Packers-Giants notebook

Playing at home sweet for McCarthy; coach had faith in Grant; player notes

Mike McCarthy admits that he isn't much fun with whom to watch a football game on TV, but the head coach apparently couldn't contain himself viewing the end of the Dallas-New York Giants playoff matchup Sunday night by himself at Lambeau Field.

"It was of excitement," McCarthy said a short time later in a press conference. "I can't show you right here, as I stand here, but very excited."

The Giants' 21-17 upset win over the top-seeded Cowboys means second-seeded Green Bay will host New York in the NFC Championship on Sunday.

The Packers, who eliminated Seattle 42-20 on Saturday, were awaiting the outcome of the Giants-Cowboys game to know whom they would be playing and where the following weekend. A Dallas win would have sent Green Bay to Texas Stadium for a spot in the Super Bowl.

The Packers last hosted the NFC title game in the 1996 season, when they went on to win Super Bowl XXXI over the New England Patriots.

"I'm just excited about having the game here at Lambeau Field," McCarthy said. "To have the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field is just wonderful for the Green Bay community, for our fans, especially after our fans' performance (Saturday). Just to bring the game here is really the excitement that we're all feeling right now."

McCarthy referred to the whipping of the Seahawks, who were staked to an early 14-0 lead, as his team's best game of the season. The Packers offense scored touchdowns on six straight possessions to take control, and the defense held Seattle to two field goals the final 55 minutes.

After having a day off Sunday, the players reconvened Monday morning for strength and conditioning workouts. They had meetings in the afternoon.

The team is back on a traditional game-week schedule, with practice resuming Wednesday.

No thought of replacing Grant early on
Whereas rookie receiver James Jones was quickly yanked from the Week 5 loss to Chicago when he had a pair of costly fumbles in the first half, McCarthy cut halfback Ryan Grant some slack after his two fumbles in the first three offensive plays Saturday led to the 14-0 deficit against Seattle.

Grant remained in the game and atoned for the turnovers by setting franchise records in the postseason with 201 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

McCarthy explained Sunday that his decision-making on promptly benching Jones, while sticking with Grant stemmed from different situations.

"James' situation was using poor technique," McCarthy said. "I thought Ryan's first turnover, the ball was thrown behind him - it was actually the only minus throw Brett (Favre) had all day. (Grant's) body was contorted, and he was unable to get himself in position. The second one, he had his pads too high. It was bad technique. We corrected it and went on.

"So, I have a lot of faith in Ryan. I have a lot of faith in James Jones. That's why we picked up with him the next game and never looked back."

Who woulda thunk the Giants-Packers going this far?
For the first time since the end of the 2000 season, the New York Giants will be playing in the NFC Championship Game.

For the first time since 1961, they'll be playing it in Green Bay with the fabled Packers, their opponents the second game of the 2007 season, on the other side of the frozen football.

What a strange season it has been for both teams, neither of them considered NFC favorites or even close to that when the season began. This was a season for Dallas and Philadelphia, for New Orleans and Chicago, not for the Giants and the Packers.

Yet now that most of the dust has settled, there they are, and in the Giants' case it is perhaps even more remarkable. They didn't win the NFC East title, you see. That would be the Cowboys, who succumbed in their home stadium Sunday, 21-17, failing to stop the Giants' avalanche.

Now the Giants, with a cumulative record of 12-6, are heading to Green Bay's frozen wastes, one step removed from their first Super Bowl since XXXV, and the road has proven to be their ally this season. They were 7-1 away from home during the season - winning the last seven of the schedule - and won two more in the playoffs, bringing the road record to 9-1 and setting a league record with nine straight wins away from home.

If they make it 10 in a row, they will find themselves in Arizona for Super Bowl XLII, and how amazing would that be considering that when the season began they were generally figured to be a .500 team at best and that their head coach, Tom Coughlin, was poised with slightly more than one foot out the door since the Giants' management was going to have to begin a major revision.

Now? There is no chance he won't be offered a new contract, there is no way the Giants will have a reconstruction problem next season and, for the moment, their only concern is how to beat the Packers and complete this most unlikely of seasons.

And while the story lines are a myriad of crossed and tangled wires, understand that both quarterbacks - Eli Manning and Brett Favre - are Louisiana natives transplanted far from home; that one of them is 38 years old and the other is 25; and that in Eli's case, most of the fans around the country think it's his older brother Peyton, who won the Super Bowl last February for the Indianapolis Colts.

Packers-Giants player notes
-- CB Will Blackmon is expected to start practicing again this week and has a good chance to be up for Sunday's NFC Championship against the Giants. Blackmon aggravated a right foot injury in the regular-season finale Dec. 30. He was held out of contact drills in practice last week and was deactivated Saturday for the divisional-round win over Seattle.

-- CB Tramon Williams filled in for Will Blackmon as the nickel back on defense and the punt returner Saturday. Williams graded out well for his play on defense, so he'll probably remain in the nickel role even if Blackmon can play Sunday.

-- NT Ryan Pickett wasn't rusty in his first game action in nearly a month. He anchored a strong run defense against the Seahawks by making four tackles. Pickett missed the final two regular-season games after suffering a groin injury Dec. 16 at St. Louis.

-- TE Bubba Franks had only one catch Saturday, but he had an instrumental role for the high-powered offense, which scored a touchdown in six straight possessions after the team fell behind 14-0. Franks, who missed most of the regular season with a knee injury, was utilized frequently as an extra blocker.

-- RB Brandon Jackson acquitted himself in the game after committing a roughing-the-punter penalty in the second quarter that led to a field goal to keep Seattle within striking distance at 21-17. The rookie responded with a 13-yard, catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter and spelled Ryan Grant at halfback down the stretch, finishing with 34 yards in eight carries.

-- DE Justin Tuck, when told after the Giants' victory that Dallas owner Jerry Jones bought tickets for all his players for the NFC Championship Game next Sunday in Dallas, just smiled: "I hope he has a refund policy," he said. "He could lose some money otherwise."

-- LT David Diehl, who converted from left guard this season and didn't miss a game, was all smiles, too. "I'm from Chicago and when I didn't root for the Bears I rooted for the Packers," he said. "Now we're going to Green Bay for the conference championship and I can't describe how awesome that will be."

-- LCB Aaron Ross left the game with a dislocated shoulder, but said it was "popped back in" and that he felt reasonably OK after the game. "It's not going to be a problem," he said. "I'll play next week. Nothing could make me miss that game."

-- WR Plaxico Burress, who has become a vocal supporter of QB Eli Manning, contends he hasn't changed and hasn't become more mature: "He's pretty much been the same person all year. We started fast, then had some games where we couldn't throw the way we wanted to, but he's playing well and he always has had the confidence. If he keeps on playing this way, we'll be going to Arizona (Super Bowl XLII)."

-- C Shaun O'Hara, who returned after missing the first playoff game against Tampa Bay, echoed the statement of several players. "You play each game one at a time and you don't look ahead," he said. "What a team has done the previous week, or for the entire season until this moment, doesn't really count."

-- The Giants' astounding rookie crop continued to make major contributions against Dallas. RB Ahmad Bradshaw gained 34 yards in six carries as the backup to starter Brandon Jacobs and had a key seven-yard run from the Dallas 8-yard line to set up a Jacobs smash up the middle for the Giants' winning TD.

Rookie WR Steve Smith had four catches for 48 yards including two for 33 in the Giants' TD drive in the waning seconds of the first half that allowed them to go into the locker room for orange slices and drinks tied at 14-14. WR Domenik Hixon had three kickoff returns for 93 yards, including a 45-yarder.

-- On the other side of the chronological calendar was WR Amani Toomer, 34 years old and a 12-year Giant veteran, who had four catches for 80 yards and a 52-yard TD. "I've just got to find a way to relieve all this," he said. "It's amazing."

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