The New York Giants’ 2011 season looked like a lost cause before it began when starting cornerback Terrell Thomas went down with a season-ending knee injury. Thomas was a rising star and the club’s leading tackler in 2010, but his misfortune was only the beginning. The Giants would eventually see five cornerbacks go on season-ending injured reserve: Thomas, Michael Coe, Bruce Johnson, Brian Witherspoon and Justin Tryon.
Flash forward to the divisional round of this year’s playoffs, when the Giants pulled off the season’s biggest upset by dethroning the Green Bay Packers. Now flash forward another week to the NFC Championship Game in San Francisco. The game was tied in the fourth quarter when New York’s unheralded secondary helped force the 49ers into four consecutive three-and-outs, allowing Lawrence Tynes to kick the winning field goal in overtime.
The evolution of the Giants’ secondary in 2011 was a textbook example of players and coaches overcoming adversity. Veterans Aaron Ross and Corey Webster formed a new starting duo at the corners, and rookie first-round draft choice Prince Amukamara returned from a broken foot in time to lend critical depth late in the season. Safeties Antrel Rolle and Kenny Phillips protected the back end and stayed healthy.
The Giants’ secondary will always labor in the shadow of New York’s more glamorous pass rushers, but without the expert coverage of men like Webster, Ross and Rolle, larger men like Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul wouldn’t get all those sacks — and all that glory.