|CANAVAN ON FOOTBALL: Giants may finish what they started this year|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 23 October 2007 11:51|
During each of the past three seasons, quick starts have been the norm for coach Tom Coughlin's team.
What's different this year is the Giants might not fold down the stretch.
This is a talented, confident, healthy and mature club that should finish strong and do what no Coughlin-coached Giants team has done before - make a run at the Super Bowl.
Sure they likely would have trouble getting past either the New England Patriots or Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl, but they have a shot at capturing the NFC and playing for the Lombardi Trophy.
If things go right Sunday at Wembley Stadium and the Giants keep the Miami Dolphins winless in the first NFL regular season game to be played overseas, New York will be 6-2 heading into its bye.
It would mark the fourth straight year that Coughlin has gotten the hopes of the Giants' fans elevated at the halfway point. In his first year in 2004, the Giants were 5-3; the past two seasons, they went 6-2 in the first half.
Only once did the team finish well. That was in 2005 when New York went 5-3 down the stretch and won the NFC East at 11-5.
The other two years were simply ugly. In 2004 they finished 6-10; last season's 6-2 start had an inverse 2-6 finish, which was good enough to make the playoffs for a second straight year, and also get eliminated in the first round for a second straight year.
Something about this team seems different.
``Healthy, we're healthy, that's the difference,'' said seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Strahan who has helped the defense record a league-high 27 sacks. ``That is going to be the key for us going forward.''
Strahan and fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora, veteran receiver Amani Toomer, tackle Luke Petitgout, linebacker Carlos Emmons and then-starting cornerback Corey Webster were sidelined for either all or a major part of the second half of last season.
Those injuries and the uncertainly surrounding halfback Tiki Barber and his upcoming retirement led to a collapse and a dysfunctional team.
``I think overall the camaraderie of the team is a lot better,'' defensive tackle Fred Robbins said. ``We are just coming together. There is unity on the team. We understand we've been in this position a couple of times before and we don't want a relapse. We're trying to stay in tune and stay focused, keep our minds in the right place and the right time.''
Coughlin, who nearly lost his job after the collapse, deserves much of the credit for the turnaround. He created a new attitude by changing himself. He took some of the edge off his biting and sarcastic style and made himself more approachable, an almost kinder, gentler Tom Coughlin.
``His demeanor, his attitude, he is so positive,'' said punter Jeff Feagles, who has gone through his share of coaches in 20 NFL seasons. ``He is kind of listening more, whether it as listening to people in the offseason or listening now.''
One program that has worked well is Coughlin's leadership committee, a group of about 10 players who meet regularly with the coach.
``He's getting feedback from us, where he doesn't have to go to each individually or hope someone comes to him in his office,'' Feagles said
What's also obvious this season is players have bought into the program on both sides of the ball. There are no more player blowups accusing Coughlin of being outcoached.
Players seem to be more focused on the current opponent and not worrying about what's down the road.
That was never more obvious than the past two weeks in games against the struggling Atlanta Falcons and the San Francisco 49ers.
In recent seasons, the Giants would have struggled to win. This year, they took care of business and won going away.
``I think the difference is these guys come every week and their preparation gets better,'' veteran backup guard Grey Ruegamer said. ``There is a lot more focus, a little more leadership. Guys are saying, 'Hey pick it up.'
``Guys are more responsive to each other. I think the team is a little closer than it was a year ago and guys are responding to that. We're 5-2. We like winning and we like the feeling.''
The Giants are also getting contributions from a lot more people this season.
Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce and Strahan have long been the leaders of the defense, but Umenyiora has emerged as the star of Steve Spagnuolo's new system.
Quarterback Eli Manning became the leader of the offense in training camp when he stood up to criticism by Barber and pretty much showed up his former teammate. He is having his best season leading a balanced offense that has found a go-to receiver in Plaxico Burress and a solid running game with three backs carrying the load without Barber.
``You see other guys, too,'' Ruegamer said. ``(Halfback) Derrick Ward filled in great. Everybody when they get an opportunity is making a play and guys respect that. It's a collective type of leadership.''
Pierce smiles when asked about this year's team, but he quickly gets serious, noting the Giants have beaten Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington, a banged-up Philadelphia and the lowly Jets.
Coming up in the second half are Dallas, Chicago, New England, a healthier Eagles and the improved Detroit Lions.
``If you are talking about this in December, we'll be very happy,'' Pierce said. ``It's October, and we've been very good in October the last three years. If we are talking about this in December and January, we'll be smiling a little more.''
Feagles thinks the Giants will be smiling.
``This team has matured,'' he said. ``I think guys are understanding the purpose and where we are trying to get to and they are more confident. Once you start winning games, the confidence keeps rolling. That is a distinct advantage over the last couple of years.''