A Date To Remember is an occasional series Big Blue View will be running through the Super Bowl, highlighting the glory of the Giants’ past and celebrating the biggest playoff wins in franchise history.
The Giants Rising
Jan. 8, 2012
NFC Wild Card game
Giants 24, Falcons 2
Antrel Rolle tapped himself on the chest, right over his heart, to make his point clear.
It’s all about this.
It’s all about heart.
“If you don’t got it in the heart, I don’t know ...” the safety and soul of the 2011 Giants told me and other reporters that afternoon in their devastated postgame locker room. “We’re 10 times better than what we showed out there on the field today.
“I don’t know, man. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
The Giants did not have nearly enough heart, not on that mid-December Sunday in 2011.
Not enough heart or intensity or anything else needed to beat the last-place Washington Redskins at home — not even as their postseason hopes seemed to be slipping away.
The 23-10 debacle was the Giants’ fifth loss in six games, dropping them to 7-7. Just two games remained, and their slim playoff chances depended on winning both despite a 6-2 start.
Just three weeks later, it seemed impossible that the Giants could have fallen into such a chasm after they comfortably dispatched the Atlanta Falcons, 24-2, in an NFC Wild Card game at MetLife Stadium.
It was their first postseason victory since Super Bowl XLII and their first home playoff win since the 2000 NFC title game.
Eli Manning and Co. were accustomed to performing near-miracles, as they showed in 2007. But it seemed the magic had run out in Week 15 after that loss to Washington.
However, the 2011 Giants would prove just how resilient they were. It showed in how they always rose to the occasion in clutch moments, finding a way to win whenever they had to.
And that started with a bond among the players and the trust and belief they had in each other.
Rolle stood up in front of his teammates in a meeting late in the season and implored them to crank up the intensity, kicker Lawrence Tynes remembered. He called it “a turning point” for a team that was struggling.
“Antrel had a lot to do with the 2011 year because of his leadership,” Tynes told Big Blue View. “He played so hard, and everyone respected him. He stood up and spoke to us. [Coach Tom] Coughlin was even in the room at the time.
“He just kind of laid it all out there and said, ‘We’re too good for this.’ That was definitely a turning point for us when he spoke to the team and laid all his emotions out there.”
Suddenly, the Giants were playing as well as anyone.
They needed to.
In Week 16, Victor Cruz broke Rex Ryan’s Jets defense with a 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Manning right before halftime. It gave the Giants a lead they would never relinquish.
And then they jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead on the Cowboys in the season finale to win the division and clinch a playoff berth.
“I know it’s kind of clichéd, but if you believe, you can achieve,” captain and defensive end Justin Tuck said after the win over the Falcons.
He added: “Right now we have a high level of belief in each other, and it’s showing on the football field.”
Manning felt it too, completing 23-of-32 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns. Hakeem Nicks caught six of them for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
And the defense had transformed into a suffocating unit, yielding just 56 points in four playoff victories.
Osi Umenyiora overcame injuries — he missed seven games due to right knee surgery in training camp and a high-ankle sprain in late November — to record two sacks in the regular-season finale and then 3.5 in the postseason.
Tuck, who was limited by a number of injuries the entire season, registered a sack in each of the last two regular-season games and then 3.5 in the playoffs.
The Giants won those final two regular-season games and then beat Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs, but there was little optimism outside the team that they would make a deep postseason run. Not with 15-1 Green Bay waiting at Lambeau. And not with 13-3 San Francisco waiting after that.
And both had beaten the Giants in the regular season.
But Rolle believed. And Tuck believed. And so did Jason Pierre-Paul — who earned All-Pro honors with 16.5 sacks in 2011.
“We’re going to win,” the defensive end said, predicting a victory over the Giants’ divisional round opponent, the Packers, after beating Atlanta. “A hundred percent we’re going to win.”
“Because we’re the best,” he said.
Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith would learn that soon enough. And then Tom Brady would learn it all over again in Super Bowl XLVI.