GREEN BAY, Wis. — Eli Manning has arrived, and just in time to take his New York Giants on an improbable trip to the Super Bowl.
A suddenly matured Manning guided the Giants to their 10th straight road win Sunday, a frostbitten 23-20 overtime victory over Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers for the NFC championship.
Now comes Mission Impossible: playing the unbeaten New England Patriots in two weeks for the NFL title.
Manning wasn’t the only Giant who came through. Lawrence Tynes kicked the winning 47-yard field goal with 12:25 to go after two earlier misses. He missed a 36-yarder at the end of regulation following a bad snap, and also was wide left on a 43-yarder with 6:49 remaining.
But he got a reprieve in overtime after Corey Webster intercepted a struggling Favre. He nailed his kick, then sprinted directly to the locker room while the rest of his frozen teammates celebrated on the field.
“I screwed it up twice,” Tynes said. “Thank God we got another opportunity.”
The Giants grabbed their first NFC championship in seven years, capping a monthlong surge that reversed a trend of mediocrity built around Manning’s inconsistency. He has been a revelation in the playoffs, however, and his calm leadership keyed New York’s turnaround.
Manning shook off below-zero temperatures and a wind chill that would make a Siberian husky shiver. He repeatedly put the Giants (13-6) in position to win in the third-coldest championship game ever — and certainly the most frigid of his young career.
And then he saw Tynes make his first game-winning field goal of the season in the first OT title game in nine years.
“We haven’t been given a shot, but we’re here and I think we’re deserving of it,” Manning said. “Right now I’m excited as I can be.”
Last year older brother Peyton finally won a Super Bowl, earning MVP honors to boot. He stayed away Sunday, but father Archie and mother Olivia were on hand for the biggest moment of their youngest son’s career.
As for Favre, his emotions were clear.
“I was disappointed that the last pass I threw was intercepted.”
Just a month ago, Eli’s moxie was being questioned as the Giants struggled to clinch a wild-card berth. He responded with the best work of his four-year career, including four touchdown passes in the season finale against the Patriots.
He and the Giants are getting another shot at New England, the first team to go 18-0. The Patriots will be after their fourth Super Bowl title in seven years on Feb. 3 at Glendale, Ariz., as well as the first completely perfect season since Miami went 17-0 in 1972.
But don’t discount New York, which led the Patriots by 12 points in the third quarter before falling 38-35 on Dec. 29.
“We just came out here and played our hearts out,” said Plaxico Burress, who had a career-high 11 catches for 154 yards.
The Giants have won at Tampa and Dallas since, and now at Lambeau Field, where they shut down Brett Favre nearly all game.
Favre, seeking a return to the Super Bowl after a decade’s absence, struggled in the minus-3 degree temperature and wind-chills that reached minus-24. He wound up 19-for-35 for 236 yards and two interceptions. The second, by Corey Webster in overtime, set up Tynes’ winner.
When Tynes missed a 43-yard field goal with 6:49 remaining, it was just a temporary setback. And when he flopped on the kick that ended regulation, Tynes could only ask for one more try.
Webster gave it to him, and he sent the Giants into the Super Bowl.
New York was aided greatly by four penalties against the Packers during the Giants’ seven-minute, 69-yard march to begin the second half. Brandon Jacobs bolted in from about an inch out after successive offside calls just moments after his third-down fumble was recovered by tight end Kevin Boss. But the biggest miscue was Nick Collins’ 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on Manning, whose throw was blocked on a third-down play.
Jacobs faked a Lambeau Leap after his score, incensing the hardy souls in the full house of 72,470.
They were stamping their frozen feet in delight seconds later when Tramon Williams, seemingly trapped along the left sideline, cut right and returned the kickoff 49 yards to the New York 39. Then it was the Giants’ turn to commit a costly, senseless penalty when Sam Madison negated a third-down stop with a personal foul against Vernand Morency.
Favre immediately pounced with a brilliant play-fake that sprung tight end Donald Lee free in the back of the end zone for a 12-yard TD reception and a 17-13 lead.
With the footing holding on a field heated by pipes underneath, Domenik Hixon got the Giants’ next scoring drive started with a 33-yard kickoff runback. Then, Manning kept picking apart the Packers’ staple man coverage, a 23-yard diving catch by Amani Toomer setting up rookie Ahmad Bradshaw’s 4-yard TD run.
Rookie Mason Crosby’s 37-yard field goal tied it 20-20 after a huge break for the Packers. Favre’s desperation heave was intercepted by R.W. McQuarters deep in New York territory, but he fumbled when he was hit by Grant on his return. Tackle Mark Tauscher recovered, giving the Packers another life.
Manning was, well, cool on New York’s first series, driving the Giants 71 yards on 14 plays, going 5-for-8 for 55 yards before Tynes kicked a 29-yarder.
Green Bay went backward on its next series, an ugly three-and-out on which Favre passed three times, all behind the line of scrimmage. Total yardage: minus-3 yards.
Just as unseemly was 20-year veteran punter Jeff Feagles’ first kick in a championship game on New York’s next possession, a 21-yard shank.
After Tynes nailed a 37-yarder for a 6-0 lead, Koren Robinson had Packers fans holding their breath as he overran the kickoff, then bobbled it before recovering at the Green Bay 10. Then Favre and Donald Driver took their breath away with the longest pass in team playoff history.
The cagey veteran receiver shook off a bump by Webster to break free as Favre double-pumped. Driver caught the ball at the 29 and raced the final 71 yards being chased by three Giants. None came close to preventing Driver’s first touchdown in four months.
Favre extended his NFL record with his 18th straight postseason game with a TD pass. Few have been so spectacular.
Crosby added a 36-yard field goal with 1:30 left in the half for a 10-6 lead. But Burress snatched the ball from Al Harris for a 32-yard completion, then dropped a long pass near the Green Bay end zone.
Most players from both teams sprinted to the locker rooms at halftime the way Driver sped away from defenders on his touchdown.