TAMPA, Fla. - First stop, Tampa. Next stop, Texas. As long as it’s on the road, the New York Giants can’t complain.
The Giants moved to 8-1 away from home with a dominating 24-14 NFC wild-card playoff victory over the Buccaneers on Sunday. New York has won every away game since falling in its season opener against the Dallas Cowboys, and it gets a chance to diminish that blemish in a much bigger matchup next Sunday, with the winner going to the conference title game.
“We love playing there, we love going down to Dallas,” Eli Manning said. “There are no secrets.
“It’s a tough challenge against Dallas, we know that. We played them two times; maybe the third will be the charm.”
As for concerns the Giants (11-6) left too much of themselves on the field in futilely trying to stop New England’s perfect season on Dec. 29, well, forget it. After a lackluster first quarter, New York bullied the NFC South champions, who lost three of their last four regular-season games, including the final two when coach Jon Gruden rested many starters.
“We weren’t sluggish, but it was not like we were the week before,” said Giants veteran receiver Amani Toomer, who had a big game. “We needed one play to get us going and for me to be the guy, I was excited.”
He was the guy often, making seven receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown.
It was the first postseason win after two defeats for Manning, who efficiently outplayed his counterpart, Jeff Garcia. Manning went 20-of-27 for 185 yards, with almost all the damage coming after a forgettable opening period in which New York had minus-2 yards of offense.
The oft-criticized Manning should draw nothing but praise for his performance, which included touchdown passes of 5 yards to Brandon Jacobs and 4 to Toomer. The score by Toomer completed a clinching 92-yard, 15-play drive.
“Eli had a great game today,” Toomer said. “He took what was out there and didn’t force anything. He doesn’t get real excited; there is more than one way to lead a team.”
The defense also showed up with a superb effort in the three quarters. Cornerback Corey Webster’s interception and fumble recovery, and Michael Strahan’s nine tackles and a sack led the way. Tampa Bay (9-8), which has not won a postseason game since the 2003 Super Bowl, gained only 166 yards before a late 88-yard drive made it 24-14.
“I think as a team we seem to perform better on the road,” Strahan said. “I didn’t know we won eight in a row. That’s a great thing, because when it’s the playoffs, if we’re going to go as far as we want, we have to win every game on the road.”
The Bucs’ Micheal Spurlock fumbled his runback to open the second half. Webster recovered at the Tampa 30 and the Giants got to the 4 before Lawrence Tynes kicked a 25-yard field goal to make it 17-7 for New York.
Webster contributed again moments later, shadowing Joey Galloway to the end zone and picking off Garcia’s weak pass.
“That’s huge, the play of the day,” Gruden said of the fumble.