29-17 not as good as it sounds
NY wins 5th in Sloppy Fashion - with a strong pass rush and a lot of luck.
Watching the game between the Giants and 49ers today conjured up memories of two of my favorite movie moments. Do you remember the opening scene to "Office Space", where Peter Gibbons and his coworkers are stuck in morning rush hour traffic? Peter would swerve out from his lane when he saw movement to his left, only to find himself at a dead stop watching cars pass him to his right. The other scene is from "Meet The Parents", as Gaylord Focker sped from red light to red light in a race to beat Jack back to the house before he discovered that it wasn't the "real" Jinxy.
For anyone unfamiliar with these movies, I apologize for such an extraneous reference - at the same time, I suggest you visit your local Blockbuster once in a while. For those of you who know exactly what I'm talking about but did not see the game, you get an idea of what it was like; there were periods of complete stillness followed by bursts of exitement that eventually came to grinding halts. When two teams combine for 24 penalties totaling 214 yards, it tends to slow the tempo a little.
San Francisco came into the Meadowlands with Frank Gore - 4th in the league in rushing with 524 yards and an impressive 4.9 yards per carry. They also brought J.T. O'Sullivan, who's lost some of the luster he had earlier this year following 7 interceptions in his last three games. O'Sullivan also leads the NFL in fumbles. On the other side of the ball, the Giants were taking the field without their defensive leader, linebacker Antonio Pierce (quad), and their starting weak side LB Gerris Wilkinson (mcl strain). Chase Blackburn and Bryan Kehl started in their place, respectively.
The good news for New York was that the relentless pass rush - that was non-existent in Cleveland - returned full force. They tallied six sacks on the day, including 2 from Justin Tuck and one from Fred Robbins, which ties them for the team lead with 5. The secondary was suspect, but all-in-all Steve Spagnola's crew managed to force four turnovers - an element of their game that has been lacking so far this year.
The Giants started off sluggishly on offense. Eli Manning was more accurate than his stats would indicate (16 of 31, 161 yards, 1 TD), in part the result of three dropped passes by Plaxico Burress, Brandon Jacobs and Amani Toomer in the first two drives alone. Manning was far from looking sharp, however. He had 4 passes batted away and was very close to being picked off three times - one on an out pattern to Steve Smith that Nate Clements read perfectly but couldn't leap high enough to grab. Another of Eli's throws seemed to be purposefully targeted at a white road jersey that simply couldn't hold on to the gift it was given. In the 4th quarter, Manning threw towards the right sideline for Toomer, but FS Keith Lewis cut off the pass and knocked it down - there's no reason why he shouldn't have caught that ball.
On the Niners second drive of the game, an illegal motion penalty and two Frank Gore runs that resulted in negative yardage pinned San Francisco back to their own 15. The Niners punted and Domenick Hixon took it in at the NYG 46. Four plays later, Brandon Jacobs found a seam on the right side of the line and rumbled toward the sideline, untouched, for a 26-yard touchdown to put them ahead 7-0.
On the ensuing possession, O'Sullivan (16 of 28, 256 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) appeared to find a rhythm remeniscent of Derek Anderson on Monday night; quick drops and quick releases on slant patterns as he marched the Niners up the field. The drive stalled and San Francisco settled for a 40-yard Joe Nedney field goal. The Giants scored again on the next drive with another Jacobs TD run of 2 yards to make the score 14-3. The drive went 8 plays for 73 yards, but 46 yards of it were the result of two Nate Clements penalties - an unnecessary roughness for 15 yards and a pass interference call on Plaxico Burress for 31 yards.
Speaking of Burress, the Giants nearly had a potential meltdown on their hands. Following an undeserved offensive pass interference call with 7:19 left in the half that had Burress visibly upset, he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct as New York was lining up to punt. His jawing continued as he passed Tom Coughlin heading back to the bench (leaving himself a 10-foot buffer between the two). Coughlin appeared to be asking him what the hell he was thinking out there. I haven't been able to decipher what Burress said in response, but the look on his face indicated it wasn't of the "rated PG" variety. Though the exchange was never heated, Eli Manning and others had to calm Plaxico down for some time before the next possession.
Rookie wide receiver Josh Morgan (5 for 86, 1 TD) and O'Sullivan started clicking in the 2nd quarter, connecting on 3 passes for 58 yards on the next possession - including a 30 yard TD strike to make it 14-10. John Carney kicked his 13th consecutive field goal to put the Giants up 17-10 at halftime. Carney's streak would come to an end in dramatic fashion later in the game.
Aaron Ross, who was covering Morgan, struggled all day along with the rest of the Giants secondary. Despite two Michael Johnson interceptions in the 2nd quarter (which were more a result of exrtemely poor decision making by O'Sullivan), the Giants pass coverage looked very beatable this afternoon. San Francisco receivers were open more often than not. Had it not been for O'Sullivan's inexperience and some timely drops, San Fran's passing stats may have looked quite exceptional; it seemed like Steve Spagnola was in zone coverage, with d-backs always converging on the receiver after he'd already made the catch over the middle and gained some yardage. The loss of Pierce no doubt had a hand in this, but the speed we saw earlier in the season has not been there for the past two games.
A Manning-to-Burress hookup for 6 yards at the 9:13 mark of the third quarter extended the Giants lead 24-10. Despite O'Sullivan's success in finding open receivers in the second half, his penchant for fumbling and Frank Gore's inabitlity to penetrate the Giants front line pretty much sealed the 49ers fate. Their only other score was on a blocked field goal attempt with 2:03 left in the 3rd quarter when Jeff Feagles appeared to bobble the snap from Jay Alford, and Carney booted a line drive right into the open hand of Manny Lawson. Nate Clements scooped it up within a second and dashed 74 yards into the Giants end zone to make it 24-17.
O'Sullivan fumbled four times resulting in two turnovers; the last one happened as he was sacked by Justin Tuck at his own 20 yard line. The ball squirted out and rolled quickly towards the end zone when Josh Morgan intentionally kicked it past the end line, resulting in a safety for New York which gave them the 29-17 victory.
*Niners RB Frank Gore was held to 11 yards on 11 carries. It was his lowest yardage output as a starter in his career - and the least amount of yards he's rushed in a game since December 11th, 2005 when he had 2 carries for 5 yards.
*Derrik Ward had another impressive day: 4 carries for 19 yards & 3 receptions for 50 yards. It makes you wonder; if Ward were to take the majority of the snaps, would he be nearly as effective?
*Eli Manning - again - didn't appear to recognize when he was potentially throwing into trouble. It wasn't as noticeable as it was in Monday night's performance, but for the second game in a row he failed to utilize pump fakes, and wasn't checking off as often as he usually does. Maybe he felt he didn't have to, but as I stated above he was very lucky to escape this game without an interception.
*One of the characteristics of the Giants defense the past few years had been giving up the big pass at the most inopportune time. While that trend had reversed itself toward the end of last season, the 21-yard completion from O'Sullivan to Arnaz Battle in the 4th quarter was a bit frightening. Why? Because it was 3rd and 20, and the Giants were leading by 10 points early in the fourth quarter. That play won't be remembered, only because Josh Morgan - who had been solid all day - let a 40-yard pass that was right on the money slip through his hands. Had he hauled that ball in, San Francisco would have had 1st and 10 on the Giants 19 yard line.
*The Giants were flagged for 11 penalties totaling 80 yards.
*Plaxico Burress caught his 3rd touchdown this season, but had less receiving yards than Ward (50), Steve Smith (39) and Toomer (31).