John Fennelly, Lead WriterGiants’ DE Justin Tuck entered this season hoping to put the past several years behind him. After recording 11.5 sacks and 76 total tackles in 2010, Tuck’s production had fallen off considerably.
Injuries and off-field issues kept him from being himself. He needed a strong 2013 for the Giants to consider bringing him back next season and beyond.
His 2.5 sacks going into last night’s game weren’t doing much to help his cause. He still needed to amp up his performance. Last night he made his presence known in front of a national audience. This morning, he has 6.5 sacks and is once again back in charge on the Giants’ defense.
“Hopefully after tonight, they see that I can play the game at a high level,” Tuck said. “Like I always tell you all, I do not care what other people say. As long as those people understand that I pour my heart and soul in this team every week, the most important thing is going out there and getting wins.”
Tuck sacked the mercurial Redskins QB, Robert Griffin III, four times last night and looked a lot like the All-Pro DE he was a few years back. It could not have come at a better time. With several players out, Tuck had to “be the man.”
“I always feel that way, honestly, but tonight especially – with the guys that we are missing right now, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul… I think the unsung hero tonight is defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka. He played special teams and I think he played every snap of defense tonight because we are short numbered. You could tell that the guys wanted to win the game tonight. We just played as a team tonight.”
He has been heavily criticized by the media and fans the past few seasons. He was written off as finished.
“I didn’t see that all year long. I don’t know who was writing that. I thought he practiced well in the preseason. I thought he practiced and played well,” Tom Coughlin said.
“He didn’t have the numbers. He’s the guy that when we refer to the number of sacks that we’ve missed where the quarterback has escaped on us, Justin has been a guy in that circumstance as well, but you just keep coming. That’s the whole thing about playing hard and knowing what you’re in for and you just keep coming. Early on, we didn’t have much pressure on the quarterback. He stood back there and did what he wanted to do and then we eventually started to get some pressure. When that pressure came, the quarterback tried to pull it down and run, Justin was there.”
Tuck has 43 total tackles after 12 games, two fewer than he had in 15 games last season. Th 6.5 sacks is the most since 2010. His resurgence is coming at the right time. Still, he remains focused on 2013.
“Beginning of the year, I told my agent I really didn’t want to talk about contracts,” Tuck said. “One thing I can control is how I play. I can’t control anything other than that, so for me, everyone knows I’m a New York Giant through and through. When people ask me if I want to be back next year, that’s a stupid question. Obviously, I do, but we allow it to work its course and see what happens. For me, my focus is on winning football games, and until I retire, that’s going to be my focus.”
Tuck will be 31 next training camp, hardly an old man. But injuries have reduced him over the years, and although he’s 100% right now, the Giants will be wary when deciding if they want to bring Tuck back into the fold in 2014. Again, Tuck is only concerned about the present. He was asked if the Giants could still make the playoffs:
“I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t think,” he said. “I definitely do. Obviously, Philly and Dallas are playing pretty good right now, but you never know what’s going to happen. You really don’t, so you’ve got to put the blinders on, go win four in a row, five in a row and see where we end up. That’s the focus, one game at the time, we can’t do anything about Philly and Dallas. All we can do about it is [face] who’s on our schedule and focus on that.”
And next year? If this renaissance continues, expect the Giants to keep Tuck wrapped up in blue.