Print and Go Back ESPN.com: NFL [Print without images]

Thursday, November 17, 2011
Justin Tuck unhappy with his play

By Mike Mazzeo
Special to ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Justin Tuck is his own worst critic.

And right now, the New York Giants defensive end doesn't like what he sees from himself on the football field.

"I do suck," Tuck said bluntly after Thursday's practice. "I am a very honest person."

The 28-year-old was a Pro Bowler last season, notching 11½ sacks and six forced fumbles. But because of lingering neck and groin injuries that have caused him to miss four games, Tuck's production has plummeted considerably in 2011.

He enters Sunday night's matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles with 10 tackles and two sacks -- 1½ of which came in the home opener against the St. Louis Rams. In the Giants' 27-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday, Tuck didn't have a tackle or sack. He did have a chance to bring down 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, but couldn't.

"I guess when I say that, I guess it comes from the stats. That's the selfish part of any athlete," said Tuck, adding that injuries have been a factor in his struggles.

"Numbers are ego. I sit here and mope around and tell you guys I suck. But at the end of the day I'm still out there helping the football team win."

Still, Tuck says, stats can be misleading.

"It is more than that. Because I've had games where [my] stats have been great and I've played like crap and vice versa," he said.

Ultimately, Tuck says, he just doesn't feel like himself, and it's frustrating.

"I'm not me. I'm not a very good player right now," Tuck said. "I do look at myself on film and I don't like what I see. It's not the effort. I feel like I'm putting forth the effort, but there's just not some things allowing me to play my style of football."

Tuck said he's not playing "cautiously" or "afraid," he just isn't able to do some things on the football field that he usually can.

"I'm hoping that sooner or later we'll catch up with all the nagging things," Tuck said. "It's not something that's gonna hold me out of a game, it's just little things like I can't put myself in the same position that I normally could."

Tuck still holds out hope that he can return to an elite level by the end of the season.

"I wouldn't come here to work every day if I didn't," Tuck said. "It's getting better. It's just not getting better as fast as I want it to."

Coach Tom Coughlin has noticed.

"We certainly see that he is not to where he needs to be," Coughlin said. "Hopefully that is coming."

Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is optimistic that it will.

"Obviously, he was playing at a high level in the preseason before his injury," Fewell said. "Has he been able to jump back on the bicycle and ride as fast as we want him to ride? No. But I think it's coming. He's always more critical of himself than anybody else. He wants to improve and get better, and he will get better. It just takes time."

Tuck's track record certainly suggests as much. The seventh-year pro has amassed 42½ sacks in 89 career games. He's a two-time All-Pro. And he's been a defensive captain for the last two seasons.

Plus, if there's anytime he'd be motivated, it would be now. Tuck reiterated that last year's "Miracle at the New Meadowlands" -- when the Giants blew a 21-point lead to the Eagles, and wound up missing the playoffs as a result -- is something that will "stick with me for the rest of my life.

"But we can ease some of that by getting a win on Sunday night."

The stats on the back of Tuck's football card may not look great at the end of the season, but the defensive end still has ample time to make them look respectable.

"We still [have] seven games left, so we'll see," he said.

Mike Mazzeo is a frequent contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.