Three years ago, though, the Giants had such difficulty successfully snapping the football for field goals, it was a primary reason they didn’t advance in the NFC Playoffs. Signing Kuehl during the ensuing offseason was such a priority they made a five-year commitment to the former Cleveland Brown.
The Giants haven’t had any true trouble with snaps on field-goal attempts and punts in the three seasons since, so it is understandable if people are beginning to take the consistent ninth-year specialist’s skills for granted.
Kuehl is his own worst critic, of course, so there are “a few” snaps from earlier this season he’d like to have back.
“It’s nothing that maybe anyone else would notice,” said Kuehl, who hasn’t noticeably botched a snap in four years. “Sometimes maybe even the coaches wouldn’t notice, or even (holder/punter) Jeff (Feagles) wouldn’t notice. The rotation of the ball or maybe the spot or something like that.”
Nevertheless, Kuehl is one of our five unsung Giants of 2005, a player who hasn’t received a lot of attention for his contributions toward the team playing meaningful December games for the first time since 2002. The others are listed below, in alphabetical order.
Fred Robbins is the Giant with the $20 million contract, but Clancy is the one who has started 11 of the Giants’ 12 games this season at left defensive tackle. The Giants still miss Cornelius Griffin’s pass-rushing ability up the middle, but Clancy has been a pleasant surprise after signing in the offseason following five years as a backup in Pittsburgh.
Clancy had 26 tackles entering the Dallas game and has been instrumental in the Giants limiting opposing offenses to less than 95 rushing yards per game. The stout run-stuffer was especially effective in Seattle, where he penetrated the Seahawks’ backfield on numerous occasions and helped neutralize Seattle’s star tailback, Shaun Alexander. The 6-1, 305-pound former University of Mississippi standout has also paid close attention to Michael Strahan’s pass-rushing techniques in an attempt to become more effective at pressuring quarterbacks.
“Considering this is really my first year playing, I think I’ve been fairly solid,” Clancy said. “I think I’ve been a person you can count on to get the job done. The first five, six games, I was just trying to find my way, trying not to make mistakes. But now I think I’ve got a little bit more comfortable, understand the game a little bit more, really got to feel the speed of the game. So I feel like I’m able to do more in games.
“It wasn’t one particular game, but I just started flowing, started getting in a rhythm, getting my confidence. That was the main thing. Being a backup for five years, that really does something to your confidence. So my confidence, that was one of the main things that I had to work on.”
The steady fullback still hasn’t carried the ball this season, but Finn has been an effective blocker for Tiki Barber and a reliable receiver out of the backfield.
“I’m just doing my job, paving the way for Tiki,” said Finn, a sixth-year pro and third-year Giant. “I just take pride in my job, try to improve every year and anytime you’ve got a guy like Tiki out there, he makes you look a lot better than you are.”
Perhaps, but each of the six receptions Finn made prior to the Dallas game went for first downs, and the former University of Pennsylvania tailback has shown some shiftiness in the open field.
“I mean, I think that’s just the case of teams not paying too much attention because they have other guys to focus on,” Finn said. “So here and there, you’re going to get an opportunity where you’re open and there’s not many people around you. So obviously, when I get those opportunities, I definitely want to make the most of them, get the first down and move the chains any way I can to help this team.”
The team has nearly $90 million committed to right tackle Kareem McKenzie, left tackle Luke Petitgout, left guard David Diehl and center Shaun O’Hara, yet Snee has been their most consistent offensive lineman this season. The second-year player from Boston College commits only occasional penalties. Tom Coughlin’s son-in-law is also a rugged run blocker who has often combined with O’Hara to blow open huge holes on the right side to help spring Barber for runs of 10 yards or more.
Ron Dayne’s sensational Thanksgiving Day game against Dallas aside, Ward has provided improvement as the second-string tailback behind Barber. His yards-per-carry average isn’t spectacular (3.5 before facing the Cowboys), but Ward hits holes hard and can make defenders miss. Rookie Brandon Jacobs will still get most of the short-yardage opportunities that don’t go to Barber, but the coaches now know that they can count on Ward to spell Barber on a regular basis.
“I think I’ve done pretty good,” said Ward, a second-year Giant out of Ottawa (Canada) College. “I’m still learning and I’m still young, but I have a great mentor in Tiki. So I get to watch one of the best backs in the NFL play every week. It helps tremendously. I got to watch him last year, behind him and Ron. But this year I have more of a role, so I’m taking every advantage that I can of it.”
Ward, who also has four special teams tackles this season, would love to see his role in the offense expand, but understands Barber’s effectiveness will probably prevent that from happening anytime soon.
“They told me I was just going to be here to spell him,” Ward said. “So whenever he’s tired or whatever, I’ll be ready to go.”