Giants 21, Patriots 17
As the ball soared in front of me and the clock ticked down to zero, I had no idea what was going to happen but my hopes were high. Moments later, DeSean Jackson waltzed into the end zone effectively ending the 2010 Giants season and putting the finishing touches on a 21-point comeback in the last 10 minutes of the game.
The 2011 Giants came into the season with as little momentum as it seemed possible. Their big signing was center David Baas. Two important pieces in the offense, Kevin Boss and Steve Smith, had left via free agency and the Giants made little effort to re-sign them. Osi Umenyiora was unhappy and looked like he might get traded or sit out. The offensive line was reshuffled with unproven youngsters after Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert were cut. Half the secondary was in the ICU.
Something wonderful happened in the weeks since then, as the Giants emerged as Champions and the most memorable New York sports team in recent history. It certainly wasn’t easy. Critics counted them out. I’m even ashamed to say that I counted them out when the Cowboys took what seemed like an insurmountable 12-point lead in the final minutes of their game in Dallas. But these Giants learned to persevere and more importantly finish, and nowhere was this more evident than at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.
The Giants played well during Super Bowl XLVI, but surprisingly had a tough time finishing after jumping out to a 9-0 lead. Penalties led to a few aborted drives and pretty soon the Pats had a 10-9 halftime lead. I was not a happy camper watching Madonna as New England efficiently went down the field to end the half and were preparing to receive the ball after M.I.A. was done expressing herself.
Then, the Patriots went down the field again and the Giants continued to stall. It felt like we should have been up going into the final quarter instead of down 2. All of a sudden, the magic was back. Welker and the rest of the Pats’ receivers forgot how to catch, Eli became the best quarterback in the NFL, and the defense shut down Brady’s last desperation drive.
It was an unbelievable team effort, and that’s what I’m going to remember most about the 2011 Giants. There were so many contributors and each one was selfless in the way they played for the greater good of the team.
You have to start at the top with Eli Manning. His stellar regular season went under-the-radar but that was fine by him. He threw for the sixth most passing yards in NFL history in 2011. Does anybody even know this? I can honestly say that I am supremely confident whenever Eli throws the ball, which is incredible because as little as five years ago he was as wild as Rick Vaughn. Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey used to have to consistently bail out his errant throws. Now, he’s as precise as an atomic clock. It’s a testament to his work ethic and preparation that he was able to accomplish this. I always said that if Eli was able to get his completion percentage over 60%, he’d be a superstar. This year, it was 61% and 65% when it mattered most in the playoffs.
Despite all the heroics in the Super Bowl, I’d say that Eli’s signature game of the 2011 season was actually the NFC Championship against the 49ers. He didn’t have the prettiest stats, but he got up every time he got hit. That means a lot. He proved his toughness and didn’t let the continued hits affect his game. A lesser QB would have wilted. Eli threw a touchdown on third-and-15 when his team was on the ropes.
Then, there’s the whole “elite” deal, which was about as overblown as DJ Pauly D’s hair. When everyone made a big stink about it, Eli didn’t say a word. He went out on the field and proved that he was elite. That’s how a man handles his business. Is he better than Rodgers and Brees? I don’t know, but he’s damn close. Does it matter? In the final six do-or-die games, Eli threw 13 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. It may have been the greatest run ever. Who cares if he had a clunker against the Redskins?
If I had to go down the field to win a game, I’d want Eli Manning on my team and not one of the other top QB’s (many of whom have subtlety choked in the past few playoffs). That pass to Manningham to start the final drive was more accurate than a cruise missile. And really, is there a more likable athlete than Eli? He’s so low key and secretly funny. Even if he wasn’t a two-time Super Bowl MVP, I’d want to be buddies with him.
The Hydra of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul was perhaps the greatest catalyst for the Giants’ resurgence after their 7-7 start. Tuck finally accepted that his nagging injuries weren’t going to go away and played through them. Osi also played with various ailments, including a bruised ego, but nonetheless put up great numbers and many a quarterback into the ground. And of course, JPP emerged as one of the premier defenders in the league. Did I mention that he’s still learning how to play football? When the Hydra was together and healthy, opposing offenses were stifled and the Giants’ linebackers and secondary, which were both at less than full strength, had the little extra help that they needed.
Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz proved to be an unstoppable tandem. You can cover one, but just know the other is going to run roughshod. Cruz may have got the most attention and deservedly so for coming out of nowhere to become a star, but Nicks is a monster too and was saddled with some injuries throughout the season. Mario Manningham has been known to make a catch or two every once in a while as well. More importantly, did he complain when his role was reduced after Cruz emerged? Nope. Now a free agent, Manningham is going to make some money.
Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs did not have a good season, both on and off the field. Bradshaw struggled with another broken foot while big Jacobs had a tough time getting fewer carries, and the running game was ranked last in the NFL, shocking for a team that had prided itself for many years on being able to run the ball. They picked it up a bit in the playoffs, and had their one great game of the season in the Super Bowl. Plus, Bradshaw is now responsible for one of the biggest plays in Giants history. If David Tyree had the Helmet Catch, he has the Butt Touchdown. D.J. Ware wasn’t half-bad in Bradshaw’s stead, either.
There’s too many other heroes to count, and probably many that we’ll never know the full extent of their actions. Jake Ballard had Kevin Boss’s big shoes to fill and did so admirably. His sliding catch to beat the Patriots in the regular season was incredible. Michael Boley stepped up as a leader and would not allow the linebackers to fall apart after they were hit hard by injury. Mathias Kiwanuka came back from a serious neck problem to become a force again. Chase Blackburn was ready to become a substitute teacher and ended up plugging a massive hole in the defense with a great interception in the Super Bowl. Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams, and Mark Herzlich were rookies thrust into big situations and they responded. Williams may have had the biggest play of the season with the strip of Kyle Williams.
Kevin Boothe came off the bench and toughened up the offensive line after it struggled to start the season. Henry Hynoski was consistent and reliable at fullback. Mitch Petrus filled in as needed as offensive linemen got banged up but never compromised the integrity of the line. Antrel Rolle sure as hell talked a lot, but he backed it up. Aaron Ross came through after a rough start to take Terrell Thomas’s spot. Chris Snee was his usual self at right guard. I don’t think I heard his name once throughout the season and that’s the best compliment an offensive lineman can get. Dave Tollefson kept the pressure on even as various members of the Hydra went down. Corey Webster was great all year and pretty much the only sure thing in the Giants’ defense.
Lest we forget special teams, Devin Thomas had not one, but two big fumble recoveries in San Fran and became a special teams stalwart after he was stripped of his kick return duties. Lawrence Tynes hit big kick after big kick in tight spots. Steve Weatherford proved to be a really good punter and even better at keeping the team loose. Weatherford’s hold and Tynes’s kick in the rain in San Francisco was another unheralded achievement in a season full of them. Without any of these players, the Giants don’t win the World Title. They all had a hand in it. Some little, some big, but they all mattered.
Coach Coughlin once again knew which cards to play at the right time. After the debacle of 2010, the Giants were a fragile group. His overarching message of finishing was just what the team needed to hear. It’s no surprise that the team had eight fourth quarter comebacks. Even when times were tough, he never panicked and his faith paid off. After being maligned much of the season, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride (née Killdrive) and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell also finally came through. I was critical of Gilbride most of all, but he called his best game of the season in the Super Bowl.
Last but certainly not least, General Manager Jerry Reese did a masterful job assembling the pieces of the team. He knew which players he needed back (Bradshaw) and which he didn’t (Boss and Smith). He didn’t go out and overspend on a marquee free agent. He didn’t overreach for Plaxico, a move that may have affected the chemistry of the team. His drafting paid off, and even his small moves, like signing rookie free agent Herzlich and bringing back Blackburn, worked out. Quiet by nature, Reese uncharacteristically declared the Giants a playoff team before the season started. He was right and although he doesn’t like accepting too much credit, he deserves perhaps the most of all.
The haters are coming out and saying that the Giants were lucky. Welker dropped that pass. The Pats couldn’t recover either fumble. Kyle Williams shouldn’t have let the ball touch his leg. The fact of the matter is this: any team that wins the Super Bowl is going to be lucky. The Giants were pretty evenly matched with the other top teams in the league. When that happens, sometimes luck is the deciding factor. However, the Giants didn’t make many mistakes and when they did, they covered them up. Could be lucky, could be preparedness. All I know is that the Giants were very unlucky with injuries and somehow managed to win it all. I don’t hear anybody talking about that.
I’m not a football historian but this has to go down as one of the wildest seasons in NFL history. It seemed like every game came down to the wire. Some ended well, some didn’t. I was miserable most of the season. I felt like the team wasn’t playing up to its potential. Whenever it seemed to hit a turning point in the season, the next game was a disaster. The term “second-half swoon” kept being thrown around and made me cringe. But as the season was coming to a close, the Giants finally remembered what their coach had instilled in them.
Like Coach Coughlin said, it’s all about finishing. From the amazing two-touchdown comeback against the Cardinals, to two game-winning drives in New England, to JPP’s blocked field goal in Big D, to overtime against the Niners, and eventually Eli’s 88-yard drive to win the World Title, that’s what they did. At any point, something could have gone wrong. A ball fumbled, a pass dropped. The Giants wouldn’t be Champions, just like they let DeSean run wild in ’10, failed to show up at the Giants Stadium finale against the Panthers in ’09, and let Plaxico distract them from repeating in ’08. However, the lesson of the past was now firmly understood in the present and the Giants would not be denied.
With that 88-yard touchdown drive, the Giants had achieved greatness, 88 football weeks after they had the last time. Their legacy will not be that they were a lucky football team, much like that ’07 team will no longer be viewed that way. The New York Giants, led by their elite quarterback, are a great football team that deserves all the accolades they’ve achieved and will achieve.
As the ball soared in front of me and the clock ticked down to zero, I had no idea what was going to happen but my hopes were high. Somehow, though, I just felt that this year was going to be different.
NEW YORK FOOTBALL GIANTS
2011 WORLD CHAMPIONS