Four years after the Giants won Super Bowl XLII by attacking quarterbacks from different angles, the current edition tries to create mayhem in similar ways, lining up defensive ends on the inside and defensive tackles on the outside, all in the name of pressure. In 2007 it was a late-season test—and narrow loss—against undefeated New England that made the Giants believe they could win a title. This season they faced a brutal second-half schedule, including a 38--35 loss to then undefeated Green Bay in Week 13 and a pair of victories, over the Jets and the Cowboys, in Weeks 16 and 17 that were play-in games for the postseason.
Those performances give the Giants the appearance of a team that is peaking, and the team's rise is largely thanks to a defense that has 11 sacks in its last two games.
New York has 48 this season (the Super Bowl team had 53) and now is even more dangerous with the return of defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who missed four games with a high-ankle sprain but had two sacks in the 31--14 drubbing of Dallas.
"I think us playing like we played the last two weeks, it's going to be a tough road to beat us," defensive end Justin Tuck said on Sunday night. "We have some good pass rushers, but Osi, he's a game-changer. He takes a lot of pressure off myself and the whole D-line, knowing that on any play he can make one of those game-changing plays."
The most intriguing Giant is Eli Manning, who four years ago elevated his play just in time for the playoffs, taking out Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay on the road before pulling off the Super Bowl shocker.
Manning enters the postseason a better quarterback, more confident in his voice, more accurate with his passes, the unquestioned leader of his team. He declared himself an elite QB this season and then backed up that statement on the field, throwing for a career-high 4,933 yards at a career-best 8.4 yards a pass. During the most frantic parts of a game, Manning is the calmest player on the field. His 110 QB rating in the fourth quarter this season was second only to the Packers' Aaron Rodgers's (114.3), and his 15 fourth-quarter touchdown passes established a new NFL record. Few quarterbacks run a two-minute drill better.
In 2007 many people didn't see the Giants coming. Now, the plotline is familiar, but knowing that won't make the Giants any easier to stop.
Individual 100-yard rushing games this season by Giants players (Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs), fewest in a season by two different New York players since Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne had one each in 2000.
Sacks by Giants' second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, fourth most for a season in team history. Only Michael Strahan (22½ in 2001; 18½ in '03) and Lawrence Taylor (20½ in 1986) had more.
ON THE SPOT
He didn't start a college game until his junior year at UMass, was passed over in the 2010 NFL draft and didn't have a reception as a rookie. That résumé hasn't stopped Victor Cruz from becoming a star. The 25-year-old wideout can outrace defenses down the sideline after a short catch in the slot or threaten them over the top. His emergence as a playmaker should open up routes for wideout Hakeem Nicks and tight end Jake Ballard, as Cruz gets increased attention from defensive backs. If they lose Cruz, they'll find him in the end zone, performing his touchdown salsa dance.
RIC TAPIA/ICON SMI (PIERRE-PAUL)
QB HUNTER His 16½ sacks in 2011 has kept Pierre-Paul in the starting lineup—even after Umenyiora's return.
CARLOS M. SAAVEDRA (CRUZ)