With the ball on the 50-yard line, Justin Tuck lined up over right tackle D.J. Fluker in a three-point stance with his left hand down. It was 1st-and-10 early in the first quarter and Tuck was already starving for a sack. He fired off the line at the snap with a slight bounce on his right foot before raising his arms up and engaging with Fluker. He then redirected left, keeping his hands low in the process and sliding underneath the big palms of the blocker in typical Tuck fashion. Moving past the waist-bending Fluker, he lowered his pad level and kept his arms down to his side, giving little surface area to the blocker as he slid around the corner. He had quarterback Philip Rivers in his sight. Rivers was stumbling but managed to find ground at the last second and throw a pass to his outlet receiver off of play action. Tuck was a half-second shy of a sack.
That has become the norm this season for the Giants pass-rusher. He’s been just shy of the quarterback on numerous occasions, whether they’re dropping back rhythmically or running around on a broken play. Tuck’s been there for both, but he’s just not coming up with the sack. Perhaps it’s his broken body that has caused him to lose the final burst that he once had. He’s had countless injuries over the years that have slowed his seasons, such as two years ago when he dealt with a neck injury. Perhaps it’s age, as he turned 30 in March. Whatever it is, he’s given himself the nickname “Mr. Almost”.
Said head coach Tom Coughlin to the New York Daily News, “[Tuck] is the guy that when we refer to the number of sacks that we’ve missed where the quarterback has escaped on us.”
As the Week 14 game against the Chargers went on, Tuck got closer and closer to Rivers. Eventually, he’d sack him. Not once, but twice. Both reminded Giants fans of the old Tuck that more frequently sacked passers.
The down and distance was 2nd-and-8 in the second quarter. The Giants were down 10-0 and the Chargers were at their own 35-yard line. Rivers was in shotgun set while Tuck lined up at the five technique with his left hand down in the dirt. At the snap, he came straight downhill, bending his knees before reaching for Fluker’s hands. He slapped them away with his right hand and then his left. Then he dipped his shoulders and extended his arms like he was swimming in the ocean. This made it difficult for Fluker to bend his knees and redirect Tuck. He tried but it wasn’t happening. Tuck turned the corner and extended his right arm, wrapping it around Rivers’ waist and bringing him down for the sack at the left hash.
A week earlier, Tuck had moments like the early first quarter one where he was short of derailing the Redskins’ passing game and obliterating second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III. He was just short until he exploded like a schoolboy who’d kept his anger in the pit of his stomach for years.
It all started in the third quarter of a 17-14 game the Redskins were leading. It was 3rd-and-9 and the Redskins had the ball at their own 46-yard line. Tuck was lined up at the shaded four technique inside the left shoulder of right tackle Tyler Polumbus. He didn’t want a piece of Polumbus, though; he was targeting right guard Chris Chester.
When the play began, Tuck came up with a hard left step and froze for a millisecond prior to shaking his shoulders to the inside as if he was attacking the A-gap. His quick fake made Chester overstep to his left, sliding enough inside to give Tuck the green light down the B-gap. Tuck took advantage, shooting through it and slapping Chester’s outside shoulder with his left arm. Chester appeared to recover quickly, but it was too late as Tuck stuck out his left arm again when sinking his right shoulder. He turned the corner and wrapped his arms around the upper body of Griffin III, sacking him in between the hashes.
In the next six plays that ended the third quarter and began the fourth, Tuck would go on to record three more sacks to bring his total on the day to four, one and half more than he had in the previous 12 weeks. All three came in the way many had learned to love Tuck’s pass-rushing ability — an endless engine, outstanding technique, and capitalizing on opportunities.
For at least two weeks, Tuck has finally come alive on the season and his pass-rushing numbers now include sacks. He is no longer Mr. Almost; he is Mr. Gotcha.