As much as Giants Coach Tom Coughlin is trying to avoid comparisons to 2007, the similarities are too great to ignore.
In their final game of the ’07 regular season, the Giants lost to the then-undefeated New England Patriots, 38-35. In Week 13 of this season, the Giants lost to the then-undefeated Packers by that same, 38-35 score.
The Giants went on to beat the Patriots in that season’s Super Bowl. Along the way, they beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in the NFC title game.
Do these Giants have that same team-of-destiny feeling that carried the ’07 Giants to the NFL title?
“Yeah, why not?” defensive lineman Justin Tuck said. “It seems like there are so many similarities to the ’07 season coming up this year; you know, the whole 38-35. We’re going to have a whole new redemption tour.”
The Giants began their “redemption tour” this past Sunday with a dominant, 24-2 win over the Falcons in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs. This Sunday, the Giants will face the top-seeded Packers in a divisional-round game that will send the winner to an NFC title-game match with either the Saints or 49ers.
“I’m fighting it off, to be honest with you,” Coughlin said of comparisons to ’07. “This is the 2011 team. It’s trying to get its own identity. What will the stamp be, the theme be for this team?”
The ’07 team’s stamp was that it won on the road three times in the playoffs, the final time in below-zero temperatures that included a Lambeau Field wind child of minus-23 degrees. Sunday’s forecast for temperatures hovering around 20 degrees seem balmy by comparison.
One of the enduring images of that title game, which would be Brett Favre’s final game as a member of the Packers, is of Coughlin’s face, red and swollen against the Green Bay cold. It was described by a New York columnist this week as having taken on the appearance of a cherry.
It wasn’t the cold that gave Coughlin that cherry-red glow last month, when the Packers rallied for a walk-off field goal. It was a loss that threatened to keep the Giants out of the postseason, and the Giants had to rally their morale against that defeat.
“We came away with the idea that it was a very good football game. We had our opportunities to win; there was a lot of discussion that we left too much time on the clock and all of that business. We played hard, we did a lot of good things, we did not finish the game the way we wanted to finish it. We certainly felt like we were very, very competitive,” Coughlin said.
As it turned out, in defeat the Giants’ season was reborn.
“I think it was kind of a rebirth. We weren’t playing that well going into that game. The chips were stacked against us at that point. It was a game that it seemed like everything started to mentally click for us. We started playing better as a football team. It really has been a turning point in our season,” Tuck said.
The Giants went on to beat the Cowboys twice and claim the NFC East title, and now they are one of the hottest teams in the playoffs, with the same pass-rush/quarterback combination that led them to the title in the ’07 postseason.
“It’s a mentality that’s been around here for a long time. Make no mistake about it, this Giants football team goes as its D-line goes and goes as our quarterback, Eli, goes. Those two positions have had a lot to do with the success we’ve had around here,” Tuck said.
Eli Manning threw for 277 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 129.3 passer rating in the win over the Falcons. He was aided by a running game that pounded out 172 yards after having finished the season last in the league in rushing. If those two ingredients aren’t enough to qualify a team for “hot” status, then factor in a pass-rush that features Jason Pierre-Paul’s 16.5 sacks with the return of star pass-rusher Osi Umenyiora. The only thing that’s kept Tuck’s sacks total down is his teammates: They’re getting to the quarterback before Tuck can.
“We’ve gotten good pressure. We’ve created disadvantageous down-and-distance scenarios (for opponents),” Coughlin said. “This team has created some momentum for itself. We’ve played a number of games that, had we not won, we would’ve eliminated ourselves. We did not turn it over again last weekend. The quarterback played well. We didn’t give up any points at all on defense. It’s going in the right direction.”
The point can be made that all four of the remaining NFC playoff teams have a team-of-destiny quality to them. Which one will truly emerge as that team?
“Normally it’s the team that peaks at the right time of the season,” Tuck said.
For the Giants and Packers, that issue will be decided on Sunday. Additional coverage - Jan. 11