- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPN Staff Writer
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But he's never talked about either team being dirty. He may not have liked Flozell Adams' antics when the two battled each other but he respected the Cowboys as a whole.
So when Tuck mentioned that most people might refer to the Atlanta Falcons' offensive line as "dirtbags" on Monday, the defensive end must feel like he's about to battle five Flozells on Sunday in the wild-card game between the Giants and Falcons.
"Yeah, we have seen it," Tuck said when asked about the Atlanta offensive line's reputation for playing through the whistle and being nasty. "We know that they have that quote-unquote reputation. But in a way it is kind of exciting. Most people, you would call them dirtbags. But it is what it is.
"We got to make sure we do our job and if we are doing our job well, then they will be upset and they will be trying to do things to get us off our game and we got to take that as a compliment," he continued. "But in the same sense you got to protect yourself."
To be clear, Tuck said most would call the Falcons' offensive line "dirtbags" and he reiterated that on "NFL32" on Tuesday night.
"I said that they have the reputation," Tuck said. "Never did Justin Tuck say that the Atlanta Falcons' O-line is 'dirtbags.' I said most people would say that. But with that being said, it is football. Those guys play to the end of the whistle. I know my comments will be taken out of context. Honestly, it doesn't really matter. We still got to go out and do our jobs."
But by pointing out that most would consider the Falcons' O-line dirty, Tuck -- one of the smartest and most media savvy players in the NFL -- put the spotlight on Matt Ryan's linemen and their methods. People will be watching what the Falcons' front five will be doing and Tuck likely is hoping that the refs will be keeping a close eye on them too.
Mike Smith's offensive line was already going to have its hands full trying to slow down a Giants pass rush that is just getting revved up. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell now has his three Pro Bowl defensive ends -- Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora and Tuck -- together and the trio is starting to get healthy.
"When you watch those guys go to work, it is magical," safety Antrel Rolle said on his weekly appearance on WFAN radio. "Those guys have been doing a magnificent job and they are making our jobs extremely easy and vice versa. We have been out there covering our butts off for the last two weeks and making their job a whole lot easier."
The Giants' pass rush also makes life easier for Eli Manning. Tom Coughlin is only going to go as far as his quarterback and pass-rushers will carry him. Manning is ready to continue his best season ever in the playoffs but he needs help. The Giants' defense must find a way to slow down Matt Ryan and his arsenal of weapons. Besides stopping Michael Turner and the running game, the Giants have to cover Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez.
The best way to cover is to get in Ryan's face. Perhaps the most pivotal matchup of this Sunday's wild-card game at MetLife Stadium will be between the Giants' defensive line and the Atlanta offensive line.
And if Tuck can make the Falcons' life a tad tougher by putting some of the focus on Atlanta's tactics up front, then saying that some might call the Falcons' offensive line "dirtbags" never hurts.
Tuck is not the first to allege that the Dirty Birds' offensive linemen are dirty. Packers and Lions players have both accused the Falcons of playing dirty this season. The Giants certainly don't need Tuck, Pierre-Paul or Umenyiora getting hurt because of a questionable play.
Tuck and Umenyiora have battled through injuries all season and the Giants are just now seeing what they can do when healthy.
In the last two weeks, the Giants have 11 sacks, 13 quarterback hits and three interceptions. Pierre-Paul has three of those sacks, Tuck has two sacks and one forced fumble, and Umenyiora recorded two sacks in his return from an ankle injury last Sunday against Dallas.
Umenyiora's presence is felt throughout the defense. Rolle had his second interception of the season and was reminded by Umenyiora that both picks came when the defensive end returned from injury. Rolle's other interception came against Arizona, where Umenyiora played his first game this season after missing three games following minor knee surgery.
"Wow, this is pretty ironic," Rolle said. "We need all of our players, that is Osi, Tuck, [Mathias] Kiwanuka, JPP because all of them are a key part of our defense. And the defense doesn't run the same with any one of those guys missing."
"You know what?" Rolle added when asked about Atlanta's offensive firepower. "We got a lot of firepower too. We have myself, Corey Webster, Deon Grant, Osi, JPP, Justin Tuck, we have Michael Boley, the list goes on and on. So let's play ball."
Tuck just hopes that the Giants will be able to play defense without the Falcons doing anything shady.
The defensive captain has battled through neck, groin and toe injuries this season and he tried a different face mask and shoulder pads earlier this season to guard against opponents going after his injured neck.
Now he and the Giants' defensive line will have to engage in hand-to-hand combat against a Falcons offensive line that is known for playing through the whistle.
"Hopefully, the referees have 20-20 vision this week," Tuck said.