EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –- Brandon Jacobs already began his postgame press conference but had forgotten an important fashion accessory.
He didn’t have his NFC East champions hat, which Justin Tuck was all too happy to pass to him in between answers.
Through all the season-ending injuries and ugly losses to teams like the Redskins and Seahawks, the New York Giants are NFC East champs after dismissing the Dallas Cowboys with a 31-14 victory before a rowdy and packed MetLife Stadium.
The Giants will host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and they feel this could be the start of another magical run, the kind that ends with more championship hats and some jewelry.
“I would not want to face the New York Giants in the playoffs right now,” Jacobs said. “Right now, it is going to be tough to beat us. That is what I believe.”
The Giants ended a two-year playoff drought in emphatic fashion, winning two must-win games against heated rivals. Now, their confidence is swelling and the possibilities have a 2007 feel to it. After a wildly inconsistent season that saw the Giants lose four straight and drop mind-numbing losses to the Redskins, Seahawks and Eagles at home, Tom Coughlin’s team is peaking and finally feeling healthy.
“It seems like everything is starting to click at the right time,” defensive end Justin Tuck said.
The Giants opened their biggest game with their best half of the season. They built a 21-0 halftime lead with a defense that smothered Tony Romo and allowed just 96 yards of total offense in the first half. Osi Umenyiora gave Perry Fewell’s defense a shot in the arm coming in on third downs, initially, and supplying pressure off the edge.
For the second straight week, Victor Cruz provided the fireworks, jump-starting the Giants' offense with a massive play, this time turning a short catch into a 74-yard touchdown to give the Giants a 7-0 lead. Last week, he burned the Jets with a 99-yard catch-and-run score that was the Giants’ first touchdown of that pivotal game.Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Ahmad Bradshaw & Co. are in high spirits heading into the postseason.“Where did we get this guy from?” Tuck said he thought to himself as he watched Cruz sprint past Dallas’ Terence Newman and Gerald Sensabaugh down the Giants’ sideline.
Benched for the first half in the previous meeting in Dallas due to violation of team rules, Ahmad Bradshaw made sure to make an impact this time around, scoring two touchdowns in the second quarter to give the Giants their biggest lead of the season since a 28-9 lead against the Rams in Week 2.
Of course, with these Giants, there are no blowouts. Instead, there are touch-and-go moments of anxiety. But the difference now than say just a month or so ago is that the Giants are making winning plays, getting breaks that didn’t go their way earlier and answering when adversity strikes.
After the Cowboys cut the Giants’ lead to 21-14 early in the fourth and sucked some of the life out of MetLife Stadium, Eli Manning escaped the pass rush and launched a 44-yard bomb to Cruz to convert on a third-and-7 at the Giants’ 28. Cruz’s second biggest play of the game helped set up a Lawrence Tynes field goal that pushed the lead to 24-14 with 5:45 remaining. Dallas never recovered and the Giants' defense made sure of it, forcing a three-and-out on the next series.
Manning added on another touchdown throw, this one to Hakeem Nicks, and the playoff party started at MetLife.
The Giants sacked Romo six times, the last coming when Tuck clobbered Romo from behind, forcing a fumble and sealing the game with 1:41 remaining.
This is what general manager Jerry Reese envisioned back in August when New York was in full panic mode after Steve Smith and Kevin Boss left in free agency.
Reese said at his press conference that the Giants would make the plays they did not make last year, make the playoffs and make a run.
With Umenyiora (two sacks), Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul (one sack) showing what they can do together when healthy, the Giants' defense is just starting to realize its potential.
"That was nothing," Pierre-Paul said of the Giants' pass rush. "Next week is going to be even better. We're in the playoffs!"
And with Manning and Cruz doing damage on the other end and the offensive line gelling at the perfect time, the Giants feel anything is possible.
“I was giving my team confidence that I believe in them, that we will make those plays and we will make the playoffs,” Reese said. “It wasn’t a guarantee.”
The only guarantee the Giants can make right now is that they won’t be sitting at home watching the postseason for a third straight year. And considering how their topsy-turvy season has gone, the Giants couldn’t be more thrilled that the playoff drought is over.
The mantra for the Giants has to been to finish. They finished the regular season with two must-wins over the Jets and Cowboys.
And because of that, their season isn’t finished yet.
“It feels good,” Tuck said of being back in the playoffs. “A rebirth almost. You get into that playoff and anything can happen. What we talk about all week is get in and give yourself a chance. And we are in.”
“Hopefully we get on a run,” Tuck added. “And make a lot doubters believers.”