (282)." Read more...


    Excerpt: "Antonio Pierce, a rookie with the Washington Redskins in 2001, couldn’t help
    but laugh when he watched Giants tight
    end Howard Cross. Like most tight ends in the league at the time, Cross was a
    blocker first and receiver second. A distant second.

    “He was basically a lineman,” the former Redskins and Giants linebacker said.
    “He was 280 pounds and he’s running routes and you laugh. You wanted them to
    throw it there so you could try to get a pick because you knew you were faster
    and reacted quicker than him.”

    A decade later, the Howard Crosses of the world are an endangered species —
    as the NFL has rapidly evolved into a pass-happy entity, so too has the tight
    end position.

    Yes, bulky blockers in the mold of Cross still have a place in the NFL, but
    today’s premier tight ends — Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez of the New
    England Patriots, Vernon
    Davis of the San Francisco 49ers
    among them — are world-class athletes with
    track speed, basketball-player hops and sculpted physiques. They are hybrids,
    able to block when necessary and catch passes from a variety of spots, from
    split out on the outside or in the slot as wide receivers to their traditional
    spot on the line.

    “It’s night and day,” Pierce said. “The tight end before was just a mauler,
    he was just the sixth offensive lineman. Now this guy is your leading receiver,
    your first option, your No. 1 threat and the toughest matchup for most
    defenders.”


    "Aaron Ross was in a hurry to leave the Giants’ practice facility the other day,
    though he took time to answer a question about the meetings the defensive backs
    have held on their own.

    In fact, that’s why he was scrambling to get out of the Timex Performance
    Center in East Rutherford.

    “We’re going right now to go do ’em,” the Giants cornerback said. “It’s been
    helping us a lot. We get a chance to go through the film and go over with the
    coaches the next morning. We might see something we don’t like and ask the
    coaches if we can change it.”

    The defensive backs started these meetings earlier in the season, once per
    week at the players’ houses, about an hour in length. It was a way of conducting
    the meetings at their own pace and with them taking the lead.

    It wasn’t a mutiny against the coaching staff by any means, but rather a
    chance to take control of the remote and talk about what they see on film — not
    only what they’re supposed to see.

    Before the game against the Washington Redskins, in which Corey Webster and
    Kenny Phillips grabbed interceptions early on, the frequency of the
    get-togethers increased. Now, as the players prepare for Sunday NFC Championship
    Game against the San Francisco 49ers, they’re up to three sessions per week.

    And the fact they even have the chance to get ready for this game is a
    testament to what the meetings have done for their on-field communication since
    a few communication breakdowns earlier in the season against the Niners, Dallas
    Cowboys and New Orleans Saints.

    “It’s crisp. Everything is coming out fast, it’s coming out loud,” said
    linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who can hear the chatter behind him. “There are no
    questions about who is saying what or who has what. The communication has been

    “If you watch how they played (on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers),
    there was obviously a difference. You could see it, and you could hear it on the
    field, too.”

    Instead of Dez Bryant running free, Laurent Robinson breaking up the seam or
    Jabar Gaffney catching an uncontested touchdown, the Giants have often seen Tony
    Romo, Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers holding the ball longer while
    looking for an open receiver — and many times, not finding one.

    In the 13 games before the meetings were increased, the Giants allowed 263.7
    passing yards per game and a 61.4 percent completion rate. In the five games
    since, they’re allowing 215.6 yards per game and a completion percentage of 59.9

    “The chemistry is just crazy right now,” Phillips said. “I don’t want to say
    it’s just the meetings, but guys are just dialing in to what we’re doing.”

    He continued: “It’s knowing what the other guy’s going to do. You don’t have
    to talk on every play. If I see something, I just come off and go get it and
    somebody will cover me up. There’s been a lot of that going on.”

    Phillips’ house is the closest to the stadium, so he’s often the host for the
    meetings. Sometimes, they’ll order pizza or wings, though the sessions often go

    Everyone gets a chance to work the remote and go through the calls based on
    the looks the offense is given — even the rookies.

    “Everybody has their opinion,” rookie safety Tyler Sash said, adding with a
    wry smile: “Even though some people’s opinions are respected more than

    The opinions of veterans Deon Grant and Antrel Rolle mean a ton to defensive
    coordinator Perry Fewell, who admits he has gotten better at accepting

    “Because I know the players a lot better, definitely,” said Fewell, in his
    second year with the Giants. “I think that as a coordinator, and as a leader,
    you’re most effective when you’re listening, not talking.”

    Fewell simplified the game plan a bit before the victory over the Jets, in
    part because of the suggestions that came from the players’ off-site

    “We jot it down and say, ‘We think it’ll be a lot easier for us to play it
    like this,’” Grant said, “and he has an open ear when it comes to that.”


    "David Tyree, one of the Giants heroes from Super Bowl XLII, helped light up
    the Empire State Building tonight —supposedly to commemorate the Giants' trip to San Francisco for the NFC
    Championship Game.

    The problem was that when Tyree threw the switch, the
    landmark wasn't blue but rather red and gold — awfully close to the San
    Francisco 49ers' colors, in fact.

    That color scheme was related to the
    Lunar New Year, according to Matt McCullough of Matter, Edelman Sports and
    Entertainment Marketing, who promoted the lighting. The company had sent a press
    release on Thursday saying Tyree would light up the building blue, as tight end
    Jake Ballard did before last week's game against the Green Bay Packers.

    McCullough was quick to note that the Empire State Building would feature
    Giants blue on Saturday and Sunday. Tyree was not available for a ceremony on


    "This has been the longest week of Jason Pierre-Paul’s NFL career.

    At least that’s the way it sounds.

    “It felt like a long week,” the Giants’ defensive end said today of the
    buildup to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the 49ers. “We came in and we
    were ready to go. After Green Bay, we were ready to go. It just feels like it’s
    been a long wait and tomorrow’s Saturday, get on a plane and head out

    If he thinks this was a long wait and some serious buildup, wait’ll he sees
    what it’s like if they win this game and spend the next two weeks talking about
    the Super Bowl.

    “Yeah, we’re going to be ready for that,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a great
    thing. We’re just ready to go out and play great football. I’m excited, the
    whole team is excited, just ready to get on the plane. If we could get on the
    plane now we would. We just gotta wait.”

    It was pointed out to Pierre-Paul a victory on Sunday could cost him a trip
    to the Pro Bowl.

    He doesn’t care.

    “Nah, I’m not thinking about Hawaii,” he said. “I’m thinking about the Super
    Bowl right now and just going to take care of this team.”

    * * * *

    SUNDAY’S GAME: at San Francisco 49ers, Candlestick Park, NFC
    Championship Game, 6:30 p.m., Fox


    Offense: Again, we’ve broken this thing down every which way
    possible, so just a brief rundown here to tie up some loose ends.

    Offensively, I was wondering what kind of coverage the Giants expect to see
    from the Niners. TE Travis Beckum, talking today, said he’s
    anticipating man looks from San Fran.

    “A lot of man coverage,” Beckum said. “Last week, they manned up (LB)
    Patrick Willis with Jimmy Graham. So it looks like it’s going
    to be a lot of man coverage, as far as what they did last week.”

    The Giants don’t have a Graham. They
    barely have Jake Ballard at this point.
    But they do have a very good slot
    presence in WR Victor Cruz. Much as CB Carlos
    the salsa after his interception
    , I thought Cruz did a fine job that day,
    especially in his releases off the line. If the Niners play man coverage, they’d
    better do it in spurts because if Cruz gets enough chances, he’ll beat Rogers
    again. I’m wondering if the Niners throw more zone coverage at the Giants than
    they expect right now.

    Defense: The other day we
    wrote about the rain
    and what it would to do the passing games and running
    games. Well, it’ll also have an effect on the pass rushers, specifically the
    Giants’ speed rushers.

    DE Osi Umenyiora likes to take that edge on the speed rush,
    so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles things against Niners LT
    Joe Staley should the field be slick. (Current forecasts
    indicate rain on and off for the next few days, with a 40 percent chance of
    showers on Sunday.)

    “You gotta hold your balance, plant right,” Pierre-Paul said of dealing with
    the slick grass. “It’s frustrating but you still have to play the game of
    football, no matter how it feels.”

    THE LINE: 49ers by 2½. Over-under 42.

    THE PICK: As you’ll see in the vid, I’m going Giants 21,
    Niners 20.

    ONE MORE THING: That Niners running game attempts to go
    right down your throat at times but DT Chris Canty says to watch the edges as

    “They can run it inside, no question about it, but you’d be surprised, there
    is a lot of yardage on the perimeter with their offensive running game,” Canty
    said. “So you have to be cognizant of that, pursuit angles, guys pursuing,
    getting to the football, beating blocks and getting to the football and making
    sure we leverage the football so we can make the proper tackles. There is a lot
    of yards they gain on the perimeter.”


    Excerpt: "Rex Ryan isn't exactly batting 1.000 in his predictions for New York-area
    sports teams. But the Jets coach — for
    what it's worth — believes the Giants
    and Baltimore Ravens will advance to the Super Bowl this year, a rematch of
    Super Bowl XXXV.

    "I can tell you this: There isn’t one Giants fan that wants me to say the
    Giants are going to win this game," Ryan, who has annually guaranteed Super
    Bowls for his Jets team but has not yet delivered, said on WFAN radio today.

    Ryan favors the Giants over the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday's NFC
    Championship Game, particularly because of how the Giants defense is playing.
    Despite being ranked 27th in the regular season, the Giants defense has found a
    groove over the past several weeks, helped by a healthy Osi Umenyiora.

    "I think San Francisco is playing great defensively. (49ers defensive
    coordinator) Vic Fangio is a guy that worked with me for two years in Baltimore;
    he's done a great job with that defense," Ryan said. "But I think when you look
    at them ... the Giants can throw the football, can move the football better
    against San Francisco than San Francisco is going to be able to move it against
    the Giants."

    Ryan added: "(Umenyiora healthy) makes a huge difference. I just think that
    pass rush -- when you watched the 49ers play the Ravens, that pass rush of the
    Ravens ate San Francisco alive. I think the giants are going to take this game.
    I think Eli (Manning) is hot, I like the fact that both their running backs are
    healthy. So it’s going to be interesting, but I think you could be looking at
    the Giants and Ravens rematch."

    The Ravens won that Super Bowl in the 2000 season, and Ryan won a ring as the
    team's defensive line coach. He admitted he is rooting for his former team in
    the AFC Championship Game against the Jets' rival New England Patriots." Read more...


    "Tom Coughlin was in rare form with the media today, offering stories and
    jokes without hesitation. One such time was when he was asked about Rich
    Seubert, the former Giants guard who was cut during the offseason, being one of
    three honorary Giants captains at Sunday's game in San Francisco.

    "Last year he takes a picture, writes ‘Happy Holidays to me’," Coughlin
    narrated. "So he gives me a picture and I’m thinking, 'What am I gonna do with
    this thing?' And he writes it in red pen. So I put it in my locker and I forgot
    about it. Right around Christmas time I find this picture so I said, ‘Son of a
    gun.’ I got this picture sitting right in front of me, it’s been there for like
    a month and a half so I can look right at Richie, ‘Happy Holidays.’

    He also reminisced about his seven seasons with Seubert.

    "Feisty. Loves to play. Loves to be a part of this team. Loves the New York
    Giants. Plays with every ounce of fiber that he has," Coughlin said. "Gives it
    all, shares it all. Not afraid to get on teammates, not afraid to be the
    rambunctious one in the locker room, he stirs it up better than anybody that I
    have probably ever been around. Sometimes to the point you have to step in

    "But we love this guy. And we miss him. I miss him."

    Eli Manning also recalled his years with Seubert, who went undrafted out of
    Western Illinois two years before Manning arrived in 2001 and spent 10 seasons
    with the Giants.

    "I’m just excited to see Richie out on the field with us. He was a great
    teammate," Manning said. "A guy that when I first came in my rookie year, he was
    around, he was injured. I thought he was 35 years old when I first got here. I
    thought the guy had been here forever but he had only been here a couple years.
    It was an honor to play with him. He was a great leader, a great teammate. A
    great guy around the locker room so I’m excited that he’ll be a part of the game
    on Sunday.

    Seubert has moved with his family to California and has said he looks to
    continue his NFL career next season. He will be joined by Michael Strahan and
    Mark Bavaro as the Giants' honorary captains on Sunday."


    "The surprises on the Giants’ injury
    front didn’t stop with
    the portion of practice open to the media

    Afterward, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was added to the report after rolling
    his ankle. The team listed him as limited today but he’s down as probable for
    Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the 49ers.

    “Rolled it a little bit,” Nicks said. “Same one. Same one I rolled earlier in
    the season. Same one I always roll.”

    Tom Coughlin called it “basketball ankle.” Nicks said he’s been dealing with
    it for a few years now and rolls it twice per season. He said it happened while
    running an in cut today.

    Still, Nicks isn’t concerned.

    “No, got no reason to be concerned about it. It’s an important game,” he
    said. “I’ll put it out of my mind and won’t think about it.”

    Asked about dealing with the ankle on a potentially slick field, Nicks
    replied, “Just tape it up, wrap it up real good. I’ll be all right.”

    At least it's not a new injury for Nicks.

    "Yeah that’s the good thing about it," he said. "Same one I’m used to dealing
    with. Nothing new."

    * * * *

    TE Jake Ballard (knee) is listed as questionable after undergoing what
    Coughlin termed a “procedure” on Thursday.

    Coughlin wouldn’t say what was done to Ballard except to clarify it wasn’t
    surgery. It’s likely he received a shot or had fluid drained. Ballard said the
    procedure took only a few minutes.

    Asked if the team knew the “procedure” would make Ballard feel worse in the
    short term, Coughlin replied sarcastically, “We actually thought it wouldn’t.
    Naturally, we did. What do you think those people do in there? Play cards.”

    * * * *

    Don’t read that last quote the wrong way. Coughlin wasn’t being nasty. He was
    actually on a roll today in what was one of his most humorous press conferences
    of all time.

    He was really on fire when asked if precautions were being taken to stop the
    stomach bug that’s now hit C David Baas, who missed practice today but is listed
    as probable.

    “Like what? Everybody’s wearing masks, everybody’s washing their hands,
    everybody’s doing everything they can,” Coughlin said. “Like when your sister
    came home with whatever and you got it. So there’s where we are.”

    * * * *

    Baas is struggling but QB Eli Manning (illness) is fine. He’s listed as
    probable after practicing fully.

    Also probable: DEs Justin Tuck (shouler) and Osi Umenyiora (ankle/knee), RB
    Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), CB Corey Webster (hamstring) and LB Mark Herzlich
    (ankle). All were limited today."


    Excerpt: "Once again, Jake Ballard's right knee is a source of concern for the

    The tight end was held out of Friday's practice after having a brief
    procedure done on his knee Thursday night. Ballard told reporters that the
    procedure took "a couple of minutes."

    While both Ballard and head coach Tom Coughlin refused to go into further
    details, neither anticipated it being an issue for Sunday's NFC Championship
    Game against the San Francisco 49ers.

    "Not at all," Ballard said when asked if the knee would be a problem. "I mean,
    they told me they didn't want to go into detail. They just did a little
    something and the knee was a little sore today, so I should be ready to go for
    the game."



    "Eli Manning has played
    well enough all season to get the Giants to their second Super Bowl in the last
    five seasons. Now the rest of the team has finally caught up to him.

    When the NFL awarded Super Bowl XLVI to the House That Peyton Built in
    Indianapolis, it appeared the Colts had a good chance to be the first team to
    play the Super Bowl on their home field. It was easy to envision Peyton Manning
    driving down the field in the closing minutes for the winning

    Well, Manning could still provide last-minute drama in Indy —
    it would just be the Manning who is no longer the other Manning. If the Giants
    beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday night at Candlestick Park,
    then Eli Manning gets to play the Super Bowl in the town where Peyton has been
    king since 1998. That would be a pretty neat story. If he wins the game, he
    leads Peyton 2-1 in Super Bowl victories.

    “We have to go out and play a
    great game,” Manning said. “It’s whatever it takes.”

    The Giants and 49ers
    have met seven times in the playoffs since 1981 and four times the winner has
    gone on to win the Super Bowl: The 49ers in 1981 and 1984 and the Giants in 1986
    and then in 1990 in the NFC Championship Game. And now, the Giants and Niners
    are playing well enough to beat the Patriots or Ravens.

    Even though Eli
    already is a Super Bowl MVP — he won the award one year after his brother — this
    has been his breakout season. He has taken his game to a different level — yes,
    an elite level — and has been even better in the Giants playoff victories over
    the Falcons and Packers. He has thrown for a combined 607 yards with six TDs and
    only one INT.

    He threw for nearly 5,000 yards during the regular season
    with 29 TDs and 16 INTs, but the Giants were just a 9-7 team. They played like a
    9-7 team. But they are no longer playing like a 9-7 team. This is the team they
    thought they would be all season: A quick strike offense and an aggressive
    playmaking defense.

    When they started the season 6-2, it gave the Giants
    a false sense of security. The Patriots were the only team they beat in the
    first half that made the playoffs. In fact, the Patriots are the only team they
    defeated during the regular season that finished over .500. But starting with
    the 15th game against the Jets in the grudge match, Justin Tuck caught his
    second wind. Osi Umenyiora
    returned the next week against the Cowboys and the two are dominating like they
    did in the 2007 Super Bowl run.

    When the pass rush is overwhelming, it
    covers up for the secondary, which in a three-game stretch in late November to
    early December was ripped apart by Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tony
    . They tortured the Giants with 12 TD passes — four apiece — and 1,037
    passing yards. But now the Giants have held Matt Ryan and
    Rodgers to 424 yards passing and one touchdown in the playoffs. One month later,
    Rodgers threw for 119 fewer yards and three fewer TDs against the

    The Giants are on a four-game winning streak. They are not only
    winning. They are dominating. They beat the Jets by 15, the Cowboys by 14, the
    Falcons by 22 and the Packers by 17. When their season was stalled at 7-7, their
    first two victories were by more than 10 points, but the next five were by a
    total of just 17 points.

    Tom Coughlin’s talk
    with Tuck before the Jets game was the turning point of an injury-plagued season
    for him. Tuck was at the point he could either put the injuries to the side or
    he could let them drag him all the way down. He has been a force in the last
    four games — he had a sack against the Jets and the Cowboys and although he
    didn’t get one against the Falcons or Packers, he has been disruptive. He is
    playing with fresh legs.

    “It’s been one of those years where when it just
    seems like you have it right and your body is starting to feel good, something
    else happens,” Tuck said. “When that happens, obviously there are going to be
    people questioning you about where your heart is and things like that. My
    teammates know where my heart is, my coaches know where my heart

    Only the physically gifted can play in the NFL. Only the mentally
    strong survive.

    “I just came to the realization that I’m not going to be
    healthy this year, I’m not going to put up the stats that I’ve put up. But that
    doesn’t mean that I can’t help this football team win games,” Tuck said. “At the
    end of the day, that’s the end goal. That’s what I mean about blocking all the
    other stuff out.”

    Umenyiora came back against the Cowboys after missing four games with an
    ankle injury. He had two sacks against the Cowboys, one against the Falcons and
    two against the Packers with a forced fumble. He has perfected the strip sack -
    a Lawrence Taylor
    specialty. His arm comes down like a hammer on the ball.

    “He is always going 100%,” Coughlin said. “He is always, always looking to
    make a play.”
    The Giants were virtually a two-man team this season: Manning
    on offense and Jason Pierre-Paul
    on defense. Now they are a complete team.

    They’re one game from the Super
    Bowl in Indianapolis. Maybe Peyton will have them over for


    "The Giants didn’t set out on this journey hoping to find redemption. They’re
    not flying across the country looking for revenge

    This game, to the
    Giants, is not about evening the score with the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, it
    has nothing to do with the 49ers at all.

    “They’re just in the way of
    where we want to be,” said linebacker Michael
    . “Obviously, that’s the Super Bowl.”

    Incredibly, the Giants,
    who were once hanging on the edge of what Justin Tuck called a
    “historical” collapse, are now just one win away from a chance to make a
    different kind of history. They will play the 49ers Sunday night in the NFC
    Championship Game at rainy, wind-swept Candlestick Park.

    The winner will
    represent the NFC in Indianapolis on Feb. 5 in Super Bowl XLVI.

    Try to
    remember how improbable that seemed in the heat of the summer, when the lockout
    ended in late July and the Giants looked like they were standing still. When
    Giants GM Jerry Reese made his
    vow that Big Blue would make the playoffs “and make a run,” the laughter was
    everywhere. He insisted the team was building — not rebuilding — and nobody
    believed that was true.

    Then came the injuries that ravaged the Giants,
    the failures of the defense, the start of the “historical” second-half collapse
    when they ruined a 6-2 start with five losses in their next six games. They were
    on the brink of elimination, facing an uncertain future, and nobody considered
    them a contender at all.

    Yet, here they are, in their second conference
    championship game in the Tom Coughlin/Eli
    era. The Giants (11-7) have won four straight games, are fresh off
    an upset of the 15-1 Green Bay Packers (now 15-2) at frigid Lambeau Field. They
    have channeled the “Road Warriors” that won that miracle Super Bowl four years

    And, while this may not have been their primary goal, they’ve done
    exactly what that famous 2007 team kept doing: The Giants really have proven
    everybody wrong.

    “That says a lot,” said breakout receiver Victor
    . “We had to battle through a lot of injuries early on this year and a
    lot of question marks. Just to overcome that and for guys to shine and step up
    and play well has been tremendous for our confidence. We’ve been building off
    that ever since.”

    “The ride didn’t go the way you wanted it to go, but we
    did what we set out to do this season,” said safety Antrel Rolle. “That
    was to win our division and have a chance to play in the postseason. We granted
    ourselves that wish.”

    They’ve had other wishes granted lately, too, which
    has been part of the fun of this unexpected ride. They were desperately hoping
    for another shot at the Packers after they nearly spoiled Green Bay’s attempt at
    an unbeaten season on Dec. 4, before losing 38-35 on a last-second field goal.
    They got that wish last Sunday and they took advantage, hammering the Packers
    37-20 in an NFC divisional playoff game.

    That earned them a second wish:
    A rematch with a 49ers team that beat them 27-20 in San Francisco on Nov. 13 by
    the narrowest of margins — the fingertip of defensive end
    Justin Smith
    , who batted what likely would’ve been a game-tying touchdown
    pass by Eli Manning out of the air.

    When that game was over, Giants running back Brandon
    predicted “We will see them again.” And when the 49ers (14-3) stunned
    the New Orleans Saints last Saturday, as soon as the Giants held up their end in
    Green Bay the rematch was assured.

    The first 49ers game was a brutal,
    physical game, which is one reason why Giants defensive tackle Chris
    said he’s expecting a “bloodbath” in what could be terrible weather
    conditions. The 49ers, behind Frank Gore — who played
    with an injured ankle against the Giants in November and had only six carries
    for zero yards — have the NFL’s eighth-ranked rushing attack (127.8 yards per
    game). They also have the No. 4-ranked defense and the best rushing defense,
    which has given up an average of just 77.2 yards on the ground.

    and defense weren’t the Giants’ strengths for much of the season, but they might
    be now. The Giants’ defense has been brilliant for the last month, especially
    their revived pass rush that has totaled 17 sacks in the last four games.
    Meanwhile, the Giants have averaged 112.7 yards per game on the ground since the
    start of December, including 267 yards in two playoff games.

    So yes, a “bloodbath” is exactly what the Giants expect.

    “I heard
    that,” said linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka.
    “That’s this kind of football. You get two teams like this who want to run the
    ball and want to stick to their game plans as much as possible, which is line up
    man to man and see who is a tougher guy at the end of the day. These are the
    kinds of games I live for.”

    It’s what they used to call “Giants football”
    before they spent the first 3-1/2 months with their fortunes riding on Manning.
    They were still that team on Nov. 13, when Manning’s attempt at more last-second
    heroics was tipped away. The Giants can still see that deflection and Cruz
    running free toward the end zone. They still think about that golden opportunity
    they let slip away. Would revenge be sweet for the Giants?Absolutely it would,
    even if it’s not the most important thing they seek.

    “It’s very
    motivating,” Cruz said. “We understand that game came down to the wire and we
    were one play away from potentially winning that ballgame. It’s a little sweet
    to go out there and play a team that we’ve already played and know that we’ve
    fought tooth and nail with them.”

    Put another way, it’s about unfinished
    business. And if there has been one consistent theme to this surprising season,
    it’s been that the Giants want none of that.

    “Never quit. We have to
    finish what we started,” Boley said. “We started the season on a good note. It’s
    not how you start, it’s how you finish. That’s been one of the things that Tom
    (Coughlin) has said to us from Day 1, as soon as we stepped in here for training
    camp. Finish. Make sure we finish everything we do.”

    Now they have a
    chance to do exactly that. They can back up all the guarantees from Reese and
    Rolle and Cruz and so many others by going back one more time to make right what
    once went wrong.

    They’ve already taken a quantum leap from the
    struggling, injury-plagued team that was falling apart in Week 15 when they
    bottomed out at 7-7. The Giants have no doubt they will prove to the 49ers and
    the world that they have become a much different – and much improved –

    “I think we are a team that is ascending,” Tuck said. “Obviously
    the last couple of weeks we have played pretty well in just about every phase of
    the game. Momentum for us right now is sky high. It’s something that we
    hopefully can continue to ride into the Super Bowl.”

    “We’re not going to
    be denied at this point,” Rolle added. “We understand what we have as a team.
    It’s not all about talent. It’s about chemistry. We’re gelling at this point.
    Coaches and players are on the same page at the same time.

    “We have one
    goal in mind, which is to win the championship.”

    And that would be the
    greatest redemption of all."


    "Ahmad Bradshaw was
    supposed to be blocking, but he had his own ideas.

    So on this critical
    first-and-10 from the Giants’ 49 two weeks ago in a wild-card playoff game vs.
    the Falcons, Bradshaw did what he does best. As two pass-rushers flew toward
    him, taking aim at Eli Manning, Bradshaw
    threw a quick, almost half-hearted block, then turned around, clapping for the

    Just before the Falcons drove Manning to the ground, the
    quarterback released an underhanded pass. Bradshaw caught it and tried to juke a
    pair of defenders. Eventually, he settled for a one-yard loss, but it was better
    than the seven-yard sack Manning was destined to take, and it kept the drive

    Five plays later, the Giants scored the only touchdown they would
    need to beat Atlanta. And two weeks later, backup QB David Carr still
    marvels at Bradshaw’s headiness on a play that hardly jumped out on the stat

    “Ahmad was supposed to be blocking the whole time, but he sees
    it’s not there,” recalls Carr. “Eli can underhand toss it. So you get two or
    three yards (farther) instead of losing eight. That’s a plus-six-yard
    And those are the kinds of plays that Ahmad Bradshaw has routinely
    made this season, a key reason that the Giants can feel confident in today’s NFC
    Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers.

    The last time they
    faced the 49ers, they fell, 27-20, and Bradshaw, who was nursing a broken foot,
    did not even make the trip West, and a punchless Giants rushing attack scratched
    and clawed its way to just 3.2 yards per carry against the league’s finest
    rushing defense.

    On Sunday, however, Big Blue will have its most
    versatile tailback in uniform, completing its dangerous offense.

    ready to make plays,” says Bradshaw, who practiced just once last week. “I’m
    feeling healthy, and I’m feeling good.”

    Bradshaw spent the entire season
    making heady plays and functioning as Eli Manning’s safety valve in the passing
    game, while simultaneously cutting down on his own errors. A season ago, he
    nearly lost his grip on the starting job, literally. Bradshaw put the ball on
    the ground seven times in 276 carries last year, with the Giants losing all but
    one of them But this year he’s seen a marked improvement fumbling only once in
    171 carries and none so far in the playoffs. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride no
    longer fears putting the ball in Bradshaw’s hands, and that has allowed the
    fifth-year tailback to quietly replace departed wideout Steve
    and tight end Kevin Boss in the
    passing game.

    “Ahmad’s done a great job catching little passes and
    getting yardage, getting big plays,” says Manning. “He’s just one of those
    players where you want to try to create touches for him, whether it’s the run
    game or screens, little check-downs where good things seem to happen. He makes
    guys miss. If you can get the ball in his hands, good things usually

    And when you get Bradshaw on the field, the Giants win. Want to
    know how a 7-6 team just praying to make the postseason has climbed to the brink
    of the Super Bowl? Look no further than Bradshaw’s return from a broken foot
    against the Green Bay Packers at the start of December.

    Including the
    postseason, the Giants have gone 5-2 since he re-entered the lineup, continuing
    a run of solid play with Bradshaw on the field. They are 10-4 with Bradshaw in
    action this season, just 1-3 without him, and their explosive offense cranks out
    26.9 points per game when Bradshaw suits up, 7.4 points per game better than
    their average without him.

    Even in an injury-plagued campaign that saw
    him post a career-low 3.9 yards per carry, Bradshaw has remained one of the most
    indispensable pieces of the Giants offense.

    “Whenever you can add
    somebody with Ahmad’s skills to an offense, we’re gonna progress, period,” says
    offensive lineman Kevin Boothe. “We were
    just fortunate enough to get him back. In whatever capacity we could have him,
    we need him.”

    The Giants cannot replace Bradshaw as a runner or receiver.
    As a runner, he is the team’s most effective short-yardage runner, a tailback so
    slight that Boothe says “you lose him in the pile.” He stretches defenses
    sideline-to-sideline in a way that neither Brandon Jacobs nor
    D.J. Ware can, and, even on a broken foot, he remains the team’s most reliable
    blocking back.

    “The way he chips (on blocks) is amazing,” says Carr. “One
    of the best blocking backs I’ve been around.”
    His return has also bolstered
    the shaky rushing attack. The Giants struggled to run the ball all season, but
    when Bradshaw returned, Boothe says, blocking became a little bit easier. Even
    if the results did not consistently show on the stat sheet, linebackers were a
    half-step slower to attack the offensive line, and the versatility of the
    Giants’ playbook practically doubled.

    “Him and Brandon, they’re so
    different,” says Boothe. “You can run plays over and over again, and it’s a
    different look, you’re getting a different running back. You’re getting a
    compact guy one play, then you’re getting a big bull the other. They balance
    each other out.”

    But that all pales in comparison to how important he has
    become to Manning. For years, the quarterback routinely dumped the ball off to
    Smith and Boss when he was in trouble, subliminally trusting both veterans to
    get open.

    When GM Jerry Reese let that
    pair go in the offseason, Manning was forced to learn to work with receiver Victor
    and tight end Jake Ballard.
    Eventually, the quarterback learned to do that, and both second-year players
    outperformed the veterans they replaced.

    But neither Ballard nor the
    salsa-dancing Cruz has proven to be an underneath target. Both players - and
    explosive receiver Hakeem Nicks - excel
    at making things happen down the field in the Giants’ pass-happy offense. Thus
    Bradshaw has become Manning’s trusted bailout target.

    “He’s that guy now,
    the underneath,” Nicks says of Bradshaw. “You put the ball in his hands on a
    short pass and he can get you a few yards or he can bust a big

    Often, Bradshaw makes his plays in the passing game by carefully
    reading the defense, then deviating from the scripted play. Carr says he often
    sees Bradshaw break off a route as soon as he sees an opening - much like a
    traditional slot receiver might do - and he often watches the tailback do as he
    did against Atlanta, throwing a quick block then sliding to an unguarded section
    of grass.

    “I just try to give Eli a target,” Bradshaw says. “That’s all
    I’m trying to do. I’ve been doing this stuff my whole career; it’s nothing

    Carr disagrees.

    “He’s probably one of the best around
    when it comes to finding the soft spot in the defense,” says Carr. “Even if he’s
    not supposed to be around the ball or be a receiver, he finds a soft spot and
    gets it done.”

    For better or worse, that has allowed Manning to play at
    his best with Bradshaw on the field, sitting in the pocket longer to search for
    big plays downfield, all the while knowing that he has a reliable checkdown
    option likely clapping for the ball if nothing is available. It’s no wonder
    Manning has a solid 2.3:1 TD-to-INT ratio with Bradshaw in the lineup. In the
    four games Bradshaw missed, however, Manning threw seven TDs and five

    And it’s little surprise that the Giants suddenly feel confident
    in their rushing attack. The fearsome San Francisco defense can throw everything
    it can at these Giants.

    Bradshaw is hardly worried.

    “It’s just
    about making plays man,” he says. “That’s it.”



    Excerpt: "The stomach bug was easy to beat, a snap. It went away by itself this week
    after 24 hours, without the slightest need for physical therapy. Fluids and
    rest. Eli Manning has been
    through much worse and still suited up for the next game. Always, for the next

    He battled through a chronic, stubborn case of plantar fasciitis in 2009 when
    he couldn’t put pressure on his back heel while throwing. He was bloodied by the
    Jets in a 2010 exhibition. None of that halted Manning’s ironman streak, which
    will reach 129 straight games, including playoffs, when he starts on Sunday in
    San Francisco.

    He has not missed a game since being named the starter in 2004. It is the
    third-longest streak for a quarterback in NFL history and it says much more
    about Manning than his quarterback rating. It says that he is rugged, and that
    he is ready. He doesn’t look that tough, not really. Manning still appears about
    20 years old, shoulders drooping and hair mussed. He doesn’t own the
    hard-broken-nosed silhouette of his brother, Peyton. But clearly he’s made of
    durable stuff. Eli bends, yet doesn’t break.

    “I work hard during the
    offseason, during the season,” Manning was saying on Friday, preparing to travel
    through the snow on Saturday to the West Coast. “There are things that are
    preventable, like muscle strains. And you know when the blitzes are coming so
    you don’t take a hit when you don’t have to. Part of it is luck. Then there’s
    eating right, getting sleep, conditioning, things you can control.”

    Manning knows you can get hit the wrong way and none of the groundwork
    matters. His own brother came back hard to earth, missing the whole season after
    his own streak of 227 straight games. Peyton Manning is an
    object lesson to his younger brother, in more than one way.

    You do what you can do, plan for the hit and hope for the best. When Eli was
    growing up in New Orleans, the kids at Isidore Newman School were still talking
    about how Peyton was always uncannily ready for anything. When the team bus
    broke down and a new driver came on, it was Peyton who sat up front and gave
    directions to the game.

    Eli learned from that, became the best sort of Boy Scout. “Be prepared.”

    “As a quarterback and a teammate, you want to show teammates you’re gonna be
    here,” Manning said. “You try not to walk through anything. You practice how you
    play. I enjoy practice. Let’s compete. Let’s learn things.”

    Here he is now in his eighth season, still learning, somehow still looking
    forward to the next time another defensive lineman runs straight for his upper
    body. His performances in the postseason have been a mixed bag over the years,
    dependent in part on the protection afforded him at the time. One thing is
    clear: As goes Manning, so goes the team.

    He posted a horrid 35.0 rating in 2006 against Carolina, in a blowout defeat.
    Manning was at 85.6 in another loss in 2007 to Philadelphia. During the Super
    Bowl run of 2008, Manning’s quarterback ratings were 117.1 vs.Tampa, 132.4
    against Dallas, 72.0 against Green Bay and 87.3 in the Super Bowl win over New
    England. He was a miserable 40.7 in a loss to the Eagles in 2008. So far this
    month, he has a 129.3 rating in the victory over Atlanta and 114.5 versus the

    Manning will never say this game on Sunday is all about him, but more likely
    than not it will be just that. The running game is merely a complementary weapon
    this season in the NFL, regardless of conditions.

    “The guys are ready,” Manning said, looking ahead to Sunday. “They’re amped
    up, but they’ve done a good job keeping their cool."

    Not as cool as Manning,
    tough guy. Speak softly, throw a big spiral."


    "Chris Canty said
    Sunday’s NFC Championship Game will be a “bloodbath,” but the Giants on Friday
    were as loose and confident as they’ve been all season.

    Tom Coughlin played
    the role of comedian through his press conference. Travis Beckum joked
    that he had read Jake Ballard’s MRI. Brandon Jacobs and
    Ahmad Bradshaw
    signed shoes for a teammate.

    No, the Giants weren’t ****y, Jason Pierre-Paul
    didn’t toss around casual guarantees and Antrel Rolle didn’t
    pound his chest, but a four-game winning streak — including postseason
    demolitions of the Atlanta Falcons and the powerful Green Bay Packers — has bred
    a confidence in the NFC East champs.

    It is an attitude that has been spearheaded throughout the week by the
    normally reserved Coughlin. The coach’s answers are usually terse, but on Friday
    he was unusually effusive and jovial.

    When asked if he’d done anything to prevent Eli Manning’s “24-hour
    bug” from spreading to the rest of the team, Coughlin joked that the entire team
    was wearing masks and washing their hands, just like a family might do if a
    sibling came home sick.

    Asked if the “procedure” done on Ballard’s injured knee would help on Sunday,
    Coughlin smiled and said: “What do you think (the medical staff does) in there?
    Play cards?”

    Defensive end Dave Tollefson
    attributed the shift in Coughlin’s demeanor to how the Giants have

    “He’s comfortable with where we’re at mentally as a team,” Tollefson said. “I
    think he’s just as excited. For a 65-year-old man to be jacked up for a game
    like this, I think it speaks for what this franchise is about.”

    The Giants all seem excited about the chance they will have on Sunday. Back
    in mid-December, at 7-7, they desperately held on to slim playoff hopes after a
    stunning loss to the Redskins.

    Things have changed dramatically since. Excitement has engulfed the locker

    “I think it’s a product of the way that we’ve been playing and the results
    that we’ve been getting,” said linebacker Mathias

    “It comes to the point where you believe 100% the other 10 guys on the field
    are going to do exactly what they need to do. So I think it makes us all very

    Added Pierre-Paul: “We’re excited just to go out there and play this football
    game and see where it takes us. We’re fired up and ready to play.”

    Between practice snaps on Friday, Tollefson and Canty savored what they have
    accomplished already.

    “Hey, man, we’re on the cusp,” Tollefson told Canty. “It’s all going down.
    It’s go time.”


    "Somebody needed to speak up. Anybody.

    It was late November, days after the Giants had been demolished by the Saints
    in New Orleans, their third straight loss in a season that was rapidly
    unraveling. A beleaguered Giants defense had just watched video of how it had
    been dissected by Drew Brees in an
    embarrassing 49-24 defeat.

    Now, there was only silence.

    That’s when Antrel Rolle made his
    move. The outspoken safety stood up and started pointing out mistakes and
    lackadaisical play by his teammates.

    His tirade left an impression: As the Giants head into San Francisco for the
    NFC Championship Game, many of Rolle’s teammates recall the moment as a key
    turning point of the season.

    “I remember it,” linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka
    says. “I remember the emotion that he had, the fervor he had. The things he said
    were right on point, and they all needed to be said.

    “(Rolle) is really quiet,” Kiwanuka adds. “Quiet until you turn on that

    This is the Antrel Rolle that people don’t often see. He has yapped plenty
    this season, talked about beating the Redskins “99 times out of 100,” about how
    his heart “doesn’t pump Kool-Aid,” about how he fears no man and expects to win
    every game. In his second season with the Giants, Rolle has oozed confidence and
    swagger, routinely delivering sound bites to anyone within earshot of his

    Teammates say they feed off his endless well of confidence, but it is this
    other, far more subtle Rolle who has helped propel the Giants to within one win
    of the Super Bowl. For as much as he has burnished a reputation as a loudmouth
    trash talker, when he is around his teammates, the 29-year-old safety picks his
    spots, making his words far more meaningful.

    “He’s actually kind of quiet,” says defensive end Justin Tuck. “He
    doesn’t talk much in the locker room. I know (the media) would be surprised by
    that. For the most part, he’s just a cool, calm guy. You don’t see much.”

    It is this Rolle who has endeared himself to the Giants, earning the respect
    that allows his words to carry weight. A season ago, teammates say, they had
    little understanding of the player who routinely clashed with disciplinarian coach
    Tom Coughlin

    He hadn’t proven anything then, but this season, he has. Due to a rash of
    injuries to the Giants defense, Rolle has played all over the field, lining up
    as a deep safety, a run-stopping safety close to the line of scrimmage, a
    cornerback and a nickel back.

    He has guarded wide receivers, tailbacks, fullbacks and tight ends, and while
    he has made mistakes on the field, he has not bristled over his
    jack-of-all-trades usage. Instead, he turned the opportunities into a
    career-high 96 tackles in the regular season.

    “We’ve asked him to do a lot of things, moving to positions, playing nickel
    corner,” says Kiwanuka. “He’s never once complained. That’s a big thing. You see
    a guy who’s maybe not the biggest guy, but he’s hitting harder than everybody,
    working harder.”

    And he’s run nearly every defensive video session. Most weeks, the defense
    gets together at a player’s house for extra video work, and in those sessions,
    said rookie linebacker Mark Herzlich, Rolle
    is often the player leading the session. He has also met privately with rookie
    Prince Amukamara
    to help the first-year corner through the playbook, and often gives safety Kenny
    tips on offensive players.

    “He says what you need to hear,” Phillips says. “Not much more than that. And
    it helps.

    Meanwhile, Rolle has helped the secondary work through its early-season
    struggles. The Giants have held two star quarterbacks — the Falcons’ Matt Ryan and
    Packers MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers — in
    check the last two weeks, largely because Rolle kept the unit afloat while it
    was being shredded earlier in the season by the likes of Brees and Tom

    “He never let the DBs get down on themselves,” says backup quarterback David Carr,
    who has watched Rolle inspire the secondary on the sidelines. “He always gets
    their spirits up. You see a guy when they get beat on a play, (Rolle) is always
    over there. In those points where we struggled, he was always like, ‘Let’s
    tighten up the coverage even more. Let’s make those guys make plays.’ It’s nice
    to watch.”

    That’s why the Giants listen when Rolle speaks. That tirade following the
    Saints game spawned a renewed pass rush against the Packers at MetLife Stadium
    the following week. Two weeks later, after an awful loss to the Redskins, a
    frustrated Rolle chose to lash out in public, begging teammates to get out on
    the practice field, even if they had a few nicks and bruises.

    Coughlin later said he did not agree with Rolle’s handling of the situation,
    but the words still fueled Tuck and other players. In the first practice after
    Rolle’s public jabs, nearly every Giant was on the field. So was Rolle, who has
    not missed a practice all season.

    “That’s one thing I like about (Rolle),” Tuck says. “In regards to what he’s
    said, he backs it up. That’s all we ask in this locker room: that if you say
    something, you back it up.”


    "Two key components of the Giants' aerial attack were added to the injury list
    Friday, but both pass-catchers said it will take a lot more than their recurrent
    ailments to keep them out of Sunday's NFC Championship Game against San
    “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” MB Rule # 1

  • #2

    Appreciate it RF! That's a lot of work my man.

    Blood & Mud at the Stick. Love it.

    Go Big Blue!


    • #3

      Thanks RF! I'm positively pumped up for the game tomorrow! Go gmen!


      • #4
        Re: NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS, AND GOSSIP: SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012 - 11:15 A.M.

        [quote user="NY_Eli"]Thanks RF! I'm positively pumped up for the game tomorrow! Go gmen![/quote]

        “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” MB Rule # 1


        • #5
          Re: NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS, AND GOSSIP: SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012 - 11:15 A.M.

          [quote user="fourth&forever"]Appreciate it RF! That's a lot of work my man.

          Blood & Mud at the Stick. Love it.

          Go Big Blue![/quote]

          “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” MB Rule # 1


          • #6
            Re: NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS, AND GOSSIP: SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012 - 11:15 A.M.

            Thanks RF !
            " Success is never final, but failure can be " B.P.


            • #7
              Re: NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS, AND GOSSIP: SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012 - 11:15 A.M.

              [quote user="G-Men Surg."]Thanks RF ![/quote]

              “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” MB Rule # 1


              • #8
                Re: NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS, AND GOSSIP: SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012 - 11:15 A.M.

                That's for the info,great reads all Thanks!


                • #9
                  Re: NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS, AND GOSSIP: SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012 - 11:15 A.M.

                  [quote user="Voldamort"]That's for the info,great reads all Thanks![/quote]

                  “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” MB Rule # 1


                  • #10
                    Re: NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS, AND GOSSIP: SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012 - 11:15 A.M.

                    thanks Roanoke! [B]

                    one more step to the dance! we should make it!

                    Go Giants!



                    • #11
                      Re: NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS, AND GOSSIP: SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012 - 11:15 A.M.

                      thanks Ro....

                      less than 24 hours to go.....

                      "Measure Twice......Cut Once"
                      You couldn't be more full of **** if you were break dancing in a Port-a-Potty.......Kruunch


                      • #12
                        Re: NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS, AND GOSSIP: SATURDAY, JANUARY 21, 2012 - 11:15 A.M.

                        [quote user="GameTime"]

                        thanks Ro....

                        less than 24 hours to go.....


                        Nail biting starts soon []
                        “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” MB Rule # 1