Top 5 Unsung Heroes of the New York Giant Turnaround
On December 5th, the Giants were 6-6. The outlook was bleak. The situation? Dire. Mired in the throes for a four game losing streak, the Giants were all but written off. But just two and a half months and one psychedelic whirlwind of touchdown passes and Jason Pierre-Paul sacks later, the Giants are in Super Bowl XLVI. It was a mind-bending turnaround, and one with plenty of heroes. We all know the stories of Manning and Cruz, of Tuck and Pierre-Paul, but what about those lesser-known Giants? Here's my top 5 list of unsung New York Giant heroes.
Alright, so Thomas' effect on the team really boils down to only two plays. In fact, from 6-2, to 6-6, to 9-7, to the start of the NFC Championship game, Devin Thomas was a non-factor. For the bulk of the season his name only parsed the lips of Giant fans during spirited discussions about return men who don't run north and south, or while pining over the lost return skills of Jason Sehorn – what can I say, we're desperate. But despite the fact that Thomas made zero impact on the team up until the NFC Championship game, the man did recover two game-changing fumbles. Without him, where would we be?
6'4. 265 pounds, and he spent much of the first half of the season winning and playing like a 5'1, 98 pound teenager. Upset with his lack of playing time, Jacobs lashed out at fans repeatedly, making enemies of the Giant faithful. Maligned as he was, however, the power back found some life at the right time this season. Statistically, Jacobs wasn't exactly Barry Sanders – honestly, a glance at the stats would show that he was hardly Ron Dayne – but he was an excellent compliment for Bradshaw. He did some tough, important work for the Giants and repeatedly broke off big runs at big times. Jacobs' bruising play really set a tone for this offense and, at times, helped get them on track. He's about as unsung as they come, but I don't think the stats do Jacobs' contributions justice. I think he had a bigger impact on this offense than many realize.
Alright. I lied. THIS guy is about as unsung as they come. I know punters catch a lot of flack for not being tough…or strong…or men, but I think they're undervalued. In 2007, the poetry in motion that was the punting of Jeff Feagles was, in all seriousness, a key to the Giants winning the Super Bowl. Thanks to their punter, those Giants rarely had to defend a short field, and I think the same can be said for this year's edition. Weatherford's big leg has, time and again, pinned rival offenses inside their own twenty, and saved the defense from having to start a possession between the 30's. I know no one will ever be caught overstating the value of a kicker, but you do yourself a disservice ignoring the contributions of a man who has truly done the most he can with his limited role.
I'm not sure if he's just well rested, or if his couch has some sort of transformative power the likes of which modern science can not fathom, but the man who wasn't on an NFL roster at the season's start has been huge for the Giants. Sure, at times he looks like the slowest line backer in the NFL, but there's a grit and a toughness emanating from that soul patch of his, and it's infectious. It's difficult to quantify, but I think there's a certain energy that has come to this unit with Blackburn in the lineup. He's second on the team in tackles this post-season, and with him on the roster the Giants are 6-2, having allowed over 24 points only once. Certainly it's not all Chase Blackburn, but its impossible to say the LB hasn't had an impact.
When Terrell Thomas was lost for the season, many feared that the Giant secondary was in trouble…Turns out they were lowballing it. The G-Men defensive backs spent much of the year looking confused, drunk, or otherwise ineffective – chasing receivers down from behind if they could catch them at all. With the Giants sitting at 7-7, their pass defense ranked near the bottom of the league – proving to be the most glaring weakness of a team that at that point looked to have plenty. But then…the turnaround. When the Giants came to life, so too did the secondary – and the unit never looked back. In their last five games, the Giant secondary has allowed more than 250 yards passing only once – it was a 251 yard effort against the Cowboys. At the heart of that effort is Corey Webster. The corner has repeatedly drawn the tough match ups, and repeatedly answered the bell. Santonio Holmes, Miles Austin, Roddy White, Greg Jennings and Michael Crabtree (one of these things is not like the other) have all fallen victim to the shut down (overstating?) ability of Webster. His coverage has been superb, he's batted down passes, and he's made the tackles when he didn't. Of all the Giants who have stepped up over the last five games, Webster has made the biggest and most noteworthy improvement. It's been a much needed and impressive turnaround for a man who is pulling this secondary together at exactly the right time.