Nicks answers Giants' prayers before half

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The seconds were ticking down the last scraps of the second quarter when Giants quarterback Eli Manning spotted Hakeem Nicks going deep. With Packers defenders Charles Woodson and Charlie Peprah covering him like a cheap pantsuit, Nicks saw the ball and stretched his 6-foot-1 frame as high as it could go.

A pair of red gloves reached from a tangle of limbs and grabbed the ball. Touchdown, Giants, as the halftime scoreboard clock read 0:00.

"I have always been told that big-time players step up in big-time games," Nicks said.

In that case, add Nicks and Manning to the list of clutch players as the Giants beat the Packers 37-20 at Lambeau Field in an NFC divisional game. The Giants advance to the NFC Championship Game at San Francisco on Sunday.

Nicks' 37-yard catch -- the first successful Hail Mary of Manning's career -- gave the Giants a 20-10 lead heading into the break, and a surge of confidence.

"He made a difference and he gave us a big lead going into halftime and he kind of broke their backs," Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said. "Because I saw them walking off the field, had their heads down. I pretty much knew they were done."

The Packers weren't exactly done, but they never got the lead back.

"If you don't get a body on [Nicks] early and late, you're really putting yourself at risk," Giants receiver Ramses Barden said.

Nicks finished with seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns. Those numbers put him in some rare playoffs company, and consider: When former Giants receiver Plaxico Burress put up his legendary performance in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 20, 2008, he had 11 catches for 151 yards.

"It was just a great catch by him," Manning said of Nicks. "Everybody knew what to do."

Ahmad Bradshaw broke off for the first long run of the game, 23 yards, and dashed out of bounds to stop the clock before he could be brought down. Then with six seconds left, Manning figured there was little to lose by heaving it to the end zone. The last time he tried it might have been in the family backyard as a kid, but this time it counted.

From the replays, it appears Nicks used his helmet to stabilize the ball as he brought it in, reminiscent of David Tyree's famous catch as the Giants won their last Super Bowl, after the 2007 season. Nicks said he wasn't aware of it if he did.

"I know I just went up for it and once I felt it in my hands and on my chest, I just locked it," Nicks said.