EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The NFC road to the Super Bowl will run through the Meadowlands because the New York Giants did what they had to do against frigid, swirling wind — run the ball.
Derrick Ward ran for career-best 215 yards and set up Brandon Jacobs’ winning 2-yard touchdown run with 9:57 left in overtime and the Super Bowl champion Giants re-established themselves as the team to beat by earning the NFC’s top seed for the postseason with a thrilling 34-28 comeback victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday night.
“It’s great for our fans to be able to play here at Giants Stadium,” quarterback Eli Manning said after the Giants (12-3) snapped a two-game losing streak by rushing for a season-high 301 yards. “You never know what the weather is going to be like here. We’re used to playing in those cold and windy games and I would like to think we would have the advantage in some of those. I think it will be fun playing the games at home.”
The fans who braved the numbing wind chill has plenty of fun watching this one. They tossed snowballs onto the field earlier and threw it like confetti when Jacobs won the game.
“The last two weeks we’ve been disgraceful running the ball,” said Ward, whose total was the fourth highest in Giants’ history. “We’ve had our doubters, that we hit our peak in the past. We knew that we could run the ball. That’s what the New York Giants are. We run the ball.”
New York had clinched a first-round bye earlier in the day when Atlanta beat Minnesota, then added the icing on this frosty night by beating Carolina (11-4) in the winner-take-all game for the NFC’s top seed.
“The only message we sent tonight is that team is getting that swagger back that we had last year at the end of the season,” middle linebacker Antonio Pierce said. “They’re going to fight for 60 minutes, overtime, cold weather, being down. To keep fighting, that’s what I’m most proud of.”
New York forced the overtime when Jacobs plowed into the end zone from a yard out, and Manning hit Domenik Hixon on a slant pattern for the tying 2-point conversion with 3:21 to play.
Jacobs, who was sidelined in last week’s loss to Dallas with a knee injury, finished with three short touchdown runs, and Manning and Kevin Boss combined on a 4-yard touchdown pass as the Giants showed that the cold and wind was to their liking.
The loss spoiled a record-tying, four-touchdown performance by Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams, who gave Carolina a 28-20 lead with a 30-yard TD run 2 minutes into the final quarter. He also scored on runs of 13, 5 and 1 yards.
The Panthers, who have qualified for the playoffs, can clinch the NFC South and the No. 2 seed with a win at New Orleans next weekend.
“Disappointing would be putting it mildly,” Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme said. “The road to the Super Bowl goes through New York. We had a chance. We didn’t get it done. We’ve got to back to work and get ready for New Orleans.”
The Panthers had a chance to win the game in regulation but the swirling wind at Giants Stadium pushed John Kasey’s 50-yard field-goal attempt wide left, sparking some more celebratory snow throwing by Giants fans.
The Giants won the coin toss in the overtime and couldn’t generate anything, and the Panthers followed suit on their possession.
New York nearly lost the ball before its winning drive when R.W. McQuarters muffed a punt at the Giants 13. He emerged from a pile with the ball and then Ward took over.
CSN: Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez has been contacted by police investigating a possible homicide in North Attleboro, Mass. Hernandez is not believed to be a suspect but a rental car in his name is connected to the death.
Just what New York needed
Dec. 22: Earning home field advantage sits well with the proud Giants, as Eli Manning says they're just having fun on the field.
2013 SNF Schedule
Check out the 2013 Sunday Night Football schedule.
Latest from ProFootballTalk
Video: Football from NBC Sports
Police search Patriots player’s home
Police in Massachusetts searched New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez after a body was found near a car that was rented in Hernandez’ name.
Check out some of the NFL cheerleaders from across the league.