GREEN BAY – Eli Manning never would have guessed after winning his second Super Bowl that it’d be another five years before making the playoffs again.
Yet, that’s how things have played out for the Giants and their veteran quarterback, who recently turned 36 and is out to make the most of this long-awaited return to the postseason, which begins in Green Bay in the wild-card round on Sunday afternoon.
“You don’t know if you’ll get more shots, and after these last couple years you know how hard it is to get here,” Manning told Green Bay media in a conference call Wednesday afternoon, a day after successfully downplaying in the New York media his receivers’ off-day trip to Miami.
“You want to try to take advantage of it.”
This year has been a steady progression for the Giants as they’ve rebuilt their defense and found a late-season running game.
The offseason free-agent acquisitions of defensive lineman Damon Harrison, pass rusher Olivier Vernon and cornerback Janoris Jenkins helped vault New York from one of the worst defenses statistically in the league to No. 10 this year in total yards and No. 2 in points allowed.
On offense, the Giants were dealing with multiple injuries in the backfield when they lost to the Packers at Lambeau Field back in Week 5. UCLA rookie Paul Perkins has now emerged as the team’s most productive back as New York has topped 100 yards rushing as a team in six of its last eight games and averaged just under 130 rushing yards in the last three contests.
“If you’re going to change, it takes time,” said first-year head coach Ben McAdoo, a longtime Packers offensive assistant. “You can’t snap your fingers. You have to throw effort at it, you have to work at it, and it took some time to get it going. But we were committed to it, and the players were committed to it.”
Manning said defenses lately have been giving the Giants “clean boxes” to run the ball against, and Perkins has provided “a little burst of speed” to take advantage.
“I think we’ve developed into a physical football team, a team that has been battle-tested and had some tough, close games,” McAdoo said.
Indeed, of the Giants’ 11 victories this year – which include two wins over the NFC’s top-seeded Cowboys – eight of them have come by seven points or less.
Manning’s past postseason success at Lambeau Field on the way to those two Super Bowls is well-documented, but neither he nor McAdoo is counting on that to give the Giants an edge.
“Different teams, different players, different coaches” was their message in that regard, though Manning said this team’s success late in games has sparked memories.
“When you win games, you have reminders,” he said. “The way we’re able to win close games, as many as we’ve had this year, making plays in the fourth quarter, that reminds me of some of those other teams.”
As for their view of the Packers, Manning is waiting to see exactly how Green Bay’s banged-up secondary lines up against him on Sunday.
McAdoo feels the Giants have “three starting corners” in Jenkins, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple to match up against the Packers’ passing attack, and he mentioned that receiver Jordy Nelson already “looks like he’s in the second year” after knee surgery the way he playing.
The key figure is of course QB Aaron Rodgers, whom McAdoo knows as well as any opposing coach in the league following their time together, which included two seasons (2012-13) with McAdoo as Rodgers’ position coach. Like everyone else, he can’t help but notice the hot streak Rodgers is on.
“I just see a guy that’s playing with an edge,” McAdoo said. “He’s playing very confident. His fundamentals look good. He’s confident in the players around him that they’re going to make plays for him, and he’s playing with a killer instinct.”
The fact that McAdoo’s first postseason game as a head coach is in Green Bay against former boss Mike McCarthy and former pupil Rodgers makes for a nice storyline, but to McAdoo it will matter only if his Giants win.
“I’ve had two homecomings, one in Green Bay and one in Pittsburgh, and neither went well so far,” McAdoo said, referring also to New York’s 10-point loss to the Steelers a month ago. “I’m not going to spend much time talking about the homecomings.”
Just like Manning doesn’t want to spend too much time thinking about, well, Father Time.
“I understand I’m closer to the end of my career than the beginning, and you don’t know what’s going to happen the next years,” he said. “You just understand you want to take advantage of every opportunity, and don’t let a great opportunity slip away.”