Super Bowl XLVI seems like a lifetime ago for New York Giants fans. A lot has happened in the nine years since, but not much has led to a propitious situation. Since that magical 2011 Super Bowl run, the Giants have gone 57-87 with three coaching changes, one disappointing playoff appearance (38-13 Wild-Card loss in Green Bay), and two seasons with a .500 or more winning percentage (2012 and 2016).
It’s been an unfulfilling stretch that followed one of the better decades in Giants’ history. The 9-7 2011 Super Bowl champion Giants’ team was the last time this team won an NFC East Championship as well. The 2016 team went 11-5, but the Dallas Cowboys went 13-3.
New York started the 2011 season at 6-2 before losing four straight games to the San Francisco 49ers, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New Orleans Saints, and the Green Bay Packers from weeks 10-13. The team was a bit lethargic and certain players had discontent about the nature and direction of the team. More on that a bit later, but I want to go through five key moments that lead to the last Giants Super Bowl victory over Tom Brady, who is now playing in his 10th Super Bowl, but was just a “neophyte” playing in his fifth in early 2012.
1). Jason Pierre-Paul’s block vs. Dallas
Pierre-Paul is playing in his second Super Bowl, now as a teammate of rady, but the talented, long, EDGE rusher had a breakout 2011 season, his second in the league. It was statistically his best season with 86 tackles, 23 for a loss, 16.5 sacks, 7 passes defended, 2 forced fumbles, a safety, and a gigantic field goal block against the Dallas Cowboys.
It was a Week 14 Sunday Night Football matchup and the Giants were 6-6 after four straight losses. Dallas was 7-5 and they won four of their last five games - this was a pivotal moment for the 2011 Giants. Manning threw for over 400 yards, Hakeem Nicks had 7 catches for 154 yards, and Brandon Jacobs had 2 rushing touchdowns. However, Tony Romo wasn’t relenting and had four passing touchdowns as well.
New York scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the fourth quarter and DJ Ware converted the two-point conversion to make the game 37-34. Romo led Dallas down the field and put Dan Bailey into a position to kick a 47-yard field goal. Head coach Tom Coughlin iced the kicker right before the snap and Bailey drilled the kick with ease.
Tensions were high with six seconds left on the clock and overtime looming - could the Giants’ fortunes be determined by a flip of the coin? What would have happened if the Giants lost this game to a division rival that finished the year 8-8? Luckily, it didn’t matter; on the second attempt, Pierre-Paul used his insane length to block the kick and secure the victory in Cowboys Stadium.
It was a great momentum builder for the Giants leading into another divisional game against a Washington team that defeated them 14-28 on opening day. Dallas had another shot to secure the division in week 17 at MetLife Stadium, but Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Ahmad Bradshaw, and Co. had other arrangements for Dallas, and the Giants secured their playoff berth by defeating their rivals 31-14 in commanding fashion.
2). Antrel Rolle speaks up
The upward trajectory after the Dallas win was short-lived when the Giants hosted Washington and lost 23-10. Safety Antrel Rolle was displeased with the loss and the overall attitude that the team possessed. Typically, fans don’t want to see a player publicly throw other players under the bus - it’s not conciliatory, but it ended up being necessary.
According to Ralph Vacchiano, Rolle was quoted saying this about many of his teammates that sit out of practice with seemingly tolerable injuries.
”If you’re going to go out here and play the game on Sunday, you need to be out there with your men throughout the week, I’ve been nicked up all year long. A lot of other people have been nicked up all year long. We go out there and we’re fighting. I don’t know. I ain’t the coach, man. I’m not trying to be the coach, and I’m not trying to say what he should do or shouldn’t do. But I feel as teammates we need to hold each other more accountable.”
”I’m not calling anyone out. It’s not about individuals. What I’m saying is this – and quote me on this – if you’re going to play Sunday . . . granted, some injuries you can’t practice through, I understand that. But little nicks and bruises? If you can push through it, push through it because your team needs you.”
Two players didn’t practice, but played, the week leading up to the Washington game: RB Ahmad Bradshaw and DE Justin Tuck. As our very own Ed Valentine pointed out in a Dec. 19, 2011, article, Rolle felt the media took the comments out of context. Nevertheless, the team rallied together and defeated the Jets and Cowboys in the next two games to propel them into the playoffs.
Although Rolle vehemently claimed that he wasn’t targeting Justin Tuck, the comments seemed to light a fire under the Giant great. Tuck had three sacks through the first 10 games of the season and discussed being put on the I.R. due to nagging shoulder, groin, and neck injuries. After Rolle’s comments, Tuck had 5.5 sacks through six games, and he was a big reason why the defense went from averaging 26.6 points per game to 20 against playoff competition.
Two of the sacks came against Tom Brady in the Super Bowl. According to ESPN’s Jordan Brenner, Tuck went up to Rolle and thanked him for “igniting the locker room.”
“I wanted to say the same things he did,” said Justin Tuck. “But being injured at the time, I didn’t feel okay standing in front of the team and talking about practicing. The fact was if we were going to even make the playoffs, we had to get guys on the football field.”
Rolle publicly voicing his displeasure didn’t go over well initially, but the result was excellent, and it helps show the type of respect that Rolle and the type of overall leadership the Giants had in their locker room.
3). “I’m Victor Cruz!”
The Jets were 8-5 before losing to the Eagles in Week 15 - the game before they squared off with the Giants in the mega-snoopy bowl in MetLife Stadium, or, as Jets’ Plaxico Burress claimed, “JetLife Stadium” (which still makes me upset to this day). This game ended up being a Christmas Eve Special for the New York Giants. That particular time of the New York Jets’ franchise was bombastic, boisterous, and was led by blowhard head coach Rex Ryan.
Ryan’s teams adopted his personality and Jets’ starting cornerback Antonio Cromartie attempted to get into the head of Victor Cruz, a young second-year UDFA out of UMASS who was having a true breakout season. Cromartie disparaged Cruz and claimed to not know his name.
I know the loyal BBV readers and listeners remember this time in Giants lure, and not just because the Giants won the Super Bowl. Despite what a high-profile person recently said (a person who has been in the greater New Jersey area for about five minutes) - Giants fans are very invested in their team.
The Giants were down 7-3 late in the second quarter, just before the two-minute warning with the ball on their 1-yard line. Manning found Cruz in the flat and the young UMASS product took the ball 99 yards for the go-ahead score - and if memory serves correctly, unlike Cromartie who failed to remember Cruz’s name, the Giants never relinquished the lead and went on to defeat the Jets 29-14.
This was a gigantic momentum swing for the Giants as they entered Week 17 with a chance to win the division. As for the Jets, they went on to lose their final game to the Dolphins and failed to qualify for the wildcard.
4). 37 yards to Hakeem Nicks
The Giants were eight-point dogs against the 15-1 Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round of the 2011 playoffs. The score was 13-10 Giants when New York forced a punt and the Giants had little time left in the half. Lambeau Field is known for some miraculous Hail Mary plays, but this one, in particular, was the preeminent play.
New York was just out of field goal range and Manning heaved a pass to the back-left of the end-zone where Hakeem Nicks leaped over the top of two Packers’ defenders and grasped the ball to his facemask. The reception almost resembled David Tyree’s “helmet catch” which happened in the Super Bowl four years prior.
The half expired and the Giants jumped out to a 20-10 lead. The Packers pulled the score to a one-possession game in the third quarter, but the Giants ran away with the game in the fourth quarter and won 37-20. The Giants sacked Aaron Rodgers four times and intercepted him as well.
After the game Packers’ linebacker Clay Matthews said that the Giants didn’t beat them, but the Packers “beat themselves.” Poor quote. I think it’s fair to say the Packers didn’t play their best football that day, but the Giants performed, were opportunistic, and they defeated the Packers soundly. Take the L Matthews, take the L.
Much like the 2007 run, any pundits in the media did not believe the Giants had a chance against this 15-1 team, but they found a way to prevail. Luckily, in my opinion, the New Orleans Saints lost to the 49ers 36-32, which set up the NFC Championship game in San Francisco. The 49ers were a very good football team, but I don’t think the Giants matched up well against the Saints. New York tried that once in 2011 at the Superdome and it resulted in a 49-24 loss.
However, the Stage had now been set. All the claims about Eli Manning’s lucky 2007 Super Bowl victory held in the balance...Will the national media get egg on their face? If they do, will they admit it? No, they’ll just double down on a “lucky” Manningham throw. Nevertheless, it’s difficult to take anything away from Manning’s performance in the NFC Championship game against the 49ers - I don’t care if fumble luck benefited the Giants.
5). The NFC Championship Game
I’m not going to single one moment out of this affair - the entire game deserves to be highlighted. It was a terrible start to the game for the Giants. After a punt from each team, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith found Vernon Davis for a 73-yard touchdown. And on the ensuing drive for the Giants, they were shut down on a fourth-and-1, resulting in a turnover on downs.
The Giants defense stepped up and forced a three-and-out, and it was Eli Manning, along with some nice Jacobs and Bradshaw runs, who nickel and dimed his way to a 6-yard Bear Pascoe touchdown. The game ended up being a defensive struggle.
The Giants sacked Alex Smith three times, hit him six more times, and knocked five passes away from 49ers receivers. Eli had it a bit worse; Manning was sacked six times and hit 12 times. He was getting pummeled after he threw the football and kept getting up - it showed a ton of toughness, resilience, and leadership.
Vernon Davis’ second touchdown, a 28-yarder, was matched by a Manningham 17-yard strike from Manning after a few punt exchanges. Then, a David Akers field goal tied the game up at 17 with 5:43 left in the fourth quarter - and both defenses forced overtime.
The offenses struggled again to muster much life in overtime. On the Giants’ second possession in overtime, Justin Smith sacked Eli Manning on a third-and-3 resulting in a fourth-and-13 punt. Steve Weatherford punted the ball to Kyle Williams who started running with the football before it was secured and Giants’ linebacker Jacquian Williams was able to knock the ball loose so Devin Thomas can fall on top of the football.
This mishap put the Giants on the San Francisco 24-yard line. Lawrence Tynes booted a 31-yard field goal to send the Giants to their second Super Bowl in four years. Tynes did the same thing four years prior in the NFC Championship game. He kicked a 47-yard field goal in overtime to defeat Brett Favre in his final game as a Packer.
The victory in overtime against the 49ers resulted in the second Super Bowl matchup between Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots versus Eli Manning, Tom Coughlin, and the Giants. And for the second time, Manning was hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. There were so many instances within the season that helped lead the Giants to that moment in Lucas Oil Stadium, but these are five that always come to mind.