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Looking Back On The Christmas Eve Miracle In New York

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Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images.
Photo by Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images.

As far as football goes, this is not a very good Christmas for Giants fans. So what do we do when times aren't so good? We reminisce about better times, of course. More specifically, we look back at Christmas Eve of 2011 when the New York Giants were fighting for their playoff lives against none other than the New York Jets, who coincidentally were also fighting for their playoff lives. Whoever created the schedule for the 2011 NFL season obviously had it out for the city of New York and wanted half of its football fanbase to have a terrible Christmas Eve, so this once-every-four-years inter-city rivalry happened to fall on a Saturday afternoon on the day before Christmas with the 7-7 Giants facing the 8-6 Jets in a green MetLife Stadium.

The Giants, who had lost control of their playoff destiny the previous week with a dismal performance at home against Rex Grossman and the Washington Redskins, needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. However, things started out a little slowly for Eli Manning and co. on that Saturday afternoon, and for the second week in a row the offense was struggling to score points or do much of anything, for that matter. It was a sloppy and mistake-filled first half and things didn't seem to be getting any better.

Just before the two-minute warning of the first half, the Giants trailed the Jets 7-3 and were backed up in a deep hole, on their own 1-yard line. But on a third-and-10 from their own 1-yard-line, the Giants offense dug themselves out of that hole in one fell swoop, and they made a play that would turn their entire season around. Manning completed a pass to Victor Cruz on the far sideline, and after dodging a few would-be tacklers and Kyle Wilson, who is rarely anything but a "would-be tackler", he only had the end zone in front of him en route to a 99-yard touchdown reception that gave the Giants a 10-7 halftime lead. The Giants would not relinquish that lead, and would end up riding the momentum of that electrifying play all the way on through the playoffs and eventually through Super Bowl XLVI.

That one play, one that is as exciting (or excruciating, if you're a Jets fan) to watch now as it was when it happened two years ago — and it did more than give the Giants the lead — saved their season and effectively ended the Jets’ season in the same instant. That one play sent the New York Jets into a tailspin that some may argue they still haven't recovered from and set in motion the series of events that would lead to the Giants' second improbable Super Bowl title. Although the two teams would be 8-7 after the game, they were both officially trending in completely opposite directions, making it one of the most important plays in the last decade of New York football.

Leading up to that game, Jets head coach Rex Ryan had begun crafting a narrative that he hoped would signal a changing of the guard when it came to football in New York. Ryan's claim that the Giants had become the Jets' "little brother" and that Gang Green was now the better football team in New York was his way of motivating his team and attempting to shift the collective focus away from the Giants and towards his team of talented underachievers still waiting for their big break. A win over the Giants on Christmas Eve would not only move the Jets one step closer to the playoffs and essentially eliminate the Giants, but it would move the Jets one step closer to fulfilling his prophecy and advancing his narrative.

The Giants had other plans, however, and that one pass from Manning to Cruz erased all of the momentum that the Jets had built up, sending them crashing back to Earth. Following that touchdown, the Giants would build a 20-7 lead before the Jets answered, and that's when the defense stepped up and delivered, sacking Mark Sanchez in the end zone for a safety. That was quickly followed by an Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown run only seconds later, putting the proverbial nail in the coffin and putting the Jets away for good.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Jets would lose in Week 17 to finish 8-8 and miss the playoffs, despite being 8-5 only a few weeks earlier; the Giants would beat the Cowboys for the NFC East title the following week and then roll through the playoffs in dominating fashion en route to another Super Bowl victory. While that game may seem like a whole lifetime ago now, it had far-reaching repercussions that still resonate to this day. And although both teams are experiencing rough times this season, that game further solidified the balance of power in New York and was a prime example of the fact that in the NFL, fortunes can change in an instant.