There are very few teams in the NFL or any other pro sport that would have handled the Ahmad Bradshaw tantrum the way the New York Giants did. Bradshaw, you may recall, lit into his offensive line a week ago during and after a loss to the Seahawks in which he only came up with 58 rushing yards. Sunday, the Giants and Bradshaw responded with Bradshaw's first 100-yard game of the season in another tough victory of the sort that's becoming their 2011 hallmark. From Dave D'Alessandro of The Star-Ledger:
Whether they are wallflowers or finger-pointers, very few running backs get away with trashing their linemen -- the ones who do tend to finish the season in traction -- but Bradshaw’s invective was both timely and necessary, and the Giants may be a better team because of it today.
That's the amazing thing about these Giants and the way they handle such things. They don't descend into he-said/he-said finger-pointing. They don't bicker back and forth and let acrimony tear them up. They act like men. What Bradshaw said to his linemen two Sundays ago was correct, they knew it and they appear to have taken it to heart.
Moreover, Bradshaw was not being selfish. This wasn't some prima donna wide receiver insisting the team throw him the ball more. Bradshaw was speaking out for what he (correctly) believed was the good of the team. He wasn't begging to get 26 carries in the Bills game because it feels good to carry the ball 26 times in an NFL game. (I can't imagine it does.) He was pointing out that, if the Giants gave him the ball a little more and opened up some holes in front of them, that would make it easier for them to win games. And he was right.
These Giants will rise and fall on the strength and performance of their lines -- both of them. And the offensive line's performance this year has been spotty. In and out. Good for the most part but in some ways unreliable. Bradshaw held them accountable for it -- got in their faces and told them they were better than they'd been looking and that they needed to start playing that way. And because these are the Giants, a team built on confident veterans with stable coaching and steady leadership from the locker room all the way up to the owner's box, they took it like men and did what they should have done with it. They accepted and met his challenge.
So the Giants are 4-2, and I still don't know what to make of them. Every game they play is like a Rocky Balboa fight. But like Rocky, they're in every one. Sometimes, as in Arizona and against Buffalo, it goes their way in the end. Other times, as with Seattle, it does not. Their schedule in the second half of the season is, as we've discussed, a meat grinder. Their first six games after Halloween are at New England, at San Francisco, home to the Eagles, at New Orleans, home to the Packers and at Dallas. If they can beat Miami two weeks from now and muster .500 over that gauntlet, they'll go into the home stretch with a real chance.
But that .500 is obviously a big "if," and these Giants are neither perfect nor dominant. They have enough weaknesses to make you wonder whether they can truly hang with the league's top teams, and they have shown that they are not immune to the kinds of mistakes that cost them games. Their defense remains prone to the big play, as we saw Sunday. But I think this somewhat hilarious stat sums up this year's Giants perfectly: The average length of Buffalo's three touchdown plays was 49.7 yards. The average length of the Giants' three touchdown plays was 1 yard. Three 1-yard plunges into the end zone by Bradshaw, the running back who one week earlier was barking at his teammates to be better.
Nobody's working harder than this year's Giants, who are as hard a 4-2 as there is in this league right now. If they're going to win this division, it's going to get ugly along the way. Whether they have enough to win it remains to be seen. But with a locker room full of no-nonsense veterans grinding it out for a no-nonsense coach in a division where toughness and cohesion may just be enough to land a team on top, at least we know they're up to the fight.