Giants experiencing an identity crisis

Justin Tuck celebrates his first-quarter sack with teammate

Justin Tuck celebrates his first-quarter sack with teammate Chris Canty during a game against the Steelers at MetLife Stadium. (Nov. 4, 2012) (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Tom Rock

Tom Rock Tom Rock

Rock covers the New York Giants. Previously covered college

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Some teams have a quarterback crisis. Some teams have a coaching crisis. The Giants don't have either of those. What they do have, however, is an identity crisis.

They've been so up-and-down, so inconsistent this season, that even they aren't quite sure what kind of team they have. Justin Tuck, the defensive captain who usually has as good a read on the team as anyone, was asked the day after Sunday's loss to the Steelers if he had figured out the personality of this team.

"Not yet," he said.

Heading into Week 10, the Giants remain a mystery.

Are they the team that flew across the country and pounded the 49ers? Or are they the team that could barely sustain an offensive drive, managed just 182 net yards, and let the Steelers literally sprint past them in the fourth quarter Sunday?

Sometimes they're in such disarray that both Jekyll and Hyde come out in the same game. They fell behind the Browns 14-0 before turning in one of the most prolific offensive performances in franchise history for a 41-27 victory. Against the Cowboys two weeks ago, they were up 23-0. Then they lost that lead. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in Giants history that they were ahead by 23 points and found themselves trailing later in the game.

Yes, it was the worst collapse in team history. Worse than Philadelphia two years ago. Worse than the Titans in 2006. Worse than any of them ever. And then the Giants won the game.

Naturally, it's understandable that no one is certain what kind of second half the Giants will have. History shows that they'll struggle, their troubles in November and December well-documented. But these Giants are so unpredictable, not even that kind of trend can be counted on.

This is a team that has it in them to march all the way to February and win a second straight Super Bowl, a third in six seasons, and be recognized as a dynasty. It also has it in them to fall flat on their faces, see a 21/2-game lead in the NFC East evaporate, and wind up watching the playoffs on television for the third time in four years.

Or it could be something in the middle.

Despite the red flags, they're in decent position to find success. They've won four of the last five games, have a large lead in a division filled with teams with far worse troubles than they are dealing with, and they've gone through highs and lows in their most recent championship runs.

"That's part of a football season," Eli Manning said. "It's never going to be perfect every week. There are going to be stretches where you don't play up to your potential."

Inscribed in the Oracle at Delphi was the maxim, "Know thyself." Right now, the Giants know not. At least not everything.

"There's one thing I know about this team: When we're backed in a corner, we're probably the most ferocious team to come out of that corner," Tuck said. "Right now, we're not backed in a corner, and I'm hoping and praying it doesn't have to get to that point. I'm hoping and praying we see that sense of urgency now and utilize that to go get a win."

Hoping and praying are different than knowing. Until they can be certain, the identity crisis will remain.