EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Two days before they chased Aaron Rodgers all over MetLife Stadium and steamrolled the Green Bay Packers, the New York Giants stood on their practice field glued to the words of a 15-year-old boy from Vermont.
Adam Merchant paid his favorite team a visit on Friday through the Make-A-Wish foundation.
Merchant has been battling Burkitt's lymphoma in his stomach, which is currently in remission. But on this weekend, Merchant wanted to see his beloved Giants show some fight after failing to show up in Cincinnati prior to their bye week.
"I told them to go out and play like they are world champions," Merchant said. "It just came from the heart."
How did the Giants respond to the impromptu pep talk?
"They freaked out," Merchant said.
A 15-year-old unknowingly lit a fuse in Tom Coughlin's team and may have provided the Giants with the spark that they need for their daunting six-game stretch to finish the season.
The champs came out on Sunday night like they had been shot out of a cannon. Refreshed and recharged, the Giants pummeled the Packers, 38-10, in a matchup between the past two Super Bowl champs.
The Packers looked like they were blindsided. The Giants were determined to end a two-game slide and put an end to all the questions about another midseason funk. In the process, they sent a message to the Packers, who had won five straight, and the rest of the NFL, that they haven't gone anywhere.
They reminded themselves how good they can be when they have their heads on straight and are healthy. And they had Merchant to thank for delivering the not-so-subtle reminder.
Certainly Coughlin has been trying to pound home the same message for weeks. But when you hear it from a 15-year-old kid who could have wished for anything but asked to meet and watch the Giants, it "hit home" as Justin Tuck says.
"It was so profound," Tuck said. "Certain people can tell you that but when you see an innocent kid tell you that you need to play like a champion. … I told him that he needs to go into motivational speaking because he kind of woke us up."
Who knew a 15-year-old could help the Giants end one of their midseason swoons?
When we last saw the Giants before their bye, they were whipped by Andy Dalton for four touchdowns. They had not played their best football since their 26-3 dismantling of the San Francisco 49ers back on Oct. 14.
Eli Manning hadn't thrown a touchdown pass in three straight games and had only one touchdown in 18 quarters entering the game, sparking talk of a tired arm.
On Sunday night, Manning not only threw three touchdowns, but he outplayed Rodgers and set the franchise's all-time touchdowns mark, passing Phil Simms.
And likely for the first and last time in his career, he lowered his right shoulder and delivered a hit on cornerback Tramon Williams on a 13-yard scramble in the first quarter that the entire Giants sideline felt as though Brandon Jacobs was on the field trucking a poor safety.
"He felt as if he were coming back for the start of the season again," Coughlin said of his inspired quarterback. "I was very confident that he would come back and be Eli."
But Sunday night was more than just Manning playing well again. The coaching staff got more creative with how they employed their personnel and the play-calling was on point.
With Kenny Phillips back on the field, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was able to utilize one of his favorite wrinkles again –- the three-safety look. That allowed Antrel Rolle to roam all over, closer to the line of scrimmage. And it played a role in helping revive a pass rush that sacked Rodgers five times, hit him seven times and sent him scurrying countless times.
"He was running all night," Tuck said. "If he wasn't a mobile quarterback, we probably would have sacked him 10 or 11 times."
Osi Umenyiora was up to his old tricks again, strip-sacking Rodgers like he did in the Giants' NFC Divisional playoff win last year.
And on the offensive side, Hakeem Nicks looked like he had life in his step again. After battling foot and knee injuries all season, Nicks looked closer to his old self with five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown. Ahmad Bradshaw ran hard, Victor Cruz salsa danced again and Rueben Randle provided Manning with a third threat in the end zone.
Merchant asked the Giants to show Rodgers why they currently wear the world championship belts.
"The message was loud and clear," Coughlin said. "And that's basically the challenge that we kept throughout the weekend and in our Saturday night meetings –- play like world champions."
Umenyiora said Merchant's words had "a huge effect on us." When asked if the Giants played like champions on Sunday night, Umenyiora asked almost incredulously, "What kind of question is that?" Umenyiora's answer was clearly answered on the field.
But sitting nearby in the Giants' locker room, Merchant answered the question for Umenyiora by sharing how he felt while watching his favorite team live.
"It was amazing," Merchant said. "It was a dream come true."