Talk about your six geese-a-laying.
Quarterback Eli Manning did his best St. Nick impression with four interceptions on the afternoon, including three in the fourth quarter. New York's two-headed backfield monster of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw chipped in with a fumble a piece in the third quarter. Throw in the performance by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who returned from a concussion to throw for a regular-season career-high 404 yards and four touchdowns, and this game wasn't going to end any other way.
"If you get six turnovers, that's a win. It means you're going to win," said cornerback Tramon Williams, whose first-quarter pick at midfield got things started. "If we get six turnovers and the offense is playing the way they do, won't nobody beat us. But we have to do it consistently. That's been the main thing all year."
And that's also why Green Bay was playing for its playoff life in the second-to-last game of the season. Ghosts of losses past against Miami, Washington and Detroit made this a must win. For all intents and purposes, the playoffs started for the Packers on Sunday and they all knew it.
"It's one of six (playoff games)," linebacker Desmond Bishop said, adding up the games at the end of the regular season with a run to the Super Bowl. "We knew it's win or go home, and we ain't ready to go home yet."
Entering the game, the Giants led the league with 35 giveaways, behind Manning's league-high 20 interceptions. The Packers knew they had to do better than last week, when they came up empty on three or four chances to take the ball away from the Patriots.
"It was one of our ‘musts,' defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "We always have three or four ‘musts' for the game. We knew it was going to be a physical game because of the nature of their running game, with those two backs – they're very physical runners. We wanted to be ready to play a physical game in the run game. If they get their run game going, it's awful hard to call a game. When we had our opportunities, we came up."
Williams' interception keyed a 10-play, 44-yard drive that ended with a 3-yard Rodgers-to-James Jones touchdown that put Green Bay up 14-0. Manning threw for two scores of his own – including an 86-yarder to Mario Manningham when Williams misjudged the ball – that tied the game. That was about the last thing that went right for the Giants. Green Bay pushed the halftime lead to 21-14 when John Kuhn ran it in from 8 yards.
Then, just three plays after the break, New York ran a direct snap to Bradshaw on third-and-2 from the Green Bay 41-yard line but Charles Woodson stripped him as he went around the left end. Safety Atari Bigby recovered. It was Woodson's fifth forced fumble of the year, a career high and one off league leaders Roman Harper of New Orleans and James Harrison of Pittsburgh. Eight plays later, Mason Crosby hit a 31-yard field goal to make it 24-14.
Looking to cut into a 31-14 lead later in the quarter, Manning handed off to Jacobs, who powered behind right guard Chris Snee for a 21-yard gain. But chasing Jacobs was linebacker Clay Matthews, who punched the ball out of Jacobs' right arm near the sideline. After an acrobatic tap between the legs to keep it in bounds by Bishop, it was recovered by safety Nick Collins. Giants coach Tom Coughlin threw his red flag, but the replay confirmed the call on the field.
"I wanted to get it so bad," Bishop said. "My momentum was taking me out of bounds and I didn't want to go out of bounds because it would be a dead ball, so I just tipped it back, kept it in play and hopefully one of our guys would get it, and I was fortunate enough that we got it."
While that play would ultimately lead to a Packers punt, the Manning meltdown was about to get under way. Three of the Giants' final four drives ended with interceptions. Nickel back Sam Shields snagged a deep pass down the left sideline intended for Derek Hagan. Green Bay capitalized, with a Rodgers-to-Kuhn scoring toss.
Then Manning heaved it deep left again, only to be picked off by Collins. Six plays later, Kuhn scored his third touchdown of the day.
Looking for some measure of pride at the end of the game, Manning went short over the middle to Jacobs, but the ball was snatched away by linebacker A.J. Hawk, for his career-high third pick of the season.
"I had four today and there's not one that wasn't my fault, so I've got to be smarter with the ball," Manning understated. "At the end of the game, when you're in desperate mode, you try to force some things and they didn't go my way."
Now the challenge is duplicating this performance, or at least the end result, this coming Sunday against the Chicago Bears in the regular-season finale. Win, and you punch your own ticket to the postseason. Lose, and Green Bay will be watching the scoreboard, hoping for help.
"It was a great atmosphere to play in, but we didn't feel added pressure or anything like that," Hawk said. "You know what's on the line when you step into a game like this and it's fun to be a part of. We got the win and now we get a chance to go do it again next week."
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W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at email@example.com.