EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The pass from Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard traveled between the hands of Justin Tuck and bounced off the face guard of the Giants' defensive end.
Had that moment proved pivotal in a Giants' defeat, few laughs about it would have been shared afterward in New Meadowlands Stadium.
Instead, Tuck and team owner John Mara were able to joke about it after Sunday's come-from-behind 24-20 victory over the Jaguars that raised the Giants' record to 7-4, good for a share of the lead in the National Football Conference East.
"He told me I'm paid to get sacks," Tuck said with a smile.
Tuck and his teammates got a few of those, too -- including three in succession on Jacksonville's final drive that battered Garrard to the ground and sealed the victory.
Tuck did more than just pressure the opposing passer and miss an interception. In the first half, he was so disgusted he threw his helmet on the sideline as the home fans booed.
"As much money as they pay, I'd've booed, too,'' Tuck said. "We played like crap."
The Jaguars led, 17-6, at halftime. During intermission, in his role as a captain, Tuck delivered an angry speech.
"How can you allow somebody to come in your house and take over?" Tuck said he told them. "They were doing what they wanted."
Perhaps Tuck minored in pep talks at Notre Dame, where such things are part of the football curriculum. His words were intended for the defense but carried elsewhere, according to Brandon Jacobs, the revived running back.
"The offense heard," Jacobs said. "The light switch came on."
Locker-room talking points like Tuck's were part of New York lore in a different sport in a different era, the 1990s, when the hockey star Mark Messier sparked the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup.
Tuck, an Alabama native with big-city savvy, seems to be growing into his spokesman role. Last season, when Tuck was limited by injury, the Giants defense seemed to lose interest in the second half of the season.
This time around, Tuck seems healthy, both willing and able to lead through word and deed. On Sunday, he would not let his team quit in a sport in which the emotional component can make a difference.
At age 27, Tuck is a six-year veteran who should be at the prime of his athletic life. Perhaps he is assuming a leadership role for a famous franchise in a major city in a mega sport.
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