Three is a charm for Tynes, Giants

Times Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The circumstances could not have been much tougher.

With the windchill factor approaching minus-30 degrees, kicking the football felt like kicking a piece of cardboard.

And Lawrence Tynes couldn’t have been feeling confident after hooking two field-goal tries -- two potential game winners -- wide left.

But with the New York Giants facing a crucial fourth down in overtime -- try an improbable 47-yard field goal or try for a first down -- Tynes did not wait for his coach to decide.

“I just ran on the field,” he said. “I kind of made the decision for him.”


Moments later, his kick sailed through the uprights, giving the Giants a 23-20 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC championship game at sub-zero Lambeau Field on Sunday night.

It was a symbolic finish for the Giants, who withstood an 0-2 start this season, withstood criticism from the New York media and, finally, withstood the Packers and the elements to reach Super Bowl XLII.

“We like to make things exciting on this team,” quarterback Eli Manning deadpanned. “This is another example.”

Now they face the undefeated New England Patriots as heavy underdogs in the title game Feb. 3, although at least one person isn’t counting them out.

“I think they can win two weeks from now,” Packers quarterback Brett Favre said. “I wouldn’t put it past them.”

For Favre, the defeat in front of a record crowd of 72,740 at Lambeau was devastating. He thought that when Tynes missed the two fourth-quarter field-goal tries, the Packers were destined to win.

Instead, on the second play of overtime, Favre threw slightly behind a receiver and cornerback Corey Webster, part of a banged-up New York secondary, stepped in front of Donald Driver, the intended receiver, for an interception.

“I got a good jam on him at the line of scrimmage,” Webster said. “Then I was able to jump the route a little bit.”

It was a rough night for both teams dealing with one of the coldest games in NFL history, cold enough to sting bare skin and turn faces bright red.

For every pass completion, there was a ball that thudded off numb hands. Kicks and punts wobbled through the air. Running backs struggled to get started.

As underdogs, the Giants pinned their hopes on stopping the Packers’ young running back Ryan Grant. They devised a defensive strategy after watching film of Green Bay’s victory over Seattle last week, when Grant gained much of his 201 yards on cutbacks.

“We called it the ‘Great Wall of China,’ ” linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “Everybody builds that wall and don’t let him cross that line.”

The tactic worked -- Grant finished with 29 yards -- and New York built an early 6-0 lead on two Tynes field goals. But Favre wasn’t going down that easily.

In the second quarter, he pump-faked left, faked a handoff, then lobbed a pass down the right side where Driver had streaked past none other than Webster.

The 90-yard touchdown play, and a field goal a few minutes later, gave Green Bay a 10-6 lead at halftime.

The teams traded scores in the third quarter, the Packers hurting themselves with penalties. But after Favre ran the play-action to perfection, throwing a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Donald Lee for a 17-13 lead, the Green Bay offense began to struggle and it was Manning who looked like a veteran.

Check the numbers. Favre passed for 236 yards, two touchdowns and two costly interceptions; Manning finished with 254 yards and no turnovers.

“We got pressure on him, got a lot of hits on him,” Green Bay defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said of Manning. “But he just did a good job staying in the pocket, finding his open receivers.”

It was no secret the Green Bay defense preferred man-to-man coverage, pressing receivers off the line, so Manning aimed his throws high, letting big Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer outreach the smaller defensive backs.

And when the Packers kicked a 37-yard field goal to tie the score, 20-20, early in the fourth quarter, Manning calmly drove his team back downfield on two occasions.

The problem was, the usually reliable Tynes missed a 43-yard field-goal try with about seven minutes remaining and a 36-yard try -- the snap was high -- as time expired in regulation.

So when overtime came around, did New York Coach Tom Coughlin consider going for it on fourth and five? Not when his kicker immediately ran onto the field.

“That was a good sign that Lawrence felt he could make it,” Coughlin said.

This time, Tynes judged the wind a little better, reading a right-to-left break. And, after kicking the ball, he didn’t wait around to watch, sprinting straight for the locker room.

Tynes said he knew it was good and, besides, “I just wanted to get out of the cold.”