(Reuters) - The New York Giants eliminated last year's Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers from the National Football League (NFL) playoffs with a stunning 37-20 road win on Sunday to reach next week's NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Eli Manning had three touchdown passes, including two long strikes to Hakeem Nicks, and the Giants defense contained explosive Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to end Green Bay's shot at becoming the first team in seven years to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The Giants, who won the Super Bowl four years ago with an improbable run to the title as a wild card, are now one win away from returning to the NFL championship game on February 5.
Green Bay had the NFL's top-scoring offense during the regular season, averaging 35 points a game as they went 15-1, but were unable to solve a suffocating Giants defense that produced four turnovers.
"Our defense has done well for us the last few weeks and that's made a huge difference for us, to be able to count on that," said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin. "Today, not only the outstanding play, but the turnovers."
The Giants forced three fumbles and a late interception to thwart the Green Bay attack.
New York also had four sacks and Rodgers was victimized by eight drops from his receivers as Green Bay, who had first-round playoff bye due to their NFL-best record, looked out of synch.
"We didn't do a very good job handling the football," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy, whose team had 38 takeaways and 14 turnovers this season. "We didn't play to our identity."
The AFC team in the Super Bowl will be determined January 22 when the top-seeded New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens.
Manning completed 21-of-33 passes for 330 yards and was intercepted once, while Rodgers went 24-of-46 for 264 yards and one interception, well below the numbers he generated in setting an NFL record for best passer rating.
The teams battled evenly until a 37-yard desperation heave by Manning was hauled in by Nicks as time expired in the first half to give New York a 20-10 lead.
Nicks, who also scored on a 66-yard touchdown catch-and run in the first quarter, made seven catches for 165 yards.
"We've been through our share of ups and downs this season," said Nicks. "I feel like we're peaking right when we need to. Everybody's healthy. We're stronger."
A third-quarter field goal brought Green Bay within 20-13, as the Packer defense forced a pair of punts by New York.
But momentum swung back to New York when the Giants stopped the Packers on fourth-and-five from the 40 when linebacker Michael Boley registered his second sack of the game.
That stop led to a 35-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes for a 23-13 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
A fumble by Ryan Grant after a short pass from Rodgers gave New York the ball on the Green Bay 40.
Manning then led the Giants on another scoring drive, connecting on a four-yard touchdown pass to Mario Manningham to make it 30-13 and effectively close out the Packers.
"We had a championship-caliber regular season but didn't play well today," said Rodgers. "We got beat by a team that played better tonight."
(Reporting By Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)