If there's been one question during this entire 2012 New York Giants' season it's been this: What is the deal with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora? Both are two-time Super Bowl champions with the Giants, have both been dominant defensive ends in the NFL, and suddenly they're playing well below par.
Umenyiora is 31 and Tuck is 29. Do these guys no longer have the heart and passion for the game, or are they simply on a decline? The game of football can put such a strain on an individual, both physically and mentally, especially in the NFL where hits become bigger and louder.
Tuck has battled shoulder and neck injuries for a while. They've contributed to him not playing up to his previous level the past two seasons, and seem to be taking a toll on his mental game. It's clear that Tuck isn't the same player who had 11.5 sacks in 2010. Where is that spark? Where is that passion?
Tuck missed a few weeks of the 2011 season with neck and shoulder injuries and mentioned he was going through personal struggles that were effecting his play. When he returned he looked like the Tuck of old, making big plays and being the vocal leader he's supposed to be, leading the team to Super Bowl XLVI glory. This season he has struggled again with his shoulder injury, but this time has not come back from it. Is it his injuries, a lack of passion, or both? Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell believes that Tuck is working as hard as he usually does, but just isn't getting the results.
"Is he as effective as he was at the end of last year right now? No," said Fewell. "I watch him every day. Some days he surprises me with what he does and some days it's Justin. I think Justin is trying to play hard, but he's not making any plays. Just like our guys haven't made any plays in the last couple of weeks."
Either Tuck has lost a step or just doesn't have the passion for the game anymore. It's hard to tell. If he still has big game left in him, he needs to figure out how to bring it back next season. There has been speculation that the Giants could part ways with him, but it doesn't seem likely. Tuck has one year at $4.5 million left on his contract.
As for Umenyiora ... it's been quite a saga for him the last couple of seasons. Most of the drama surrounding him has been around contract talks. He wanted to restructure, but was asking for too much money. He and general manager Jerry Reese couldn't see eye-to-eye and Umenyiora took his frustrations out in the media. Earlier in the off-season Umenyiora and Reese put those contract talks to bed, and this week he revealed that he believes Sunday will likely be his last game as a Giant.
Umenyiora has played in all 15 games this season and has six sacks and two forced fumbles. If he doesn't add to his sack total on Sunday it will be his lowest since 2006 when he collected six sacks.
Am I annoyed with Umenyiora for wanting to try and make more money? No way. You never know why or when your football career will end, so you try and get your pay when you can. What was annoying about the ordeal was how public it became. According to Mark Garafolo of USA Today, Umenyiora regrets the way he went about it.
"I completely went about it the wrong way," the two-time Pro Bowl defensive end told USA Today Sports this week, adding: "Honestly, if I would have handled it differently, it wouldn't even be a question about finishing my career here or not. But I didn't."
Umenyiora admits his faults and wishes he could have handled it differently, but it is what it is. Obviously his outspoken criticisms of the contract situation became a distraction and he wasn't performing as well as he used to.
Both Tuck and Umenyiora have played big parts in Giants' history. Umenyiora came to the Giants in 2003 and has made two Pro Bowls (2005, 2007), been maed All-Pro twice (2005, 2010), and is fourth in Giants history in sacks (71.5). Tuck came to the Giants in 2005 and been selected to the Pro Bowl and named All-Pro twice (2008, 2010) and is sixth in Giants history in sacks (48.5). Both Tuck and Umenyiora were key contributors to both Super Bowl XLII and XLVI. There's no question both of these players have a special place in Giants' history.
As for their futures, it's pretty clear that Umenyiora will likely be gone next season when he enters free agency. As for Tuck, I believe he will finish out his contract. It's a matter of where his head is at.
--You can follow Kelsey O'Donnell on Twitter @KelsODonnell