Tiki, take a bow.
If the Giants and their fans - this includes the ones in the stands and the ones disguised as media members - are inclined to blame Tiki Barber for the team's woes last season, they have no choice but to credit him for its resurgence this season.
Characterize it any way you like - motivational speaking, addition by subtraction, forcing Eli to finally become a Manning - but clearly, there is no rational way to explain why the Giants, an 8-8 bust last season with Tiki, are now one win away from the Super Bowl without him.
Statistically, they are essentially the same team, being led by the same quarterback. They still allow that same red-in-the-face, eyes a-poppin', neck veins a-bulgin' lunatic to prowl their sideline every week. Yet, last year at this time, the Giants were 8-9 and done. This year, they are 13-5 and there is a strange feeling that their best is yet to come.
It can't be because of the offense. Last year, it rang up 5,479 total yards and 38 touchdowns in the regular season. This year, 5,302 total yards and the same 38 touchdowns.
It can't be the defense. Last year, it allowed 325 yards and 22 points per game. This year, 305 yards and - you guessed it - 22 points per game.
It can't be because Eli suddenly morphed into Peyton. In fact, statistically this was the worst of his three full seasons as a starter, but only incrementally so. He was mediocre in 2005, with 24 TD passes, 17 picks and a 77.0 QB rating. This season, the one in which he blossomed, he threw 23 TDs, 20 picks and had a rating of 73.9.
Same offense, same defense, same QB, yet somehow, new team.
It can only be a response to the "criticism" Barber laid upon his former teammates and coach during the preseason when it sure looked as if the Giants, minus Tiki, had no chance even to duplicate last year's level of futility.
It must have been when Tiki said "sometimes it was almost comical the way he would say things" about the No. 2 quarterback on Archie Manning's personal depth chart that things began to turn around for the Giants.
If you are the type to whine that Barber's pending retirement distracted the Giants out of their season last year - and what a sad, lame excuse that is for a team or its fans to try to make - then you have no choice but to admit that his verbal potshots, mild as they were, spurred them on this season.
What other explanation could there be? Certainly it's not to be found in the numbers and, if you are a Giants fan and inclined to believe in the improbable, you may not want to look much further.
Namely, that last season, the Giants' second-half tailspin coincided precisely with season-ending injuries to Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Amani Toomer, who is not only the most underrated wide receiver in the history of the Giants, but possibly in the history of the NFL.
The improbable and the inexplicable have aligned to achieve the previously believed-to-be impossible.
I'll be the first to admit I did not think the Giants, minus Barber but with Manning and coach Coughlin, would be able to get out of their own way this season. Barber, if he wasn't observing a self-imposed vow of silence, would probably be the second.
Before you start taking the easy way out and blame last year on Tiki, remember: If his words were strong enough to ruin the Giants in '06, they were also strong enough to resurrect them in '07. Sounds like he deserves a playoff share.