Big brother watches as Manning guides Giants to title game

PEYTON MANNING has a championship game to be at next weekend after all. He can go watch baby brother Eli guide the New York Giants.

A few hours after the reigning Super Bowl MVP lost his chance to get back to the big game, the less-heralded, often-criticised member of American football’s most famous family got the biggest victory of his career. Manning led the Giants past Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 on Sunday and into the NFC title game.

“I won’t get tired of hearing that this week,” Manning said. “No one’s given us much credit and probably still won’t. But that’s OK. We like it that way.”

Eli, the Manning who doesn’t do many commercials, threw two touchdown passes to Amani Toomer and led another scoring drive early in the fourth quarter. While he wasn’t great, he was good enough to lead New York to their ninth straight road win and into a 10th road game - at Green Bay, with the winner getting a spot in the Super Bowl.

It’s the furthest that New York have advanced since the 2000 season.

“I was a little nervous,” said Manning, who was 12-of-18 for 163 yards.

“I know he (Peyton) was watching and rooting for me.”

Peyton Manning and Romo can commiserate together at the Pro Bowl next month. The elder Manning and the Indianapolis Colts lost at home to the San Diego Chargers in the early game on Sunday. Then Romo and the Cowboys blew their chance of advancing, a loss that’s even more painful than their exit last January because of the great regular season they had.

“It hurts,” said Romo, 18-of-36 for 201 yards with a touchdown and a sack on each of the final two drives.

“It’s tough right now.”

Just 10 days ago, Eli Manning was 0-2 as a playoff quarterback and finishing a season that’s had the kind of love-hate relationship with New York fans that Alex Rodriguez knows all too well. Now he’s got two wins, the admiration of his teammates - and an unprecedented amount of public support.

“Everybody goes through their ups and downs and he’s on the upswing right now,” Toomer said.

“We’re going to ride him as far as we can go.”

The Cowboys were thinking the same about their quarterback. Instead, their season ended with Romo throwing a fourth-down pass into the end zone and cornerback R.W. McQuarters stepping in front of Terry Glenn for the interception. It marked Romo’s second straight disappointing finish to a playoff game, following his botched hold of a short field goal in Seattle a year ago.

“America’s Team” seemed pointed toward a ninth trip to the Super Bowl, maybe even a sixth championship.

There are other dubious footnotes for Dallas, like being the first No. 1 seed in the NFC to lose in this round since the NFL went to the 12-team playoff format in 1990 and being the seventh team to lose a playoff game against a team they’d beaten twice in the regular season; the 1998 Cowboys did it, too.

Toomer’s first-quarter touchdown was his longest since a 77-yarder on November 30, 2003. It also gave him the most post-season receptions in club history, passing Mark Bavaro.

The Cowboys broke a 7-7 tie with a 20-play second-quarter drive that lasted more than 10 minutes and was capped by Marion Barber’s one-yard scoring run.

The Giants responded by driving 71 yards in 40 seconds, and Manning found Toomer with a four-yard touchdown catch to tie the contest just before halftime.

Brandon Jacobs scored on a one-yard run early in the fourth quarter to put the Giants ahead for good.

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