Thursday, December 22, 2011
Updated: December 23, 12:11 PM ET
In hard year, Tuck's tank not yet empty
By Ohm Youngmisuk
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As 2011 nears its end, Justin Tuck would probably rather not look back on a year that has been filled with pain.
In August, Tuck lost a grandfather; in September, he lost an uncle. On the field, Tuck's season has been dominated by pain, with injuries to his neck, groin, ankle and toe. As the team's defensive captain, he also has spent several sleepless nights trying to figure out how to lead the Giants out of another second-half tailspin.
Add all this together and you end up with Tuck's worst statistical season since 2006, when he played only six games due to a foot injury. Entering the Giants' critical game against the Jets on Christmas Eve, Tuck has a total of 31 tackles and just three sacks in 10 games this season.
But Tuck vowed to put everything aside -- all his worries about the team and his own play -- and just line up and play as hard as he can in the season's final two games. The Giants need to beat the Jets and Cowboys to win the NFC East and they'll need their captain to come up big.
"I am not going to allow myself to get down," Tuck said about one of the toughest of his seven seasons. "I am going to keep pressing forward. My numbers aren't going to be what they've been in past years. We got two more games here and my focus is on making the best out of these two games. Forget the last 14."
Tuck, who had 11.5 sacks and five forced fumbles last year, believes he has more left in the tank. This week, Tuck wasn't even listed on the team's injury report. Last week, he missed Wednesday's and Thursday's practices with an injured toe.
"I probably feel better this week than I have all year," Tuck said. "Obviously I still have something left."
After the Giants lost to the Redskins on Sunday in an abysmal showing, safety Antrel Rolle said every player needs to make an effort to fight through "nicks and bruises" and practice if he can. Rolle said he was not calling out Tuck or any teammates, but several injured players had practiced on a limited basis that Wednesday.
Tuck talked to Rolle after his comments and said the two are on the same page. The defensive end practiced fully this week and believes the type of game-changing plays he is used to making -- sacks and forced fumbles -- are right around the corner.
At times this season, Tuck has sounded depressed and has been hard on himself when talking to reporters, even going as far as to declare, "I do suck." But on Thursday, he expressed confidence about where his game is heading toward the end of this season after recording a season-high seven tackles against Washington.
"It hasn't happened that way this year," Tuck said, lamenting the lack of the big plays he is used to making. "My confidence never wavers. I am not going to sit here and go out on the football field and say I am going to be an extra body. If I go out there and try to make plays, those [big-play] games are right around the corner. Will they happen? I don't know. But it won't be because of a lack of effort."
The Giants (7-7) desperately need another presence on the defensive line to put pressure on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez on Saturday. Second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is in the midst of a Pro Bowl-type season with 13.5 sacks. Osi Umenyiora (seven sacks) will miss his fourth consecutive game with an ankle injury.
Christmas Eve against the rival Jets would be the perfect time for Tuck to deliver his best game of the season.
"I definitely do," head coach Tom Coughlin said when asked if he thinks Tuck has anything left in his banged-up body this season. "He has fought his way through all of this stuff and he plays with it. Whatever is there is there and it is not going to end. [But] it is not going to prevent him from doing anything. He is practicing every day and never missing a rep."
Tuck revealed that an inspiration of his will be in attendance on Saturday -- Rutgers' Eric LeGrand will come as a guest of the Jets for their home game against the Giants.
Tuck, wearing a LeGrand T-shirt in the locker room on Thursday, said he befriended LeGrand after the Rutgers player suffered a severe spinal injury on the football field in October of 2010.
Tuck contacted LeGrand, went out to dinner with him and his family, and they have been friends ever since.
"The motivation I get from him is tremendous," Tuck said. "For a guy to be in a situation he is in and to be as upbeat and encouraged about his future as anybody I know that can walk is pretty encouraging."
When asked if LeGrand is a Giants fan, Tuck said, "No question. He is smart."
Tuck would love nothing more than to put on a show for LeGrand with a signature game against the Jets and make 2011 memorable for something that wasn't painful.
"I have been to a few Pro Bowls, I have 10-plus-sack seasons, I get caught up in all that," said Tuck, admitting to being stat-driven at times. "At the end of the day -- win. That is all I am focused on right now."
"That is what I am making it in these last two weeks," Tuck said of just lining up, having fun and playing worry-free. "I can promise you that."