New York Giants: 12 Plays That Saved the 2011-12 Season
With the Philadelphia Eagles dubbed as the NFL's "dream team," and with perennial Pro Bowler Tony Romo leading a rejuvenated Dallas Cowboys squad, few thought that Big Blue would be relevant in the seemingly-competitive NFC East.
It's been an exhilarating season thus far, full of ups and downs that have left fans perpetually on the edge of their seats.
In honor of the G-Men's improbable playoff run, let's take a look at a handful of moments that shaped the 2011-12 campaign.
Week 2: Boley Takes It to the House
The Giants stumbled into their Monday night home opener with a multitude of question marks surrounding them.
They had been outcoached and physically dominated by the lowly Washington Redskins the week before, and this September contest suddenly became a "must-win" of sorts to salvage any hopes at a productive season.
Michael Boley's defensive score opened up what was previously a close game with the 0-1 Rams.
Boley capitalized on a botched screen pass and returned the recovered fumble 65 yards, making a defensive statement that set the tone for New York's first win of the year.
Had this heads-up play not occurred, the Rams, driving down the field, may have taken the lead and changed the face of this game entirely.
Week 3: Cruz Seals the Deal in Philly
In a game hyped by a plethora of intriguing storylines, the Giants travelled to Lincoln Financial Field for a late-September showdown with their bitter division rivals—the Philadelphia Eagles.
Much to the dismay of the New York faithful, Big Blue had dropped its past six head-to-head contests with Philly, and with the self-proclaimed "dream team" Eagles flaunting an explosive running game and a formidable secondary, the Giants were considered huge underdogs come Sunday.
This contest marked the first of many awe-inspiring performances from Victor Cruz. It also helped shape the character of Tom Coughlin's then-undisciplined team. Had Cruz not made this leaping touchdown catch amidst double coverage, the Giants may have lost this game and dropped to 0-2 against NFC East opponents.
If nothing else, Cruz' clutch reception sent a message to the rest of the league. Not only did the Giants upset the then-powerhouse Eagles, but they did it definitively and with overwhelming athleticism.
Week 4: "Down by Non-Contact"
The Giants' preliminary showing of inconsistency occurred in Week 4, when, after a big win over Philadelphia, they underperformed against a 1-2 Arizona Cardinals team.
Trailing most of the game, QB Eli Manning began to engineer a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback drive. With 3:11 to go, Eli connected with the previous week's hero, Victor Cruz, on an inside route at the 35-yard line.
What happened next incited debate around the nation, as Cruz appeared to lose control of the football and fumble five yards downfield.
The officials determined that Cruz had "given himself up," and was therefore "down by non-contact."
To this day, the ruling still seems ambiguous, but Giants fans certainly could not complain. With the fumble erased, the Giants wound up winning 31-27, improving to 3-1 on the year and asserting themselves amongst the NFL's elite.
Week 8: Cruz Spins to Pay Dirt
A third consecutive play involving Victor Cruz goes to show just how vital he's been to the team's success this year.
On a lazy Sunday afternoon, the Giants managed to avoid a trap game loss to the 0-7 Dolphins. In their first action since their bye week, New York pulled off another come-from-behind victory.
With less than six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, Cruz's resilience lead to the go-ahead score, a 25-yard touchdown strike from Eli Manning.
At the time, this win didn't hold much significance. But in retrospect, a loss to the winless 'Fins would have destroyed the momentum the Giants had been building all year.
This game was much closer than expected, and a win gave New York some much-needed confidence as they headed to New England the following week.
Week 9: Ballard Comes Up Big
The real story of New York's shocking victory at Gillette Stadium was its defense.
The Giants shut out the explosive Patriots in the first half and continuously pressured Tom Brady on their way to forcing four turnovers.
Still, what fans will remember most from this thrilling Super Bowl rematch is the final two minutes. Eli and company led another signature comeback drive, culminating in TE Jake Ballard's one-yard touchdown reception.
On a brilliantly-designed play-action pass, Eli and the Giants stunned the Pats and the rest of the NFL. With just 15 seconds left to play, Ballard's clutch catch propelled the G-Men to their sixth victory.
Not only did the win in New England defend their legitimacy as contenders, but it gave them a commanding position atop the NFC East.
Week 13: Nicks Threatens a Perfect Season
Despite falling just short against the then-undefeated Green Bay Packers on December 4th, the Giants walked away from MetLife Stadium with an important moral victory.
True, Green Bay's prolific offense put up an insurmountable 38 points, but the Giants still proved that they could compete with the juggernauts of the league.
The previous week, New York was on the losing end of a brutal 49-24 blowout on Monday Night Football in New Orleans. Nicks' game-tying fade route with under a minute to play re-established New York's standing as a solid football team.
The loss was tough to swallow for Coughlin and his players, but the fact that the Giants were competitive late in the game gave them vital momentum for the following week's divisional showdown with the Cowboys.
Week 14: Romo Makes a Crucial Mistake
The Giants, amidst a four-game losing streak, were all but finished in Dallas.
With 5:41 left to play, the G-Men were down by 12 points in a must-win NFC East contest. A loss would have placed New York two games behind the Cowboys for the division lead.
The rest is history.
New York capped off a miraculous comeback with a Brandon Jacobs touchdown run with 51 seconds remaining. However, the entire face of the game was changed a few minutes earlier, when, on a crucial third down, quarterback Tony Romo overthrew intended receiver Miles Austin on a streak route.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell called for a blitz, and subsequently, the Giants' secondary was out of position.
Had Romo completed this pass, Austin would have surely scored, and regardless, the Cowboys would have cruised to victory on Sunday night.
Week 14: Pierre-Paul Blocks the Game-Tier
Jason Pierre-Paul gained the acclaim of football faithful around the country with this prime-time special teams play.
Following the Giants' go-ahead 58-yard scoring drive, Tony Romo moved the Cowboys swiftly down the field with completions of 22 and 23 yards to wideout Miles Austin. With nearly perfect execution, Dallas used just 40 seconds to get in field goal range for kicker Dan Bailey.
Cowboys Stadium erupted when Bailey made the initial attempt. However, when it was revealed that Tom Coughlin had called a timeout prior to the snap, Bailey was forced to kick again.
Pierre-Paul, a bonafide star on the defensive line, had already forced a fumble, generated a safety and tallied two sacks in the game. But the second-year pro's ability to get vertical and block the potential game-tying field goal is what mattered most.
Pierre-Paul's block clinched a Big Blue victory and gave them sole control over their playoff destiny.
Week 16: Cruz Goes the Distance
In what was deemed as the "battle for New York," Victor Cruz tied an NFL record for longest touchdown reception with this tremendous second-quarter play.
Cruz slipped past controversial cornerback Antonio Cromartie at the 12-yard line and took the Giants' playoff hopes with him as he ran down the right sideline for a key score.
Ultimately, Big Blue's defensive prowess intertwined with the Jets' poor play-calling and offensive line play to result in a Giants' win. However, Cruz' catch-and-run was the stand-out moment of the day.
Had Cruz not made this third-down reception, the Giants would have been forced to punt from deep within their own end zone, giving Mark Sanchez and the stagnant Jets offense a chance at success with great field position.
Cruz' play further opened up the Giants' running game, as Ahmad Bradshaw was able to reach the end zone twice on Christmas Eve.
Week 17: Cruz Brings Back the Salsa
In the Giants' and the Cowboys' storied NFL rivalry, few head-to-head matchups were as built up as their Week 17 clash on Sunday Night Football.
The winner of the game claimed the NFC East title, while the loser was eliminated from postseason contention, forced to face serious criticisms and ponder what went wrong.
The Dallas secondary had been susceptible to big plays through the air all season long. Victor Cruz decided to waste no time and immediately tested cornerback Terrence Newman, leading to this exhilarating 74-yard touchdown.
Uncannily similar to his Week 16 catch-and-run, Cruz established an early tone for New York, and the Giants never looked back from their 7-0 lead.
Without this play, the New Year's Day showdown at MetLife Stadium may have gone a completely different way, and perhaps, the Cowboys would be the ones preparing for San Francisco this weekend.
Divisional Round: Eli's Hail Mary
The Green Bay Packers, led by MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers, rewrote the offensive record books in 2011 on their way to a 15-1 season and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
The Packers looked to kick off their Super Bowl run as nine-point favorites for Sunday afternoon's contest. Eli Manning and Hakeem Nicks clearly did not get the memo.
Already leading by a 13-10 margin, the Giants took an immense risk in throwing a pass to the end zone instead of attempting a shorter completion along the sideline in an effort to reach field goal range.
Their aggressive strategy paid off, as WR Hakeem Nicks came down with the Hail Mary bomb to take a 20-10 lead at halftime.
This score sent a message to the once-perfect Pack, affirming the Giants' legitimacy as a potent offensive threat. The Giants used this play to build momentum for the second half, en route to completing a huge playoff upset and earning a trip to the NFC Championship Game.
Divisional Round: Osi Gets to Rodgers
For the first time in years, the Giants struggled defensively in 2011.
Their secondary was plagued with inconsistencies, and their linebacking core never seemed to develop chemistry. Despite this, the G-Men still flaunted a pass rush that gave opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.
While Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul received the majority of the praise this season, it was the injury-ridden Osi Umenyiora that came up big on Sunday.
Osi's sack and forced fumble prevented what would have been a sure-fire touchdown, as WR Greg Jennings was open down on the other end of the field. Fortunately for Big Blue, Rodgers wasn't given enough time to look towards the sideline, as the pocket collapsed in a hurry.
The Packers were amidst an offensive drive that had them in enemy territory, ready to reduce the Giants' lead and reclaim momentum.
Osi's turnover saved points and completely changed the direction of the game.