— As the days and hours of the Giants bye week lingered, the pressing question became one of comparative fatigue. What was more tired? Eli Manning's throwing arm? Or the Giants' performance every November?
Don't burn any more brain cells, folks. It's a trick question. Tom Coughlin was wearier than either.
"I'm really tired about answering all the questions about what's wrong," the Giants coach bristled in the days leading into his team's 38-10 rout of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium. "I'd rather we play a game and play it well and answer the questions that way.''
The Giants answered plenty in ending their two-game losing streak and the Packers' five-game winning streak.
Manning's arm, it turns out, isn't deader than Alex Rodriguez's bat in October. Isn't deader than Rex Ryan's Jets or the J-E-T-S cheerleading career of Fireman Ed, who some would say mercifully announced his retirement. The resurrection of Eli's right arm, in fact, was celebrated in a grand way when the 80,365 fans gave him a standing ovation late in the third quarter after his third touchdown pass broke Phil Simms' Giants career record of 199.
The Giants also demonstrated that every game between October and December needn't be as perplexing as it is frustrating. What makes Coughlin's teams go 30-6 in October and rise up in December en route to two Super Bowl titles, yet go 13-21 in November heading into Sunday.
There are plenty of theories. There is no real answer.
Yet here's one indisputable fact.
The Giants are a different team, a scarier team, when they are able to apply extreme heat on the opposing quarterback as they did to Aaron Rodgers. They sacked Rodgers five times. They knocked down two of his passes. They chased him all over the field.
Yes, Manning was amazing last season, and his 16-for-30 performance for 249 yards, three TDs and no interceptions [114.4 rating] brought a major sigh of relief in New York. And, yes, slashing Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown ran with undeniable effectiveness against the Packers. To be sure, some of the answers are to be found in the long view and in the short view on offense.
Yet if this game demonstrated anything, it is that when the Giants defensive front four bring the wood, it's the other team that splinters. From Michael Strahan to Osi Umenyiora to Justin Tuck to Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka, the torch has been passed down over the years. The Giants sack and burn.
That's what they did last season when they finished third in the league with 48 sacks and turned up the defensive heat throughout the playoffs. They entered the game ranked only 13th in the NFL in sacks. In fact, they didn't sack the Bengals' Andy Dalton and only hit him once as they were routed two weeks ago in Cincinnati. The Giants typically have a name or two atop the sack list. None have been there to savor.
That had to change if the Giants are to be serious playoff players. Well, Kiwanuka sacked Rodgers twice. Chris Canty, Pierre-Paul and Chase Blackburn had one. JPP scooped up a fumble on one sack. It turned into such a rout Rodgers didn't even play the final five minutes. His night was ruined.
"That was something we felt we absolutely had to do with someone the talent of Aaron Rodgers and the season he is having," Coughlin said. "To be able to have him throw on our timing instead of his, we were glad to see that."
Without a touchdown pass for three games and without a quarterback rating of at least 80 in four, Manning's game had been missing long enough that it could have been on the side of milk cartons. Rodgers, with that creepy thing over his lip, looks like he should be on the wall at the post office. One could argue with some integrity that he deserves to be sacked a league-high 37 times with that porn star 'stache.
An argument could be that the Giants were lucky with their 6-2 start. They were a Dez Bryant hand away from losing at Dallas and beyond the wins at San Francisco and Carolina hadn't strung together much to make their fans giddy. Looking at a difficult stretch to end the regular season — Green Bay, at Washington, New Orleans, at Atlanta, at Baltimore and Philadelphia — there was considerable gnashing of teeth by Giants fans that somehow their team would blow the NFC East least and the Redskins would win it at something like 9-7. Suddenly, at 7-4, they have a two-game lead on the pack and look to be back in control.
Eli denied it. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said he saw no evidence. That didn't stop some in the media and a number of television analysts, former players, from speculating about a dead arm. Early on, Eli lowered his right shoulder into Tramon Williams on a 13-yard scramble to pick up a first down on the Giants' second touchdown drive. If he did have a dead arm that blast certainly woke it up. Manning promptly found Rueben Randle in the back of the end zone with excellent touch.
"There was no doubt in my mind Eli was going to come back and play well," Coughlin said. "The rest really helped him. In fact, Eli said he felt as if he was coming back for the start of the season again."
Rodgers helped the Giants some more when he tried to force a pass into Randall Cobb and Webster, beaten badly earlier, showed fine anticipation and picked off Rodgers' throw to set up a Lawrence Tynes 43-yard field goal and a 17-7 lead. That lead would grow to 24-7 when Manning found Victor Cruz across the middle in front of M.D. Jennings for a nine-touchdown pass. The rout was on.
If there were any questions about how much steam the Giants would come with out after the bye week, they were answered on an opening six-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. The big play was a 59-yard screen pass to Bradshaw. Rodgers answered back once. Jordy Nelson scorched Webster deep on a stop-and-go route and 61 yards later it was 7-7. From there, Rodgers had no more answers.
The Giants gained total control. The battle of the past two Super Bowl champs turned into a rout. Although he was disappointed Brown broke his fibula, Coughlin's face was red again in a good, Santa Claus December kind of way. And the Giants' defensive front four had brought the November lumber. Slump? What slump?