Tennessee Titans 24 – New York Giants 21

Game Overview: Future events may prove me wrong, but I firmly believe that the Giants’ unforgivable 24-21 loss to the Titans marked the emotional end of the 2006 NFL season for the team. I honestly can’t see how the Giants can recover from this. If this was a one-game aberration, perhaps. But it needs to be considered in the overall context of the current three-game (and soon-to-be-longer) losing streak. The Giants have suffered second-half implosions in two of their last three games. Sandwiched between these two mentally-draining losses was the physical mauling by an inconsistent Jaguars’ team. The team’s confidence is shot and the Giants have not demonstrated the necessary mental toughness to overcome this situation. Dallas only need to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come tumbling down.

Consider this fact: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Giants became the third team in the history of the NFL to lose a game when leading by 21 or more points with less than 10 minutes to go.

Let that sink in for a moment.

After the game, HB Brandon Jacobs said of the Titans, “We should have beat the shit out of them. This one hurts.” When asked why, Jacobs responded, “Because they suck. That’s why.”

Bold sentiments, but SS Gibril Wilson’s retort was more accurate, “Chill out, Brandon. If they suck, we must really suck.”

Why this is so depressing to Giants’ fans is that we were supposed to be past these types of Reeves-esque and Fassel-esque collapses. In 1996, the Giants lost a game to the Patriots despite leading 22-0 at halftime. In 1997, the Giants blew a 9-point lead with less than two minutes to go against the Vikings in a playoff game. In 2001, with the division on the line, the Giants surrendered 10 points in less than three minutes to lose a game 24-21 to the Eagles. In 2002, the Giants blew a 38-14 second-half lead to the 49ers in the playoffs. In 2003, the Giants blew a game against Dallas after they had taken a 3-point lead with 11 seconds to go in the contest, eventually losing in overtime. Later that season, the Giants dominated the Eagles’ for virtually the entire game and lost on a last-second punt return by Brian Westbrook.

All of that was supposed to have ended in early 2004. On January 7th of that year, we were sold the following bill of goods:

What we must be all about right now, immediately, is the restoration of pride; self pride, team pride, the restoration of our professionalism and the dignity of which we conduct our business. We must restore our belief in the process by which we will win. We must replace despair with hope and return the energy and the passion to New York Giant football.

From a technical standpoint we must begin to focus immediately on the basic axioms which determine winning in the National Football League. Effort is the key to success. Consistent application of each individual, each individual’s best in the task at hand. Outstanding effort must exist on many levels. It starts with the off-season program. It starts in the spring, carries through the summer to the practice field and training camp and of course to game day. Football is fundamentally a physical game. It is a tough game played by tough people. We must win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. We must run the ball and we must be able to defend the run. The year off that I have experienced allowed me to make many observations, one of which is – more games are lost in this league than are won. We must eliminate turnovers. You are not going to beat anybody with a minus 16 (turnover ratio). That stat has to radically change. We must eliminate costly penalties. You can’t shoot yourself in the foot and expect to win the hundred meter dash. Special teams and winning the battle of field position must become our catalyst for victory and not our Achilles heel.

I believe that the young men who represent the New York Giants want strong leadership. They want clear and stated objectives. They want superb detail and organization. And (they want) discipline which provides us all with the courage and the confidence to win in this league in the fourth quarter.

My job is to convince these young men that with the parity that exists in this league today, the difference is in the preparation and that our formula will earn us the right to win.

— Head Coach Tom Coughlin’s inaugural press conference as the 16th head coach of the New York Giants

Those words seem hollow now.

A few months later, the Giants traded away two #1 picks, a #3 pick, a #5 pick, and a chance to trade down for an additional #2 pick for QB Eli Manning. General Manager Ernie Accorsi crowed that day: “This is a once-in-a-decade player. This is a quarterback you wait for for a long time.”

Those words also seem hollow now.

The Giants and their fans crave respect. But respect only comes when you earn it on the playing field by consistently beating your opponents. The Giants are just another mediocre NFL team that is often mocked or ridiculed for poor play, dramatic collapses, and poorly-considered player statements to the press. They are more soap opera personalities than gridiron performers.

Coaching: I thought for most of the game, the offensive coaches (Coughlin and Hufnagel) called a wonderful game. Even though the Giants didn’t score in the second half, I thought the play-calling in the third quarter was quite good as well. What I have a HUGE problem with is the formation and decision to pass on the play where Eli Manning was first intercepted. This play turned the game around. Facing a 2nd-and-4 at their own 35-yard line with 13 minutes left in the game and up by three touchdowns, why the fuck was Manning in the shotgun throwing the football? It’s an inexcusable mistake that cost the Giants the football game. In the second half, up until that point, the Giants had been running the football well and it looked like the Titans were quitting on defense. The down and distance situation, and the score, begged for a heavy dose of the running game. Instead, the coaching staff decided to get cute and it cost the team dearly. It may have ruined the season. When you also consider Coughlin’s questionable decision to kick the 51-yard field goal against the Bears, you get the feeling that he may be digging his own grave.

The only other play that I really didn’t care for was the rollout pass to the left late in the game when the Giants were trying to run out the clock. That is a tough play for a right-handed quarterback who has been struggling with throws on the move.

Quarterback: I thought the worst after Manning’s first two passes of the game – the first a swing pass thrown into the dirt reminiscent of the start of the Jaguars’ game and the second a throw-away after Manning got flustered and scrambled out of the pocket (Shockey was wide open on this play). But Manning completed nine out of his next ten passes and finished the first half with a very, very respectable completion rate of 75 percent with one touchdown pass. Moreover, most of his completions were accurate throws. Most importantly, he helped his team score three consecutive touchdowns in the first half of the game. I liked the way he stood in the pocket and delivered the ball despite getting clobbered on a key 10-yard completion to Burress on 3rd-and-2 on the second touchdown drive.

In the second half, Manning gets knocked for his two interceptions, but the first was the responsibility of Plaxico Burress in my opinion. BBI poster Emil said it best when he wrote:

On that play, Plaxico was not the #1 option. In fact Eli and Coughlin have said that in a few interviews. However, Plax had single coverage on the outside. Single coverage where the DB was all of 5-9 and Plax has a huge height advantage. Eli correctly recognized the coverage and went to Plaxico’s side. However, because Plax knew he wasn’t the go to guy in that situation (2nd-and-4) he did not come off the line of scrimmage at 100% and if you look at the replay he didn’t even look like he was expecting the ball at all. So Plax came off the line of scrimmage at less than 100%, Eli reads single coverage that has Pacman in a mismatch, puts it up to where Plax should be (if he had gone full speed) and throws it a little high so Plax has to jump to get it (even increasing his height advantage) but since Plax decided to take that play off, the ball is picked and Plax wasn’t even in a good position to defend it. This is why you don’t take plays off, especially as a WR. You have to think the ball is coming to you on any play.

Up until this point, Manning had actually been throwing the ball pretty well in the second half too. The Giants’ first drive of the third quarter stalled when Shockey let the ball sail through his arms – it was a good pass. He completed his two earlier attempts on this possession. On the next possession, Manning completed 5-of-7 passes (and one of the incompletions was a good throw). However, on his seventh attempt, on 4th-and-3, Manning should have hit David Tyree coming out of the backfield instead of trying to force the ball to Tim Carter.

In my mind, Manning played a fine game except for two bad throws in the fourth quarter. First, he was lucky that a 3rd-and-9 attempt to Shockey was not picked off right after the Titans had cut the score to 21-7. This was a bad throw. Secondly, his decision to force the ball to Tyree after the Titans had tied the game was a terrible, terrible decision. It allowed the Titans to set up the game-winning field goal in regulation. “There’s no way you can throw an interception under that circumstance at the end of the game,” said Coughlin. “If you don’t like what you see throw it out of bounds. Go to overtime. Don’t turn the ball over.”

Wide Receivers: I have long defended Plaxico Burress because I felt strongly (and still feel strongly) that he is the one difference-maker the Giants have at wide receiver and the one guy outside who scares other teams. However, his inconsistent effort on the playing field, as pointed out above with Emil’s comments, is hurting the team. And his attempt to tackle Pacman Jones after the interception was pathetic. The problem is that replacing his ability will not be easy. Burress caught two important passes on the first touchdown drive, including the actual 3rd-and-goal touchdown pass.

Tim Carter was non-existent in the passing game once again. David Tyree caught two passes for 16 yards.

Tight Ends: I have nothing but praise for Shockey since he was playing with a seriously dislocated ring finger – an injury where the bone actually penetrated the skin on the finger. Keep in mind that Shockey uses his hands on almost every play, either in terms of blocking or hand-checking on pass routes. Shockey was a factor blocking and caught passes in traffic. He ended up with five receptions for 39 yards.

Running Backs: Despite carrying the ball 25 times, Barber could not break the 100-yard mark against a Titans’ defense not known for its’ ability against the run. Barber rushed 14 times for 45 yards in the first half (a 3.2 yards per carry average) and a long run of only eight yards. Brandon Jacobs was more productive with five carries for 33 yards (6.6 yards per carry average) and a long run of 14 yards (plus two touchdowns). Call me crazy, but Jacobs may be the better back right now.

In the second half, Barber carried the ball 11 more times for 37 yards (3.4 yards per carry). Brandon touched the ball four more times for 21 yards (5.3 yards per carry). The Giants were running the ball pretty well in the third quarter and the Titans’ defense only stiffened when momentum had switched in the fourth quarter.

Barber caught five passes for 30 yards and Jacobs caught two for 14 yards. Brandon got the Giants out of a big 2nd-and-16 hole in the third quarter with a 9-yard screen pass and a 10-yard run on a 3rd-and-7 draw play.

Offensive Line: The interior trio of the front five had some problems with the Titan defensive tackles, especially early in the game, on running plays. RT Kareem McKenzie gave up one early pressure on Manning, as did LG David Diehl. The right-side run blocking by McKenzie, RG Chris Snee, TE Rich Seubert, and a pulling Diehl was instrumental in the success of the first-half scoring drives (Shockey and FB Jim Finn also made some nice blocks).

In the third quarter, the offensive line started to really take control of the line of scrimmage. McKenzie was flagged with a holding penalty, but it was the holding penalty on Diehl that stalled a very impressive, time-consuming drive that looked as if it would generate points. Four plays later, the Giants turned the ball over on downs as McKenzie gave up another pressure. In the fourth quarter, a re-energized Titans’ defense gave the offensive line fits when the Giants needed to run out the clock. DT Albert Haynesworth in particular was a problem.

Defensive Line: The run defense was very good as HB Travis Henry was held to 27 yards on 12 carries. What hurt was QB Vince Young’s impromptu scrambles as Young finished the day with 69 rushing yards. The pass rush, aside from a few plays from DT Fred Robbins and DE Mathias Kiwanuka, was not very noticeable.

Robbins (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery) had a huge game. Reggie Torbor was credited with the forced fumble, but it looked to me that it was Robbins who actually caused the ball to come loose. Barry Cofield (4 tackles) had a good game of gumming things up inside.

William Joseph (zero tackles) was pretty much a non-factor at defensive end. He also got suckered on a couple of play-action rollouts in his direction. To his credit, he had one good pass rush from the defensive tackle position.

Kiwanuka (3 tackles, 1 pass defense) played well against the run and flashed on the pass rush at times and even deflected a sideline pass intended for a receiver late in the game. But on the very next snap, he might have sunk the Giants’ season by letting go of Young on 4th-and-10 on a play that should have ended the game. There is no excuse for letting Young go, none. If he wasn’t sure if Young had gotten rid of the ball or not, he should have simply kept him wrapped up until the whistle blew. In all my years of watching football, I’ve never seen anything like that play. Later on this game-tying drive, Kiwanuka missed a chance at redemption as he couldn’t track down Young in the backfield on a botched screen pass that Joseph helped to disrupt. Young ended up scrambling for another 16 yards on this play.

When reserves DT Jonas Seawright and DE Lance Legree came into the game on one series, they immediately got mauled on Henry’s longest run of the day for 14 yards.

Linebackers: Good in run defense, but they allowed some key passes to be completed against them. Carlos Emmons (3 tackles) was pretty quiet. Antonio Pierce (8 tackles, 1 sack) was active. Pierce and Emmons combined to stuff Young on a 4th-and-goal play late in the second quarter. But both Emmons and Pierce got beat by the tight end on 3rd-and-goal for the Titans’ first touchdown. Emmons also lost contain on Young’s 2nd-and-goal bootleg for a touchdown.

I thought Reggie Torbor (2 tackles) was pretty strong in run defense by holding the point-of-attack. He also forced an incompletion with one quality pass rush. Strangely, Chase Blackburn played some snaps in the 4th quarter with the game on the line. He looked sluggish both on the blitz and as he missed a tackle on the halfback on a play that picked up nine yards.

Defensive Backs: I should have listened to BBI poster KWALL when he argued months ago that FS Will Demps sucks. Demps simply doesn’t look athletic or fluid enough. While he occasionally will make a nice play in run defense, he misses too many tackles and is a virtual non-factor in coverage. Worse, on the play where Kiwanuka let Young go, Demps just stood there as Young scrambled by him for the first down. Gibril Wilson (10 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 1 pass defense) was not impressive either. Though active, he missed a few tackles and erased a holding penalty on the Titans on their game-winning drive with an illegal contact penalty.

Give credit to S Jason Bell for staying in the game after breaking a bone in his arm. However, he was lucky that he didn’t give up a big pass play in the third quarter as he never turned around to look for the football. Bell later made a nice tackle on a draw play.

Pass coverage by the corners was pretty good until the fourth quarter. The Titans never really did do anything against R.W. McQuarters. And Frank Walker did a nice job except for two bad plays. The first was his unnecessary roughness penalty against Vince Young on a 4th-and-9 scramble that came up two yards short. The penalty gave the Titans a first down and allowed them to score their first touchdown. I’ve been a critic of Walker’s boneheaded plays in the past, but I can understand how this one occurred. If you watch the play at full speed, Young is rapidly closing in on the first down marker. It is easy to lose track of the sideline in such a desperate situation. Most fans will disagree with me, but I thought it was an aggressive play that went a bit too far. The other bad play was Walker getting beat by receiver for the 14-yard, game-tying touchdown.

The corner who had bigger problems late in the game was Kevin Dockery. Dockery played far too soft and gave up a number of key completions, including a 25-yarder on the first touchdown drive, a 20-yarder on the game-tying touchdown drive, and a 7-yarder on the game-winning field goal drive.

Special Teams: Derrick Ward was unimpressive on kickoff returns (21 yards per return) and so was Chad Morton on punt returns (1.5 yards per return). The Giants did not do a good job of blocking the gunners on punts.

The Giants and P Jeff Feagles did a great job of keeping Pacman Jones in check on punt returns except for one very costly return where Jones picked up 23 yards and set the Titans up on the Giants’ 36-yard line. Torbor missed a tackle on this return. Six plays later, they had cut the score to 21-14.

Chris Claiborne was flagged twice on punt coverage, the first being a very costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after Feagles had punted the ball out at the 1-yard line.

Kickoff coverage was decent, though PK Jay Feely had one very poor kickoff.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Tennessee Titans, November 26, 2006)