FIVE UNSUNG GIANTS WHO HELPED MAKE RUN TO SUPER BOWL POSSIBLE
"Eli Manning shattered
team passing records, and Jason Pierre-Paul
became a feared force. Victor Cruz broke out,
and Justin Tuck
rediscovered his fury late in the season.
But when GM Jerry Reese
evaluates how his Giants made this stunning run to Super Bowl XLVI, he doesn't
always point to those obvious stars. The architect of Big Blue understands that
his team has also been buoyed by some unknown players thrust into quietly
"Most championships, you've got to have a little bit of
luck, and somebody's got to come out of the shadows to make a play," he said
after the Giants won the NFC title last Sunday. "Somebody you don't expect to
make a play comes out of the shadows to make a couple plays. It happens every
That has happened for the Giants this season, allowing them to
overcome a grueling schedule and survive the losses of more than a half-dozen
key players to season-ending injuries.
Why are they in Indianapolis?
Sure, Eli, JPP and Cruuuuz have plenty to do with it. So do these five far
The rookie fullback from Pitt didn't have a carry
during the regular season and he caught only 12 passes. But when Hynoski was not
available, his absence was noted.
In the first five games of the season,
the 6-1, 266-pound rookie emerged as a solid run blocker, but he suffered a neck
injury against Seattle. He would miss the next five games before finally
returning in the Nov. 28 loss at New Orleans.
One week later, the
much-maligned run game finally enjoyed a solid performance, totaling 100 yards
and averaging 5.0 yards per carry in the loss to Green Bay. Offensive
coordinator Kevin Gilbride still
points to that game as the turning point for his struggling ground game, and
Hynoski had plenty to do with it.
"He's very important," said backup quarterback David Carr.
"He's a bull of a blocker. And he can do more than that, too."
blocking has drawn loads of attention, but he has quietly emerged as a solid
receiving threat out of the backfield as well. Defenses must account for him; if
they don't, he can catch three passes for 20 yards, as he did last week in San
"A lot of people don't realize he was a third-down back at
Pitt," Carr said. "He's more than a bull. He can catch the
Even before he recovered a pair of fumbled punt
returns against the Niners (one was a muff), the unheralded Thomas was making
key contributions on special teams.
The former Redskins castoff began the
season as Big Blue's kick returner, but he was demoted in November. Initially,
he seemed to sulk, but by December, he had reinvented himself as a dangerous
gunner on special teams.
"It was frustrating," he says of his demotion.
"But I just have to use my athleticism to contribute any way I can. I'm starting
to get a little niche."
It was hardly glamorous, but the erstwhile
second-round pick embraced his new role. When the Giants played the Redskins in
December, Thomas had established himself as a kamikaze special teams force.
Twice in that game, he kept dangerous Washington return man Brandon Banks from
breaking a big return. Thomas suffered a scary stinger at halftime of that game,
but he had already impressed his teammates. Thomas also started taking advantage
of his rare opportunities as a receiver; late in the first quarter of the
Giants' 31-14 win over the Cowboys, his gritty 14-yard catch on third-and-8 from
the Dallas 48 helped set up Big Blue's second TD. This new Devin Thomas can
catch passes, make defensive plays and return kicks when needed, and that has
given Big Blue's roster flexibility, allowing the Giants to deactivate
one-dimensional players such as KR Da'Rel Scott and
disappointing WR Ramses
At the start of the season, Reese described the 6-5,
320-pound Boothe as an offseason "priority," a notion that made fans scoff at
the Giants' hopes for 2011.
Five months later, everyone understands. Once
a preseason punchline, the versatile lineman has become the ultimate
hole-plugger on a unit that has been hammered by injuries.
a great job for us, whether he has to play center, whether he has to play
guard," Manning said. "Sometimes he plays both of them in the same game for a
Boothe began the year on the bench, but he ably filled in for
center David Baas when the
prized free agent battled neck and knee injuries early in the season. By Week 6
against the Buffalo Bills, Boothe was lining up alongside Baas at right guard,
clearing holes as Ahmad Bradshaw
recorded his lone 100-yard rushing effort of 2011.
A month later, when
left tackle Will Beatty landed on
injured reserve with a detached retina, Boothe moved to left guard, allowing David
Diehl to slide to left tackle. It was the sixth-year lineman's final move in
a season that more than justified Reese's preseason excitement.
been very important to this team," said Manning, "and given us that comfort
knowing that whatever happens amongst the offensive line, if a guy gets banged
up a little bit or goes down, that Kevin can come in and play a number of
The Giants struggled to defend the run, surrendering
a whopping 121.3 yards on the ground this season. But as the season wore on,
they gradually improved, especially on gritty runs up the middle.
in large part to the maturation of Joseph, the Giants' interior run defense has
solidified in the postseason, because the massive Joseph, a second-round pick in
2010, has gradually asserted himself as a run-stopping force.
Linval's been playing good for us throughout the second half of the football
season," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. "I think
Linval's just growing up. He's really a rookie, so to speak."
played sparingly in just six games last season, but he has started regularly
this year. He's also slimmed down to 323 pounds, getting quicker and improving
his defensive footwork. He began the season slowly, but by the time the Giants
played Green Bay in the regular season, he had found his place.
recorded a career-high nine tackles in that game as the Giants limited the
Packers to 89 yards on the ground in a 38-35 loss. He has continued that hot
play through the postseason. Neither the Falcons nor the Packers cracked 100
rushing yards against the Giants, and while the 49ers managed 150 yards, 42 of
those came from scrambling QB Alex
"I think Linval's just growing up a little bit," Fewell said.
"He's just turned it loose, and he's really playing well right now with a lot of
Tollefson, 28, had
never started an NFL game in his career until this season. But with Justin Tuck
and Osi Umenyiora nursing
injuries in the opener at Washington, he got his chance, and he made the most of
it, delivering two tackles and a sack.
"I could kind of feel it was
coming," Tollefson said. "I had a great offseason, and whenever I've ever
played, I've done a really good job."
Tuck and Umenyiora would eventually
get healthy, but Tollefson *— all 266 pounds of him — remained a fixture along
the Giants defensive line. He was a capable defensive end, but he was also
physical enough to line up at tackle, battling beefy offensive linemen
Tollefson finished the season with a career-high five sacks,
tying Tuck for third-best on the team, and his emergence allowed Fewell to
experiment more with his defensive linemen. By the postseason, the Giants were
occasionally lining Tollefson and dangerous linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka
up at defensive tackle, setting Umenyiora and near-unstoppable JPP up at end,
and letting Tuck function as a giant-sized, stand-up linebacker in a
pass-rushing alignment that routinely flummoxed opposing
Tollefson rarely made plays in these settings — he hasn't
recorded a single tackle in the playoffs — but his fierce inside play still drew
offenses' attention, freeing up his more celebrated teammates for
"Anything to contribute, man," he said."