Oakland Raiders 28 – New York Giants 10
Game Overview: After watching the tape closely a second time, two impressions stood out to me: (1) This game was far closer than the score would indicate, and (2) the Giants played with a high degree of effort right up to the end of the game. If the Giants make one play here or there on offense or defense, then the Giants have a good shot to win the game. But hasn’t that been the story of their season thus far?
My point is this: This team is still capable of turning it around, running the table, and getting into the playoffs. They are close – but costly mistakes at inopportune times are really costing the team. Every team makes mistakes – it just seems that the mistakes the Giants are making come at the worst possible moments.
I thought Kerry Collins played one of his better games and I’m a bit surprised at all of the negative criticism thrown in his direction after this contest. The pass protection was unbelievably bad – and I mean unbelievably bad. This is inexcusable when you consider the fact that the Giants were running the ball so well and the Raiders had to honor the running game. But every time Collins went back to pass, there was a Raider in his face.
The other areas that were obviously disappointing was the play of the secondary (both Fassel and Fox remarked at the blown assignments – though I also give the Raiders credit for some superb play design), the play of the wide receivers, and the joke that has become the Giants’ kick return game (blockers included).
But what really impressed me is the way the Giants fought back. Trailing 21-3 at halftime, the Giants could have folded the tents and packed it in. Even though the scoreboard doesn’t indicate it, they dramatically out-played the Raiders in the second half despite atrocious field conditions. The offense moved the ball much of the game, but just couldn’t put points on the board. The defense played inspired football in the second half except for two major breakdowns in the secondary on the one scoring drive. Even with the game out-of-reach at 28-10 late in the 4th quarter, the defense was still playing with passion and fire.
As long as this team doesn’t quit, it has a chance. Don’t write them off just yet.
Offensive Overview: The Giants had four offensive drives in the first half. The first went three-and-out (due to a missed blitz pick-up on 3rd-and-2). The next two drives were impressive. The second drive was a seven play effort that covered 54 yards. It stalled near the Raider 30 yard line because Joe Jurevicius dropped what could have been a touchdown on a perfectly thrown pass from Kerry Collins and a penalty on Luke Petitgout. What should have been seven points resulted in three. Not bad coaching – bad execution. The third drive was 13-play effort that went 58 yards and resulted in no points. It stalled due to a penalty on Lomas Brown that turned a 1st-and-10 at the Raider 24 to a 1st-and-20 at the Raider 46. On second down, Collins was sacked when the Giants couldn’t pick up the blitz (there was no back in the backfield to do so). The first snafu had to do with poor execution, the second had to do with play design. The last drive came with less than two minutes in the game and started at the Giants’ 26 yard line. There was way too much pressure on Collins in this drive for it to be successful. Poor execution by offensive line and those attempting to pick up the blitz.
The Giants had the ball four times in the second half before the Raiders made it 28-10 in the 4th quarter. The first drive started out well again: 10 plays for 42 yards. It stalled prematurely when Collins fumbled the snap on 2nd-and-2 from the Raider 35. The Giants were then robbed on the next two plays by the officials when a very obvious offsides penalty and pass interference penalty were not called on 3rd and 4th down, respectively. Either would have given the Giants a first down. The next drive was a 9-play, 80-yard effort that resulted in a touchdown. The third drive only lasted five plays because Amani Toomer dropped what would have been a first down reception on 3rd-and-6. Poor execution. The 4th drive was the most important of the game and the most disappointing. Due to a personal foul penalty, the Giants started the drive on the Raiders’ 37 yard line. But the first two plays didn’t amount to much. On 3rd-and-8, Collins was under a heavy rush as Ron Stone and Jason Whittle got beat. On 4th-and-8, Collins just underthrew a deep pass to Jurevicius and the ball was tipped away – if JJ can come down with the ball and keep his feet there he scores. The game would have been 21-17 with over 12 minutes left and all the momentum in New York’s hands. But it was not to be.
Offensive Line: If you graded the line on its run blocking, they would receive a great grade. But to be a good offensive lineman, you need to pass block well as well. And as I indicated above, the pass protection was pathetic. It seemed as if every time Collins went back to pass there was a Raider in his face. The Raiders have some good defensive players, but they aren’t that good. And all of this despite the fact that the Giants were running the ball more than they were passing. I was most disappointed in the guards and Lomas Brown, but all made their own costly mistakes in pass protection. This had nothing to do with Collins holding the ball too long or the receivers not getting open, the pressure was immediate. The backs also didn’t do a good job of picking up the blitz and this exacerbated matters
Some specifics: The Giants first drive goes three and out as a defensive back blitzes right up the gut and no one picks him up. Collins is hit as he throws. On the second drive, on 3rd-and-7, Petitgout commits a false start making it 3rd-and-12. On the third drive, on 3rd-and-5, Collins is immediately pressured as Glenn Parker gets beat; only an excellent pass under duress picks up the first down. On the next play, Ron Stone almost gets Collins killed as he didn’t slow down his opponent at all on a screen play. Same drive, on 2nd-and-9, Parker gets beat again and only a great throw by Collins under duress again prevents a sack or incompletion. At 12-yard completion to Amani Toomer to the Raider 24 yard line is then called back due to a holding penalty on Lomas Brown. On the next play, Ron Stone looks like he isn’t even trying on a draw play on 1-and-20 in his direction – he’s just standing there. Fourth and last drive of the first half: Petitgout allows too much pressure on 1st-and-5. Two plays later, both Stone and Tiki Barber get beat in pass protection.
Second half, first drive: On 2nd-and-10, both Greg Comella and Ron Dayne let an onrushing linebacker sack Collins. On 1st-and-10, Whittle gets beat and Collins is forced to unload in a hurry. On the play where no offsides was called on Oakland, Stone gets beat and forces Collins to throw early. Second drive: On the deep pass to Amani Toomer on the scoring drive, Dusty Zeigler failed to pick up the blitz. On the fourth and last meaningful drive, on 3nd-and-8 (the play preceding the deep pass to Jurevicius that just missed), Stone got beat again and Whittle failed to pick up a blitz. Both Brown and Petitgout got beat badly late in the game where Collins was sacked near the endzone.
Keep in mind that all this pressure came in a game where the Giants were running the ball a lot and successfully doing so. I was going to break down the running game for you too as that is more positive, but I’m so mad at the line that I’m not going to. I’ll just say that all six offensive linemen who played (including Whittle) made some excellent run blocks. As bad as the pass blocking was, the run blocking was very strong. On some plays, there really blew guys off the line and the Giants were even sharp on their pulls.
Quarterback: I’ve been rough on Collins for not stepping up into the pocket, but when the pocket is continually collapsing all around you (on the flanks as well as in the middle), then a quarterback cannot possibly have any faith that the pocket will be there to step up into. Yet despite all the pressure and the inability because of the pressure for Collins to set his feet, he was able to fire some very strong passes from his back foot. Most quarterbacks couldn’t do that. Also, this week, Collins stood in there and didn’t start rolling to the right once the pressure appeared. This was a major development.
Collins was also victimized by dropped passes again which I will highlight in the WIDE RECEIVER section. Some plays that stood out included a 2nd-and-7 pass to Tiki Barber for 10 yards despite immediate pressure. Same story three plays later on 3rd-and-5 when Collins hit Toomer for a first down. Collins made yet another great throw under duress on the same drive on 2nd-and-9 to Hilliard for eight yards. On the first drive in the second half, Collins made a superb throw on 3rd-and-17 to pick up the first down. On the third drive, Collins threw a nice pass to Comella while under pressure to pick up the first down.
The bad plays, Collins tripped over apparently no one on 2nd-and-19, resulting in an easy sack. He also missed a couple of throws in the two minute drill right before halftime. On the first drive of the second half, Collins fumbled a snap on 2nd-and-2. The biggest negative was the pass that he put too much air underneath on 4th-and-8 to Jurevicius. It was a very accurate throw, but it needed more zip.
Wide Receivers: Not enough production and too many drops. Phil Simms mentioned that the Giant receivers were getting no separation down the field against the Raider cornerbacks. Combine that with the shoddy pass protection and is it any wonder why I’m sticking up for Collins this week? Ike Hilliard (2 catches for 11 yards) must have forgot that there was a game on Sunday. Joe Jurevicius (2 catches for 18 yards) had a horrible day. His drop of what could have been a touchdown on the Giants’ second (and, up until that point, very impressive) drive was a momentum-swinger. He later couldn’t keep his feet after a short reception with no one around him. Amani Toomer (4 catches for 70 yards) was the best of the bunch, but that’s not saying much. Toomer dropped two passes, including a critical 3rd-and-6 opportunity when the Giants were attempting to get back into the game. Ron Dixon caught a pass, but he also dropped a pass on 3rd-and-10 for what would have been a first down.
Tight Ends/Fullback: FB Greg Comella (4 catches for 26 yards) had a good game as a receiver and an excellent game as a lead run blocker. Dan Campbell (1 catch for 8 yards) performed well in his run blocking role and was involved as a receiver yet again. Howard Cross made some excellent blocks. Marcellus Rivers saw some limited playing time, which is good.
Running Backs: Tiki Barber (19 carries for 124 yards and one touchdown; 5 catches for 41 yards) played his best game of the year. He had some excellent blocking, but there were also plays where he made yardage on his own with his moves and speed. Barber is clearly the best offensive weapon the Giants have right now. My only complaint with his game was some poor blitz pick-ups – a not so insignificant aspect of the game.
Ron Dayne (6 carries for 26 yards) didn’t see the ball much. (Side note: I spotted one play where Dayne and Barber were both in the game at the same time to those who have asked). He had a quality power rush up the middle for 3 yards on 2nd-and-3 on the Giants’ field goal drive. On the first drive of the second half, he also had an excellent 11-yard effort behind good blocking from Whittle and Campbell. Dayne demonstrated good power and balance on the play. However, Dayne also missed a blitz pick-up.
Defensive Overview: The few big plays killed the Giants. New York defenders performed well on the vast majority of the snaps, but it was surrendering the long gainers that proved decisive. But also give the Raiders credit. They ran some well-designed and well-executed plays, such as the beautifully orchestrated screen pass for a touchdown. They picked up two critical first downs by running off the linebackers with the backs and then allowing QB Rich Gannon to scramble up the middle unopposed. And Gannon’s pump fakes hurt the Giants big-time twice. What did impress me is that the fight never left the Giants and they were still smacking heads late in the 4th quarter when the Raiders were simply trying to run out the clock.
Defensive Line: Couldn’t produce much of a pass rush and the main culprits again were DE Kenny Holmes (5 tackles) and DT Cornelius Griffin (4 tackles). With Keith Hamilton out and Michael Strahan being double-teamed, the Giants needed Holmes and Griffin to make more noise in the pass rush department. Holmes got real close to one sack, but that was about it. The good news was that Kenny’s run defense continues to improve and he has actually been an asset in that area lately.
The two defensive tackles, Griffin and Lance Legree had their ups and downs. At times they were very stout against the run. Griffin made some fine penetration on a couple of plays. Legree flashes impressive run defense at times for a rookie, taking on double-teams. But there were plays where both these guys got driven off of the ball or didn’t maintain their gap. Nothing major – but the Raiders were able to pick up some modest gains up the gut. Legree also tipped a pass away. Frank Ferrara (3 tackles) saw a fair amount of playing time and played a feisty game. He’s doesn’t have Legree’s powerful base in run defense, but he is active. He made a few plays at the line of scrimmage.
DE Michael Strahan (2 tackles, 0.5 sacks) is fighting hard on every play, but is seeing constant double-teams now. He forced Gannon to fumble on one play and was credited with half-a-sack. He was pretty stout against the run.
Linebackers: I was really impressed with the way Mike Barrow (10 tackles) finished the game. Late in the 4th quarter he was still slamming people and talking trash like the game was still on the line. He made a number of solid plays in run defense near the line of scrimmage, but he was also effectively blocked on the screen pass that went for a touchdown. Brandon Short’s (7 tackles, 0.5 sacks) failure to keep contain on the opening offensive play of the game led to 38 yard gain by HB Charlie Garner. This play set up the first touchdown that set the tone for the first half. It’s too bad because Short played real well after that making a couple of excellent plays behind the line of scrimmage in run defense. Brandon also looked good on a couple of blitzes. He may be still making second-year type mistakes, but he is still an upgrade over Ryan Phillips. Jessie Armstead (4 tackles) is still slowed by his hamstring tear.
Defensive Backs: This is where most of the mistakes were made. Some were physical breakdowns, others were mental. Much credit also has to go to the Raiders’ play design and execution.
The bad plays started on the first drive. Jerry Rice got open down the field for 17 yards and a first down on the Giants’ 3-yard line on the opening drive. I wasn’t sure if Jason Sehorn or Will Allen was the one who screwed up there. The safety was late getting over too. Sehorn got burned badly for 34 yards by Jerry Rice on 3rd-and-6 on the TD drive right before halftime. Sehorn couldn’t stay with Rice who went in motion coming out of the slot (Tim Brown had gotten free of Sehorn in the same way on the first drive, but Gannon didn’t see him).
Allen played too far off the ball in some circumstances – he can afford to play more aggressively given his speed. Allen then got beat cleanly by Tim Brown for the final touchdown on 3rd-and-7 from the 19 yard line.
Will Peterson did a nice job of knocking down a pass intended for Joey Porter on 3rd-and-6 to force a 3-and-out on the Raiders’ second drive of the game. But he was beat on the very next drive for a first down on 3rd-and-7. This kept a drive alive that the Raiders eventually scored on.
Sam Garnes (3 tackles) had yet another quiet game. He badly missed one tackle that led to 7 yard gain for Garner, but also made a sure tackle on a short pass. Garnes doesn’t seem to get exposed terribly in coverage, but he does need to make more plays. Shaun Williams got understandably burned by a couple of superb pump fakes by Rich Gannon that drew him away from the intended receiver. This is what happened on Tim Brown’s 46-yard touchdown right before halftime. Will Allen got beat to the inside and Williams was nowhere to be found in the middle of the field.
Another killer pump fake came on the Raiders’ last scoring drive. Gannon looked off Williams again and then threw back to the other side of the field. Tim Brown was all alone for a forty yard reception (I couldn’t make out who got beat – it was probably Will Peterson or Emmanuel McDaniel).
Special Teams: The kick-off returns are a joke. Ron Dixon was a bit more assertive this week, but the blocking was pretty bad and there were too costly holding penalties (one on Kevin Lewis and one on Clayton White). Omar Stoutmire misplayed the ball on one return. Emmanuel McDaniel got hammered on another.
Tiki Barber couldn’t get going on punt returns as Emmanuel McDaniel did a poor job of blocking his man.
Morten Andersen’s kick-offs were mediocre, but some of that had to do with the weather. Same story with Rodney Williams on punts. Andersen did connect on a 47-yard field goal.
The best play on specials for the Giants was the monster block Stoutmire got on a Barber return in the 4th quarter.
On A Rainy Night
by David Oliver
In the Meadowlands, long ago, in a solar system millions of miles from earth, the Empire sent it’s Star Ships and evil troopers to quell the rebel uprising of a band of warriors, warriors bound by a Code of Honor to the Mara Dynasty, oldest scions of the original, democratic Confederation known as the National Football League. These warriors, now known simply as the Giants, are led by the enigmatic personality of one Jim Fassel, a Mr. Roberts, Robin Williams, look alike, whose sheer force of personality has imbued them with the spirit of Gladiators. Survival was at issue in this battle. Good football was about to be extinguished. The Imperial Guard (known as The Raiders) and its followers, a bizarre, unkempt rag-tag crew of costumed and painted camp followers descended upon the battleground. The first skirmish was not pretty. Under a dark sky filled by falling dragon-seed, the valiant Giants fought , but not as one. The young were not ready for battle, the old were slowed by the weather and bad strategy. In the end, the Empire was haughty as the bedraggled, befuddled band of Giants left the field and retreated into hiding, hoping to take advantage of an Empire holiday, the Feast of the Almighty Bye. The rebels had a plan. They would transport to the heartland of evil, Dallas and attack one of the most impious and arrogant of the Empire Forces, the Cowboy Battalion. It would be the first battle of the New Millennium Drive, the Drive for respect and success. There was fear among the loyal followers of the Giants; there was doubt; there was negativism. Who will win this battle? Will the Empire succeed in its evil plan to emasculate General Strahan? Would the spiritual leader of the band, Jim Fassel, be left behind with his strategists, the Fox and the Pay-Ton? Or would the Rebel Force seize the initiative behind its irrepressible totem, the TIKI? Would Kerry and the Rebels show the mettle that led them to the brink of conquest in the last decade’s glorious battles. Only time will tell, my friends.
Here we will take a break for my homily of the week. There has been a lot going on in The Corner Forum lately. Religious discussions, political discussions, even some football discussions have gotten heated. The family has become acrimonious. The tone is often strident, but it has remained a dialogue. Almost all viewpoints have been allowed, maybe not welcomed, but allowed. There have been Christians, Christians with a personal relationship, Muslims, Jews, infidels, historicists, polemicists and many more contributors. It is all music to the ears of Carlin-ists, such as myself. God is such a difficult topic for casual conversation. Do we believe in the God of Aknahton, the Rebbes, Mohammed, or the Triune God of the Catholics? Is God really as Michelangelo portrays him, or is God the She of H. Rider Haggard and Betty Friedan? Or maybe the Germanic concept of the Weltanschaung is closer to the accurate description – a World Force? I don’t know. I was raised a Roman Catholic – I left because the education I had broadened my horizons to the point that I realized very few people really understood the importance of dogma but did invest in the doctrine of Faith. I have no Faith and I understood the Dogma enough to know I could never be good at it, so I left. I now consider myself to be a Roman. Jay Glazer and I once had this discussion about God and he told me there was only one God and he believed in that God with all his being. I told him that was just fine with me, as long as he paid Tribute (the human side of the equation), a position I find Roman, Western, civilized. Believe in one God, one Allah, one Buddha, or many Gods. There are many roads to the top of the mountain. But for me, the bottom line is give to the State that which is the State’s. I am not writing this to convince anyone, to debunk anyone or to insult anyone. I am making a pitch for literacy. A decade ago an author, Alan Bloom, wrote a book entitled THE CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND. I urge you all to go to the library and pick up a copy, or just sit and read the Preface by Saul Bellow and the Introduction by Mr. Bloom. He incidentally is an esteemed source of knowledge about Gnosticism and the Gnostics, a sect that has had a large influence on modernity.
I would love to synopsize it for you, but it is too meaningful to cut to monosyllabic rendition. Professor Bloom writes of virtue, of education, of moral and historical relativism – and his comments written a decade ago are germane in light of President Clinton’s recent speech at Georgetown – a speech which was neither wrong, nor right, merely without point, which is just the point Professor Bloom raises in his study. His discussion on God, ethics and the family is also apropos of the discussions in The Corner Forum. You don’t have to read it all, but take my word, your life will be enriched by just thinking through the issues raised in the book
The game, or as Jason Sehorn chooses to categorize it, “just a game” apparently has less meaning to those who make millions from it than it does to those of us who pay a lot to its advertisers and invest so much psychic activity in it. Sure, it’s only a game. Sure, the losers aren’t put to death as they were on the ball fields of the Americas when the Aztecs, Mayans, Olmecs and Toltecs reigned. But is a game “just a game”? I’m not so sure. The young of most mammalian species learn how to deal with life through PLAY, through GAMES. And it continues on through adulthood. Concepts such as sportsmanship, equity, solidarity, commitment, all carry over. When the guys on the assembly line don’t stay focused, the product becomes shoddy, the enterprise could disappear, the impact on society is detrimental. On and on, I could recite examples. No, football is not totemic, but if the players truly feel it’s just a game, maybe they, or Jason, in particular, should ask those single mothers he helps, just how important the game has been to their lives. For me, football is as serious as any other of the many elements of life. I didn’t feel that I ever short-changed my occupation because “it’s just the Government.” That’s part of the problem here. The attitude of so what! Financial success seems to have an affect on joie de vivre and leads to laissez faire. Just a game quickly becomes synonymous with loser.
On the other hand, the discussion on WFAN on the way home Monday was pretty funny. The guys were talking about a Serby statement, where he allegedly wrote something to the effect that these Giants were a disgrace to the uniform. It is a laugher. It’s not like the Giants to a man, have laid down on the field and said to their opponents “ravage us”. This is still a talented team, still well led, and still in position to succeed. Prior to the season, I jotted down Ws and Ls. I had Denver in the W column, but had Green Bay in the L column. I may move that Green Bay to the W column after the Dallas game. I did not count on wins in St. Louis, Minnesota, or more than a split with the Redskins and Eagles. I did have 2 Ws for the Cards, 2 Ws for Dallas, W for the Chiefs, Seattle. I firmly believe that the Giants are in a good position to run the table. And I see the Eagles and the Redskins both with a couple of losses.
Having said this, there are some issues. The papers are now getting brave and talking about rifts in the locker. Coach Fox is defending himself by stating the obvious, as he should have at the beginning of the season, and JF is starting the process of separation from his QB. Many on BBI are asking why isn’t this team, the same team as last year, winning more? The easy answer is to blame two aging offensive linemen and a receiver who has a penchant for dropping critical passes. The real answer is that this team is nowhere near the same team as last year. Last week I chronicled some of the questions. Let’s look a little deeper.
Chemistry is absolutely critical for any unit in any enterprise to succeed. Michael Jordan can’t make the Wizards winners. And Jaromir Jagr has to blend with his mates before the Caps rise to the top. The Giants didn’t make one change on defense – they changed the entire defense. Last year there was a group of familiars, they developed an instinct, a bonding, and at this time last year they made their mark. It wasn’t only the defensive rotation, it was that and the development of a system utilizing the skills of EMac (Emmanuel McDaniel) and Sehorn and a heightened effort by Dave Thomas, knowing his mates depended upon him, blended with some nice masking by the safeties. This carried the Giants over the top. Dave Thomas lacks starting corner skills, so you banish him to the pine. Okay, it had to happen. But you also jettison an entire defensive scheme which includes a journeyman corner who fits perfectly in the nickel, move your superstar all over the lot and go to the worst thing possible, two rookies, whose play inspires confidence for the future but leaves both of your safeties on an island where even the unseeing can see they don’t cover well, so can’t help the rookies. In short, this Giants defense is totally different than last year’s – and although it may be better three years from now, it is not as good this year. I mentioned that any team starting two rookies in the secondary was dreaming about the playoffs. Well, my good friend, the erstwhile Dr. Joe Mancino, a stickler for detail, looked it up and shared with me that the last team to do so was the San Francisco 49ers in 1981, with three rookies in the secondary. I believe that the Giants are going to the playoffs, so they will be in elite company on this count.
The offense has stayed relatively the same. It scores enough against average opponents and it doesn’t score enough against tough opponents. This is partly due to the conservative nature of the coaches – get a lead and let the defense win, partly due to a little less talent at particular spots, partly due to an offensive coordinator who is still learning his game, and mostly due to continual breakdowns which rotate along the line, through the backfield and out to the ends. Every one has screwed up on a play this year which could have been a score, which could have led to a really good record. Why? I don’t know, but befuddled has made a comeback; only now it is the players that are befuddled. And it has become convenient to heap abuse on two stalwart linemen because of their age. Should we wonder that there is an undercurrent of resentment? Sure they miss a block, maybe two or three a game. Who doesn’t. Here’s the rub. I don’t have stats on missed or made blocks but this is how it looks to me. The right side of the line is much better at run blocking. Funny thing is, it is the left guard pulling who leads a lot of those plays. The left side is much better at pass blocking. Funny thing is, it’s Methuselah and Noah holding down that side. The Giants’ scheme places tremendous pressure on the line. The QB does not see the field well, so he needs an extra one second. One piddly second makes all the difference in the world. In addition to needing the extra time because he doesn’t see the field, the QB is at a disadvantage because the plays are so complex. The tight end is about 15th on the list of reads, the fullback is never thrown to over the middle and the deepest threat is always sent down the sideline. Opposing defenses can and have left the middle of the field wide open. Ike is hurt, and they know it, and JJ will manhandle half of his catches, so it’s worth the risk. There are always two guys on Amani and two watching Tiki. Maybe they should activate Carter. Hell, it can’t get worse.
Those are my general observations. Football is a game of intensity, momentum and breaks. The good teams are always lucky. Last year the G-Men caught a lot of breaks. This year, they have stepped up in class and it is the other good teams that are catching the breaks. The confidence of the Giants was at a high following the Rams game. It shattered after the Eagles game and dropped off the screen following the Redskins loss. There were a few games when the O should have produced 40 points. They didn’t and it exposed the D before bonding could take place, before the newcomers fit in. But the team can put it together. The ingredients are there. Tiki Barber is back in form, Parker is healthy, Comella is playing good ball. The key is confidence. Mistakes arise from insecurity and the Coach, JF, has finally begun to recognize this.
That is why the Raiders game was so interesting. It pitted the Apollonian Fassel against the Dionysian Gruden. Intellect vs. emotion, the rational against the exuberant. I try to spend some time near the opponent’s bench and this week there was a stark contrast. The Giants’ bench is always fairly quiet. At their most excited, the Giants’ players stand along the sidelines, one or two get up on the benches. The Raiders sideline was a bustle of activity. The players are yacking and yapping the entire game. They loudly and joyously celebrate the good plays and just as joyously exhort their players to do better on the bad plays. Everyone is in motion and everyone wants to get close to the diminutive, strikingly blonde Sith Maul who leads them. His face is a battleground on good plays as well as bad plays. He rarely looks back at the bench, but his control is unmistakable. The funny part is that the Raiders bench didn’t believe this game was put away until only four minutes was left. There was a huge sigh of relief when Collins floated the bomb to a wide-open JJ. And the screaming along the sideline was “we’re doing everything possible to keep these guys in the game.” So when you read demeaning comments coming from that organization, take them with a grain of salt. The Giants are a dangerous team. Everyone seems to know it but the Giants themselves; oh, and their fans.
The Apollonian Coach, JF, realizes that a constricted sphincter is hurting this team. He is trying to loosen the reins and inject some fun into the practices. In truth, football is very Apollonian, based on the rules of math, the instinctive trigonometry and geometry allegedly resident in the male of the species. It is, after all, a game of Xs and Os. But there is the other side, the turn of the wheel, the emotive cry of a celebration, the 21st Century version of penile envy – the bonding process. This is the Dionysian element, letting loose and giving in to the fun of the game. Last year, JF recognized the team needed the Gladiators. This year, he needs to show re-runs of Hee-Haw.
Now, what about this alleged finger-pointing at Kerry Collins? Hello. BBI has acknowledged from the start, like him or not, this team would go only where Kerry carried them. Unfortunately for him, he lacks the personification of John Elway and the ability to lead a fabled comeback. He lacks the fire breathing ability of Brett Favre and his ability to lead, even in the coldest weather. He lacks the elusiveness of Jake the Snake Plummer and Doug Flutie. Actually, he is more like a Vinny Testeverde or Brad Johnson, thus his star is not fixed in orbit yet. But to say that he is not getting the job done, on a team which has received 20 flags in one game, and a near number in another, on a team on which each wide receiver has managed to mangle a scoring toss in multiple games, on a team with an offensive coordinator who needs a chart the size of Teaneck, is just unfair. But there are problems. Against the Raiders, Kerry completed 19-of-38 passes for 184 yards. But his rating was a paltry 63.9, his longest pass was 29 yards and his average was 9.7 yards. He tossed 1 to his tight end and 9 to backs. Nine went to wideouts. One of the incompletions was a nice gainer which may have gone all the way, but it was manhandled by JJ. Another was a floater to a wide open JJ, thrown so poorly that a completely out of position back was able to recover and bat it away. Fourteen possible points were left in the primordial swamp. Yes, it rained, it poured. I was standing in 2+ inches of water. Dr. Joe took off his shoes and wrung out his socks twice. That kind of rain.
Let me interject here a hero story. Rodney Williams is kicking with some kind of space age metal covering his badly injured wrist. He is taking one for the team and risking possible future limitations in the use of that wrist. Rodney isn’t complaining. He has to catch the ball, spin it to get the laces topside and kick it, all the while hoping no one gets into him and knocking him on the ground on the wrist. Rodney Williams is a stud.
Tiki Barber is playing great ball. He carried 19 times for 124 yards with a burst of a 36 yard run, and caught 5 passes for 41 yards. On WFAN they were saying Tiki ran over and through people and did it all on his own. He did go over, under and through, but he had help from Greg Comella, who also caught 4 passes, and he had some nice blocking on several runs. The photos illustrate what I am saying about the line blocking, which could be better but is not as sub par as many are saying. For me, the biggest disappointment on the line is Luke Petitgout, not Glenn Parker. Luke works hard, but this is the year he should be dominating his opposition. He’s not. Lomas Brown is not a mammoth tackle in the mold of some of these baby bears coming up. But he is savvy, uses his skills well and is a top flight pass protector. But he has lost a little edge. The Giants need to work on play-action passing more and need a consistent game plan which will allow Lomas to use his strengths, rather than exposing his weaknesses. Glenn Parker is in the same position. Is it coincidental that Tiki’s best 2 games have come since Parker has returned to form?
The wouldda, couldda, shouldaas – if JJ caught the early pass over the middle, the Giants are right in the game. If Kerry gets the ball to JJ late in the game when JJ is wide open, comeback is possible. If the Raiders didn’t have Tim Brown and Jerry Rice, the Giants would have won going away (grin). But the Raiders have them and they killed the secondary. And it was efficient in the rain. Brown caught 6-for-117 with a 46 yard howdy, mam. Rice added 3-for-65 yards with a nice 34 yard catch. Maybe the Giants secondary had their cameras in pocket and snapped shots of two future Hall of Famers as they went past, rather than tackling them?
Other than the secondary lapses the only major gaffe was an acknowledged miss of a play by Brandon Short, which allowed Garner to scamper away for a nice pick-up. Notwithstanding that, Brandon had 7 tackles and played a nice game. He is improving each week. Brandon attributes it to “being more comfortable in my position, being in the right place at the right time, which I wasn’t tonight and it cost the team.” I asked him if the defense was slow in starting and he told me, “No, we just made some mistakes early tonight, like my losing contain…” I asked what was the difference in the second half and he told me, “There are a lot of guys on this team with a lot of pride that just decided we weren’t going to get shellacked by that team. There is no quit in this team. We control our own destiny. We can win out and make the season what we wanted it to be.”
I asked Lomas Brown if a team meeting would help. Lomas thought not. He told me, “A lot of times you have a team meeting and it’s just a lot of people talking. To me, if you are going to have a team meeting, then everybody’s going to have to take this meeting to heart. You just can’t have a meeting and you go in there and the leaders on the team say what they have to say and maybe one or two people who aren’t leaders say something and you think you have your problems solved; they’re not. Guys are going to have to take the game home with them. From this point on, all of us are going to have to take the game home with us. It can’t be that we do whatever we have to do around here and then we leave, that’s it. It can’t be like that right now because we’ve got five games left, a little over one month left to go. We have to make a commitment for this month that we’re going to take this game home with us, that we’re going to make sure that we’re prepared for these games and that we’re going to go out and fight and we’re going to fight to the end. That’s the only way it’s going to get done.”
I finished up by talking to Mike Barrow. Mike is always gracious and answers everyone’s questions. By the time I got over to him, most of the players and media had long gone. Mike was finishing up with another reporter and he was talking about his routine of going back to his foundation at times like this, how he reviews his preparation, effort, technique and assignments. He is looking for an answer now, as to what exactly aren’t we doing that is having us to have this crack in our foundation (as a team). His approach is to do his job better and to hope that he inspires someone else to do his job better.
Now we are alone. It’s late, almost eerie in here. It’s just Mike and I on this whole side of the locker. Jessie is coming back into the room with a reporter and they are talking softly. It is a serious conversation, low and earnest. Mike has his head down and I remind him of last year when we talked about kicking the door down. He is very soft spoken and he starts talking, all the while thinking and he says to me, “It’s just one step away, one step away from greatness, one step away from just turning everything around. Seems like we’ve tried everything, like a baseball team. We put our caps on backwards, we sat with our legs crossed, we did everything possible. I’ve been praying, I’m going to continue to pray because I serve a God who is omniscient; he knows exactly what is going on, so we’ve just got to keep the faith. I know this is not what I saw when I came here. God told me that we were going to win some Super Bowls and I know it wasn’t just a one time thing, that I’m blessed in coming here and we’re blessed. This is not what I saw so my faith is keeping me going on; it’s not what I saw. His head was down now. He was sitting on his stool and thinking. I told him, Mike, you keep that faith and you remember those thousands of fans out there who have that faith and have faith in you. Those fans know you guys can do it. Mike looked up, stood from his stool, reached out and shook my hand and said, quietly, “thank you”, as he turned to his stall.
Serby, these guys are a credit to the uniform. To all you doubters, the challenge is ahead. If all the offense was like Lomas Brown and all the defense like Mike Barrow, there would be many rings in our future. I don’t know what the problem is, but I know this, Mike Barrow made 10 tackles, Shaun Williams 8, Brandon Short 7, Sehorn and Holmes 5, Griffin and Jessie 4 and Frankie Ferrara got in on 3. Back in the summer, the defensive guys told me that the best ball would be played in December – well, here comes December. One good outing and a lot of the problems will go away, the finger pointing and the murmuring will stop. The rack is cued up. Now we’ll see what JF really has.
Postscript: It’s a cold December Sunday on the 9th Moon of the Planet Ure-Anus, home of the Imperial Cowboys. Silently the rebel force disembarks from the flight. No one is expecting an aerial assault; everyone is discounting the ground troops. The rebels dig a deep defensive position; they have cordoned off the Cowboy Headquarters. When this battle is done, the rebels are prepared for the winged fighters from the desert. The bond is stronger than the doubt. The foundation is solid. Go Giants.