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New York Giants 30 – Oakland Raiders 21

Game Overview: It’s been a strange football season. A little more than four months ago, most prognosticators had the Eagles easily winning the NFC East again with the Dallas Cowboys being the second likely playoff team coming out of the division. Instead the Eagles imploded, going 0-6 in the division, and the Cowboys got swept by their arch-rival Redskins, costing them a playoff spot and helping Washington get back into the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

The Giants finished 11-5 (4-2 in the division) and never lost two games in a row (but never won more than three games in a row). There was the idiotic controversy about the Giants playing an extra home game against New Orleans (the Saints were dreadful this year no matter where they played); the bush-league, Charger-orchestrated Eli hate-campaign in Week Three; the death of both owners three weeks apart; a defeat to the Vikings in a game where Minnesota rushed for 12 yards and did not score an offensive touchdown; and two tough overtime losses, including a devastating game against Seattle where PK Jay Feely missed three game-winning field goal attempts. The Giants survived a big injury scare to QB Eli Manning in the preseason, but lost the services of CB Will Peterson and LB Barrett Green early. The injury bug then disappeared until the last quarter of the season when the linebacking corps got ravaged. Manning has been inconsistent. The defense has looked great against the pass and the run at times, but rarely in the same game, and has also looked awful against in both phases. The special teams have been mostly positive, but have also cost the Giants two games (against the Vikings and Seahawks). The Giants also finished with a franchise-record 143 penalties.

But despite all of this, the Giants persevered and won the NFC East. Head Coach Tom Coughlin put a plan in place and his players listened to him. The Giants scored 422 points, the second most in franchise history. HB Tiki Barber had an MVP-type season with 2,390 total yards. QB Eli Manning threw 24 touchdown passes, the most by a Giant in 38 years. WR Plaxico Burress stretched defenses deep, TE Jeremy Shockey burned them underneath, and WR Amani Toomer made a number of spectacular catches. There was a three-game stretch where the Giants did not allow an offensive touchdown. Defensive ends Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora combined for 26 sacks and both made the Pro Bowl. MLB Antonio Pierce, before he was lost due to a high ankle sprain, became the new leader of the defense. Other than the Seattle debacle, Feely had a great year, kicking 35 field goals. Jeff Feagles was rock solid again punting the football. There was a kick and a punt returned for touchdowns, a blocked punt, and usually solid punt and kick coverage.

To secure the NFC East, the Giants had to win in Oakland, despite missing a number of key contributors such as Pierce, Shockey, William Joseph, Carlos Emmons, and Reggie Torbor. The game, in a nutshell, came down to three big plays by the Giants (a 95-yard touchdown run, a 78-yard touchdown pass, and a 58-yard punt return) and an impressive goal line stand late in the contest.

How far will the Giants go in the playoffs? Who knows? But what we do know is that the New York Football Giants are your 2005 NFC East Division Champions.

Offense: The offense was very productive in the first half, scoring on four of the five offensive possessions. Had the Giants executed better at the end of the two drives that resulted in field goals, the Giants would have blown the game open early. It was a different story in the second half. Despite having the ball eight times, both Giants’ scoring drives were set up by returns by Chad Morton. The stats for this game are strange. The Giants managed only 13 first downs and Manning only completed 12 passes, but the Giants scored 30 points and put up 402 yards of offense.

Quarterback: Inconsistent, as usual, but mostly positive. Manning finished the game 12-of-24 for 204 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions. His completion percentage was hurt by three drops and a couple of pass pressures that affected the flight of the football. On the Giants’ first field goal drive of the game, Manning made a very nice sideline throw to Burress for 20 yards on 3rd-and-2 to keep the drive alive. However, two plays later, had he thrown a better pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe, a touchdown would have likely resulted (the ball was high and behind Shiancoe). On the following drive, Manning badly missed Burress who was wide-open over the middle. Manning had perfect pass protection on this play, but threw the ball into the dirt. However, on the very next snap, despite getting clobbered as he released the ball, Manning threw a perfect pass to Burress on similar route, hitting Burress in stride, and a 78-yard touchdown was the result. On the next possession, Manning did a good job of checking down to Barber, including a 28-yard pass play on 2nd-and-16. This play and three other completions allowed the Giants to get into field goal range.

In the second half, Manning overthrew Burress on a play where it did not seem that Manning and Burress were on the same page. On the next drive, Manning had no chance as he was sacked on 3rd-and-3. On the last field goal drive of the game, the Giants impressively overcame another sack when Manning hit Burress for 17 yards on 3rd-and-8. However, a corner blitz nailed Manning just as he was releasing the ball on 3rd-and-6 and the Giants had to settle for the long field goal. On the next possession, Manning misfired on a deep pass to Burress that should have resulted in a 68-yard touchdown. On Manning’s final pass, Manning hit Shiancoe for what should have been a huge gain on 3rd-and-2, but Shiancoe dropped the ball.

Overall, the performance was good enough to win and Manning managed the game well and did not commit a costly mistake. Eleven of his 12 passes went to Burress and Barber.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress (5 catches for 128 yards and 1 touchdown) and Amani Toomer (no catches) continue to do an outstanding job in the run-blocking department. Both of these receivers formed an impressive escort on Barber’s 95-yard touchdown run, with Plaxico making two key blocks.

Burress’ big play was obviously the 78-yard touchdown catch-and-run. What is impressive about Plaxico is that he can run away from defenders when he doesn’t even look like his running all that fast or even trying to run that fast. It is those long, loping strides of his that chew up the yards. Burress dropped two passes (though one looked like a catch to me). He had a key 20-yard reception on a 3rd-and-2 play on the first field goal drive. Plax also made a very important 17-yard reception on 3rd-and-8 on the last field goal drive.

Toomer was flagged with an offensive pass interference penalty. David Tyree was the third receiver, but was a non-factor.

Tight Ends: With Jeremy Shockey out, Visanthe Shiancoe started. Shiancoe did a nice job of run blocking. However, he was flagged with two false starts. And while he made a nice play early as a pass receiver with a 16-yard gain, he was not much of a factor in the passing game. Worse, he dropped a 3rd-and-2 pass late in the game when the Giants were trying to run out the clock before the Raiders’ last scoring threat. Had he caught this pass, he would have picked up a huge amount of yardage.

Running Backs: Every time you think you’ve seen the best from Tiki this year, he does something else that just makes you say, “Wow!” Barber was magnificent again with his third 200-yard rushing effort of the season (203 yards on 28 carries). In addition, he was the leading Giants’ receiver in the game with six catches (for 60 yards). His 95-yard touchdown run was his signature cutback, avoiding one potential tackler, and demonstrating patience in setting up his blocks down the field. The run was the longest in franchise history. Is there any other franchise rushing record left to be broken?

Barber was a big factor out of the backfield on the second field goal drive, catching one pass for 28 yards on 2nd-and-16 and another for 16 yards on 3rd-and-14.

The only negative play I saw from his was his poor decision on a 3rd-and-goal draw play from the 7-yard line to cutback away from his blocking. Had he stayed with the play, he would have likely scored as the blocking was there.

Brandon Jacobs (3 carries for 10 yards) looked good in short yardage, including on his 1-yard touchdown run. Mike Cloud (1 carry for 0 yards) should not be taking carries away from him in my opinion.

FB Jim Finn continues to block very well.

Offensive Line: Aside from a few miscues, the offensive line blocked extremely well for the running game. RT Kareem McKenzie returned to the starting line up and I thought he played one of his best games as a Giant. He was overpowering as a run blocker. Really, everyone blocked well for the run for the most part. LT Luke Petitgout made a number of nice run blocks, but he did get pushed backwards on Cloud’s one carry and he missed his block on Tiki’s 3rd-and-2 carry right before the 25-yard field goal. OC Shaun O’Hara got a nice block on Tiki’s 95-yard run and later on his 16-yard screen pass. LG David Diehl allowed his man to get into the backfield too quickly on another screen pass that was tipped away.

Pass protection was very good in the first half. RG Chris Snee did give up one pressure on the 78-yard touchdown pass. In the second half, Snee gave up one sack on 3rd-and-3 as his man cleanly beat him. McKenzie also got beat by DE Derrick Burgess on a play where Manning was sacked and fumbled (Diehl did a nice job recovering the ball).

Petitgout was flagged with a false start. Snee was flagged for holding.

Defense: The Giants absolutely shut down the Raiders’ running game, holding Oakland to 25 yards on 17 carries (1.5 yards per rush). The defensive strategy against the pass was obviously to play soft, not allowed the explosive Raider receivers to get deep, and force Oakland to sustain drives by not making mistakes. Unfortunately, Kerry Collins played well enough (26-of-48 for 331, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) to almost defeat this game plan. The defense did not do its job when it allowed the Raiders to regain momentum late in the first half and then again late in the third quarter when it appeared that the Giants had taken control of the game. The highlight defensively was obviously the late goal line stand.

Defensive Line: You can’t get much better than holding another team to 25 yards rushing. I thought DE Michael Strahan (5 tackles) and DT Kendrick Clancy (4 tackles, 1 sack) were particularly stout against the run. DT Fred Robbins also looked good early before he was forced to leave with a hamstring injury. DT Kenderick Allen (3 tackles) looked good in relief and was one of the big reasons why Collins was stuffed on 4th-and-goal late in the game.

The Giants did not generate as much pass pressure on Collins as hoped, especially given his 48 passing attempts. Strahan was double-teamed most of the game and did not create much pressure. But DE Osi Umenyiora (5 tackles) did pick up two more sacks (and forced two fumbles – though he was only officially credited with one). Clancy picked up one sack and forced an incompletion with another pressure. Allen got a couple of late game pass pressures. DE Justin Tuck (2 tackles) flashed on the pass rush when Strahan left with an eye injury. He also made an excellent play on the goal line stand by penetrating and disrupting the first rushing attempt. Tuck also was a key reason why Collins was stuffed on 4th-and-goal.

Umenyiora did get flagged for jumping offsides. Strahan was flagged with a costly 15-yard face mask penalty on the touchdown drive right before halftime.

Linebackers: Good job all around for a unit decimated by injuries. Nick Greisen (8 tackles) was the only regular starting and played a great game. MLB Kevin Lewis (4 tackles) and SLB Alonzo Jackson (4 tackles) did not hurt their team and helped to hold the Raiders to 25 rushing yards.

Greisen was very strong against the run. He made a number of plays against the run in the hole with forceful tackles, including two back-to-back tackles on the goal line stand (and this after suffering a painful stinger). Greisen also held HB Zach Crockett to a 1-yard gain on 3rd-and-2 earlier in the game. Nick looked good on a few blitzes as well. However, Greisen did look vulnerable in space in pass coverage. He got beat for what should have been a touchdown by the tight end on the play before Collins’ touchdown pass to WR Doug Gabriel.

Lewis missed a tackle on WR Jerry Porter early in the game, but exacted his revenge later on Porter with a huge hit. Lewis did a fine job against the run (and sniffing out a screen pass early in the game) despite only being signed days earlier and not playing a down of football since training camp.

Jackson also did well sniffing out the aforementioned screen. He nailed Collins on one blitz, but like Gresien, didn’t look particularly athletic in coverage (though he almost did tip away one sideline pass to Moss).

Defensive Backs: Not very good. The defensive backs played very soft for much of the game (probably intentionally so) and it was an easy pitch-and-catch, including on third down, for a Raiders’ offense that executed properly for once.

CB Corey Webster (4 tackles, 1 pass defense) was given the very tough assignment of covering WR Randy Moss in his first start of the season. Webster was on the wrong end of all three touchdown passes (two to Moss and the other to WR Doug Gabriel). Webster also gave up a few easy completions underneath. The good news is that Webster played better in the second half except for that one deep 44-yarder to Moss for the score.

CB Will Allen (3 tackles, 1 pass defense) played decently after a bit of a rough start. He gave up a 13-yard completion early in the game on 3rd-and-3, when the Giants were in a soft zone. He then did not prevent Gabriel from picking up a first down on 3rd-and-10 on a short crossing pattern. However, later in the second quarter, Allen almost came down with an interception on a deep pass down the middle as he impressively jumped and fought for the ball. Allen had good coverage on Porter in the third quarter on another incompletion. Later in the quarter, right before the 44-yard touchdown pass, Porter did get between Allen and SS Gibril Wilson for a 20-yard completion. In the fourth quarter, Allen had good coverage, causing incompletions, on passes to Moss, TE Randal Williams, and Moss again.

CB Curtis Deloatch (3 tackles) gave up one 11-yard completion early as he too was playing far off the ball. He did not give up another completion until late in the first half when Gabriel beat him for a 24-yard gain despite tight coverage (it was a perfect throw). Curtis then gave up a 8-yard completion on the ensuing play as he was playing soft again. In the fourth quarter, Deloatch got beat on an 8-yard out by Moss on 3rd-and-2. Overall, he played a decent game.

CB Terrell Buckley (no tackles) did not look sharp. He fell down on one deep pass to Gabriel that was luckily overthrown. He also was flagged for a 17-yard pass interference penalty late in the game that gave the Raiders a 1st-and-goal situation from the 1-yard line.

Wilson (4 tackles) was aggressive against the run. He got beat for a 16-yard gain on 3rd-and-5 by Porter despite excellent coverage (it was a perfect pass) right before the Raiders’ first touchdown pass. Wilson really clobbered Collins on one blitz.

FS Brent Alexander (no tackles) was strangely invisible. He did get some good heat on one blitz.

James Butler (1 tackle, 1 pass defense) almost came down with an interception on a deep pass over the middle. He also had good coverage on Porter late in the game on an incompletion.

Special Teams: PK Jay Feely looked sharp on his three field goal attempts, hitting from 25, 38, and 46 yards in difficult field conditions. His kickoffs, like those of his counterpart on the Raiders, were often low and short. Footing was likely a problem.

Kickoff coverage was decent. Raider returns went for 30, 22, 19, 12, 23, 24, and 24 yards. Obviously the 30-yarder was not ideal. And Mike Cloud cost the Giants 20 yards in field position when he was offsides on one kickoff, forcing a re-kick.

Jeff Feagles punted six times for a 39 yard-per-punt average (and two punts downed inside the 20). Punt coverage was good, allowing only nine yards on three returns.

One of the biggest plays of the game was Chad Morton’s 58-yard punt return. On this return, like a few of his returns on the night, Morton made the first man miss. He then received excellent blocks from DE Adrian Awasom and HB Brandon Jacobs. Morton also had a very important 34 yard kickoff return that gave the Giants the ball at their own 49-yard line and helped to set up the final field goal. However, the rest of his kickoff returns only picked up 13, 13, and 15 yards.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Oakland Raiders, December 31, 2005)
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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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