Late Sunday afternoon, Giants safety Antrel Rolle was talking about his teammate, Terrell Thomas, when he said, "His heart is as big as Texas."
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About an hour earlier, Thomas made a play that was just as big. With the Giants trailing Oakland by six points and the Raiders driving to pad their lead, Thomas intercepted a Terrelle Pryor pass and returned it 65 yards to the five-yard line. Two plays later, Andre Brown scored on a one-yard touchdown run to give the Giants the lead for good in what became a 24-20 victory, their third in a row.
"It was a big play for us," Thomas said. "We needed it. It was a route that they run a lot and I was waiting on it all game. They run two-by-two slants and coach put us in a great position and I was just happy to make a play for our defense."
Thomas appeared to have fumbled the ball into the end zone, but the officials ruled he was down by contact, which was confirmed by replay official Tommy Moore. Of course, Thomas was hoping he would reach the end zone on the play.
"I thought I did after I made him miss a tackle," Thomas said. "Terrelle Pryor is a fast quarterback and he looked me in my eyes and said, 'You aren't going to outrun me,' so I tried to make him miss. Looking back, I wish I would have stayed to the sidelines, but I was happy to make a great play and Andre finished it off for us."
The pick was just as big for Thomas as it was for the Giants. It was Thomas' first interception since Dec. 5, 2010 vs. Washington, also in MetLife Stadium. The 65-yard return is the longest of his career.
But the play was even more significant because it represented another step in Thomas' remarkable comeback after missing the previous two seasons while twice recuperating from reconstructive knee surgery.
"I'm just blessed, man," Thomas said. "I just thank God for putting me in this position, giving me the grace to come back from three ACL surgeries (including one in college) and play in the fashion I am. I can't thank the Giants enough, my teammates, everyone who believes me."
One of his most ardent supporters is head coach Tom Coughlin.
"(He has a) belief in himself and the feeling, the desire to always make it back, believing that he could, and then making that play today," Coughlin said. "He's a smart football player, a good football player. You saw Terrell with his tackling two weeks ago (when he was NFC Defensive player of the Week after an 11-tackle performance in Philadelphia). He certainly was the man on the spot for the interception. It's a shame he didn't get in the end zone."
"I was telling him it was a good thing he doesn't play offense, because I had a block where he could have hit the sideline and he cut back," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "All these guys want to get to the open field. But it was great, everyone knows his story and how he's fought back from injuries. He's been a consistent, just a great atmosphere around him and for him to come back and continue to play, he had the Defensive Player of the Week two weeks ago against Philadelphia and had another awesome game today. I'm hoping that he continues to do this because he's a big part of our success.
That is precisely what Thomas' plan is.
"It was a long two years, sitting at home watching the games," Thomas said. "So, I'm just happy to play football. It was ugly at first, but we are turning this thing around and I'm happy to be a part of it."