ANTREL ROLLE: WE FOUND OUR IDENTITY AGAINST THE JETS
"A month before stunning the Green Bay
Packers and moving one step closer to the Super Bowl, the New York
Giants were 7-7 and coming off a dismal loss to the Washington
Redskins that forced Tom Coughlin's team to do some serious soul
It was somewhere, sometime during the six days between that 23-10 loss on
Dec. 18 and the Christmas Eve game against the New York Jets
when the Giants started to figure things out.
If there was some sort of secret potion the Giants took, it would have been
green since they turned their season and fortunes around by beating Rex Ryan's
Jets 29-14 on Dec. 24.
"We found our identity against the Jets," safety Antrel Rolle said. "And we are going to
keep that identity."
The Giants haven't lost since, and now head to San Francisco for a rematch
with the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Coughlin's team has gotten better with each week since that game against the
Jets. Eli Manning and the offense have hit on
huge plays, starting with Victor Cruz's 99-yard touchdown.
Defensively, Perry Fewell's group has morphed from a mistake-prone squad into a
stingy, confident bunch that no longer suffers communication breakdowns and
Several factors contributed to the Giants' surge. Among the major ones were
Rolle's plea for teammates to put aside minor injuries, the defense coming
together and Cruz's season-saving touchdown that impacted two franchises.
"I think that we started to believe and trust in each other," Coughlin said.
"Our defensive people got together and decided we were better than the way we
had been playing, and we got some guys back."
Not long after training camp opened, the Giants were hit hard by injuries.
The defense took the biggest hit, losing key starters like cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff and the team's first two
draft picks, cornerback Prince Amukamara and defensive tackle Marvin Austin.
The Giants kept adjusting to the injuries with new players in new roles and
veterans trying to overcompensate for the losses. Throughout the course of the
season, injuries also had key players shuffling in and out.
Defensive end Justin Tuck battled through neck, groin and
toe injuries but wasn't himself. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora and linebacker Michael Boley also missed time.
After losing to the Redskins, a frustrated Rolle told reporters that the
Giants had to put aside everything and anything, including injuries that were
not significant, and concentrate on the final two games.
At 7-7, the Giants had to win out to claim the NFC East and make the
playoffs. Rolle said he wasn't calling any specific teammates out, but his
comments reverberated positively throughout the locker room. Tuck, the defensive
captain, said Rolle's words "struck a chord."
On the Wednesday prior to the Jets game, several hobbled Giants practiced,
even if on a limited basis, including running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who typically sits out the
first two days of practice each week to rest his injured foot. And Tuck
Tuck -- who also credited a sitdown with Coughlin that inspired him to
mentally put the pain aside -- played one of his best games of the season
against the Jets, collecting a sack and knocking down two passes. Umenyiora
returned the following game against Dallas and has had five sacks in three
The Giants' defense also cleaned up the mistakes that led to breakdowns in
the secondary and receivers scoring on open touchdowns. The unit's communication
improved greatly and players trusted one another, forming a bond that has gotten
stronger with each week.
The Giants have forced nine turnovers and allowed a total of 48 points in
their four consecutive wins.
"I can't take the credit for that," Rolle said on his weekly radio show on
WFAN on Tuesday, in reference to turning the Giants around with his plea. "These
guys have turned things around on their own. We turned things around for the
betterment of this team. We have one goal in mind, which is to compete and win a
In the days leading up to Christmas Eve, Ryan may have given a huge assist to
Coughlin by motivating the Giants with his talk of the Jets being the better
team in New York. And then the Jets covered up the mural of the Giants' Super
Bowl wins in front of their locker room, since the Giants were the road
But on the field, the Giants were trailing 7-3 with 2:27 remaining in the
first half and were unable to do much against Ryan's defense.
On a third-and-10 at their own 1, the Giants were staring at the possibility
of having to punt out of their end zone and going into the half down.
But Manning hit Cruz on a short pass to the right and the wide receiver broke
a tackle by Antonio Cromartie before avoiding another
tackle and racing 99 yards into the end zone, putting the Giants up 10-7. That
sparked a 29-14 win and what may be a run all the way to the Super Bowl.
"It was huge," Cruz said. "Anytime you can make a big play in the big game to
kind of change the complexion of that game and the way we felt as a team is
The play took 15 seconds from start to finish. It was 15 seconds that altered
the fortunes of both franchises.
The Jets never recovered and that play sent that organization toward an
offseason of controversy and disarray. There have been changes to the coaching
staff -- with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer leaving and Tony
Sparano replacing him -- and drama surrounding Santonio Holmes and Mark Sanchez.
If the Jets had been able to hold on to the lead, the game might've turned
out differently. Sanchez might not have had to throw 59 times. If the Jets had
won, they probably would be in the playoffs and the Giants could be the ones
mired an offseason of uncertainty.
There would be no telling what would have become of Coughlin or Fewell.
Giants ownership made it no secret that they wanted that game.
"It was kind of like a mini-Super Bowl and it was a very important game,"
Steve Tisch, Giants chairman and co-owner, told reporters last week. "There was
a lot more at stake than just a regular-season game against the Jets."
"It was their home game so it added just an extra level of 'We did it, we're
good, we're moving on, let's go.'"
The Giants haven't stopped since as they now head to San Francisco for a
chance to go to the Super Bowl.
"Ever since the [Jets] game, we've been all on deck," Rolle said. "Guys have
been in tune with what's going on here, what's at stake.
"We've had fun each and every game since then," Rolle added. "I think that's
where it all started."