Finding Justin Tuck's Place in New York Giants History

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 21, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 05:  Justin Tuck #91 of the New York Giants celebrates after defeating the New England Patriots 21-17 during Super Bowl XLVI at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Just hours apart last week, NFC East rivals Dallas and New York lost their active sack leaders to AFC West counterparts, with DeMarcus Ware escaping the Cowboys to join the Denver Broncos and Justin Tuck leaving the Giants for the Oakland Raiders

Earlier this week, we established that Ware will have a Ring of Honor-style legacy in Dallas. But what about Tuck's impact on the G-Men from a historical perspective?

The thing about the mark Tuck leaves on this organization is that it can't be measured tangibly with sack, forced fumble or tackle statistics. That's because there's a very good chance the Giants wouldn't have won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI without him. 

In nine years as a Giant, Tuck never had more than 12 sacks in a single season, but he still had four double-digit-sack seasons and 60.5 in total in 127 games, 90 of which he started. That places him sixth on the team's all-time sack list.

Giants all-time sack leaders
PlayerSacksGamesSacks/game
1. Michael Strahan141.52160.66
2. Lawrence Taylor132.51680.79
3. Leonard Marshall79.51610.49
4. Osi Umenyiora75.01290.58
5. Keith Hamilton63.01730.36
6. Justin Tuck60.51270.48
7. George Martin46.0990.46
8. Carl Banks36.01260.29
Pro Football Reference (sacks weren't an official stat until 1982)

But it was what Tuck did when it mattered most that will forever enhance his legacy with Big Blue. He had a total of four sacks, nine tackles, a forced fumble and a forced safety in New York's two improbable Super Bowl victories over the Goliath New England Patriots

Most sacks in Super Bowl history (1982-2013)
PlayerTeamSacksGames
1. L.C. GreenwoodSteelers5.04
2. Willie DavisPackers4.52
2. Charles Haley49ers/Cowboys4.55
4. Justin TuckGiants4.02
4. Steve FurnessSteelers4.03
4. Randy WhiteCowboys4.03
Pro Football Reference

In total, he also had a combined 15 pressures, zero missed tackles and a team-high eight defensive stops in those two games, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). 

Stops are described by PFF as "solo defensive tackles made that constitute an offensive failure." Chase Blackburn and Antonio Pierce were the only two players to have more than two in either game. 

In that second Super Bowl, Tom Brady was never the same after Tuck took the future Hall of Fame quarterback down in violent fashion in the third quarter. 

Tom Brady in Super Bowl XLVI
Comp.%TDINTYPARating
Before Tuck's big hit83.3208.4129.3
After Tuck's big hit41.2014.430.3
NFL.com

And it was Tuck who set the tone by forcing Brady to take a safety by drawing an intentional grounding penalty six minutes into that game. 

Without that safety and without his impact on Brady in both games, the Giants might not have been in position to pull off miracle drives to eke out one-score victories. That's why I'd consider him to be the MVP runner-up in both instances. 

Nobody has thrown as big a wrench into Tom Brady's legacy more than Justin Tuck.
Nobody has thrown as big a wrench into Tom Brady's legacy more than Justin Tuck.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"That guy stole my MVP again," Tuck said of Eli Manning after the second victory, per Sports Illustrated. He was joking, but he was also right. 

Essentially, Tuck was the best defensive player for two of the most remarkable defensive performances in NFL history, with New York somehow holding the powerful Patriots to 17 or fewer points twice in half a decade. 

And it's not as though he was just a solid all-around defensive end with quality sack numbers in the regular season and a stud in Super Bowls. Tuck also had 1.5 sacks and four stops against the San Francisco 49ers in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. 

And he was by far the team's highest-rated defensive player at Pro Football Focus in both the 2007 and 2011 playoffs, ahead of stars like Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul. 

So all in all, not bad for a guy who was passed on 73 times in the 2005 NFL draft. 

Manning might forever be known as the most clutch Giant of all time, mainly because we don't correlate clutch play with defensive ends like we do with quarterbacks. But Manning would have never had those opportunities to be clutch if not for Tuck's ability to rise to the occasion at two unforgettable points. 

Even from an X's and O's standpoint, as ESPN.com's Dan Graziano points out, he was about so much more than his stats indicate: 

Tuck is a pass-rusher, sixth all-time in Giants history with 60.5 sacks, but he's about more than sacks. He's the defensive end the Giants would move inside to play defensive tackle on passing downs because they knew he was willing and able to wrestle with guards and centers while someone like Pierre-Paul or Kiwanuka or Osi Umenyiora got to race after the quarterback. He's the defensive end who can set the edge against the run -- a rare trait, tough to teach, tough to find, tough to get sack-hungry young rushers to prioritize. He's the defensive end who will check a wide receiver at the line of scrimmage to knock him off his route before he heads into the backfield to do the things that show up in the box score. Even when the sacks weren't there, he was still these things for the Giants, and his fellow players knew it and loved him for it.

And while he was still coming up in 2007, Tuck also emerged as the true leader of this team, as you could see in this famous pep talk prior to Super Bowl XLVI.

Tuck was only a Pro Bowler twice and his sack numbers might keep him out of Pro Football Hall of Fame conversations, but he was also an All-Pro both times he made the Pro Bowl (2008 and 2010) and deserves to be viewed as one of the greatest Super Bowl legends in league history, despite the fact he never won an MVP.

That should be enough to one day land him a spot within the Giants' Ring of Honor, right there with Strahan, Martin, Taylor and Banks. Aside from those guys, I can't think of a single defensive player who has made more of an impact on this franchise than Justin Tuck.