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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Buying Into Team Concept Resulting In Big Results For Big Blue

Buying Into Team Concept Resulting In Big Results For Big Blue-By Jon Wagner for Football Reporters Online

It took the New York Giants the majority of the 2007 regular season to buy into what its coaching staff was selling. We all know how that story panned out for New York, with an unlikely run to a Super Bowl title over the previously undefeated New England Patriots. The Giants didn’t even look like a playoff team, let alone an eventual NFL champion, in the earlier part of the 2007 campaign.

The point at which the Giants are at now, defending their 2007 title with a perfect 4-0 start in 2008 (extending their regular and postseason winning streak to eight consecutive games), clouds recollections of the Giants’ very humble beginnings last season.

Revisiting those early stages of what has become the Giants’ tremendous team growth, provides a great deal of perspective. The Giants began last season 0-2, allowing 80 points in their first two games; after winning seven of their next eight games, the Giants and Eli Manning were about as dreadful as they could be in getting wiped out at home, 41-17, against the Minnesota Vikings; and, after losing a key December game at home (in which they came in favored) to the Washington Redskins, in December, the Giants found their slim playoff chances hanging by a thread, down 14-0 after the first quarter in Buffalo, in a must-win game.

That’s the point at which everything finally clicked for the Giants, who they haven’t looked back since. That’s when Brandon Jacobs ran for two touchdowns (en route to a 143-yard rushing day) to tie that game in Buffalo; when Kawicka Mitchell stepped up with a huge play, returning an interception 20 yards to put the Giants ahead of the Bills to stay; when Eli Manning finally began to prove, in any conditions (even in rainy and windy Buffalo that day) that he could be the leader the Giants had waited for, four years; and, that’s when the Giants learned what they had in Ahmad Bradshaw, who ran for an 88-yard touchdown and a career-high 151 yards to clinch the win over the Bills, and ultimately clinch the Giants’ playoff chances, touching off what became one of the greatest late-season runs in sports history.

What followed of course was the narrow, confidence-building, well-played loss to New England at home, the Giants’ final loss (excluding the 2008 preseason) to date, before the Giants’ magical road playoff run to a title.

Manning’s confidence and level of play soared. The defense finally practiced on the field what Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was preaching, and the rest of the Giants bought in to Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s ideals of personal sacrifice and “team first” concepts.

The Giants of course, have gotten where they are today because they have talent both on their roster and throughout their coaching staff. However, last season’s 18-1 Patriots also had a world of talent, yet as 14-point underdogs in Super Bowl XLII, it was the Giants who emerged as unexpected champions.

Why? Because the Giants mixed their talent with all of the other ingredients needed to overcome injuries and adversity -- maximum effort, heart, true team play, and surprising heroes picking up the slack for the Giants’ stars whenever called upon.

When Jeremy Shockey went down for the season with a leg injury in the aforementioned Washington game, Kevin Boss stepped in more than adequately for the remainder of the season, including his key, late 45-yard reception in Super Bowl XLII.

And, of course, we all know the remarkable catch that David Tyree made, despite being able to count the number of catches he had previously made in 2007 on the same right hand that incredibly affixed the football to his helmet as he acrobatically fell to the ground.

So, is it any wonder that after their amazing Super Bowl run, even after the retirement of Michael Strahan and the huge season-ending injury of Osi Umenyiora, that the Giants continue to not miss a beat?

Because of their team-first attitude, a collective willingness to prove all naysayers wrong, and the uncanny ability to effectively plug seemingly anyone into holes created by injuries or other circumstances, the Giants have simply refused to let such personnel losses translate into any additional losses to their opponents.

Given the track record since December, it should come as little surprise that the spot of the man who caught the winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLII (Plaxico Burress, of course, sitting out last week serving a one-game team-imposed suspension), was filled in on Sunday (a 44-6 crushing of the Seattle Seahawks) with Domenik Hixon catching four balls for a career-high 102 yards and a touchdown, and by Sinorice Moss catching the first two touchdowns of his professional career.

The Giants’ schedule will get much tougher this season, it will be a long and winding road back to another possible Super Bowl title, and the Giants may not repeat as champions. However, the smart pick says that because they have defined the word “team” since December, the Giants will at least have a great chance of getting back to the top no matter what other obstacles are placed in front of them.

(image thanks to Ingamenow.com)

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