They don't want to hear about 2007 (that was a completely different season and team). They don't want to hear about the regular season (that was a seemingly different season and team). They don't even want to hear about Jason Pierre-Paul's fairly innocuous (but non-retractable) guarantee. They most likely don't mind hearing about last Sunday's game, though. The New York Giants built on the momentum of their last two games, and took the first step toward what they all confidently believe will be a long playoff run, when they defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 24-2. The signature plays of the game were the trio of fourth downs, when the Falcons elected to go for a pair of fourth-and-ones and the Giants' sturdy defensive line stopped both, and when the Giants went for a fourth-and-one themselves with Brandon Jacobs spinning his way to the first down, which was followed by an Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks touchdown. With those plays, the momentum and the game swung the Giants' way. And with those three plays, your father's New York Giants were resurrected. It was smashmouth football at its best.
The Giants' offense looked anything but playoff-ready for much of the first half -- especially the offensive line. They couldn't contain the Falcons' pass rush, they couldn't open any holes for their running backs and they committed one penalty after another. But one positive characteristic of Manning and the offense is that they are patient. They don't panic, nor do they get out of their comfort zone. They just keep plugging away and chipping at the defense until the dam breaks. Of course, the Giants' defense was dominating Atlanta, which gave them time to get their game together. And when the offense did come together, it was the Giants' offense of old that appeared, with a punishing, physical running game, which then loosened up the Atlanta defense for Manning to go to work in the air. A pressuring, run-stuffing defense and a bulldozing running game? That sounds like the good old New York Giants, from 2007 and 1990 and 1986 and 1956 and . . .
The defense pitched a shutout, and they held the Falcons to a measly 64 rushing yards (Michael Turner only gained 41). The secondary was excellent in coverage, with those finger-pointing wide-open completions a distant thing of the past, and the linebackers and linemen dominated the line of scrimmage, exemplified by those fourth-and-one stops. Meanwhile, Jacobs (92 yards) was a terror, and rumbled for a 34-yard gain that set up the first touchdown, and he also came through on the aforementioned fourth-and-one. When Jacobs wasn't on the field, Ahmad Bradshaw was doing a similar amount of damage himself. They surely didn't resemble the last-in-rushing Giants of the regular season. Eli Manning put in another immaculate, precise performance (are his detractors watching the same games as everyone else, by the way?), and even ran 14 yards for a key first down. And Nicks took over for Victor Cruz, and did everything but salsa dance in his place.
The questions if Manning will ever win a playoff game outside of the magical 2007 Super Bowl run and if the Giants will ever win a home playoff game since destroying the Minnesota Vikings at the end of the 2000 season (though they've only had two home games since then) have been answered, along with the question everyone's been asking all season: Can the Giants run the ball effectively? Now it's on to Green Bay, to face the best team in the NFL (for all the coverage of that matchup, click here), as the Giants will attempt to repeat their success from the 2007 NFC Championship Game, and keep the spirit of the dominating defense, dominating running game, old-fashioned New York Giants alive.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
Finally: With the news that Brian Schottenheimer stepped down as offensive coordinator of the New York Jets, Jet fans haven't had this much reason to rejoice over a coach calling it quits since Rich Kotite gave himself the ax after the 1996 season. Though Rex Ryan continuously defended him, Schottenheimer wasn't a Ryan hire, and for years the coordinator has been under fire with Ryan not taking much interest in the offense. That all changes now with Tony Sparano taking over, and with Mark Sanchez probably getting his last chance in 2012 (unless he already had his last chance if the Jets somehow get their hands on Peyton Manning, which is doubtful, and if some of his anonymous teammates, who opened fire this week on their QB, have their way). Other Jet coaches are out as well: assistant head coach/offensive line coach Bill Callahan has gone to the Cowboys, wide receivers coach Henry Ellard has been let go, as has outside linebackers coach Jeff Weeks. And Rich Kotite decided to resign one more time for good measure as well.
Learning as They Go: The New York Knicks have flaws, they have holes and they have chemistry issues, but if one can win while trying to figure all that out, then once they do figure all that out (ok, assuming they figure it all out), they won't have to worry about being buried in the standings and making up for early lost games. And that's what the Knicks are doing right now. After a 2-4 start, they barely defeated the easily beatable Wizards, blew out the Pistons, barely beat the almost-as-bad-as-the-Wizards Bobcats and barely beat the third-game-in-three-nights 76ers. But they did beat them, flaws and all. Unfortunately, everything fell apart for them on Thursday in the stomping they took from the Grizzlies, and to make matters worse, Carmelo Anthony had to leave the game with wrist and ankle injuries. Even though the games count, it's one long ongoing training camp for the Knicks. Iman Shumpert has supplanted Toney Douglas in the starting linup, and while the rookie's been dynamic, and his numerous steals and defensive presence have been a sight for sore eyes, his lack of control and troubles handling the ball on offense have, at times, made him look like, well . . . a rookie. Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler are still trying to learn how to share the paint. And Anthony is struggling to keep his natural instincts to play one-on-one basketball in check, and keep the ball flowing to his teammates. After 11 games, the Knicks are the defintion of a work in progress, but they're also one game over .500 and have won four out of five. So things could be worse.
From Good to Bad to Worse: Last Friday, things weren't looking that bad for the New Jersey Nets. They defeated the Toronto Raptors, 96-85, and Deron Williams and Kris Humphries returned to the lineup. They even made a little history when they had four players with the surname "Williams" on the court at the same time. But that's where the fun ended. They subsequently lost to the Heat and the Hawks, and the always positive Avery Johnson ripped into his team before Tuesday's practice, but not much changed in Denver where they were steamrolled by the Nuggets, 123-115, in a rematch of the 1976 ABA Finals. Maybe the only thing that would help this edition of the Nets would be not to have four Williamses on the team, but four Ervings.
Just Win, Baby: Outdoors, indoors, HBO, no HBO, home, away, regulation, overtime, shootout -- it just doesn't matter where or when they play or how they do it, as all the New York Rangers do these days is win. Well, almost, as they fell to the Senators on Thursday after beating the Penguins on Friday and the Coyotes on Tuesday. Their relentless consistency has been one of their finest features, but a clunker here and there is to be expected, as no one thought they'd finish the season with nine losses (did they?). On the positive side for the Blueshirts, John Tortorella must be given credit for pushing all the right buttons and installing a system that every player has embraced. He chews them out when needed and compliments them at the right time. He's changed up lines faster than he can change his mind, but when he finds one (or two) that clicks, he sticks with it (though all bets were off on Thursday). And he's seamlessly eased Marc Staal into the lineup. The players believe they can win every game, even when they fall behind, or give up what could be a deflating goal such as the one near the end of regulation in Tuesday's game. And they have Henrik Lundqvist when all else goes wrong -- Thursday's game was only the second time in their last 12 games that they've allowed more than two goals. But some of the negatives slipped through the cracks in the loss to Ottawa: They're in an offensive slump, their few turnovers have turned into opponents' goals and their power play is wholly ineffective. But back to the positive: They have a knack for avoiding losing streaks, quickly making adjustments and regaining whatever mojo they temporarily lost.
A Winning Formula: The New Jersey Devils continued their season of acting like a drunk on a bender. They go on a romp and have the time of their lives (beating the Panthers, 5-2, and the Penguins, 3-1), but they end up face down in the gutter (getting destroyed by the Flames with Martin Brodeur getting pulled early and Johan Hedberg then letting in four goals of his own, and losing 6-3 despite outshooting Calgary 38-14). But on Wednesday, they reverted to their tried-and-true winning formula: Score a shorthanded goal, blow a third-period lead and win in the extra period (thanks to a Zach Parise power-play goal), which they did in their 2-1 victory over the Oilers. Also this week, Patrik Elias continued his milestone season by playing in his 1,000th game as a Devil on Friday (and scoring a goal and adding two assists as well). Afterward, he humbly stated, "It's a nice achievement to have and I'll take the way we won tonight. I hopefully have a few more years left in me to play more games."
Detroit Killers: The New York Islanders may have lost to the Ducks, Coyotes and Flyers this week, but they don't have any problems beating the Detroit Red Wings, who they defeated on Tuesday, 5-1, with fans chanting, "You can't beat us!" Not even Gordie Howe attending the game could help the Red Wings. With realignment off the table for next season (for now), maybe the Islanders should petition to join the same division as the Wings and enter the Western Conference (or whatever that will turn out to be named). The Isles are 5-0-1 in their last six contests vs. Detroit, haven't lost to them since 2003, are 45-44-8 overall against them, and they're 15-1-7 in their previous 23 games against Western Conference teams to boot.
Jorge Rides Off Into the Sunset: One of the great catchers in New York Yankees history, Jorge Posada, decided to retire this past week. He, of course, played his whole career in pinstripes (from one game in 1995 to 2011), and put up a career line of .273/.374/.474, with 275 home runs and 1,065 RBIs. He had an OPS of .848, an OPS+ of 121 and a 44.7 WAR. He played in six World Series (winning four), but surprisingly didn't hit so well in those (.219/.333/.333, two home runs, 11 RBIs in 29 World Series games), and he had a career postseason line of .248/.358/.387. Posada played in five All-Star Games and won five Silver Slugger Awards. He'll always be remembered as a champion and a great hitter, if not quite a Hall of Famer.
Go Back to Your Homes, Nothing to See Here: The New York Mets began the week by disappointing their fans when they insisted that they did not hire CRG Partners for bankruptcy purposes, but for financial reporting and budgeting processes. They followed that news with the signing of infielder Ronny Cedeno and put former phenom Fernando Martinez and reliever Daniel Herrera on waivers (Martinez was subsequently claimed by the Astros). And they inked Miguel Batista to a minor-league deal. But they made sure to emphasize that Cedeno and Batista were not signed to play baseball, but for their financial reporting and budgeting processes skills.
All-Pros, All-Stars and Hall of Fame Nominees: Darrelle Revis (the third-leading vote getter) and Jason Pierre-Paul were named First-Team All-Pros this week, while Nick Mangold and Victor Cruz made the second team. While Cruz accepted that honor, he did turn down a request to appear on Dancing With the Stars, as he continues to keep his head out of the clouds now that he's becoming a full-blown celebrity. John Tortorella will coach one of the squads in the NHL All-Star Game, as the Rangers have the best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference, Lundqvist, Dan Girardi, Marian Gaborik and John Tavares will participate in the game and Adam Henrique and Adam Larsson were selected as rookies. Bill Parcells and Curtis Martin made the cut of Football Hall of Fame nominees when the long list was whittled down to 15 last weekend. But Bernie Williams and Don Mattingly fell well short of Baseball Hall of Fame induction, getting 10% and 18% of the vote, respectively, while almost-Met Barry Larkin will be enshrined this summer.
And that's the New York week that was.