Something in the Air
On the day Sean Taylor is forever enshrined in the Ring of Fame, 305 yards by Eli Manning fly in the face of the Redskins' emotions.
On a cold & rainy day at FedEx Field, Clinton Portis emerged from the Tunnel sprinting, proudly carrying a flag that displayed the "21" worn by his teammate and friend - both at the University of Miami and more recently with the Washington Redskins. The late Sean Taylor was remembered in an emotional ceremony that took place just before the Redskins were to face their division rivals the New York Giants. Standing at midfield beneath rain-drenched umbrellas - in the soggy FedEx Field turf emblazoned with a large number "21' encircled in burgandy - were Taylor's parents, girlfriend and daughter. After the PA announcer's voice rang out through the stadium announcing Taylor as the starting safety, Head Coach Jim Zorn's team hoped to carry the emotion of that moment into the game with the same sense of purpose that Portis had carried that flag onto the field.
All the emotion in the city of Landover couldn't help Zorn's team today. Despite the emotion of Taylor's induction to the Redskins Ring of Fame, and the distractions caused by Plaxico "Buckshot" Burress this past Friday, Coach Tom Coughlin had his men ready for battle as the Giants improved their record to 11-1 for the first time in team history and dominated the Redskins 23-7. New York outgained Washington by 135 total net yards, and dominated time of possession by almost 14 minutes.
What was most noticeable from the onset was the Redskins commitment to stopping the Giants running game. Brandon Jacobs was able to start the game despite being listed as questionable with his sore knee. The sloppy field conditions made it diffuicult for Jacobs to get his footing, but the Redskins defense made it difficult for BJ to keep his kegs moving; Jacobs could not build up a head of steam as he only mustered 18 yards on 8 carries in the first half. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride quickly shifted gears, and - as he did the week prior in Arizona - put the game in the hands of Eli Manning. Manning responded with three completions on the first drive, capped by a 40-yard TD strike to Amani Toomer that put the Giants ahead by 7 early in the first quarter. Manning finished the day 21 of 34 for 305 yards, a touchdown and an interception. It was Manning's first 300-yard game this season, and his first since October 15th of last year, when he faced the Atlanta Falcons. Despite being sacked twice, Manning displayed great presence in the pocket, and reminded us of his improved awareness of onrushing defenders as the offensive line collapses around him.
Domenik Hixon was sure-handed once again in place of the injured Burress. He's building a reputation for himself as a tough over-the-middle receiver who can take a hit and hold onto the ball - even when he has to reach over his head to grab it - and can never be accused of having "alligator arms". Hixon finished with 5 catches for 71 yards, only outdone by Toomer (85 yards) and RB Derrick Ward. Ward has become a vital part of Gilbride's ability to find success with mid-game adjustments. When Jacob's couldn't move the line, Ward was brought in to give it a shot; when Washington's stifling defensive line continued to shut them down, Ward (the team' most reliable hands out of the backfield) became another receiving option for Eli, and his five catchers for 75 yards gave him 105 total yards on the day. TE Kevin Boss also nabbed three passes for 45 yards, including a short pass over the middle in the 1st quarter where he plowed through a few defenders on his way to a 24-yard gain. It was the kind of effort that Boss has shown since rounding into form mid-season that helps Giants fans forget about the guy who used to wear #80.
Redskins RB Clinton Portis was in the same boat as the Giants running backs... In fact, Redskins offensive coordinator Sherman Smith could have used a boat to help Portis find a clearing on the rain-soaked field today. It certainly would have made things easier physically for Clinton; he had to leave the field twice to recover from injuries. In the first half, Portis took an elbow to the helmet from safety Michael Johnson as he was being tackled. Portis was on his back as trainers looked at him on the field for a good five minutes. Portis suffered a neck stinger and was eventually able to get up and make it to the sideline under his own power. Portis showed, once again, what a true warrior he is. the Giants defense was stingy, allowing Portis just 22 yards on 11 carries. 29 of the Redskins' 76 rushing yards came on one play in the 2nd quarter on a beautiful end-around to rookie wide receiver Devin Thomas - which froze the Giants entire defense as it was pursuing to the left, while Thomas ran right and bolted into the end zone for the Skins only score of the game.
Jason Campbell (23/38 for 232 yards and 1 interception) accounted for 38 more of those rushing yards on five carries, most of which came in the 4th quarter as Steve Spagnuolo's defense eased up on the pressure and provided some breathing room for Campbell as the game was out of reach for Washington. As I had indirectly predicted in my pregame "Things to Do" list posting last night, TE Chris Cooley was the leading receiver for Washington with six receptions for 71 yards. Cooley, along with Dallas TE Jason Witten, are Giants killers over the middle, and luckily his continued success against the Giants linebackers didn't factor into the outcome of the game. Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El were held in check for the most part, thanks to the ongoing pro-bowl type play of rookie safety Kenny Phillips and cornerback Corey Webster - who had swatted at least 5 passes out of the hands of Washington receivers. CB Aaron Ross had another interception this afternoon, for his third of the season.
The Giants are on their way to a division title, and two more divisional games with the Eagles and Cowboys will seal the deal. What's most impressive about this Giants team is the way they keep rolling along, regardless of weather conditions, injuries or distractions. They game plan successfully for each opponent and execute it with authority; when a starter goes down, they move the next guy up and plug him into the starting lineup with little or zero noticeable impact to the unit's overall performance. This is an exiting time as a Giants fan - even during the glory years of Phil Simms, Lawrence Taylor and the "Big Blue Wrecking crew", there were lapses in intensity and setbacks when players missed time because of an injury. Having dealt with short-term losses at almost every position during the season - and a few long-term losses before the season began - one man has stood on the field through it all, and he's clearly the one man the Giants cannot afford to be without come the playoffs: Eli Manning. Despite Justin Tuck's phenomenal job replacing Giants legend Michael Strahan, and Mathias Kiwanuka's successful return to the outside lineman's spot to fill the void left by Osi Umenyiora, Manning is the driving force behind the success of this team. He's a rare commodity in today's NFL; an intelligent and heads-up QB without an agenda, who's desire to win is not overtaken by his desire to be the star of the team. We'll take the occasional bad pass or interception, and deal with his on again-off again relationship with play clock... He's matured, and it's what every Giants fan has been waiting for. A consistent Eli Manning.
Notes & Comments
"If Woody had gone straight to the police..." The lawyer representing Plaxico Burress released a statement earlier today which states that the Giants wide receiver will surrender to the police; Benjamin Brafman told the Associated Press he's been informed that Burress will face a charge of criminal possession of a weapon when he turns himself in Monday morning and will enter a plea of "not guilty". Giants LB Antonio Pierce - who was with Plaxico along with Derrick Ward at the Latin Quarter nightclub - spoke with NFL security prior to today's game, and is willing to cooperate with investigators regarding his alleged involvement with hiding the weapon, according to reports. Pierce was allowed to play today, and had four tackles. For more in-depth information and commentary with a local flavor, visit the NY Daily news online
Another milestone for John Carney. Carney's first of three field goals in the game was his 450th career 3-pointer. He is 27 of 28 on the season, and his accuracy has kept a healthy Lawrence Tynes on the sidelines over the past two weeks.
Resting Robbins: Second-year player Jay Alford started in place of the injured Fred Robbins at Nose Tackle. Robbins in nursing a shoulder injury suffered in last week's win at Arizona. The Giants do not expect Robbins to miss next week's game.
A scary moment. Giants fans held their collective breath as Shaun O'Hara was tended to on the field after taking a hit to the knee. He needed help getting to the sideline as 10-year veteran Grey Reugamer took over for him at center. O'Hara suffered a mild knee sprain and eventually returned to the game. Look for the Giants to have the captain of the offensive line scanned on Monday or Tuesday.
Catching them red-handed. Tom Coughlin challanged a call in the 2nd quarter, when Eli Manning's pass to Steve Smith was ruled incomplete. The play had first been ruled a catch, but was changed after a short conference. Despite the ball appearing to have short-hopped into Smith's hands, as well as getting a little assistance from the ground as he rolled over, and out of the camera's line of sight - Coughlin threw the red flag and the call was eventually reversed (for the second time, you might say). Coughlin has now been successful on five of his six challenges this season.
Statistical source: sportsline.com / Sean Taylor photo courtesy: cbsnews.com
Giants press release on Burress: Associated Press / Burress news and reference source: NY Daily News