Commentary

Tuck, Osi recharge sputtering Giants D

Veteran leaders deliver halftime speech that helped turned the tide for Big Blue

Updated: November 29, 2010, 7:50 AM ET
By Ohm Youngmisuk | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Frustration was bubbling on the New York Giants' sideline as Justin Tuck threw his helmet after David Garrard ran in for a touchdown.

Perry Fewell's vaunted run defense -- which has shut down the likes of Houston's Arian Foster and made Michael Vick look human a week ago -- suddenly looked as soft as "Refrigerator" Perry's midsection.

Playing against an unsexy opponent in the Jacksonville Jaguars a week after they poured their heart and soul into a crushing loss at Philadelphia, the Giants came out like a bunch of zombies. Jacksonville pounded the Giants' defense for 145 yards on the ground and the Jags sprinted into the locker room at halftime up 17-6.

Tom Coughlin's season was on the brink of needing life support as the Giants retreated to the locker room to the ear-splitting tune of boos.

At halftime, defensive players began to question everything and some were making excuses.

"We were squabbling about little things," Tuck said.

Osi Umenyiora saw enough and spoke up, imploring his teammates to forget about the first half and raise the energy level.

The quiet and low-key Tuck then delivered one of those speeches straight out of an Under Armour commercial. Except this one might've been a bit more R-rated.

The gist was that the Giants needed to protect their house.

"Cut all B.S.," safety Antrel Rolle said of Umenyiora and Tuck's message. "I don't care what's called, let's go out there and play. We don't let anyone come in our house, eat up our food, take our wives and leave. We're dogs, and we went out there hunting."

Tuck's speech was so stirring it moved teammate Barry Cofield to near tears as he walked back onto the field for the second half.

"He gave a halftime speech for the ages," Cofield said. "This was a different type of halftime. By far the most intense, by far the most effective. A lot of times you will have guys screaming and it's in one ear and out the other. But I was near tears hearing some of the things that Tuck had to say."

The Giants emerged from the locker room a different team and, more importantly, a different defense. They held Jacksonville to a total of 92 yards of offense and only three more points in the second half as the Giants roared back for what could be a season-saving 24-20 win.

The Giants' defense hit Garrard 11 times (Umenyiora had five quarterback hits alone) -- the majority coming after halftime -- and sacked him four times. And they delivered two of their biggest stops of the season in the last 8:26 to help the Giants win a game that they all but wanted to give away in the first half.

Make no mistake: Had the Giants (7-4) lost this game, they would have been on a three-game slide and scrutiny of yet another second-half collapse would have intensified. Their playoff hopes would have been alive but the injury-riddled Giants would probably have had to make a ridiculous run with a remaining schedule that includes two games against Washington, one against Philadelphia and two difficult road games at Minnesota and Green Bay.

[+] EnlargeOsi Umenyiora
AP Photo/Bill KostrounOsi Umenyiora wasn't pleased with the Giants' effort in the first half.
"We knew that if we lost this game we might be out of the playoffs," cornerback Terrell Thomas said.

If Umenyiora and Tuck's speeches gave the defense a spark, Thomas' interception at the start of the third quarter ignited the Giants' fire. Garrard threw a pass behind and off Mike Sims-Walker and into Thomas' hands to hand the Giants the ball at the Jaguars' 34.

The Giants converted the turnover into a field goal but it felt like a lot more than that.

"We weren't playing with any passion in the first half," Tuck said. "After things like the speech, things had to go your way and that first interception, it was like 'OK, it's our time.'"

The Giants' offense, ravaged by injuries to the wide receivers and offensive line, continued to struggle in the third quarter. But the defense plugged all the gaps that Maurice Jones-Drew -- who had 73 of his 113 yards in the first half -- and the Jaguars ran through with ease.

The Giants turned up the heat on the blitz, and Garrard and the Jaguars' offense slowed down.

After Eli Manning connected with Mario Manningham on a 26-yard touchdown pass, the Giants gave up a Jacksonville field goal with 8:26 remaining in the game. But the Jaguars, who had won three straight, wouldn't score again.

Aided by an offensive pass interference call on Kassim Osgood that nullified a 23-yard first-down gain for the Jaguars, the Giants forced a three-and-out to give Manning the ball back. Manning then hit Kevin Boss on a 32-yard touchdown pass to put the Giants up 24-20 with 3:15 left.

"It was on our shoulders," Umenyiora said of the defense's response.

The week before, it was on the Giants' defensive shoulders to get one key stop. And an offsides penalty on rookie Jason Pierre-Paul kept a drive alive before LeSean McCoy took a fourth-and-1 pitch 50 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to beat the Giants.

This time, Aaron Ross was called for defensive holding after the Giants forced Garrard into an incompletion on a third-and-10 at the Giants' 34 with 1:56 left.

The Jaguars had an automatic first down at the Giants' 29-yard-line but never got any closer. Garrard was sacked for a loss of 11 yards by Tuck and Rolle. On second-and-21, Pierre-Paul did his best Osi impression with a strip sack that knocked the Jaguars back another four yards.

On third-and-25 from the Giants' 44, Garrard was clocked by Thomas on a blitz from behind and fumbled. Rolle recovered and Garrard staggered off the field, the sixth quarterback the Giants have injured this season.

If there was still any lingering doubt as to whether the Giants have leaders on the team, Umenyiora and Tuck silenced that with their halftime pep talks that helped keep the Giants alive in the NFC East race with the Eagles' loss at Chicago.

"That first half was so atrocious that it was hard to stomach," Cofield said. "There were a couple of things schematically, a couple of things as far as gap responsibility [that changed]. But in reality it was a whole other level of intensity."

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Ohm Youngmisuk has covered the Giants, Jets and the NFL since 2006. Prior to that, he covered the Nets, Knicks and the NBA for nearly a decade. He joined ESPNNewYork.com after working at the New York Daily News for almost 12 years and is a graduate of Michigan State University.
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