Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants makes a...

Hakeem Nicks #88 of the New York Giants makes a 37 yard touchdown catch with time running out in the second quarter against Charles Woodson #21 of the Green Bay Packers. (Jan. 15, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was a play everyone on the field had rehearsed thousands of times. It was something they practiced as kids goofing around in the park, something they ran in their dreams when they were going to sleep at night and something very few of them had ever actually seen work on an NFL football field.

Until Sunday.

The Hail Mary pass, the foundation of every playground fantasy, became the foundation of the Giants' biggest win in four seasons, a 37-20 victory over the defending champion Green Bay Packers in an NFC divisional playoff game.

Up 13-10 with six seconds left in the first half and a first down at the Green Bay 37, Giants quarterback Eli Manning let Hakeem Nicks know they were going to give it a shot. Nicks went racing down into the end zone and Manning dropped back to toss the kind of what-the-heck pass that usually ends up batted down, intercepted or on the ground.

Instead, the one thing Giants coach Tom Coughlin remembered seeing is a big pair of red gloves reaching out over two defenders and grabbing the ball.

"It was a great catch by him," Coughlin said.

Nicks remembers running down to where he was supposed to be. He didn't see the defenders close in on him, he didn't hear the crowd, he didn't feel the unlikeliness of the situation.

"All I saw was the ball," he said. "I said to myself, 'I got to jump and get it.' "

The play is something Nicks works on every Saturday morning with Victor Cruz and some Giants defenders. They don't have a quarterback throw them passes. They run down to the end zone and practice jumping.

Still, he said he was fairly sure it was going to land in his hands when he saw the ball coming.

"I'm pretty confident that I can go up and get it," said Nicks, who finished the game with seven receptions for 165 yards. "It was just the play that happened. I was like, 'Oh, wow.' It's the end of the half and I came down with it."

Brandon Jacobs called the play one of those things you try "because you have nothing to lose." Jacobs, who scored the Giants' final touchdown of the game, believes that Green Bay never recovered from the last play of the first half.

"I saw them going off the field with their heads down and I realized that that might be it for them," Jacobs said.

Packers cornerback Charles Woodson, who was right there next to Nicks when he made the catch, backed up that assertion.

"It was kind of hard to swallow," Woodson said. "It's a play that shouldn't happen. They throw the ball up and I came over from the middle of the field. I thought the ball was going to carry a little more when I went up and it didn't carry as far as I thought it would.

"He was right in front of me, but just looking at the play. I think the defense has to slow those guys coming off the ball, so that they're not running down the field free with the opportunity to get a steal."

Call it a steal or not, the Giants will take it. Manning said in all his years, he had never been involved in something like it.

Said Manning: "I've thrown them before, I've just never had anyone catch one. It was a great catch."

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