GREEN BAY - It was third-and-6, the New York Giants were backed into the shadow of their goalpost, and the Green Bay Packers desperately needed a momentum-changing play.

They had been outmatched early in Sunday’s wild-card game at Lambeau Field. Scoreless and trailing late in the second quarter. Their defense struggled early, but was finding its footing.

One third-down stop could swing field position, potentially turn the game.

"Sometimes,” veteran edge rusher Julius Peppers said, “you've got to just dig down deep and be accountable for the role that you have on the team.”

Peppers’ sack of Giants quarterback Eli Manning might be identified as the turning point in Sunday’s 38-13 win. Until then, the Packers had trailed 6-0.

The Packers took advantage of a short field to score their first touchdown three snaps after Peppers’ sack. They scored another touchdown on their next drive, taking a 14-6 lead into intermission thanks to a Hail Mary from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb that ended the half.

From there, the rout was on.

“I thought that was a timely play that I came up with,” Peppers said. “I thought it was a big shift in momentum."

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All season, the Packers tapered Peppers’ snaps so he could be his most productive in the playoffs.

It was frustrating at times. Gnawing on a player who’d never been cast in a limited role on any level. Going back to his youth league days, Julius Peppers has always been the most talented player — or one of them — on his team.

Didn’t matter. Except for a few games when injuries gave them no choice, the Packers were determined to keep their future Hall of Fame pass rusher fresh.

On Sunday, they saw their plan pay off.

Peppers was perhaps the best player on the field for the Packers defense in a 38-13 wild-card win over the New York Giants. Along with his sack, Peppers hit Manning two more times and batted down two passes.

Whether Peppers was an interior rusher or coming from the edge, the Giants offensive line couldn’t block him. Not bad for man 10 days from his 37th birthday.

McGINNRodgers, Packers slay the Giants

DOUGHERTYPack potent even without Nelson

INSIDERThumbs up to Davante Adams

PLAYOFFSSchedule, times

BOX SCORE:  Packers 38, Giants 13 | Scores

“He looked like 27,” defensive tackle Letroy Guion said. “Julius is an amazing athlete. He ages amazing. He still looks like he’s in his 20s to me.”

Peppers has been a marvel since arriving in Green Bay. In the playoffs, game-changing plays have been his norm. The Packers signed him in 2014 to make big plays in the postseason, and Peppers has 4.5 sacks in five playoff games.

“Peppers is a freak, man,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “He’s like 45 years old, and he’s still doing what he has to do. We see it every day in practice. He’s a freak. That’s plain and simple.

“What does he have, 15 years (in the NFL)? I’ll be thankful at 10.”

He is nearing the end of his 15th season. Peppers, who had 7½ sacks in the regular season, is clearly still a leader in the Packers locker room. Teammates voted him as a playoff captain, representing the defense with safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

But Peppers isn’t under contract next year. At his age, there’s a chance this playoff run could be his last.

He picked a good time for a game-turning sack.

“It’s just a heightened sense of urgency,” Peppers said. “A heightened sense of intensity. It’s playoff football, so there’s another level from regular season that you go to in the playoffs. I guess that’s what you can attribute it to.”

rwood@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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