Prior to the 2011 season, Osi Umenyiora and the New York Giants were engulfed in contract disputes. When Umenyiora didn’t get his way, he elected to undergo knee surgery and consequently missed the first three games of the season.
Five months later, the 30-year-old defensive end is a key player in the Giants’ playoff run and has led a revived defense the Giants yearned for all season long.
During the regular season, Umenyiora recorded nine sacks in just nine games played. The Giants were 4-2 in games where Umenyiora tallied a sack.
In two playoff games, Umenyiora has three of the Giants’ six sacks—the best among remaining playoff teams.
Umenyiora’s ability to rush the quarterback has sparked life in a Giants defense that finished 29th in pass defense. In the Giants’ two big victories, the defense has surrendered a fifth-ranked 212 passing yards per game—against two of the NFL’s top 10 passing offenses—amongst playoff teams. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of just 75.
The Giants are proving once again that while big scoring plays are nice, defense still wins championships. And Osi Umenyiora is right at the center of it all.
As a result, the Giants of 2011 look like the Giants of 2007. The same team that sputtered down the final stretch of the regular season before finding motivation in the form of a 38-35 loss to the undefeated New England Patriots in Week 17.
That loss, remarkably similar to the Giants’ 38-35 loss to the then-undefeated Green Bay Packers in Week 13 of this season, helped ignite a Giants playoff run highlighted by stellar defense that culminated in the Giants’ first Super Bowl victory since the 1990 season.
For the Giants to complete another iconic run to the Super Bowl though, they will need Umenyiora and the defense to keep playing at a high level when they travel to play the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. That will mean putting breakout quarterback Alex Smith under consistent pressure and forcing turnovers, something the strip-sack king takes pleasure in doing—Umenyiora forced an NFL-record 10 fumbles last season and a vital strip-sack in the Giants win over the Packers.
Umenyiora’s failure to play a whole season for the Giants likely won’t result in a new contract for the nine-year veteran, but there is no questioning the fact that he is one of the greatest defensive ends in Giants history. His contributions this postseason have already been substantial, but Umenyiora isn’t finished yet.
It’s possible and is the belief among the vox populi and Umenyiora alike that 2011 will be his final season as a New York Giant. If that is the case, there would be no more ideal a way for him to complete his career in New York than to go out leading the Giants to another Super Bowl victory behind the same defensive dominance he built his Big Blue legend upon.