The first couple of years Chris Snee wore a Giants uniform, he couldn't imagine his team surviving so many injuries and an influx of new faces at key positions.
Staying in contention for a division title? Unheard of.
But how things have changed since the bad old days of 2004. The Giants' 31-7 romp over the Redskins, which maintained their tie with Philadelphia for the top spot in the NFC East, shows the Giants can survive, and at critical points, even thrive despite the new faces.
"We have a lot of depth on this team and on the offensive line," Snee said. "We obviously have two very important pieces missing in Shaun (O'Hara) and Dave (Diehl), and certainly, like I said, we hope that we get them back. But good teams have depth and we're fortunate enough to have guys like Kevin Boothe and William Beatty and Shawn Andrews when he was in there and Adam Koets at the beginning of the year and then we had other guys step up – the wide receivers – Derek Hagan had a great game for us yesterday and that's just the expectation that we have around here now.
"My first year, even my second year, guys got hurt and we didn't have guys that could step in and play at the level that the starters did, so we're very fortunate and that's a credit to the front office for bringing those guys in."
The new faces were the ones, in fact, that allowed some of the old faces to do a bang-up job on Sunday and turn this final, four-game stretch from merely interesting to crucial. The blocking of Beatty and Boothe on the left side of the line was a big reason Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw ran for four touchdowns and 200 yards between them. And one drafted new face, first-rounder Jason Pierre-Paul, enabled an aroused defense to stop the Redskins at nearly every turn. Pierre-Paul, with his 747-sized wingspan, had two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in a game that might well be looked back upon as his formal coming-out party.
But there were other, far newer faces, who helped Sunday. Devin Thomas, picked up off waivers just last week, led a punt rush that blocked Hunter Smith's kick near the Washington goal line and set up the Giants for a final field goal. Brian Jackson, toiling mostly on special teams after his callup from the practice squad Sept. 28, made a couple of big tackles on kickoff coverage. And Derek Hagan, he of the team-high seven catches for 65 yards, made the most of his opportunities after re-signing with the Giants just three weeks ago after failing to survive September's final cut to 53.
The depth hasn't been perfect, of course. Few things ever are. Shall we remember that the Giants, with all those new faces and such, appeared to be at death's door after the Philadelphia loss?
But key performances at key times have revived hopes of a divisional championship. And brightening matters is the fact that a couple of those missing offensive pieces, namely Diehl and wide receiver Steve Smith, could be getting back as early as this week.
Just in time.
"I think what we've learned about our team is that we have a number of guys who have got outstanding hearts, outstanding attitudes and they give outstanding effort and whatever we've asked them to do, they've done it and they've tried to do it to the best of their ability," coach Tom Coughlin said. "It's not perfect, but we're getting some things accomplished and we're growing in that we've won a couple of games.
"We are in December - it is a critical time of the year – and more people are responding and when they are called upon, they have performed. We also have the timing of keeping a couple of guys for example, the left side offensive linemen right now, Kevin Boothe, Will Beatty, were serious injuries that were kept on the active roster. No matter whether that was questioned or not, the timing of those things has worked out well as we've run into difficulty with other people at other positions; these two guys have gotten healthier and whether they were fully prepared to go do it or not, they've done it because they had to and I think that speaks well for them.
"We've been able to bring a couple of guys in here – Derek Hagan, for example, who was not with any team, but had been here and had known the system and he came back and he showed right away how anxious he was and how deserving and desiring he was of coming back and being a part of it again and how fast he was able to get in the mix. Michael Clayton came and was literally signed on a Tuesday or a Monday and was right back in the mix. He went right away and was called upon with responsibilities that week and was able to go ahead and contribute. Devin Thomas did the same thing this past weekend in a big way – was called upon to contribute and did, so some of these guys have had opportunities and of course they have made the best of those opportunities."
It has all led to the Giants positioning themselves for a real shot at a divisional title. Such deep injuries at two key positions would have sunk past Giants squads. But this one has weathered the storm remarkably well, under the circumstances.