The New York Giants are 6-2 for the sixth time since Tom Coughlin took over as the team’s head coach in 2004. While two of those seasons (2007 and 2011) have ended in Super Bowl glory, the rest have had less memorable endings.
The Giants are not strangers to second-half meltdowns; many of the team’s veteran players vividly remember the pain associated with those shortcomings. One of those players, defensive end and team captain Justin Tuck, wants to make sure the Giants avoid a collapse in the last half of this season, as he explained to the New York Daily News’ Ralph Vacchiano:
I know. Believe me I know. I mean, you’re aware of it but you don’t dwell on it. I think about it. The past is the past, but hopefully you learn from it and get stronger form it. But it warrants a little bit of my thoughts, knowing that we’re kind of on a high right now, but we can’t allow ourselves to stay on that high.
In Tuck’s rookie year (2005), Coughlin’s second season, the Giants didn’t suffer a total collapse. They finished the season with a respectable 11-5 record, but were shut out, 23-0, by the Carolina Panthers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The 2005 season was a step in the right direction for the previously rebuilding Giants, but the following year they took was a huge setback.
After starting the season off 6-2 in 2006, Coughlin’s Giants lost six of their next seven games, falling to 7-8 just before taking on the Washington Redskins in Week 17. The Giants were able to top the Redskins in that matchup, 34-28, just barely edging out the Panthers, Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Rams (all 8-8), for the NFC’s final playoff berth thanks to a tiebreaker.
The Giants did very little with their ’06 postseason opportunity, as they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles, who they had split games with in the regular season, by a score of 23-20 in the first round.
New York’s most painful collapses, however, have come in the three seasons bookended by its two Super Bowl victories.
The Giants began their 2008 title defense on a tear, winning 11 of their first 12 games of the season. The team fell apart, though, after wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the leg, forcing him to miss the team’s final four contests of the regular season.
New York went 1-3 in those games and backed into the playoffs. Although they were still the NFC’s top-seeded team that year, the Giants fell, 23-11, once again to the Eagles—this time in the Divisional Round following a first-round bye.
The Giants overcame their disappointing ’08 season by starting the following season off with five straight wins. New York’s luck didn’t last very long in 2009, though, as the team dropped the next four games and only won three more over the remainder of the season. The Giants finished 8-8 in ’09 and failed to qualify for postseason play.
Most Giants fans have a flashbulb memory of the 2010 collapse: Miracle in the New Meadowlands. The Giants were 9-4 heading into their Week 15 matchup with the Eagles and in perfect playoff positioning. However, after leading by 21 points in the fourth quarter, New York allowed Philadelphia to rally back to a 38-31 victory as time expired.
Matt Dodge’s poorly executed punt and DeSean Jackson’s now infamous, game-clinching return clearly had a lasting effect on the Giants, as they were steamrolled by the Packers, 45-17, the following week.
The back-to-back late-season losses allowed the Eagles to control their own playoff destiny in Week 17. Despite posting a usually reputable 10-6 record, New York missed the postseason for a second straight year.
For players like Tuck, the importance of avoiding another second-half meltdown cannot be understated. New York has some stiff competition coming up in the final eight games of the 2012 season, and Tuck knows that his team will have to be on its A-game to perpetuate the success they’ve experienced so far (via Vacchianno):
What I’m worried about is what we’ve always done. We’ve always been 6-2 at the break or 5-3 at the break. We’ve got to find ways to make sure we keep this thing going. I think the NFC is going to be the powerhouse of the NFL this year, so we’ve got to keep pace. Atlanta is still undefeated. You know San Fran who you know is going to be there at the end of the year. We’ve got some surprise teams that are playing well. So we don’t have time to sit back and gloat about being 6-2 because we all know that we still got a gauntlet to go through and this thing could still turn for the worse if we don’t keep focused and keep doing what we’re doing. So that’s where our focus is.
At 6-2, New York has a firm 2.5-game lead over the NFC East’s second place teams, the Cowboys and Eagles (both 3-4), and a full 3.0-game lead on the last place Redskins (3-5). The Giants are ranked very highly in most NFL power rankings, but nothing is certain at midseason, because if New York’s last title defense taught us anything, it’s that things can unravel just as quickly as they come together.