Super Bowl XLVI Champion New York Giants: Best Moments of the 2011/2012 Season

Geoffrey MortonCorrespondent IIMarch 19, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI Champion New York Giants: Best Moments of the 2011/2012 Season

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    Over a month later, the New York Giants' thrilling Super Bowl win still plays clearly in the minds of fans. Many counted New York out after players dropped like flies in training camp and the team suffered a four-game losing streak, but the Giants recovered and shocked the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI under Eli Manning's leadership.

    Every player on the roster had some part in getting the Giants the Vince Lombardi trophy, but the starters undoubtedly had the biggest impact. So what was each starter's shining moment that stood out from the rest? This slideshow presents each starter's best moments from the 2011 season.

QB Eli Manning: Two TD Pass Comeback Win over Cowboys, 37-34

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    Going into Week 14, the Giants were not in a very good position. They started off the 2011 season well but after shooting out to a 6-2 record and leading the NFC East, they dropped four straight games and the Cowboys went up by one game with a 7-5 record.

    Week 14 was the first time the Giants and Cowboys clashed all year. And with 5:41 left in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys had cemented a 34-22 lead and it looked like they would start to break away from New York in the NFC East.

    Then, Eli Manning took over. With 5:41 and the ball at his own 20, Eli completed five of seven passes for 75 yards while leading the Giants 80 yards down field and into the end zone with an eight-yard touchdown pass to Jake Ballard.

    The Cowboys went three-and-out on their next drive and the Giants had the ball again. This time Eli completed three of four passes for 46 yards before Brandon Jacobs ran the ball into the end zone and DJ Ware made the two point conversion to put the Giants up 37-34. A blocked field goal by Jason Pierre-Paul later sealed the win.

RB Ahmad Bradshaw: 104 Yard, Three Touchdown Performance vs. Bills

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    To be honest, there wasn't much to be happy about in regard to Ahmad Bradshaw's performance in the 2011 season. He averaged only 3.9 yards per carry with 659 yards on the ground and generally had a down year. However, his performance in Week 6 was certainly memorable.

    Before Bradshaw's game against the Bills, he had scored only two touchdowns all year with no 100-yard games. However, against Buffalo, Bradshaw rushed for 104 yards, had three touchdowns from the one-yard line, and he caught two passes for 26 yards.

    However, just because his three touchdowns totaled three net yards does not mean they were easy. Bradshaw narrowly avoided a defender for one, powered through two defenders for another, and went airborne for a third. He also took a carry 30 yards in the fourth quarter to set up the game winning field goal for New York.

RB Brandon Jacobs: 109 Yard, Two Touchdown Performance vs. Cowboys

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    Just like Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs was a disappointment for most of the 2011 season. However, just like many other Giants, his best performance came in Week 14 against the Cowboys.

    Ahmad Bradshaw did not start due to breaking an undisclosed team rule against Dallas, so Brandon Jacobs got the start and did not disappoint. He rushed 19 times for 109 yards and two touchdowns.

    Jacobs ran hard the entire game and his consistency provided New York with a sorely needed balance on offense. He averaged over five yards per carry and though his longest run of the day was only 19 yards, he picked up tough yards and scored the game winning touchdown with little over a minute left in the game.

FB Henry Hynoski: 14 Yard Reception and Hurdle vs. Cowboys

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    Rookie Henry Hynoski stepped in for Madison Hedgecock, who left New York this off season as a free agent. Many had doubts that the fullback out of Pitt would be able to replace Hedgecock, but he showed a lot of promise in his first year as a Giant.

    Hynoski has been an okay blocker who will improve with time, but he has already demonstrated his strength and reliability as a receiver. He is a good player for Eli to dump passes off to, and in this video against the Cowboys he shows his ability to run after the catch.

    This took place during a Week 17 win against the Cowboys, and Henry Hynoski turned a short pass from Eli Manning into a 14-yard first down with an impressive hurdle over defensive back Terence Newman, who had already been hurdled by Bear Pascoe earlier during the game. It's safe to say Newman was not having his best game.

WR Hakeem Nicks: Hail Mary Catch vs. Packers (Playoffs)

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    Many people say in terms of raw physical ability, Hakeem Nicks is a top five receiver. True or not, he definitely accomplished a remarkable feat of athleticism against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional playoff game.

    Nicks had a solid regular season, but he really made his presence known in the playoffs and this was his signature moment. Just before the half,  Eli scrambled around the field and hurled a ball deep to the end zone on a Hail Mary pass. Two defenders and Nicks went up for it, and in a play that left thousands speechless, Nicks came down with the ball.

    Charlie Peprah and Charles Woodson both jumped for the ball with Nicks, but Nicks clearly had the ball the whole way and was able to keep it despite attempts by the defenders to knock it away from him.

    This play was a huge boost in helping the Giants upset the Packers, and this play will be one of the most memorable from the Giants' 2011 season.

WR Victor Cruz: 99 Yard Touchdown vs. Jets

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    The 2011 Giant offense was all about Eli Manning and breakout wide receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz caught 82 passes for a Giant record 1,536 yards with nine touchdowns, and an absurd 25 receptions went for 20-plus yards.

    In a year filled with amazing plays by Cruz, this 99 yard score against the Jets was simply the most amazing. It had it all: it showed Cruz's reliability on the 3rd down, his ability to run after the catch, his elusiveness and his ability to score from anywhere on the field.

    Cruz caught a pass short of the first down marker but after squeezing by two Jets he was off to the races, outrunning Eric Smith and Donald Strickland. This provided the Giants with a much needed boost to beat the Jets and stay on track for a playoff berth.

TE Jake Ballard: 2 Catches, 29 Yards, TD Last Giants Drive vs. Patriots

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    Not many Giants were in a more uncomfortable position at the beginning of the 2011 season than tight end Jake Ballard. Kevin Boss, beloved starting tight end, had just left for the Oakland Raiders and many doubted Ballard's ability to take over.

    However, Ballard showed a lot of potential with 38 receptions, 604 yards and four touchdowns in his first year as a starter. His best performance came in Week 9 against the New England Patriots, when his actions on New York's last drive were instrumental in sealing a Giants win.

    Ballard caught two passes for 29 yards on the drive, but his two catches were the most important. The first one was hauled in on 3rd-and-10 for 28 yards and a first down right in between two Patriot defenders. The second was a one-yard catch for the game winning score.

    Ballard has many years left in his career, and hopefully most of those will be with the Giants. He showed a lot of promise this season, and his ability to pull through in the clutch has not been forgotten and was his most impressive moment from this season.

TE Bear Pascoe: 6 Yard TD Reception vs. 49ers (Playoffs)

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    Tight-end Bear Pascoe caught only 12 passes for 136 yards and had zero touchdowns in the regular season, and was used primarily as a blocker on running plays.

    Pascoe did make his mark as a receiver in the playoffs, however, when he caught a pass against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game for a six-yard score, which would serve to be extremely important since the game was won in sudden-death overtime.

    Pascoe caught the pass around the four-yard line and ran into the end zone, with the only opposition coming from Dashon Goldson, who tried to tackle him but bounced off.

DE Jason Pierre-Paul: Entire Week 14 Game vs. Dallas

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    As everyone who routinely watches the NFL learned this season, Jason Pierre-Paul is something special. He is a monster athlete who has only been in the NFL for two seasons and has already been named to the All-Pro team.

    Pierre-Paul's best performance of this season came against Dallas in Week 14, when the Giants desperately needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Pierre-Paul came through for New York and was undoubtedly the game's MVP.

    Pierre-Paul recorded eight total tackles, including two sacks on Tony Romo. One of those sacks went for a safety, and one tackle resulted in a Felix Jones fumble.

    Later, after the Giants took a late 37-34 lead over Dallas, the Cowboys were poised to kick a last-second field goal to send the game to overtime. However, with a tremendous effort Pierre-Paul blocked the kick, sealing the win for New York and making himself look like the next Julius Peppers.

DE Justin Tuck: Sack and Forced Fumble on Tony Romo vs. Cowboys

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    Justin Tuck's 2011 season was somewhat of a letdown, mostly due to the nagging injuries he sustained. However, the defensive end looked quite like himself on one particular play against the Cowboys in Week 17.

    Tony Romo had dropped back to pass late in the game as the Cowboys were desperately trying to come back from a 31-14 deficit with roughly two minutes left to play. Romo managed to avoid Tuck's pass rush, but the second time he was not so lucky. Tuck caught him from behind and forced a fumble.

    Mathias Kiwanuka soon fell on the loose ball, and Tuck's play officially erased any hope of a Cowboys comeback. Eli Manning kneeled down to run out the clock, and the Giants secured a playoff berth partially due to Tuck's effort.

DT Linval Joseph: 4th Down Stop vs. Falcons (Playoffs)

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    2011 was the first year Linval Joseph was a starter at defensive tackle, and he did not disappoint. He showed a lot of promise and ability, notching 49 tackles and two sacks with four defensive tackles.

    In the postseason, Joseph had 10 tackles including one on a fourth down against the Falcons that set the tone for a defensive game which the Giants won 24-2.

    On the last play of the first quarter, Jason Snelling was stuffed trying to run for a first down on third-and-one with the score tied at 0-0. Instead of kicking a field goal, Falcons coach Mike Smith decided to go for it on fourth-and-short (of course....).

    Matt Ryan tried to run for the first down, but Joseph immediately grabbed him and with the help of Michael Boley took him to the ground. Joseph's big play set the tone for the game and helped the Giants get back on track for the win.

DT Chris Canty: Sack/Safety on Mark Sanchez vs. Jets

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    Chris Canty is another solid defender anchoring the defensive line with Linval Joseph for New York. Canty posted 47 tackles, four sacks, a safety, and a deflected pass in 2011.

    It is his safety in Week 16 that stands out the most, though. The Giants were winning a close game with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter. Mark Sanchez dropped back on his own eight-yard line, but within seconds Chris Canty dragged him down into the end zone for a safety.

    Canty's sack put the Giants up 22-14 and gave them the ball, which essentially sealed the win for New York. Canty's hustle not only helped New York win the game, but it also helped push them to the playoffs by securing a must-win game.

OLB Michael Boley: 4th Down Stops vs. Falcons, Cowboys, Packers

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    Michael Boley was one of the most consistent players on the Giant defense in 2011, and his leadership was a key asset to New York's defense.

    Strangely though, for a linebacker known for his pass coverage, Boley seemed to make the most impact on short-yardage running plays. He had three critical fourth down stops that went a long way in getting the Giants to the Super Bowl:

    In Week 17, the Cowboys were down in the fourth quarter 21-10 against the Giants but were in New York's red zone. However, on a critical fourth down play Boley, stuffed Romo with a play that went a long way in securing the win.

    In the playoff game against the Falcons as described in Linval Joseph's slide, coach Mike Smith decided to go for it but Matt Ryan was stuffed by Boley and Joseph.

    The following week against the Packers, Aaron Rodgers dropped back to pass on fourth-and-five but Boley grabbed him by the ankles and prevented him from making what could've been an important first down pass.

MLB Chase Blackburn: Interception in Super Bowl vs. Patriots

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    This was probably my favorite defensive play of the Super Bowl. Chase Blackburn, signed by the Giants mid-season due to injuries, really stepped up and played well at middle linebacker, and his best play came on the biggest stage while covering the best tight end in the game, Rob Gronkowski.

    Blackburn is not the best athlete and was actually a schoolteacher when the Giants signed him, but somehow he was able to beat 6'6" Gronkowski for the deep ball from Tom Brady.

    Brady dropped back and after dodging some tacklers, hurled it deep to Gronkowski, who began to get in position to grab the ball. However, that would simply not do for Blackburn. He moved in front of Gronkowski and snatched the ball away for a key interception that also started the "Bradying" trend.

OLB Mathias Kiwanuka: Defensive Stand vs. Dolphins

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    Though he has played a lot as outside linebacker, Mathias Kiwanuka is a defensive end at heart, and he excels at assaulting quarterbacks and pressuring them. He showcased his ability in Week 7 against the Dolphins, a game that was surprisingly close.

    In the final minutes of the game, the Dolphins were down 20-17 and Matt Moore was desperately trying to make things happen. However, on the first down Moore was sacked by Umenyiora, who was aided by Kiwanuka's annihilation of Reggie Bush, who was trying to block him.

    The very next play, Kiwanuka, one of five defenders putting pressure on Moore, blew past right tackle Vernon Carey and took the QB down. Then on fourth-and-23 Moore, under pressure by Kiwanuka and the defense, he threw a pick which sealed the game for the Giants. 

CB Corey Webster: 2 INT Performance vs. Bills

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    Cornerback Corey Webster has always been important to New York's defense, but this season he was needed more than ever with corner Terrell Thomas getting injured in the preseason. Webster recorded 51 tackles, 17 deflected passes and six interceptions this year.

    Against the Bills, Webster notched five tackles, three pass deflections, and two interceptions.

    His first came while covering Stevie Johnson and he took it back 25 yards before getting run out of bounds. That pick set up a Lawrence Tynes field goal but unfortunately for New York it was blocked.

    His second pick was no easy task, as you can see from the attached picture. He was again covering Stevie Johnson and as he grabbed the ball Johnson ripped back his face mask in an attempt to tackle him.

    Webster was shaken up on the play but the pick set up the game winning field goal for the Giants.

CB Aaron Ross: 2 INT Performance vs. Eagles

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    It was Week three and the Giants were 1-1. They had suffered an embarrassing loss to the Redskins in Week one and were trying to get above .500 with a win against the "dream team" Philadelphia Eagles, who were still a threat to win the division.

    However, the Giants bested them 29-16 mainly due to a breakout performance by Victor Cruz and four tackles, three deflected passes, and two picks by Aaron Ross.

    Ross's first pick came early in the first quarter off the hands of former Giant wide receiver Steve Smith. Ross returned it 19 yards before being tackled and the pick set up a Giants touchdown.

    Ross's second pick came in the fourth quarter while the Eagles were trying to keep the game close. With Michael Vick out with a broken hand, Mike Kafka threw it deep for DeSean Jackson but Ross snatched the ball away, setting up a Giants touchdown with helped seal the win.

FS Antrel Rolle: Impressive Performance vs. Cardinals

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    Although Antrel Rolle isn't the best in pass coverage, he makes up for it by being a sure tackler and great run defender. However, he did a little bit of everything against the Cardinals.

    Against his former team, Rolle notched six tackles, two pass deflections and a pick while covering Larry Fitzgerald of all people. Five minutes into the fourth quarter, the Cardinals had a three point lead that they were looking to extend against New York. Kolb threw it deep to Fitz but Rolle got between the two and grabbed the ball.

    He also deflected two passes late in the game and his six tackles certainly helped New York's defense. Rolle was at his finest against the Cardinals.

SS Kenny Phillips: 31 Yard INT vs. Jets

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    Kenny Phillips made plays all year for the Giants in 2011, but his interception and 31-yard return against the Jets in Week 16 were phenomenal. He also recorded a tackle and two deflected passes in the game. 

    Mark Sanchez dropped back on the Jets' 21-yard line on third and nine, trying to get a drive going with the score being 17-7 Giants. He threw it deep but the ball wasn't even close to any players. Any Jets players, that is.

    Kenny Phillips had to dive to make the interception, but he secured the ball and proceeded to evade several Jets players en route to returning the ball to the Jets' 17-yard line. The play would set up a Giants field goal.

K Lawrence Tynes: Game Winning Kick in OT vs. 49ers (playoffs)

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    Lawrence Tynes has been a great kicker over the years for the Giants, and this play was no doubt one of his finer moments. Jacquian Williams forced a fumble on punt returner Kyle Williams to set up a field goal in sudden-death overtime that would send the Giants to the Super Bowl if made.

    Any kicker would be feeling the pressure as they walked onto the field, but for Tynes this was a piece of cake compared to NFC Championship game-winning kicks in overtime he's had to make in the past (see 2007).

    The snap was a little low but Tynes split the uprights right down the middle and Giants fans and players alike went ballistic. Tynes also made two extra points and one other field goal in that game.

P Steve Weatherford: Punts and Tweets

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    Although it's hard to find highlights of a punter, I felt it would be disrespectful to leave Steve Weatherford off the list because of how much of an improvement he has been over Matt Dodge. Not only can he catch the snap, but he can punt out of bounds!

    Weatherford has been a consistent holder for Lawrence Tynes on field goals, and he booted a really nice 62-yard punt against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 14 in the fourth quarter.

    Another moment that stands out is Weatherford's smack talk of Philadelphia in general before the Week three Giants-Eagles game. After they landed, Weatherford tweeted: "Just arrived in Philly. What a dump. Let's get a W and get the heck out of here." People called it everything from hilarious to disrespectful, but either way Weatherford is a character and a great player who will be in New York at least another five years.