Friday, November 4, 2011
Time to put kibosh on another collapse
By Ohm Youngmisuk
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's November.
The New York Giants are 5-2 again.
And Justin Tuck knows what you're thinking.
"We get big-headed and start sucking," Tuck deadpanned.
All joking aside, Tuck and the Giants aren't exactly sure why things start to get scary for them after Halloween.
Since Tom Coughlin took over as coach in 2004, the Giants have started every season 5-2 or better. But the finishes haven't been so smooth. While the Giants have won 74 percent of their games in September and October under Coughlin, they are just a collective 28-34 in games from November on.
Whether it has been injuries, a more difficult second half of the schedule or just poor play, the Giants have sometimes found ways to shrink once the weather gets colder.
"You try not to dwell on it but it is in the back of your head and you understand the importance of the concept of finishing," Tuck said.
After missing the playoffs for the second straight year, Coughlin hammered home a theme to the 2011 Giants -- finish.
On Sunday in New England, the Giants embark on what will feel like a death march. Their schedule in the next six games includes matchups against the Patriots (5-2), at San Francisco (6-1), vs. Philadelphia (3-4), at New Orleans (5-3), vs. Green Bay (7-0) and at Dallas (3-4).
After that, they close against Washington (3-4), at the Jets (4-3) and vs. Dallas (3-4).
"This year our schedule takes a dip for the worse but that is no excuse," Tuck said. "We just got to play better in the second half. I don't know if we have gotten banged up in the beginning of the years, but that is a trend that needs to stop. Maybe it will be a good time to stop, beginning this year."
The trend of injuries certainly didn't stop this year as the Giants were hit hard with season-ending injuries to cornerback Terrell Thomas, middle linebacker Jon Goff, wide receiver Domenik Hixon, linebacker Clint Sintim and defensive tackle Marvin Austin, among others.
And now hard-charging running back Ahmad Bradshaw has a fracture in his right foot, an injury that will linger with him throughout the season unless surgery is required. And wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is dealing with a hamstring issue.
"We can't catch a break," Tuck lamented.
The Giants are all too familiar with injuries derailing their season. In 2008, the Giants were rolling, as the defending champs started 10-1 before Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself. The Giants finished the season 2-3 and lost their opening playoff game to Philadelphia.
In 2009, the Giants started 5-0 but won only three more games as injuries to safety Kenny Phillips and linebacker Antonio Pierce were too much to overcome. The defense was also in disarray as Osi Umenyiora clashed with then-defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan.
Then there was last year's debacle. The Giants were 6-2 and later 9-4 and then Michael Vick and the Miracle at the New Meadowlands happened and the Giants slipped into a playoff-crippling coma. The Packers destroyed them 45-17 the following week in Green Bay, and the Giants lost two of their last three games to miss the playoffs.
Of all the Giants' second-half struggles, Tuck said last season's hurt the most, even more than when Plaxico shot the 2008 season away.
The Giants had their share of injuries last year -- losing Mathias Kiwanuka early -- but what really undid them was their inability to stop beating themselves with turnovers and poor play, including special teams.
The Giants led the NFL in takeaways (39) but also in giveaways (42).
"There have been different things in different games in different seasons," offensive guard Chris Snee said. "I think the core principles are taking care of the football, that has got to be our number one focus."
Coughlin's edict to the team is to "play better in the fourth quarter, play stronger, be the more physical team."
So far this season, the Giants have been clutch. Their last five games have been decided in the fourth quarter, with the Giants winning four of them.
Eli Manning has put up superb numbers, completing 70 percent of his passes in the final quarter and owning the league's best fourth-quarter passer rating.
He also has kept his interceptions down to five after throwing 25 last season.
But Manning is no stranger to exceptional play before Halloween. He's 23-5 in the month of October during his career but just 12-14 in November and 14-17 in December.
"It is not something you think about," Manning said of the Giants' play after October. "We have done a great job so far this year of finishing games in the fourth quarter. We got to take that same attitude, finish the season strong, no matter at what point."
While they have beaten the likes of St. Louis (1-6), Philadelphia, Arizona (1-6), Buffalo (5-2) and Miami (0-7), the Giants hope their clutch play will build a strong foundation that won't crumble at the end of the season, when games get tight and a playoff spot may be on the line.
"No matter what the circumstance is, we always feel that we have a shot that we will get hot," Manning said. "I don't think that is something you always can rely on. But it is a nice thing to have in your back pocket to be able to pull out."
Tuck is tired of having the playoff chair pulled out from underneath him in December.
"It is just frustrating, your whole offseason, you go back and watch tape on teams that we lost to and you are like, 'Well, this is never going to happen again, I am not going to allow this to happen,'" Tuck said. "Hopefully [finishing] is something we can start being known for instead of being known for the collapses that we have had in the last few years."
Another November begins with a date with Tom Brady in New England. Perhaps a reunion with the team the Giants played one of their greatest games against will elevate them to new heights once more.
"For us it is a challenge and something we need to conquer," Tuck said. "Hopefully we all man up this year and get it done."