(Long Island, NY) Say what you want about the inconsistent play of Eli Manning, the mass of injuries and the questionable calls of head coach Tom Coughlin. Save it for another day and give the Giants the accolades they deserve after clinching their third consecutive playoff berth. 10 wins heading into the final game of the regular season is still 10 wins, and the team also went 7-1 on the road. In the watered down NFC, they are directly below Dallas and Green Bay.
Big Blue has not played its best football of late, and with the 15-0 New England Patriots up in Week 17, defeating the Bills up north became even more imperative. In the early going, Buffalo went ahead and the Giants looked as if they were in danger of needing a win over the Pats to get in. Staying with their game plan in the driving rain and swirling wind, the Giants plodded along and took care of business, 38-21
“It was a very elated locker room just from the standpoint of winning,” Coughlin said. “We were down 14 to nothing, we come back and win, it is a back and forth ball game, the weather is a tremendous factor in the game.”
When the Giants began the season 0-2 and their defense was being raked over the coals in the media, the team stuck together and began to jell. By qualifying for the fifth seed and the top wild card playoff spot, they have quieted the critics and played without some key components due to injuries at times this season, such as Jeremy Shockey, Brandon Jacobs, Mathias Kiawanuka and Derrick Ward.
The bottom line is making the postseason in the NFL, and that is where the Giants find themselves. “It feels great. We’re fortunate and I’m very excited,” said rookie linebacker Zak DeOssie, a second generation Giant.
Amani Toomer, who had a huge game with five receptions for 99 yards and possibly the most important reception of the season for a first down when the Giants were trailing by two touchdowns, knew as a veteran that there was no panic with the team.
“We knew we had a lot of time,” the Michigan product said. “Being down 14-0 didn’t really bother us as much because we knew we could put a lot of points on the board. We haven’t been the past couple of weeks (26 points combined versus Philadelphia and Washington), but I think everybody in the huddle on offense knew that we were capable of doing what we did today.”
What they did that day will transpire into Week 18, which only 12 out of the 32 teams in the NFL are still carrying their playbooks and watching game film. The Giants’ ticket for the big dance is already punched and the NFC South champion Buccaneers await. Playing in a weak division, they may only have nine wins as opposed to a possible 11 by the Giants, but still own home field advantage due to the division championship.
At home, Tampa Bay has a 6-1 record heading into the last game this weekend versus Carolina. Quarterback Jeff Garcia, who led the Eagles to a wild card round win over the Giants a year ago, has had a successful maiden season down south. The veteran has thrown for 2,440 yards with 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions.
The receiving corps is quite formidable with Joey Galloway (over 1,000 yards receiving and six touchdowns) and old friend Ike Hilliard, who leads the Bucs with 62 receptions. On the ground, Earnest Graham and Michael Pittman have combined for over 1,000 yards rushing.
On the other side of the ball, Derrick Brooks leads the Tampa ‘d’ and has 84 solo tackles so far (107 total). Greg White (8) along with Jovan Haye and first round draft pick Gaines Adams (6 each) are leading the sack attack for Jon Gruden’s squad.
It will not be an easy task, but the Giants have been left for dead already at least once this season. They are still breathing and may surprise some people before it is all said and done.