Eagles OT Justice tries to erase memories of Osi
Some people go to a travel agent or an online service to book a trip to Hawaii. In 2007, Osi Umenyiora went through Winston Justice.
The Giants defensive end had the rookie tackle's head spinning in an late-September game against the Eagles, brushing past his feeble attempts at one-on-one pass protection six times for sacks. Umenyiora had half of the Giants' 12 sacks of Donovan McNabb in that game, and it was largely on those numbers that he was selected to play in the Pro Bowl later that season.
It was a spotlight game for Umenyiora. Justice, meanwhile, became a bit of a punchline in the NFL. That he was essentially passed over and over in front of a national television audience was cringe-worthy. Something like that happens to a young guy and he probably crawls out of the league forever, never quite the same man he was before it happened.
Well, look who's starting at right tackle these days for the Eagles. It's our old friend, Winston Justice, back from the dead.
After that fateful night two years ago when he made his first NFL start in place of injured left tackle Tra Thomas, way back on the Eagles' depth chart, Justice did in fact fade away. But as injuries hit the Eagles this season, he became a starter. And Sunday, when the two NFC East rivals meet for the first time this season, he'll be back to face some of his worst demons in the form of the Giants.
"Winston Justice is a completely different player," said Justin Tuck, who probably will go against him more often than Umenyiora will. "He looks more confident."
One of the reasons is that - unlike in that miserable 2007 game - he's getting help.
"It's not like I'm going to get one-on-one blocks," Tuck said. "They're not putting him on an island like they did in that game against Osi. Why would they do that against, at the time, probably the best pass- rushing defensive end in the league? I don't know. But they're not putting him on an island and he's a better player, obviously more experienced."
The Eagles had better hope he is if they want to continue protecting McNabb the way they did last year. In 2008, against a Giants team that prided itself on pressuring the quarterback - in fact, using it as a pillar of its defensive philosophy - the Eagles kept McNabb completely clean in three games.
Almost 86 minutes of ball possession, 106 pass attempts - and zero sacks. It was a key to their two victories at Giants Stadium down the stretch of last season, including a playoff win.
This year McNabb has been sacked 12 times. But he also has been in a bit of a throwing slump lately, and if the Giants can get any kind of pressure on him, it could keep him off-balance.
"Rushing throws," he told reporters this past week in analyzing what he's done wrong in the last few games, a win over the Redskins and an awful loss to the Raiders. "Trying to rush them, trying to get the ball out quick to give [the receiver] an opportunity to get up the field, make the guy miss, or whatever it might be, instead of just giving it to them."
McNabb also pointed to poor footwork on some plays and said there are other times he has aimed the football. On Monday night he missed about six open receivers with errant passes that often bounced at their feet. No matter the cause, pressure from the Giants surely won't help it. And for that, they'll have to rely on Justice.
"He's always been a great player," Giants receiver Steve Smith said of his teammate at Southern Cal. "Everybody has tough games. I'm just glad to see him bounce back."
Justice said he's not looking to whitewash history in this game.
"If I go against Osi, I'm not looking at it as redemption or anything," Justice told reporters. "I'm looking at it as getting the job done and . . . I'm not looking at it as payback, because it's not. It's just me taking care of business."
Still, if Tuck and Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka start flying past him the way they did in that game two years ago, it will be hard for him not to think about the past.
The Giants don't expect him to crumble the way he did last time, but they know the experience still is somewhere in his psyche, just waiting to be lured out of hiding.
"I don't know Winston that well. I don't know how he responds to adversity," Tuck said. "But hopefully that will be a test that he has to overcome."