Commentary

Giants are most fearsome of foursome

'Scary' Big Blue a more complete team than the NFL's other three contenders

Updated: January 18, 2012, 12:04 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants may not care at the moment that New England quarterback Tom Brady went on a Boston radio show Monday and snubbed them by saying the best team the Patriots have faced this year will be the Baltimore Ravens, their opponent in the AFC title game this Sunday, and not the white-hot Giants.

Did Brady forget the Giants were the last team to beat his 13-3 Pats, and they did it in Foxborough?

Did he miss how the surging Giants just knocked off the 15-1 Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field with the kind of stunning all-around performance they hadn't put together in a such high-stakes game since, well … when? Has to be when the Giants shocked the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, right?

Defensive end Chris Canty sounded almost Belichick-ian on Sunday when he looked ahead to the NFC title game showdown in San Francisco and warned that, as good as the Giants' 37-20 rout of Green Bay was, "We still haven't played our best game yet. I know we can get better."

The Giants are the most complete team left among the NFL's final four. Deep down, Brady has to know it. And the 49ers just might, too.

Forget the Giants' pedestrian-looking 11-7 overall record this season. The Giants are not that win-one/lose-one team anymore. The Giants have totally transformed themselves in the past five weeks.

You know the Giants are playing well when even Tom Coughlin, their normally conservative head coach, is saying, "We're a dangerous team," and second-year wide receiver Victor Cruz was being asked Monday if the Giants feel "unstoppable" after what they just did to Green Bay.

"That's a tricky word," Cruz said with a smile, "but in a sense we do feel like if we're playing like we've been playing, if we're executing at a high level the way we've been playing, we're a tough team to stop.

"We are a scary team right now," Cruz added.

The Niners' last-second win over New Orleans on Saturday can match any victory the Giants have had this season for dramatics. The only asterisk is the Giants' Eli Manning has pulled off seven fourth-quarter comebacks this season -- which is the most vivid reminder that San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith may be having a breakout season, at long last, but he's still a neophyte when it comes to guiding a team through the shoals of a season or a playoff game for the Super Bowl berth.

[+] EnlargeOsi Umenyiora
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireThe Giants' pass rush has been fearsome since Osi Umenyiora returned from an injury.

Manning has had the sort of season that's left people saying he, and not Brady, is now the most clutch quarterback in the league.

But that's not the only reason to believe the Giants are the best all-around team left in the playoffs.

As Giants safety Antrel Rolle stressed Monday, "It's not about talent. It's about chemistry."

And the Giants have both right now.

Their talent level is better because Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, Michael Boley and wideout Hakeem Nicks are all healthier than they were when the Giants' 6-2 start faded to a 2-5 slump during the murderous part of their schedule.

Nicks quietly conceded Monday, but only when asked, that the hamstring problems that bugged him during the season are gone now, and that had a lot to do with the seven-catch, 165-yard, two-touchdown game he threw up against the Packers, and the pullaway speed he showed on his 66-yard touchdown catch.

Umenyiora's return the past three games has finally given the Giants the devastating pass rush they envisioned having at the start of the season -- but better. Because at the start of the season, nobody knew Umenyiora's replacement, second-year end Jason Pierre-Paul, would develop so fast that he'd make the Pro Bowl, covering up some for how Tuck hasn't been healthy until recently, too.

Umenyiora couldn't help smiling Sunday when a reporter asked him to "take me through" the play in which he stripped Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the ball in the third quarter, just as Green Bay was driving and threatening to tighten up the game. "Take you through what?" laughed Umenyiora, who forced 10 fumbles a year ago. "That's what I do."

Now look: All of a sudden the Giants have a ferocious defense (and improving secondary) that can match San Francisco's and Baltimore's higher-ranked units, and leaves the Pats' last-place unit in the dust.

The Giants have a passing attack that has played every bit as well as New England's all season long but -- heretical as this sounds -- actually boasts more big-play potential and talent across the board when you go position by position.

The Giants also have Coughlin, their been-there/done-that 65-year-old head coach, who has a proven knack for putting together the sort of giant-killing game plans that always give the Giants a chance to roll into wherever they play and steal out of town with another win. And that includes Candlestick this weekend.

Green Bay and New England began the playoffs as the NFL's top two seeds, but the Giants are the only team to beat both of them this year. And the Giants now have a chance to avenge their seven-point November loss to the Niners that came down to the last seconds of the game, after Manning drove the Giants' to the San Francisco 10-yard line.

The Giants are again just two wins from the Super Bowl. Now there's talk of Vegas taking a bath because of the long odds it set against them, and talk swirling around now that if Coughlin does notch a second career Super Bowl title, he might just join the likes of Bill Parcells and Don Shula in the Hall of Fame someday. Not bad for a guy who heard he might lose his job six weeks ago.

No one in the league -- not San Francisco, not the Ravens, not even the 49ers, good as they are -- can match everything the Giants do well.

Brady was wrong Monday to tout the Ravens over the Giants. Victor Cruz was right: The Giants are the hottest, most complete team in the NFL right now.

"Scary" is the word. "Dangerous," too.

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