The Giants’ playoff hopes are on life support, yet their collective faith is unwavering because they believe history is on their side. After all the team went on an unimaginable Super Bowl run just two years ago.
Many within the locker room think Sunday night’s performance could be that spark necessary to do the unthinkable. And there’s one man who could be behind that inspiration — defensive end Justin Tuck.
The longtime Giant and defensive co-captain went retro for the Giants (5-7) when he sacked the elusive Robert Griffin III four times in Sunday night’s 24-17 win. Tuck, who entered the game with just 2 1/2 sacks, was a man possessed as he played all 69 defensive snaps.
“It was fun being out there the whole time because you get in a rhythm,” said Tuck. “I don’t really worry about what critics say. [But] last night it finally came together a little bit. I’m pretty sore now [but] it’s all good.”
Teammate Mathias Kiwanuka said Tuck should be feeling good, especially with so many naysayers feeling the captain was on the decline. Kiwanuka, who knows a lot about sacrificing for the good of the team playing every position on the front seven, scoffed at the critics.
“You have to remember that on third downs, Justin usually kicks inside,” Kiwanuka, referring to defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s scheme that forces Tuck from defensive end to tackle on obvious passing downs. “But he was great. It was a great effort by him, [and] by the team. If you watch the film, he’s almost there on everybody else’s sacks throughout the season, so the only thing I’ve been telling him is that it’s been a long time coming. … But we knew he’d spark us and pick it up [after Jason Pierre-Paul was made inactive]. He’s back and he got the sacks that he finally deserves. I’m happy for him and happy that we got a win in the game that he had a breakout game in.”
Tuck offered no excuses for the previous lack of highlights this season, but is happy he finally had a dominating performance — and more importantly, helped keep his team’s dimming playoff hopes alive.
“Everybody gets in a zone at times. And considering that we really needed a big performance out of somebody, it is definitely going to be one of those memorable football games for me,” said Tuck. “Hopefully [critics] see that I can play the game at a high level. But like I always tell you all, I do not care what other people say. As long as those other people [in the locker room] understand that I pour my heart and soul in this team every week, the most important thing is going out there and getting wins.”
Big Blue notes …
»The Giants finished 2-1 in NFC East road games, winning in Philadelphia and Washington and losing in Dallas. They are 2-3 in the division, with a home game remaining against Washington on Dec. 29.
»The Giants will have to win the NFC East outright, as they cannot win any three-way tie scenario with Dallas and Philadelphia because the first tiebreaker is head-to-head records among the teams.
There are many scenarios where the Giants can make the playoffs — however unlikely it seems. But the one scenario that makes it certain for an early offseason is one more loss by Big Blue, plus one win each by Dallas and San Francisco in the final four weeks.
»Tuck’s four-sack performance tied him for third-highest in franchise history. Former Giant and current Falcon Osi Umenyiora holds the mark with six in a game (Philadelphia on Sept. 30, 2007). Tuck had a chuckle when recalling that “one of the first texts” he read was from Umenyiora. Tuck refused to divulge the conversation, but chuckled when acknowledging Umenyiora was pleased his record wasn’t broken.
»Tuck’s previous career high was three sacks of Michel Vick in Philadelphia on Nov. 21, 2010. This was Tuck’s first multiple-sack game since Nov. 4, 2012, when he sacked Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger twice.
»Head coach Tom Coughlin discussed Pierre-Paul’s shoulder injury, saying he had “no idea” about the player’s status for next week’s game in San Diego. Coughlin, who added “we’ll have to wait and see,” didn’t sound too concerned about the severity of the lingering issue and doesn’t think it’ll be anything that forces the Giants to “shut him down” for the remainder of the season.
»Will Hill’s strip and recovery of a fumble by Washington wideout Pierre Garcon essentially salted away the win for Big Blue. Coughlin marveled at the young safety’s playmaking ability: “The play by Will Hill was an exceptional play. … It was certainly a play above the X’s and O’s.”
Follow Giants beat writer Tony Williams on Twitter @TBone8.