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Cancer patient gets wish, Giants play like champs

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Cancer patient gets wish, Giants play like champs

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) A week off, some rest and a poignant plea from a 15-year-old cancer patient got the New York Giants back on track.

Now the rest of the NFL has something to worry about. The Giants are playing like world champions again.

A refreshed Eli Manning came back from the bye week and threw three touchdown passes as the Giants embarrassed Aaron Rodgers and the streaking Green Bay Packers 38-10 on Sunday night.

The win snapped a two-game losing streak and gave the Giants (7-4) a two-game lead in the NFC East with five games left in the regular season. The dominating performance also ended a five-game winning streak for the Packers (7-4), who fell a game behind Chicago in the NFC North.

``We just had to go out there with a lot of confidence and play like we are capable,'' Giants center David Baas said. ``I felt we did that. We showed everybody. People that counted us out, they better wake up.''

No one was more pleased with the Giants than Adam Merchant. The 15-year-old fan from Barre, Vt., attended Friday's practice and Sunday's game, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Merchant spoke to the team after practice and seemed to remind them what it's all about.

``I told them to go out and play like world champs,'' he said, sitting at a locker next to defensive captain Justin Tuck.

When asked why he gave the message, he shot back:

``Because we really needed to go out and play like world champs.''

Against the Packers, the Giants did.

Manning, who had not thrown a touchdown in three games, had scoring strikes of 16 yards to rookie Rueben Randle, 9 yards to Victor Cruz and 13 to Hakeem Nicks. The last one gave him 200 for his career, breaking the team record held by Phil Simms.

``The thing I'm most proud of tonight is the way we played and getting a win,'' said Manning, who was 16 of 30 for 249 yards. ``This was a big game, we needed to come out and play well and get a win. We finally got back to playing offense, defense, special teams, all of us playing at a high level, playing as a team, and hopefully we can build off of this momentum.''

Everybody seemed to contribute. Ahmad Bradshaw ran 13 yards for a touchdown and went 59-yards with a screen pass to set up Andre Brown's 2-yard TD run on the opening drive.

The defense sacked Rodgers five times and set up 10 points with Corey Webster's pick leading to Lawrence Tynes' field goal and Osi Umenyiora's strip-sack and Jason Pierre-Paul's 10-yard return setting up Bradshaw's TD run that gave New York a 31-10 lead.

The 31 points were the most scored by the Giants in a half this season, and it pretty much decided the game.

The only negative was Brown broke his left leg in the second half and his season looks done.

The Packers were done before that, at as far as this game.

``I think this is a game that makes everybody look inside and find out what you're about,'' coach Mike McCarthy said. ``I haven't felt like this since the first game I coached as a Green Bay Packers head coach. Beaten very thoroughly tonight. It doesn't taste good. It doesn't feel good.''

Rodgers got Green Bay off to a great start, connecting with Jordy Nelson on a 61-yard scoring pass on its first series. There was little else to celebrate in a game where he finished 14 of 25 for 219 yards, an interception and a lost fumble.

``You win five in a row and everyone is happy, but like I said last year during the run, there are things that go under the radar that need to be handled,'' Rodgers said ``Sometimes it takes a loss. ... We need to remember this feeling and not have this kind of embarrassment happen again.

The Packers were missing such key starters as linebacker Clay Matthews, defensive back Charles Woodson and receiver Greg Jennings, and it showed as they were manhandled by the Giants for the second straight time. New York beat them 37-20 in the NFC semifinal, a game some Packers said they lost more than the Giants won.

This one, there was no doubt who was the better team.

``We went out there and proved it,'' Merchant said.

Manning was impressed with the way Merchant handled himself, saying players felt it was special that the youngster had one wish and chose to spend time with the Giants.

``He had the opportunity to come out and talk to the team, so Coach Coughlin does a great job and all the players do a great job of making him feel welcome and fired up,'' Manning said. ``It can be kind of nerve-racking to come talk to your favorite team and have a little pep talk, but he did a great job and he said to go show everybody you're the world champions and why you're the world champions and play that way. I think it got everybody fired up and obviously we came out and played the way that we know we can.''

The Giants never trailed after Manning's touchdown pass to Randle, the first of his career. Webster's interception set up Tynes' field goal for a 17-7 lead and Cruz capped a 61-yard drive early in the second quarter to push the lead to 24-7.

A short field goal by Mason Crosby got Green Bay within two touchdowns, but Umenyiora's forced fumble set up Bradshaw's TD run and the game was over by halftime.

NOTES: The Giants lost safety Kenny Phillips with a knee injury in the third quarter. He was making his first appearance since Week 4. ... Giants right tackle David Diehl sustained a stinger in the first half. ... Green Bay lost safety M.D. Jennings (rib), DE C.J. Wilson (knee), and RB Johnny White (concussion). ... Giants tight end Martellus Bennett caught a fan who leaned too far over the lower railing trying to grab a glove Bennett was giving a child after the game. The fan was arrested.

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Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

Stanley Cup Final 2018: Players to watch

It doesn't take an expert to tell you players like Alex Ovechkin or Marc-Andre Fleury will play a big role in the Stanley Cup Final.

Both the Washington Capitals and Vegas Golden Knights will need their best players to be at their best to take home the Cup. But who will be the unexpected heroes? Who are the players no one is talking about who will have a big hand in their team's success or defeat in this series?

Here are five players you should be watching in the Stanley Cup:

1. Devante Smith-Pelly: Smith-Pelly had seven goals in 79 games in the regular season. Now he has four goals in just 19 playoff games.

Smith-Pelly has been one of those unlikely playoff heroes for the Caps this postseason with very timely performances such as scoring the series-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Columbus Blue and scoring the goal that put the game away in Game 6 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The physical play has really stood out as well for him, which fits well on the fourth line role he has settled back into now that the team is healthy again. Barry Trotz tried moving him to the top line in the absence of Tom Wilson and the results weren't great. He is best suited for the role he currently has and that will allow him to thrive.

2. James Neal: Neal came up just short of the Stanley Cup last season as a member of the Nashville Predators. He totaled nine points in 22 games during that run, a number he has already matched in just 15 games this postseason.

There are very few players on either team that boast the kind of postseason experience Neal has. He will be leaned upon this series for his leadership.

Vegas is a young team and their unprecedented success in the playoffs may make this feel like the first run of many for the Golden Knights, but not for Neal who is on the last year of his contract and came tantalizingly close to the Cup last season. He will play like there is no tomorrow because, for him, there may not be in Vegas.

3. Andre Burakovsky: Burakovsky was one of the heroes of Game 7 with two goals to put away the Tampa Bay Lightning. That marked just the latest peak in a career full of peaks and valleys for the young winger. Just two games before, Burakovsky was a healthy scratch and spoke to the media about his plans to speak with a sports psychologist in the offseason.

The talent is there and it certainly appears that the injury that kept him out earlier in the playoffs is largely behind him. Burakovsky’s issues have always been mainly between the ears. In a series against a fast team with strong depth, he can be an absolutely critical piece for the Caps. Hopefully, his Game 7 performance gave him the confidence he needs to continue to be effective.

4. Ryan Reaves: Vegas acquired both Reaves and Tomas Tatar around the trade deadline. If I were to tell you that through three rounds of the playoffs, both players were healthy, had played the same number of games (6) and had the same number of points (1), you’d think I was crazy. Yet, here we are.

Reaves was largely an afterthought in a complicated trade between Vegas, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators, but he has carved a nice role for himself on the Golden Knights’ fourth line and even scored the goal that sent Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final against the Winnipeg Jets.

Reaves is also an agitator on the ice, but what do the Caps do against a player like that when their normal fighter plays on the top line? We may see Reaves and Wilson come to blows this series, but it won't be very often because that is a bad tradeoff for the Caps.

5. Brooks Orpik: The elder statesman of the blue line, Orpik is the only player on the Caps with a Stanley Cup to his name and is the only one who has any idea what this experience is going to be like for the team.

Orpik is very diligent about keeping in shape which has allowed him to play in 81 games this season and all 19 playoff games despite being 37 years old, but you do have to wonder how much is left in the tank. Despite being the favorite whipping boy for the proponents of analytics, his physical play has been effective this postseason. The focus he placed on the skating in the offseason has paid dividends so far in matchups against the speedy Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, but the Golden Knights will be the fastest team they have played yet. There is no denying Orpik is much more suited towards a physical style of game. Wil he continue to be effective or will Vegas exploit the Caps' third defensive pairing?

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Markieff Morris goes 1-on-1; no All-NBA votes for Beal?

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Markieff Morris goes 1-on-1; no All-NBA votes for Beal?

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chris Miller caught up with Wizards power forward Markieff Morris. Morris looked back on the 2017-18 season and gave his side on what needs to be fixed.

Chris and Chase Hughes also had a heated debate about Bradley Beal not receiving any All-NBA votes. Chase is an awards voter and defended his ballot. Chris wasn't having any of it.

They also went into the conference finals and what it would mean if the Rockets beat the Warriors.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!