The bleaker, the better for these Giants

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
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Eli ManningDavid Butler II/US PresswireEli Manning and the Giants were also missing several key players -- including Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw -- in Week 9 last season when they came back and upset the Patriots.

So let's see. Here's a partial list of the New York Giants who didn't make the trip to Carolina for tonight's game against the Panthers: Their starting running back, their starting right tackle and two of their top three wide receivers, one of whom was just named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Yeah, it looks as though the Giants have things set up just the way they like them.

Desperate.

You don't think the Giants can beat Cam Newton & Co. tonight without Hakeem Nicks, Ahmad Bradshaw, David Diehl and Domenik Hixon, and with all of the problems they already had before this rash of bad injury news? Well, then you haven't been paying very close attention. These Giants seem to thrive when things look the bleakest, when their chances look the worst. Of course they'd rather have all of those guys healthy and ready to play, but with this group it sometimes takes a run of bad fortune to one part of their roster to bring out the best in the rest of it.

And there's plenty of latent stuff here. The Giants' vaunted pass rush has been quiet in the first two games. They have only four sacks, and only one of those from a defensive end. Jason Pierre-Paul has played like a maniac, but they continue to wait for Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora to contribute on the other side. Cornerback Corey Webster, the star of the secondary last season, has been ordinary while the Giants have shuffled replacements around at the other cornerback spot to overcome injuries there. The running game continues to plod, even as the offensive line believes itself to be capable of bigger things. And even with Nicks out, they still have Victor Cruz, who showed once again last week that he's always an 80-yard touchdown just waiting to flip the switch from potential to kinetic energy.

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
AP Photo/Evan PinkusTom Coughlin's Giants seem to play best when their backs are against the wall.
The Giants are more than capable of winning tonight's game in spite of their problems, because many of the solutions to those problems can be found if the players they do have simply play better. In microcosm, Sunday's game offered the perfect example. Quarterback Eli Manning, their roster's rock, threw three interceptions in the first half only to come alive in the second and lead the Giants to 25 fourth-quarter points and a comeback victory over the Buccaneers.

"A lesser group of men," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday afternoon, "would have had trouble."

But this group of Giants doesn't get down or upset when things aren't going their way. They've seen it too many times, have seen it turn out OK too many times, to disbelieve. This game tonight can't help but remind you of Week 9 of last season, when they went to New England without Nicks, Bradshaw and center David Baas and managed a comeback victory over the Patriots. They weren't supposed to win that day, either. They were supposed to be outmanned. They were down by three points and on their 20-yard line with 1:21 left in the game. But Manning just marched them down the field, finding Ramses Barden and Jake Ballard for key catches, and won the game with a touchdown.

Of course, they followed that with five losses in their next six games to drop to 7-7, fell behind the Jets in Week 15, fell behind the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game and fell behind the Patriots in the Super Bowl. These Giants either don't like to make it easy or don't know how. They don't seem to play as well as they can until they absolutely have to.

When they have to play their best, though, they've consistently shown a champion's ability to do just that. And there's no way anybody in their locker room tonight will be hanging their heads about the list of key guys who didn't make the trip. These Giants greet their troubles with a collective shrug. It's a Thursday game, so Nicks' sore foot didn't have time to feel all the way better after he played 73 snaps and caught 10 passes for 199 yards on it Sunday. These things happen. On the flip side, he gets nine days between this game and his next one, so maybe that'll take care of the problem once and for all.

Would they prefer to have him? Of course. But spending the night thinking like that isn't going to help them beat the Panthers. The Giants have a coaching staff that excels at keeping them focused on the important things, the present things, the things they can control. They have a quarterback for whom no deficit is too intimidating, for whom no set of circumstances is dire enough to cost him his cool. They will lean on those things, and on the depth they have on their roster (unproven though much of it may be), and if they win this game tonight in Carolina without 27 percent of their starting offense, it's not going to surprise them and it shouldn't surprise anyone else.

This is simply the way the Giants roll. If things weren't tough, or bleak, or desperate, I'm not sure they'd know what to do with themselves. Just when it looks as though they can't possibly win, that's when they have you right where they want you.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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