by Jon Wagner
After seeing the Giants (similar to past years under Tom Coughlin) finish the first half of the 2011 season at 6-2, with a two-game lead, before subsequently starting the second half with a pair of losses and falling into a first-place tie in the NFC East with Dallas, it’s understandable why Big Blue fans would focus on the negative right now.
However, since Thanksgiving is all about putting aside such thoughts in favor of being grateful for all we have, here are ten things Giants fans can be thankful for as they enjoy Thanksgiving Day while anticipating Eli Manning’s next homecoming and the Giants’ showdown with the Saints in the Big Easy on Monday:
1. Eli Manning Stepping Up His GameMuch was made about Manning simply answering with confidence when he was put in a very difficult spot while being asked if he was an elite NFL quarterback on par with Tom Brady. Well, we all know who’s better, but Manning has also beaten Brady’s Patriots when it counted the most (in Super Bowl XLII) and repeated the feat again this year, in a building in which Brady and New England hadn’t lost since anyone could remember. Manning promised everyone he “wasn’t a 25 interception quarterback,” and after throwing that many picks last year (only about 15 were actually his fault), he has drastically cut down on his mistakes while becoming a far more patient decision-maker this season. He’s decreased his picks to just nine so far this year while throwing twice as many touchdown passes. Manning is already closing in on 3,000 yards (2,952) with six weeks to play, and is completing 62 percent of his passes, all while working with a revamped receiving corps and a re-tooled offensive line. And, of course there are the myriad of ultra-clutch, fourth-quarter scoring drives which have saved the Giants’ season to this point.
2. The Departure of Steve Smith and Kevin BossThere were a lot of Giants fans and media members alike freaking out over Smith going down the turnpike to Philly and GM Jerry Reese similarly letting Boss go west to Oakland. But, through the first eleven weeks, Smith (5) and Boss (4) have missed a combined nine games, and together, they’ve totaled only 26 catches (15 for Boss) for 352 yards (229 for Boss) and just two touchdowns (1 each). Letting both players leave has allowed for…
3. The Emergence of Victor Cruz and Jake BallardNot only has Cruz effectively replaced Smith, but he’s played in every game this season while becoming the Giants’ leader in both receptions (46) and yards (800). Ballard meanwhile, also hasn’t missed a game, and while not much was expected of him, he has more catches (27) than Smith and Boss combined this season. That ranks fourth on the Giants this year, and his 443 receiving yards are the third most for New York.
4. Jason Pierre-Paul Making Reese Look GoodComing off a fair rookie year in which he had five sacks and 30 tackles, Pierre-Paul has thus far proven worthy of being taken in the first round with the 15th overall pick last year. This season, he’s the Giants’ sixth-leading tackler (with 44) and has the third-most sacks (11) in the NFL, four more than any of his teammates (Osi Umenyiora is second on the team with seven).
5. Getting Out of (Matt) Dodge, in Favor Steve WeatherfordEx-Giant draft pick Matt Dodge had a pretty good leg. It was his hands and head that were the problem, as he often couldn’t hang on to the snap, and as a result, would cost his team with a turnover or a rushed, poorly-hit boot. Field position has been a prized commodity this year, particularly with as many close games as the Giants gave played. And Weatherford’s 46.7-yard average, 16 pins inside the 20-yard line, six inside the 10-yard line, have quietly helped the Giants compete for first place in their division this season.
6. The Cruz Call in ArizonaNearly everyone in the building and just about all watching on television thought the Giants had lost their Week 4 game in Arizona the moment Victor Cruz began to stand up while leaving the football on the turf. Luckily for Cruz and the Giants, we all learned about the “giving oneself up” rule. Instead of a bonehead fumble, the Giants kept the ball, scored, and eked out a close victory, one that if it had been a loss, might ultimately be the difference between a division title or a wild-card playoff berth in January.
7. Overcoming AdversityNo team was more snakebite by the injury bug in the offseason than the Giants, who lost a bunch of key players for the season, including their leading tackler last season (CB Terrell Thomas) and a wide receiver and kick returner who was supposed to be a major weapon (WR Domenik Hixon). Several players on each side of the ball however, have filled in nicely to have New York by Thanksgiving weekend, doing what many in the preseason thought they were too banged up to do – compete for a division title, and perhaps even another Super Bowl berth.
8. Increased Ball SecurityAs mentioned, Manning has thus far limited his interceptions to just under the double digit mark, but the Giants have also lost ten fumbles this year, for a total of 19 turnovers. While that’s still a little more than they’d like (nearly two per game), it’s much better than the 2.6 per game and league-leading 42 total turnovers they committed last year.
9. The Dream Team Turning Into a Philly NightmareYes, the Philadelphia Eagles kept their season on life support by spoiling yet another Giants’ home game last week, but with all of the moves they made in the offseason, the team that was labeled “The Dream Team” was supposed to have had a two or three-game lead on the Giants and Dallas by now, with those teams each at 6-4. Instead, the Eagles still need to make up two games on the Giants over the final six weeks of the regular season. With several teams from other divisions in contention for the two NFC wild-card spots, winning the NFC East might be the only path to the playoffs for the Giants. The fact that New York is tied for first place with Dallas, with two games in hand with the Cowboys, rather than having to chase the Eagles as many thought the Giants would, allows New York to control its own destiny down the stretch.
10. Three Super Bowl VictoriesShould the Giants miss the playoffs again after yet another second-half swoon, there’s always the past to lean on. The Eagles have dealt the Giants their share of excruciating losses (including last season and as mentioned, last week), but Big Blue’s hated rival is still seeking its first Super Bowl victory while the Giants at the very least, have three in the bank.
So, on Thanksgiving, rather than dwelling on another possible second-half swoon, or wondering why Brandon Jacobs can’t find a hole to run through, or why he attacks Giants fans for rightfully voicing their displeasure with his underachieving performances, take heart, count your blessings, and give thanks Giants fans! With all of the Giants’ injuries, and with what most expected from Philadelphia, things could be a whole lot worse, all things considered.