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Giants thump Falcons to set up showdown vs. Packers

Defensive end Osi Umenyiorcelebrates after Giants’ wild-card victory ­Sunday against Falcons MetLife Stadium. | Matt Slocum~AP

Defensive end Osi Umenyiora celebrates after the Giants’ wild-card victory ­Sunday against the Falcons at MetLife Stadium. | Matt Slocum~AP

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Updated: February 10, 2012 9:02AM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Spread throughout the country, resting and relaxing, some Green Bay Packers surely watched the New York Giants on Sunday and flashed back to a year ago.

The Packers are the NFC’s top seed now, but they were the latecomers to the playoff party last postseason, then declared themselves legitimate contenders after thumping the Atlanta Falcons in a divisional-round matchup.

The Giants served notice to the rest of the NFC that they shouldn’t be taken lightly after their 24-2 wild-card victory over the Falcons before 79,909 at MetLife Stadium.

“[The Packers] are a very confident team, and they’ve beaten us before,” Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. “I don’t think they’re thinking, ‘Oh, the Giants are coming to kill us,’ or anything like that. But they’re probably thinking they’re going to win the game. And if I was them, I’d be thinking the same thing. But hopefully we’ll go out there and shock the world.”

The Packers, though, apparently are wary of the Giants.

“The team that kept us from our potential Super Bowl in ’08 is back on OUR turf now,” Packers Pro Bowl receiver Greg Jennings wrote on his Twitter account. “Trust me, we haven’t forgotten.”

In the NFC title game during the 2007 postseason, the Giants upset the Packers 23-20 in overtime at Lambeau Field en route to a victory in Super Bowl XLII.

Entering the weekend, the Packers seemed to be overwhelming Super Bowl favorites. They do, after all, boast a 15-1 record, the league’s best quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and a roster loaded with talented players.

But the New Orleans Saints looked impressive in a 45-28 victory Saturday over the Detroit Lions, and the Giants seemingly erased an entire season of dysfunction to peak at the right time.

The NFL’s bottom-ranked run offense in the regular season pounded the No. 6 run defense for 5.5 yards per run and 172 rushing yards. And the league’s 27th-ranked defense limited the Falcons’ 10th-ranked offense to 247 net yards, a long play of only 21 yards (a catch by receiver Roddy White) and zero points.

The measly two points came early in the second quarter, when Falcons safety James Sanders blitzed and forced Giants quarterback Eli Manning to throw the ball away. But Manning was flagged for intentional grounding, and the Falcons were awarded a safety.

The Giants, though, hardly did anything else wrong, particularly in the second half.

Given a choice, the Packers certainly would’ve picked the Falcons to win.

They routed Atlanta 48-21 last year in the postseason, and they beat them 25-14 at the Georgia Dome earlier this season.

The Giants almost handed the Packers their first loss on Dec. 4. But Rodgers engineered a five-play, 68-yard drive in less than a minute to set up a game-winning, 31-yard field goal by Mason Crosby.

But this is a vastly different Giants team from a month ago.

Giants safety Antrel Rolle said this was one of the finest defensive efforts he can recall in quite some time, and the offense — as it had most of the season — didn’t rely solely on Manning.

Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs provided the one-two punch on the ground, and Manning was still sharp, connecting on 23 of 32 passes for 277 yards with three touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Umenyiora predicted that next Sunday’s showdown won’t be like the Packers’ 38-35 victory from last month.

“It’s going to be a very, very good game,” he said. “I think it’s going to be different.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as high-scoring. I just don’t think it’s going to be like that. I think we’re going to play better defense, and I think they’re going to play better defense.”

The Saints will have to prove against the San Francisco 49ers that their explosive offense can be effective outdoors. But, overall, the Giants might pose the greatest threat to the Packers’ repeat championship bid.

Especially if they play like they did against the Falcons.

The Packers thrive on creating turnovers and picking opposing defenses apart. But the Giants completely controlled this game, possessing the ball for more than 34 minutes. They also might have the best defensive line left in the playoff field. Their secondary is full of holes, but the steady and consistent Matt Ryan buckled under the pressure of the Giants’ front. Ryan only was sacked twice, but he was pressured at least seven times.

“Aaron Rodgers is a pretty good quarterback,” Giants defensive tackle Chris Canty said. “We got our work cut out for us. But we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

Added Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul: “We are going to go out there and give all our effort, and we are going to walk away with a win.”

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