Sunday Can’t Come Fast Enough
As another week closes in New Jersey, the population of Giants fans across the area found themselves wishing away yet another week and weekend, while feeling like Sunday would never arrive.This has been a week of uncharted territory for the Giants and their fans.
One week ago at this time, I wrote an article remembering the last time New York had played at Lambeau in the playoffs. The Giants, at that point, were 8 point underdogs to the Packers, and an afterthought in the Super Bowl picture.
Ahhh, the difference a week makes, especially at playoff time. Following a 37-20 thrashing of the Packers on Sunday, they are the toast of the country and seen as a viable Super Bowl contender (that whole part makes me extremely nervous).
Recent sports trends have shown us that, especially in the NFL, that parity and the salary cap have evened things out to the point, where the team that has the superior record is not always the most dangerous. It's the hottest teams that makes the livest underdogs, those capable of making the Super Bowl run.
The Giants have fit this bill the last few weeks, in one of the most sudden transformations I can remember from a sports team, let alone a team I root for.
Just a few weeks ago, this team was all but left for dead. This team played casual defense to say the very least. This team played divided on the field. And this team played almost nothing but nailbiter games that had left fans with racing heart rates, while scratching their heads.
This is something you hear from players and coaches when they recap special seasons. Every season needs that "spark." Whether it is one play or one half or one game, it is that tangible part of the season that is not always noticed till later on as the catalyst.
During the Giants Super Bowl run a few years back, there are the plays, such as Tyree's catch, the dropped Asante Samuel interception, the McQuarters' interception of Romo, Corey Webster's pick of Brett Favre, etc.
These are all plays that made a difference and had their part in a Super Bowl season. And if you rewind further, many will credit the regular season loss in Week 17 against the undefeated Patriots as the point when that Giants team gained their swagger.
All are fair arguments, but my vote for the spark in that season comes from Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills. The Giants had lost the week prior to the Redskins at home in an absolutely hideous game (which I was at), in which backup QB Todd Collins led Washington to a 22-10 win. The loss dropped New York to 9-5, and added jeopardy to a playoff berth that had seemed so certain. Combined with the freezing rainy weather, it was one of the worst games I ever attended at Giants Stadium.
This brought the team to Week 16 in Buffalo, needing a win to clinch, with Patriots on the horizon. It was the added pressure that they knew the Pats would be playing to go undefeated in Week 17, so this was an absolute must-win game. It was once again absolutely atrocious conditions for this game.
Eli Manning turned the ball over 4 times in the game, while throwing 34 incompletions, in one of the worst performances you'll ever see him have. Somehow, New York took the lead 17-14 at halftime.
They were only up 24-21 mid-way through the 4th Quarter, and you felt the pressure mounting and coming to a head.
Then it happened. In the slippery, rainy, sleety conditions at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Running Back Ahmad Bradshaw broke an 88 yard touchdown run to give the Giants a two-possession lead (they would add one more score) en route to the 38-21 win. The play is not always referenced, though, you will hear players off that team mention it from time to time.
But the way you felt the team breathe a collective sigh of relief was something so palpable that it was felt throughout the entire fan base.
While there are two high-stakes games to go, there is one play that stands out as the point that this team got that needed spark to be able to take a breath and just play football.
In a season full of long touchdowns, it came on Victor Cruz's 99 yard touchdown catch and run against the Jets on Christmas Eve.
The Giants trailed that game 7 to 3 with just over 2 minutes to go until halftime. Their offense had been non-existent with the defense playing very well in a must-win game. The play came as they were obviously backed at their own one yard line and seemed to concede trailing at the first half.
Again, the confidence it gave them going into the locker room was the game-changer. That play changed the complexion of that game, and the season, all while starting this run.
All of these things are quickly forgotten if the team loses this Sunday in San Francisco. In a week of recaps, previews, and preparations of the upcoming game, I thought it would be fun to remember two of these plays that sometimes fall under the radar.
And believe me, I am not discounting the game-changer that Hakeem Nicks' end zone Hail Mary catch was this past week in Green Bay for swinging momentum.
This discussion is to highlight exactly how stark of a difference there is in this team from where they were a month ago.
The most ironic part is that the game before this year's "spark" was a game at home against the Redskins in absolutely freezing weather, where the team went through the motions and looking like they did not want to be on the field. The Giants lost that game 23-10, with the football world basically counting them out for the playoffs.....and rightfully so.
It is a very eerie parallel to 2007.
Those parallels mean nothing without a victory on Sunday. I look forward to a great football game on Sunday night. And I hope we can all look forward to continuing this unexpected, but wonderful ride.
And I think we all hope Sunday night gets here just a little bit faster.