Tag:week 16
Posted on: December 22, 2008 1:52 am
Edited on: December 22, 2008 10:12 am
 

RECAP: Giants 34, Panthers 28 (OT)

Running down a Dream

   

Ward runs for 216 yards; Jacobs' 3 touchdowns lead Giants to OT victory.

The road to Super Bowl 43 will go through East Rutherford. 

Who was that guy wearing #34 tonight?

Derrick Ward has been as valuable a member of the Giants offense as anyone this season, but the effort he put forth tonight was nothing short of unbelievable. So it's appropriate that on a windy night in East Rutherford, New Jersey that "Wind" howled for 216 yards rushing as the offensive catalyst. "Earth" provided the points, as Brandon Jacobs rumbled in for 18 of them to help Tom Coughlin and his team finish off a terrific football game in overtime and claim the top seed for the NFC playoffs. The Giants running game regained its mid-season form to the tune of 301 yards, averaging 7.3 yards a carry as a result of Ward's explosives.

After the game Derrick Ward told NBC-NY sportscaster Bruce Beck "We knew that coming into this game tonight, we had to come out and play like the more desperate team... we needed this, we needed it more and we played like it"

Brandon Jacobs simply said, "Sweet as candy".

This game could have easily ended in regulation; The Panthers attempted a 50-yard field goal on 4th and 5 with :09 seconds remaining, but John Kasay appeared to stutter-step a bit as the ball was snapped, and it sailed just wide to the left, missing the post by no more than two feet. That was just one of the many magical moments in this game, as both teams came to claim home field in the playoffs. They came ready, and they came able - but Derrick Ward came in just a bit more willing than everyone else. Just as important was the Giants offensive line reestablishing itself as a force to contend with and to game plan around. Eli Manning was sacked three times tonight - a trend that needs to be dealt with  - but his overall pass protection was otherwise solid, and the run blocking was as good as it's been all season.

The Giants came out flying as fast as the arctic wind swirling around the Meadowlands. On the fifth play of the game, Manning scrambled away from the grasp of Julius Peppers and tossed a perfectly targeted 40-yard strike into the chest of a double-covered Domenik Hixon. The Giants eventually settled for a John Carney field goal for the early lead. For the remainder of the first half it was the DeAngelo Williams show.

Williams shredded the Giants defense for three touchdown runs in the first half, as the Panthers found themselves moving the ball very effectively thanks to the precision passing of Jake Delhomme who completed 8 of 10 to start the game. Particularly crushing blows were landed on a 60-yard completion to Mushin Muhammad, and a 35-yard strike to pro-bowl receiver Steve Smith; but when in range, DeAngelo got the call. Williams added a fourth touchdown in the second half on a beautiful 30-yard run to the outside, and would have been the toast of the coast had Carolina pulled this one out (the loss, along with Derrick Ward's performance, will unfortunately overshadow an otherwise phenomenal night for him). 

The Giants defense did not look sharp for the better part of the first three quarters, despite the return of sorely missed DT Fred Robbins; Justin Tuck - who did not show up on the injury report - was playing with the flu and was clearly in a haze for most of the night. He actually appeared to vomit on the field following a play in the 4th quarter, forcing the Giants to take a time out they would have preferred to save for later in the game. I don't know if it was better or worse for Justin to be taken in and out of the game as much as he was in the final minutes; understandably, the coaches wanted to give him some rest between plays but the man was literally wobbling at points. I wasn't sure if I should be applauding his efforts or screaming at him for not taking himself out of the game. Eventually the defense buckled down through some halftime adjustments to stop the run, as well as changing coverage schemes on Steve Smith.

As is usually the modus operandi  for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, he focused on the one player he felt could hurt the Giants the most; not that the tandem of Williams and rookie Jonathan Stewart can't do a lot of damage, but Smith is the guy that will kill you if too much attention is payed to stopping the run. Whatever Spagnuolo did, it worked; Smith finished the night with 3 receptions for 47 yards. It was Smith's second lowest output of the season and halted a 4-game streak of 100+ yard performances. He was shut out the entire 2nd half and the overtime; his last reception occurred with 4:34 left in the second quarter. That play was a 3-yard quick out to Smith which was initially ruled a touchdown, but was overturned on a Tom Coughlin challenge because Smith's knee was down before the ball broke the goal line. It only delayed the inevitable however, as Williams plunged in from the 1-yard line on the very next play to put Carolina ahead 21-10.

The Giants scored another 3 before the half came to a close, but at 21-13 appeared to be as out of it as they had been the past two weeks against Dallas and Philadelphia. After exchanging punts to start the second half (twice for Carolina, who received the opening kickoff), the Giants put together one of their quintessential drives... they took 8:36 of the clock on a 12 play, 84-yard drive that culminated in a TD pass to tight end Kevin Boss that pulled New York within a point at 21-20. Boss had another key grab on the drive, when faced with 3rd and 10 form their own 16 yard line, Manning found Boss on the left side for 11 yards which kept the drive alive. Four plays later, Derrick Ward ran for 22 yards that put the Giants at the Carolina 33 yard line.

Following DeAngelo Williams' fourth TD run, the teams exchanged punts again. The Panthers found themselves pinned back on their own 5 yard line, and punter Jason Baker could only muster a 49-yard kick with so little room to work with. The Giants took the ball from the Carolina 44 and rammed another one in - Jacobs' second touchdown of the night brought them within two points, 28-26. Kevin Boss was again a key contributor on this drive, as his 12-yard catch on 3rd and 5 planted Big Blue right on the Carolina 5 to set up the score. Coughlin emphatically waved at the offense to stay on the field for the 2-point conversion. A nicely designed play faked the handoff to Jacobs running right, as Eli dropped back and hit Hixon to the left as he ran under the coverage of cornerback Ken Lucas. Tie Game. Carolina got the ball back with 3:15 remaining in regulation, and executed a perfectly constructed drive to get them within field goal range with just :09 seconds left on the clock. As I stated earlier, Kasay's kick sailed left... overtime.

The Giants won the toss and went 3 & out on their first drive. Carolina returned the favor, and punted deep into Giants territory. R.W. McQuarters fielded the kick at his own 19, but misjudged the ball as it came down; it bounced out of his cradled arms as panther blue & white jerseys descended upon him. Luckily for the Giants (and McQuarters in particular) he was able to regain control as he fell ass-backwards, but now Eli Manning had to start this drive from the 13. Here's how it all went down from there:

Derrick Ward: 51-yard run up the middle to the Carolina 36... Brandon Jacobs: 3-yard run to the Carolina 33... Manning: incomplete pass to Hixon... Ward: 14-yard run right to the Carolina 19... Ward: 17-yard run right to the Carolina 2... Jacobs: 2-yard touchdown run left guard.

Don't you just love those full play-by-play charts?

Two heavyweights standing toe-to-toe in the center of the ring. This was a fantastic game to watch, and the Panthers showed what a heck of a football team they are. Despite the lackluster play of the Giants in recent games, it's not easy to go on the road and face the defending champs in their house, frigid temperatures and windy conditions to boot. And yet they almost left New Jersey with a huge win had it not been for a boot a few feet to the left - and they would have more than deserved it. 

For the Giants, the goal they've tried to reach for weeks now is securely in their back pocket. The team swagger that Antonio Pierce had talked about "getting back" is back - for now. It will be interesting to see how the Giants handle next week's game in Minnesota. Everyone talks about the fact that last year, they played all their starters against the Patriots in week 17... there's no denying that decision - and their performance in that one game - set the stage for one of the most incredible and unlikely playoff runs in NFL history. But then, at that time, they needed that game - they needed that effort against an undefeated team. They needed to see that they could play with the best of them, and needed to gain the confidence that would fill the tank for the long drive to Glendale, Arizona. Some will rest; I would be shocked to see Fred Robbins, Aaron Ross (who suffered a concussion in tonight's game) or perhaps even Jacobs on the field at the Metrodome this Sunday. I don't know what to expect, and I have no thoughts at this point. I just know it feels different this year, so I'm not expecting the same all-out effort I had the pleasure of seeing live in week 17 last year.

In his postgame press conference, Coach Coughlin said, "You talk about losing two games to divisional teams, but losing them really in not good fashion - particularly offensively. So to go out and to play well... to hang in there - to have the opportunity to get the thing to overtime, was a very very good sign."

A very good sign indeed coach. A very good sign indeed.

 

NOTE:

*DeAngelo Williams' touchdown in the 4th quarter was his sixth rushing score from 30+ yards this season.  It puts him in the record books, sandwiched between the great Jim Brown and ...the great Jim Brown. "First Down" did it 7 times during the 1958 season, and 6 times during the 1963 season. Congratulations to DeAngelo on an amazing year.

 *According to play-by-play man Al Michaels, the pass interference call on Panthers CB  Ken Lucas was the first defensive pass interference call on Carolina this season

Quote sources: WNBC-TV, New York

Posted on: December 16, 2008 11:31 am
Edited on: December 16, 2008 2:24 pm
 

NY Giants: What Are We Witnessing Here?

Mediocrity Exposed, or just missing Lynchpins? 

           

For the road to Super Bowl 43 to pass through East Rutherford, Big Blue needs two healthy bodies and one clear-minded leader to face Carolina this Sunday.

It was evident from the first snap Eli Manning took; DeMarcus Ware bolted from the left side untouched and plowed into Eli, knocking the ball loose (recovered by the Giants) and creating a 2nd down & 19 situation. That is not how this Giants team starts games. Or at least, it wasn't.

The Giants had an opportunity on Sunday night to all but seal the deal for themselves - a first round bye and home field throughout the playoffs were not guaranteed, but were more realistic than irrational reach when John Carney booted the opening kickoff in Irving, Texas. Defeating the Cowboys in their final visit to Texas Stadium would have been the cherry on top of what has been a season more successful than even the most ardent fan could have imagined. Alas, victory wasn't in the cards - and Plaxico Burress shooting himself in the leg may become a fitting symbol for the defending Champions who are now displaying a less egregious, but more demoralizing form of self-injurious behavior... One lands you on the DL with a suspension; the other gets you a plane ticket and hotel accomodations should you be fortunate enough to make it to the NFC Championship.

Give credit where credit is due. The Cowboys took care of business at home against a division rival, and they need the victory to stay alive for the postseason. They're defense continues to get healthy and improve, getting more aggressive as the season rolls along. Though receivers Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith showed a lot of toughness and fight, losing tackle Kareem McKenzie to an injury and guard Rich Seubert to an undisclosed illness for the second half did the Giants in as they couldn't get the running game established. In the end it was the eight sacks on Manning and the overall inability to sustain drives that made the difference in the game.

In last year's season opener in Dallas, Manning suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder. Luckily he didn't miss any time, as the injury wasn't serious enough that he couldn't play through it. As a Giants fan, hoping that Manning would emerge unscathed from the piles of white jerseys was the hardest part of getting through the entire game on Sunday. Hats off to Dallas - no one should question their talent or legitimacy regarding the playoffs; Tony Romo was back behind center and was not going to give up - regardless of the amount of pain the Giants' pass rush inflicted on him. 

While the past two games against the Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles were dissapointing, there's as many reasonable excuses to point towards as there are unreasonable ones. Mediocre teams don't pull off an 11-3 record in the NFL by sheer luck; meaning, the Giants are not mediocre. They are what their record says they are, and despite the past two weeks and the Burress situation had a very impressive string of victories against solid opponents heading into week 14. Some of what we're seeing with the Giants is obvious. No matter the circumstances, Philadelphia was hell-bent on leaving the Meadowlands with a victory two weeks ago, and Brian Westbrook was the project manager. 

Was it the distractions of week-long headlines about the Latin Quarter, New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Antonio Pierce that derailed the Giants against the Eagles? It certainly had an affect on them. But then what about their performance in Dallas? Did Tony Romo's presence make that much of a difference? Even in the two regular season games the Giants lost to them last year, they played with more intensity and managed to stay in the game until the end. On Sunday, the difference was alarming; the 7-3 lead the Cowboys held for most of the game felt like 27-3. So what has happened the past few weeks to keep the Giants from being competitive against these teams?

Three answers: Fred Robbins, Brandon Jacobs, Antonio Pierce.

Every team in the NFL will suffer their share of losses, injuries and off-the-field turmoil. The Dallas Cowboys, Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals have proven that some will suffer more than others (check out the Bengals blog by fellow member IGetNoRespect for a well written, heartfelt look at the rash of injuries his team has experienced).  As the 2008 NFL season got underway, the Giants had their own issues to cope with. Michael Strahan retired, Kawika Mitchell and Gibril Wilson - two main cogs in the defensive gears - were lost to free agency, K Lawrence Tynes suffered and leg injury, and Super Bowl hero David Tyree ( their best special teams player ) was put on the PUP list. Then the most devistating of all: losing Osi Umenyiora for the season to a torn lateral meniscus in a preaseason game with the Jets. This was a lot to overcome for the Giants, and to Tom Coughlin's credit they've managed to do just that. The underlying concern has been how they would do if hit with a few more injuries to key positions. In the Giants case, it could take a potentially elite team and render them quite ordinary, All the depth in the world couldn't change that. 

Now we come to the crux of the Giants current state, which is that the wheels are beginning to wobble a bit. Check the lynchpins. 

I'll begin with Antonio Pierce. Pierce is the captain and emotional leader of the new "Crunch Bunch" (a little nostalgia for inspriration - I used to have a poster with Lawrence taylor, Harry Carson, Brad Van Pelt and Brian Kelly wearing hard hats sitting on top of a bulldozer). But Pierce has found himself on the outside looking in; standing around the pile-ups as opposed to being buried in them, and watching backs and tight ends run past him instead of being taken down by him. Here is what I wrote following the loss to the Eagles back on December 7; it's eerily applicable to his performance in Dallas, and I see no reason to alter my commentary of Pierce's performance two weeks ago, while offering it up as somewhat of a bullet point (no pun intended) for future consideration: Antonio Pierce is playing this (Plaxico Buress situation & overall distraction) up as if everything is fine, and that there's nothing taking his focus way from football. After watching him and the rest of the defense today, I wouldn't necessarily agree. It may be unfair to lay everything on Antonio, but he was not on his game today... He was caught out of position quite often, and over-pursued on many of the plays out of the backfield... I'm curios to know if anyone else thinks that Chase Blackburn should have taken over for him at some point... He just seems out of it.

Now let's take a look at Brandon Jacobs. The loss of Jacobs is something the Giants offense can deal with when playing less physically overbearing opponents. However, the Eagles and Cowboys are anything but pushovers; both teams have stout, quick defensive lines that pride themselves on physical domination at scrimmage. What has made the Giants running game so efficient is the 1-2-3 combination of Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. Community member Jimmy the Greek might appreciate the culinary references I like to attribute to Earth, Wind and Fire:  I call them TenderizeMarinade and Cook. Jacobs is the Tenderizer - he pounds you, pulverizes you until your soft and malleable. Ward comes in at this point and gives the offense a little flavor; a little spice to liven things up and provide some zest. Once Bradshaw enters the game, it's time to cook the meat - and the Giants like it "well done". That's the game. Have you ever tried marinating a steak fresh out of the freezer? It doesn't work, does it... well, without Jacobs there to punish a few defenders, the running game doesn't work either. Not against the like of Dallas and Philadelphia anyway.

Finally, the underrated defensive tackle Fred Robbins - the unknown soldier. Robbins has been nursing an injured shoulder for a month. Over the past three weeks, Robbins sat out the Redskins and Cowboys games, and played sparingly against the Eagles. Jay Alford has been filling in for Robbins and while he's done a fine job, does not have the strength, size or experience that Robbins has. In tandem with fellow defensive tackle Barry Cofield, Robbins wreaks havoc in the middle of the line, bottles up runners and forces them to the outside where Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka can either run them them down or allow the linebackers to track them as Tuck & Kiwanuka rush the QB. Clinton Portis was pretty much shut down in large part because of nagging knee injuries; and with Cowboys guard Montrea Holland out, much of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's success in pressuring Tony Romo was a result of mismatch opportunities against Cory Proctor. But don't think it's gone unnoticed that Tashard Choice & Brian Westbrook gained the majority of their rushing yards straight up the middle of the field. In fact , 22 of Westbrook's 33 carries against the Giants were right up the gut, and with the exception of his 30-yard TD run, his 10 carries to the outside only garnered 11 yards. Tashard Choice's blast right through the heart of the line for his 38-yard score further emphasizes the point that Robbins' presence on the field is sorely missed. 

We'll know a lot more as information is released about the Giants infirmary as the week progresses, but it's not overstating it to say that a healthy Brandon Jacobs and a healthy Fred Robbins are a must for the upcoming matchup against Carolina.

And Antonio Pierce having his head in the game wouldn't be the worst thing either. 

Lynchpins. They don't look like much, but they keep the wheels from falling off.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com