It's been so crazy here with the strike and work and post-New Year's nonsense that I haven't had time to mosey over here to post anything. So much to post about, too. Still, I guess I needed a serious kick in the ass to get going again.
Who knew it would come from my formerly hapless hometown Giants?
A brief recap for those of you who don't know what ESPN means:
The New York (football) Giants began the season with a highly-touted, under-performing quarterback who happened to be the son and younger brother of world beaters at his position. In fact, said QB Eli Manning's older bro, Peyton, the QB of the Indianapolis Colts, won last year's Super Bowl. Eli, though, was this close to be considered a wash out. The Giants number one rusher had retired and then criticized the team and the coach. The coach, Tom Coughlin, was hanging by the tips of his finger nails, his dour, unsunny disposition having worn out its welcome long ago in his locker room.
On top of all that, the Giants dropped the first two games of the season, giving up nearly 100 points in the process. Here they were at halftime of Game 3 in the visitor's locker room at Fed Ex Field in Landover, Maryland, down 17-3 to the as yet unscathed Washington Redskins.
Ah, but it was about that time that the plot began to thicken.
Somehow, the Giants defense found itself and Eli Manning led the offensive to 21 unanswered points to turn the hopeless deficit into a win and set the stage for what is turning into a dream season. For one, the Giants ended the game with an inspired goal-line stand to seal the win, stuffing Washington RB Ladell Betts on fourth-and-goal in the final minute.
But there was something else even more important about that game, though less obvious. It was played on the road. Since that game, the Giants have won nine more games on the road -- a total of 10 straight including the playoffs which is a new NFL record. At one time during the season they even played the Dallas Cowboys for position of first place in the NFC. But along the way, the Giants lost some key games -- all at home ironically. There was the drubbing by the Vikings, for example, the nadir of Eli's worst, where he threw four interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
Still, their season remained in doubt up until the second-to-the-last game of the year when they went up to Buffalo following an awful loss to Washington in New York. They even trailed against the mediocre Bills, until something clicked and they ran away with the fourth quarter in the 38-21 victory. That game officially won them a playoff spot, rendering the last game of the season meaningless, right? Not so fast, sports fans.
That game, which I talked about here, turned out to be a huge boost for a team that was, even in its 16th and final regular season game, was still searching for an identity. Improbably, they found themselves in a game they lost on national television before one of the biggest audiences of the year.
That game, against the then 15-0 New England Patriots started the Giants on this unlikely run to the Super Bowl. The Patriots used most of their starters that day. They had something to play for -- being the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to finish a season undefeated. The Giants had nothing, really. Playing their starters would be risky -- there’s always the possibility someone important would be injured and since their first-round opponent was already decided (Tampa Bay, which rested its starters once the team secured the postseason), they were giving them more information about their formations and plays.
But Coach Tom Coughlin, who had shown a surprising ability to change his coaching ways from the start of training camp, decided to go for the win against the Patriots. His team wanted it, the fans wanted it and, as he later admitted, he thought that playing the Patriots would show his team where they stood in relation to the best in the NFL.
What it showed in a fabulous back-and-forth game in which the Giants held a late 12-point lead before falling 38-35, is that they could more than hold their own. They realized as a team that they weren’t that far behind the elite teams.
In the NFL, confidence is often understated. The game is physical yes, but it’s emotional too and it requires tremendous mental focus and controlled emotions to withstand the physical intensity on the field. We’ve seen so-called lessor teams beat better ones time and time again because they were more focused, more intense (hell, we saw it last week when the Giants beat the Cowboys).
The Giants have gone on to win three intensely physical games in the last three weeks -- beating a tough defense down in Tampa Bay, a very, very good team in the Cowboys and then yesterday, matching the physical, mano y mano style of the Packers with their own, tougher mentality.
On one of the first plays by the Giants offense, 6-4, 265-pound running back Brandon Jacobs literally ran over cornerback Charles Woodson, putting him on his wallet. It was a statement of the Giants willingness to be more physical than the Packers in their own house in conditions that everybody seemed to think favored Green Bay.
In that game, the Giants dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football, and only their own mistakes kept the game close. Once the two teams took the field and the game began to unfold, it was the Giants game to lose. And they nearly lost it too. But they didn’t and now they’re heading to Arizona to play in the Super Bowl.
Over the next two weeks leading up to the big game, I’ll be posting about the Giants and football in general and other odds and ends.