EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Not long after Justin Tuck was chosen as the New York Giants’ defensive captain, a teammate bought a small plastic statue of the defensive end and put it in a meeting room.
It was a sign of respect for the veteran who has become the spokesman of the Giants (2-2), as well as a little joke among the defensive linemen.
“Homage,” one lineman quipped.
After dreadful losses to Indianapolis and Tennessee, and reports that coach Tom Coughlin was losing control of a seemingly undisciplined team, Tuck had had enough homage. A disgusted No. 91 walked into one of the defensive-line meetings last week, grabbed the statue and broke it in half.
Maybe it was frustration. Maybe it was anger. Whatever it was, the act sent a message to the rest of the unit: Pick it up.
Well, the defensive line did more than pick it up against the Bears. They took down quarterback Jay Cutler repeatedly, recording 8½ of New York’s 10 sacks.
“When he broke it, all the bad (stuff) before the game was gone,” said a lineman who requested anonymity because he is not allowed to talk about what happens in the group meetings. “I’m not going to say that was it, but what else could it have been.”
The 10 sacks were the third most in franchise history and two shy of the franchise and co-NFL record the Giants set in 2007 against Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles. It was also probably the line’s best game since dumping Tom Brady on his rear end five times in the Super Bowl upset of the Patriots in February 2008.
“It’s scary,” said Texans coach Gary Kubiak, whose team will face the Giants on Sunday in Houston. “What they did in that game hasn’t been done too many times in this league.”
An NFL record nine sacks were recorded against Cutler in the first half, and the pounding knocked him out of the game with a concussion. He will miss the Bears’ game Sunday against Carolina.
Tuck didn’t argue with the suggestion that the line, which has been criticized repeatedly for falling to live up to expectations in recent years, was fed up and wanted to take it out on someone.
“But I have been in situations where we have been fed up and we came out and still got our butt whipped,” Tuck said Thursday. “I think it was just the perfect storm on Sunday night. There was a great atmosphere in the stadium and we just wanted to come out, and more than anything, play for the guys who played before us.”
The Giants inducted 30 men, including 22 players, into a new ring of honor at the New Meadowlands Stadium. The last time many of those men were at a game, the Giants laid an egg in being blown out by Carolina in their last game at Giants Stadium.
But the Bears’ offense played into the Giants’ hands this time. It’s a wide-open scheme that tends to put everyone out in the pattern and relies on the quarterback to find the open receiver and the line to keep him safe.
Taking a big drop consistently, Cutler never had the chance. When he was ready to throw, a lineman was bearing down on him.
“I think it was a collective effort,” said defensive tackle Chris Canty, who had one sack. “I think we as a team said: ‘We had enough.'”
What made the performance so impressive was that the Giants rarely blitzed.
“That’s the best I’ve ever been around,” defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said of the line’s performance. “That’s absolutely the best I’ve ever been around from a performance standpoint.”
Matching the performance this week against the Texans (3-1) isn’t going to be easy. Houston runs a totally different offense, one that features a balanced attack led by Arian Foster, the NFL’s leading rusher with 537 yards.
“They are a team that thrives on the run,” said Giants defensive tackle Barry Cofield, who had 1½ sacks vs. the Bears. “They have been very successful and we feel if we can make them one dimensional, that’s the best way to go about it. It’s very different from Chicago. It was the other way. We felt if we harassed the passer, we had a chance to win. This week it starts with the running game.”
After giving up 11 sacks in the first three weeks, the Texans did not allow one against Oakland.
Houston center Chris Myers called the Giants’ sack total last week ‘staggering,’ However, he also said 10 is just a number.
“We’re not going to do anything crazy-special,” Myers said. “We’re just going to go out there and play Texans’ ball.”
The key to Texans’ ball is keeping third-down situations in a manageable distance, say, four yards or less. Do that, and the defensive line can’t take aim at Houston quarterback Matt Schaub.
“We can’t sit here and protect with eight guys and send two guys out on a route and hope to beat these guys,” Schaub said. “We’ve got to play our offense and do our thing. Those guys (Houston’s offensive line) have been playing great up front. I’m confident that we’ll be able to handle their pass rush.”
Tuck said the Giants simply can’t expect another big game.
“This week, I mean, our feeling is don’t let that be wool over your eyes,” he said. “Don’t think you are going to come out and get 10 sacks every week.”
If the Giants do that, Tuck said it won’t be long before everyone is writing about how the Texans ran for 300 yards.
“We’re 2-2 and it’s easy to think we’re the best team in the world after having a game like that,” Tuck said. “We have to come back down to reality and understand we are playing a team that is 3-1, in their place, with a great rushing attack and their fans are going to be happy to see us come. There is a lot to balance through, but we’ll be ready.”