What were the odds that a Giants team that needed six fourth-quarter comebacks would close its regular season with a wire-to-wire, 31-14 domination of the rival Cowboys?
What were the odds that a Giants team that lost its middle linebacker, best cover man, five cornerbacks and 16 other starters at some point or another would win the NFC East on Sunday night in front of thunderous, towel-waving throngs?
Victor Cruz of the New York Giants reacts after making a catch in the fourth quarter.
"No one really gave us a shot," a gleeful Justin Tuck said after all those longshots indeed came in. His black Division champion hat set aside for a minute, his smile still fresh after he doused coach Tom Coughlin with a cold, on-field Gatorade jug bath, he said he'd like to "wake up the echoes" of the 2007 Giants team that got hot late and went on to a Super Bowl upset. And then he said, almost in warning, "You get in that playoff, anything can happen."
Well, the 9-7 Giants are in the playoffs after a two-year post-season drought, and will host Atlanta Sunday at 1 p.m. here at MetLife Stadium. And as for anything can happen, well, isn't that the story of these Giants?
What were the odds that an undrafted receiver out of Paterson, N.J. - and by way of small-school football at the University of Massachusetts – would become a salsa-dancing sensation who put together New York's all-time most productive receiving season? Victor Cruz was at it again Sunday night, starting the Giants off with a stunning 74-yard touchdown. He shook Cowboy corner Terence Newman at the line, he caught the ball at his own 31-yard line and he out-raced Newman and safety Gerald Sensabaugh - and got his fifth (fifth!) touchdown of 65 yards or longer this season.
"He just keeps doing it. Thank God he does. I'm doing cartwheels on the sideline while he's running by," Coughlin said. "Heckuva season for the kid."
What were the odds that the Giants best pass rushing defensive end would miss seven games, their best overall defensive end would never play wholly at full strength and they would still maybe have the most dynamic defensive end in the NFC? Jason Pierre-Paul's national coming out party was in Dallas two weeks ago and he didn't disappoint in this one either, notching the first of the Giants' six sacks of Romo.
The bigger sign as the Giants move on to Atlanta and its mega offense is that their whole defensive front is back to being one of the league's most devastating. Osi Umenyiora, their premier pass rusher before Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks for the season) burst out, returned after a four game hiatus (due to a high ankle sprain) and looked downright fierce, sacking Romo twice. On the first, Umenyiora and veteran end Justin Tuck – playing inside – pulled a simple stunt and showed just what defensive coordinator Perry Fewell could do with three (relatively) healthy ends.
"It was fun, man," Umenyiora said after, the black champion hat proudly on his head. "It was a good time."
What were the odds that Eli Manning, coming off a 25-interception, 30-turnover season, would turn in a year for the Manning family scrapbook? Manning was 24 of 34 for 346 yards, he threw three touchdowns and he set a new NFL standard for fourth quarter touchdowns, getting the record 15th with a four-yard, game-sealing toss to Hakeem Nicks with 3:41 to play.
"I said in the huddle, 'E, throw it up to me,'" said Nicks, who nursed a bad hamstring strain all week. He was insistent he'd play though, and he did, saying, "We were all-in this week… We're peaking at the right time."
"All-in" is what the white towels the Giants distributed said. But what were the odds any of the 81,077 fans waving those towels ever felt fully comfortable Sunday? Sure the Giants came out of the first half up a season-high three touchdowns, but these were still the 2011 Giants, the ones who regularly got in holes and who far too frequently mistook game day for a leisure day (see: Seahawks, second Eagles game, second Redskins game).
After allowing just 96 yards in the first half, the Giants let the Cowboys march 94 on their first drive of the second half, with Dallas quarterback Tony Romo hitting Laurent Robinson – who repeatedly burned the Giants in Dallas two weeks ago – for a 34-yard score. The defense would come up with an interception (Antrel Rolle, stepping in front of Cowboys tight end Jason Witten) and a strong stop on a fourth-and-one, but the Giants offense went quiet for a bit and the Cowboys pulled to within seven at 21-14 on a second score by Robinson with 10:15 to play.
"There were some times tonight when it was a little nerve-wracking," Coughlin acknowledged. "But we straight it around and finished the game the way we wanted to finish it, finished the regular season the way we wanted to finish it."
What are the odds Coughlin's training camp mantra of "finish" can carry this decimated, written off, almost dead (ahem, four-game losing streak) team to another spectacular postseason run?
"I wouldn't want to face us right now," running back Brandon Jacobs said.
Write to Aditi Kinkhabwala at firstname.lastname@example.org
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