Justin Tuck sounding like himself

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — So I stuck around here after my TV responsibilities ended because the New York Giants told us they'd have some players available to talk to us. One of those players was defensive end Justin Tuck, who held court at his locker and was engaging and honest on a number of topics, including his hatred of this week's opponent.

"I've been quoted many times saying I hate the Dallas Cowboys, and I still do," Tuck said.

But he wasn't angry or anything. Just telling it like it is. He doesn't know why he hates the Cowboys, against whom the Giants will play for the NFC East title on Sunday night. He just does.

"A lot of it's out of respect," Tuck said. "I think when you look at all of the history, all of the great players, the championships won, I think the two teams are probably more similar than a lot of people like to admit."

Tuck is one of the more insightful players around, usually quite helpful to reporters looking to write more intelligently about the Giants and the league. This year, by his own admission, he's been a bit grumpier than usual. The nagging injuries that have limited his production have had him in a fairly bad mood most of the year, but when Giants coach Tom Coughlin pulled him aside last week and told him the time had come to shake off those nicks and bruises and lead by example, Tuck says it hit home. He went on to play his best game of the season, and assuming he can continue his mind-over-matter ways this week, he could be one of the Giants' greatest assets in their attempt to beat those hated Cowboys and claim the division championship.

In the Giants' Week 14 victory in Dallas, defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was a monster, collecting two sacks and a safety, forcing a fumble and blocking Dallas' attempt at a game-tying field goal in the final seconds. The Giants' defense only works when it's generating pressure on the opposing quarterback with its four-man defensive line, and for much of this season, Tuck and the Giants' other injured defensive end, Osi Umenyiora, have been contributing too little on the side opposite Pierre-Paul's. If Tuck can continue to play the way he did Saturday, the effect will be no less significant than this: The Giants will actually be able to run their defense the way they want to run it. And while they did win that game in Dallas in Week 14, they'd surely like to play better defense in this game than they did in that one.