Minnesota Vikings 24 – New York Giants 21
Game Overview: I can’t ever recall watching a Giants’ game where the defense was so dominant, yet the Giants found a way to lose the football game. The Giants defense only allowed three points and 12 yards rushing! How do you lose a football game like that? The answer on Sunday was pretty clear – the Giants’ defense could not overcome the catastrophic play of the special teams and minus four differential on turnovers. There is little wonder why Head Coach Tom Coughlin was so angry after this game. In his inaugural address as the new head coach last year, two of his main points of emphasis were winning the turnover battle and excelling at special teams. The Giants did neither on Sunday and lost a critically important football game (they are all important at this stage of the season).
Special Teams: The Giants were supposed to be beyond this crap. All season, the special teams have played great but on Sunday they were a huge reason why the Giants lost. And missing players on the special teams unit such as David Tyree is not a valid excuse. It is bush league to give up a kick return and a punt return for touchdowns in the same game. If one or both of these returns do not happen, the Giants win the football game.
On the returns in question, as Coughlin said, the kickers deserve much of the blame. PK Jay Feely’s kickoff to start the third quarter was low and short, not giving the coverage team much time to run down the field. At the same time, Koren Robinson didn’t face much opposition en route to his 86-yard return for a touchdown (I am just speculating but it looked to me that Jamaar Taylor got out of his lane). On P Jeff Feagles’ punt that was returned for a 71-yard touchdown, the punt was right down the middle of the field (instead of towards the sidelines). Antonio Pierce overran the returner right at the start of the return; Chase Blackburn had the returner in his arms, but didn’t bring him down; and Sean Berton not only missed him but also took out another potential tackler (Ryan Kuehl). And the effort made by Feagles was a joke.
But that wasn’t it. Feely also inexcusably missed a 28-yard field goal. Feagles also got off a very poor 31-yard punt. Willie Ponder fumbled away the opening kickoff to the Vikings after running into his own man and had another return that only picked up 14 yards. The only good news was the partially blocked field goal by Damane Duckett and Chad Morton’s 55-yard punt return (he got good blocks from Alonzo Jackson and Sean Berton on this return). But Morton also seemed to run out of gas on this return after he cut back to the inside. This hurt because the Giants did not score after the return (Feely missed the field goal).
Quarterback: When your quarterback is playing poorly due to inconsistency, inaccuracy, and turnovers, your offense is not going to have any rhythm. Drives will stall prematurely. Eli Manning did not take what the defense gave him on Sunday. He did not see and did not hit wide-open receivers. Play-calling can not overcome that.
Aside from the special teams, Manning (23-of-48 for 281 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions, 48 percent completion rate) was the biggest reason why the Giants lost on Sunday. The glaring mistakes were the four interceptions, including one that was returned 92 yards for a touchdown. If this play does not happen, the Giants win the football game. But what bothered me just as much as there were two third-and-short situations in the second quarter where Manning was looking right at a wide-open receiver in the flat, but for some reason did not pull the trigger and the drive stalled. The first occurred on 3rd-and-2 on the Giants’ first field goal drive. FB Jim Finn was wide-open to his right and Manning was looking right at him, but he instead held onto the ball and then decided to throw it away in the vicinity of TE Visanthe Shiancoe (and this was almost intercepted). The Giants had to settle for the 35-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, after the long punt return by Morton, Shiancoe was wide open in the flat and again Manning looked right at him and decided not to release the football. This play came on 3rd-and-3 and the Giants settled for a 28-yard field goal attempt (that was missed). The only reason I can think of why Manning did not throw in these two situations is that he had become gun-shy after the two earlier interceptions. That is somewhat disturbing if true. Pass protection really was not an issue.
Now to be fair to Manning, the fact that the Giants’ passing game was out of sync early on was not all his fault. Manning was not helped by drops by Tim Carter (on 3rd-and-5), Jamaar Taylor (on 3rd-and-4), Shiancoe, and Plaxico Burress (on a 3rd-and-5 play that might have resulted in a touchdown). I also believe that the first interception was somewhat of a fluke play. The ball was tipped at the line and the tip caused the ball to wobble mightily. As both WR Amani Toomer and the defensive back got their hand on the football, it ricocheted right into the arms of FS Darren Sharper who was lying on the ground. But Manning was also inaccurate early, being on the high side with some of his throws. There was one first quarter pass to Burress that was thrown too high for the very tall receiver even to make a play on (and this pass was almost picked off). And he self-admittedly misread the coverage on the play to Burress that was picked off and returned for a touchdown (the slant pass was thrown behind Burress too on this play).
There was more of the same in the second half. The Giants just could not get things going as either Manning was off, there were batted balls at the line of scrimmage (I didn’t see anything strange about Manning’s trajectory on these plays, I think it was just coincidence), the offensive line made a mistake (a couple of these were bad officiating calls), or a receiver dropped a ball. It was if the gods had firmly decided that the Giants were not going to win on this day. After the Vikings returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown, the Giants quickly moved down field and scored. There was a 40-yard pass interference penalty called against Toomer on a deep pass. Manning then found Toomer for an 11-yard gain on 3rd-and-4. Two plays later, on 3rd-and-5, he hit a wide open Toomer for a 23-yard touchdown. The Giants seemed to be back in business, only trailing by one point with almost two quarters still left to play.
But things then fell apart again. Manning had a ball batted at the line and was very inaccurate on his 3rd-and-10 pass to Toomer. The Vikings returned the ensuing punt for a touchdown to regain an 8-point lead. Manning and the Giants came back on the field, but there was a phantom holding call on RT Kareem McKenzie and Manning’s pass to a wide-open Burress over the middle was too low. On 3rd-and-12, HB Tiki Barber couldn’t make a good block on a blitz pick-up and Manning’s deep throw to Burress was off the mark. The Giants’ defense got the ball back for the offense at the Viking 40-yard line, but then came a sack, another phantom holding penalty, and Manning’s deep pass to Toomer was intercepted as the ball hung a bit and another corner came off his receiver to make a great play. The defense held again and the Giants started to move the ball on their next possession at the start of the fourth quarter. However, Manning tried to force a deep post pattern to Burress in the end zone despite double coverage, Manning was sacked on second down, and then on third-and-long, his pass fell incomplete. Punt.
When the Giants got the ball back, there was 7:53 left on the clock. In eight plays, they moved from their own 44-yard line to the Minnesota 5-yard line. On this drive, Manning made an excellent play by avoiding a sack and somehow finding Toomer for a 6-yard completion on 2nd-and-5. Manning badly missed a wide-open Burress over the middle, but on the ensuring play, on 3rd-and-10, he made a great throw to Shockey for a 19-yard gain despite getting hammered by two defenders as he released the football. Eli found Barber over the middle on a screen for a touchdown on the very next play, but RG Chris Snee was flagged for being illegally down field. On the next snap, Manning’s pass to Toomer was thrown slightly behind him. Toomer had his hands on the ball but couldn’t come down with it and the deflection was intercepted. What really hurt on this play was that Tiki was wide open in the left flat for what would have been an easy touchdown.
The defense held again and the Giants got the ball back with 3:17 on the clock. Manning and the Giants drove 67 yards in eight plays (only taking 1:56 off the clock). On this drive, Manning completed five passes for 53 yards. Too little, too late.
Wide Receivers: Giants’ fans have been calling for more action in the direction of Tim Carter and Jamaar Taylor, but both hurt the Giants on Sunday. Carter dropped an early 3rd-and-5 pass that would have picked up the first down. Interestingly, the next time the Giants faced a third-down situation, it was Taylor on the field, not Carter. Taylor got wide open but dropped the well-thrown pass from Manning, forcing a punt.
Plaxico Burress (3 catches for 50 yards) was the focal point of the Vikings’ defense. He was double-covered by CB Brian Williams and FS Darren Sharper for much of the game. Plaxico hurt the team when he dropped a 3rd-and-5 pass in the second quarter. Burress was matched up on a linebacker and had he caught this pass, he may have raced into the end zone from 30 yards out. The pass was thrown slightly behind Burress, but it was very catchable.
Amani Toomer caught six passes for 61 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown reception where his man got picked off the play by Shockey. He was involved in two big plays on the drive prior to this reception: he was interfered with on a 40-yard deep pass and he made an 11-yard catch on 3rd-and-4. But Toomer also could not come down with a Manning pass that was thrown slightly behind him late in the fourth quarter inside the Viking 5-yard line. Toomer got both hands on the ball, but it was deflected and intercepted in the end zone.
Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey only caught one pass for 12 yards in the first half and finished the game with five catches for 55 yards. The Giants need to find somewhay to get him more involved than that. His biggest play of the game was his 19-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 late in the game that set up the Giants on the Minnesota 11-yard line. Unfortunately, the ensuing touchdown was wiped out due to a penalty and the Giants turned the football over. Shockey did have two catches for 19 yards on the game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the half, Shockey made a bonehead decision to not pursue the football on a Manning incompletion that was originally ruled a fumble. The Giants were fortunate there.
Shiancoe couldn’t handle one pass that was thrown slightly too far in front of him. But he did do a very good job of blocking in this game in the first half. There was one play where he simply planted the defensive end into the turf. However, in the second half, I saw him fall off at least three blocks. Too inconsistent.
Offensive Line: The pass protection was good and Manning had time to throw for the most part. In the first half, there was one deep pass to Burress where RG Chris Snee was beat and Manning’s arm was knocked as he threw, causing a dangerous flutter ball to come down harmlessly. This was costly as Burress was interfered with on the play, but the ruling was that the ball was uncatchable. In the second half, the pass protection was not quite as sharp, but when a team passes the ball 50 times in a game (taking into account the two Eli scrambles as well), you are going to get some pass pressure. LT Luke Petitgout was beaten to the outside on the play where it was originally ruled that Eli was sacked and fumbled the ball (later reversed to an incomplete pass). This was a bad pass pressure as the man Eli was trying to hit was wide-open on a deep out cut deep in Minnesota territory. On the first drive in the fourth quarter, OC Shaun O’Hara gave up a pressure on the play where Manning tried to hit Burress on the post pattern in the end zone. On the ensuing play, LG David Diehl failed to pick up the stunt in his area and a 10-yard sack resulted, thus stalling what had been a promising drive. Diehl also gave up two more pressures on the next drive (he needs to start playing up to his new contract). McKenzie gave up one late press on a completion to Shockey.
It’s starting to dawn on me that the Giants are not a very physical offensive line and this hurts in the run-blocking department. The Giants had issues with the physical play of the 49er defensive front last week and this week, Minnesota’s two defensive tackles gave the Giants fits.
There was one screen pass to Barber that could have picked up more yardage had Diehl not missed a block, but Diehl and O’Hara got good blocks on Barber’s 48-yard screen pass.
Penalties remain a problem. Petitgout was flagged with a false start right before Manning’s first interception (turning a 3rd-and-9 into a 3rd-and-14). Diehl was flagged with a holding penalty (that was declined) right before Feely’s missed field goal. McKenzie was flagged for an illegal formation penalty on an incomplete pass play. The costliest penalty was on Snee for being illegally downfield on the middle screen where Barber scored. This was an idiotic play by Snee – a real mental lapse. The holding calls on McKenzie and Petitgout in the second half were completely bogus (and Coughlin said the same thing after looking at the film himself). These two phantom calls were a factor in the Giants losing the football game as they helped to end two third quarter drives.
Running Backs: As mentioned, Barber had problems running between the tackles, though he did have one 10-yard carry up the gut late in the second quarter. While he also had runs of 5, 11, 5, 4, and 13 yards, he had runs of 1, -1, 1, 2, 2, and 2 yards in the first half. Derrick Ward faired worse with carries of 1 and –3 yards. I would have attacked the edges more than the Giants chose. Also, a heavier dose of Barber may have been in order with Eli obviously struggling.
One of the few big plays in the game for the Giants was Barber’s 48-yard screen play that set up a field goal. Barber does a nice job on screen plays by being patient and setting up his blockers.
Things started off well for Barber in the second half with runs of 6 and 8. But his next seven runs went for just –3, 0, 3, 5, 1, 0, and 6. Barber also was not able to pick up one blitz that contributed to a 3rd-and-12 incompletion. It wasn’t until the last drive where Barber became a big factor again with three catches for 34 yards and an 11-yard run. Following these four plays, Tiki carried the ball for a 3-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion to tie the game.
Brandon Jacobs had one tough run for two yards on a 3rd-and-1 play that was not particularly well blocked.
Defense: The Vikings were held to a net of six yards of offense in the first half. They only had three first downs before halftime and were 0-of-7 on third down (they finished the game with 137 yards of offense, 11 first downs, and were 2-of-14 on third down). Most importantly, the Giants’ defense held the Vikings to only three points. Unfortunately, these three points came very late in the game after the Giants had tied the game 21-21. This is the second time this season that the Giants have given up a late field goal drive to win the game. But give the Vikings credit too. TE Jermaine Wiggins made a fantastic catch to get the Vikings out of deep trouble and QB Brad Johnson stood very tough in the pocket despite a lot of heat by the Giants (Tim Lewis did not play it safe). Regardless, I can’t blame the defense at all for this loss. You can’t ask for much more than what they did on Sunday. Minnesota was held to 12 yards rushing.
One thing to note is that Tim Lewis’ defensive fronts are now very confusing for the opponent. The Giants will use both four- and three-man lines with multiple linebackers and defensive backs feigning a blitz or actually coming. Some of this is very well disguised.
Defensive Line: A superb game by all the defensive line. You can’t ask for anything better than limiting the opponent to 12 yards rushing. The pass rush was solid, both in terms of actual sacks as well as pressure. Osi Umenyiora, who has been playing great the last few weeks, had nine tackles and two sacks (though one of these was a coverage sack and the other came after Brad Johnson tripped over one of his offensive linemen). Umenyiora is also playing smarter. He correctly read one screen pass, helping to cause a 1-yard loss, and was not fooled by an end around for a 4-yard loss. Osi was flagged with encroachment and roughing-the-passer penalties however. Michael Strahan had six tackles and one sack. Strahan made a tackle for a 3-yard loss.
William Joseph (4 tackles) and Kendrick Clancy (3 tackles) were very stout against the run. The unfortunate thing was that Joseph dislocated his elbow very late in the game and will miss at least a month. He tackled HB Michael Bennett for a 5-yard loss on one play. (The roughing-the-passer penalty on Joseph was a ticky-tack call). Clancy has been making more noticeable plays in recent weeks, including holding a Viking screen pass to a 5-yard loss and making a play in the backfield against the run for a 1-yard loss. Both Clancy and Joseph caused another 2-yard loss on another Bennett run. Clancy also forced a fumble that the Giants recovered. Fred Robbins saw a fair amount of action and flashed on the pass rush a few times.
Linebackers: Aside from Umenyiora, Antonio Pierce (10 tackles) has really been coming on in recent weeks. Once again, he was all over the field. He made one play against the run in the backfield for a 6-yard loss, blew up a screen play for a 1-yard loss, and also recovered a fumble. It is interesting to note that the Giants’ defense has been playing better with Reggie Torbor (3 tackles) in the starting lineup. He blew up one screen play for a 5-yard loss. Nick Greisen (2 tackles) gutted out a very painful injury (ribs).
Defensive Backs: The entire unit was outstanding in the first half. Vikings’ wide receivers caught one pass for two yards in the first half. Wow!
The problem in the second half was that the play of CB Curtis Deloatch slipped. Deloatch tipped away three passes in the game (one of these erased due to a roughing-the-pass penalty). He almost came up with a pick and Deloatch made an aggressive play in run defense. But the second half was not kind to him. First he was flagged for a ticky-tack defensive holding penalty. Later on the same drive, he got burned on a double-move by WR Koren Robinson on 3rd-and-12 for a 44-yard gain. To his credit, the Vikings tried a double move against Deloatch a few plays later and he perfectly defended the deep pass. But Deloatch also gave up completions of 11 and 12 yards after that. It was obvious that the Vikings were targeting him. His costliest mistake of the game was playing far too soft on the 1st-and-10 play from the Vikings’ 45 yard line with 46 left in the game. Despite good pressure, Brad Johnson was able to hit a wide open receiver for 11 yards and Deloatch really screwed the pooch by allowing the receiver to get out of bounds. This really made Coughlin upset. Two plays later, Deloatch came darn close to knocking away a 3-yard pass to the tight end (a pass that turned a 51-yard field goal into a 48-yard field goal).
Will Allen (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) has been playing very well in recent weeks. He did a real good job of nailing one swing pass for a 1-yard loss. Gibril Wilson (6 tackles) missed one tackle, but had a monster sack on Johnson. It was one of the best hits I’ve seen a Giant make in years and it was a miracle that Johnson held onto the football. He did get beat deep by WR Travis Taylor on one play, but Taylor dropped the football. FS Brent Alexander (3 tackles) has been playing well of late.
Coaching: I don’t think the coaching lost this game, but there were three decisions that I did not like:
- Coughlin told Manning to spike the ball on first-and-goal from the three yard line with 1:27 left in the game. This decision not only wasted a down, but saved time on the clock for the Vikings’ game-winning field goal drive.
- The criticism of Tim Lewis’ zone blitzing schemes is a bit harsh given the fact that these very same schemes have prevented the opponent from scoring a touchdown in over three games. However, I felt the risk of having Umenyiora cover a wide receiver on the final drive was too great and, in hindsight, proved to be a bad call, leading to an 11-yard completion.
- I don’t care what Coughlin said after the game about the last, desperate attempt to score with 10 seconds left. The Giants had a far higher chance of hitting a deep sideline pass and kicking a field goal than they did with some gadget play. Neither was likely, but the former had a better chance of succeeding.