Giants need Justin Tuck to continue improved play against Peyton Manning
With the game on the line and the Giants in need of a big defensive stop, Justin Tuck lined up at left end and awaited the snap. The Giants had just closed to within six points on Victor Cruz's third touchdown catch of the game midway through the fourth quarter, and now it was the defense's turn to make a statement play on second-and-10 from the Dallas 35.
Tony Romo took the snap, faded back to pass and came under a heavy rush. It was Linval Joseph up the middle, and Tuck from the left on an outside move that looked more like the player he used to be, not the one who struggled through two straight injury-plagued seasons.
Tuck and Joseph got to Romo at the same time and brought him down for an 8-yard loss. Another sack on the next play by Jason Pierre-Paul, and the Giants had made the stop, giving Eli Manning one more chance to bring the Giants back.
The comeback would eventually end after Manning's short pass to running back Da'Rel Scott caromed to cornerback Brandon Carr and was returned for a 49-yard touchdown, but that play by Tuck was an important take-away from an otherwise disappointing 36-31 loss in the opener.
For one game, anyway, Tuck was back to his old self. Vowing to overcome the problems that plagued him the last two years, when injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to a total of nine sacks, Tuck faced questions about whether he was on the downside of his career.
His answer last Sunday night: a team-high eight tackles, a half-sack and two quarterback hits.
This is the Tuck the Giants will need if they're going to become a great defense once again, a defense capable of winning a third Super Bowl title in the Tom Coughlin era. It's the player the Giants will need to withstand a red-hot Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Sunday at MetLife Stadium, where the Giants are in danger of falling to 0-2 for only the second time since Coughlin became coach in 2004.
The year they went 0-2 happened to be 2007, when they would eventually go on to a Super Bowl victory. But with a daunting schedule this season, the Giants can ill afford another slow getaway.
Tuck understands this will not be easy, not after watching Peyton pick apart the Ravens for a record-tying seven touchdown passes in a Week 1 offensive clinic against the defending Super Bowl champions. And he knows this will not be a game of pass-rushing stats for him and his defensive teammates; it's more a matter of limiting the damage from the future Hall of Famer and older brother of Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
"To have a shot," Tuck said, "we'll have to play our best game."
Tuck knows it will not be pretty, because playing against Peyton never is. He's just so darn smart that he will never let a defense tee off on him like other quarterbacks who wait too long to pass the ball.
"I don't worry about chasing him. I worry about getting time to get to him," Tuck said. "He's one of those guys who knows where the ball is going before the snap. You only get a few opportunities to get sustained rushes. I hope I get the chance to chase him. I hope he's running. But he does such a great job of getting the football out his hands."
But if Tuck and the Giants are to have a chance, they will have to get sustained pressure on Manning to at least make him somewhat jittery in the pocket. Not easy.
"This is a game where you have to try your best to get him a little uncomfortable," Tuck said. "Even if you don't get sacks, you want to get pressure. You can't allow him to sit back there and have wide-open lanes to throw the football. Sometimes you get caught up in sacks, even quarterback hits. You just want him to feel you and have him not set his feet and get him thinking a little differently. Hopefully we can keep him to a lot less than seven touchdowns."
It's the only way the Giants' defense, which is built around the defensive line's ability to get pressure without having to blitz, will be able to beat Manning. It begins with Tuck, the longtime captain who came into the season bent on rectifying the mistakes and missed opportunities of the last two years.
He's off to a promising start, even if he may not think so. When he was told he looked good in the opener, Tuck shot back, "So what? It was just one game, and we lost. It doesn't matter."