When a team doesn’t make it to, much less win the Super Bowl, some will say that team wasn’t that good. That’s not the case with the 2008 New York Giants.
Without question, the 2008 version of the New York Giants were one of the best teams in the 93-year history of the franchise.
They were coming off the best and most improbable win in the history of the franchise, having knocked off the 18-0 New England Patriots 17-14 in Super Bowl 42.
The team was a perfect mix of talent. There were young, talented players such as Ahmad Bradshaw and Steve Smith who were just getting started. Justin Tuck and Brandon Jacobs were just entering the primes of their careers. Then there were the savvy, wily veterans, like Amani Toomer and Antonio Pierce.
It was also the first time that Eli Manning was viewed as one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, having thrown six touchdown passes and just one interception in the postseason en route to being named Super Bowl MVP.
Twelve games into the 2008 regular season, the Giants were 11-1, a better record than any of the team’s Super Bowl teams had at the same point in their respective seasons. What made this feat even more remarkable was that they did this without three key players from that Super Bowl championship team.
Michael Strahan retired, Jeremey Shockey was traded in the offseason, and Osi Umenyiora the team’s lone Pro Bowl player from a season ago, tore his ACL in the third preseason game against the Jets.
Those three players were named to a combined 13 Pro Bowl appearances. So it speaks volumes to how deep and talented the 2008 Giants were.
The Giants won two games on the road against the eventual Super Bowl 43 participants, defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-14 in Week 8, and the Arizona Cardinals, 37-29, in Week 12.
They also had a three-game stretch in Weeks 9-11 against the Cowboys, Eagles, and Ravens where they rushed for 200 yards or more in each game. Yes, once upon the time the Giants had a feared, ferocious running game.
They were far-and-away the best team in the NFL and seemed destined to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Then came the event that changed everything. It was the night of Nov. 28 when Plaxico Burress suffered an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound to his right thigh. Left with no other choice, the Giants suspended him for the remainder of the season due to conduct detrimental to the team.
Without Burress, the Giants went 1-3 down the stretch. While they finished 12-4 and as the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs, the loss of Burress killed their offense. In the first 12 games of the season, the Giants averaged 29 points per game. In their final four games of the regular season, without Burress, they averaged 18.
Those offensive woes continued in the Divisional Round against the Philadelphia Eagles. Manning threw two interceptions and the offense failed to score a touchdown, losing the game 23-11.
It was a painful loss that left the Giants and their fans pondering what could have been if Burress hadn’t shot himself and stayed on the field. Even though they fell short of the ultimate prize they did accomplish some noteworthy feats in 2008.
Only defending Super Bowl team to make it to the playoffs
For whatever reason, the Giants seem like a snake-bitten team the season after they’ve won a Super Bowl.
In the strike-shortened 1987 season, the Giants went 0-3 with replacement players on the field and finished the season 6-9.
Following the Giants win in Super Bowl 25, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick moved on to coach the Cleveland Browns and then, months later, Bill Parcells resigned as head coach. The Giants would stumble to 8-8 under Ray Handley.
The Giants posted the same 9-7 record in 2012 as they did in 2011, but this time it wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs as they fell a game behind the Washington Redskins for the NFC East crown.
The 2008 Giants remain Big Blue’s only defending Super Bowl team to make it back to the playoffs.
Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both rushed for 1,000 yards
Perhaps the fondest memory Giants fans have of the 2008 season is the three-headed running attack of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw, also known as “Earth, Wind, and Fire.”
The trio rushed for a combined 2,469 yards and scored 18 touchdowns on the ground. Jacobs (1,089) and Ward (1,025) became just the fourth pair of teammates to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Eli had his lowest interception total since becoming a starter
While Manning has developed a reputation for being clutch, he also has a reputation for being turnover-prone, as he’s led the league in interceptions three times.
But this wasn’t the case in 2008, as he threw just 10 interceptions while throwing 21 touchdowns and was named to his first Pro Bowl. It was also the first time he completed 60 percent of his passes, making it one of the finest seasons of his Hall of Fame career.
Justin Tuck had his best season
With Strahan retired and Umenyiora lost for the season, the Giants desperately needed Tuck to step up and help fill the void. Did he ever.
He finished the season with 67 tackles, the second-most of his career and had a career-high 12 sacks, forcing three fumbles for good measure. He made the Pro Bowl and was named a First Team All-Pro. He also found the end zone for the first and only time in his career, returning an interception 41 yards in the Giants’ 41-13 win over the then-St. Louis Rams in Week 2.
While the 2008 Giants didn’t hoist the Lombardi Trophy, this was a special team that was as good—if not better—than some of the squads that reached the Super Bowl.