Dec 302008
 
 December 30, 2008  Posted by  Game Previews and Reviews
Minnesota Vikings 20 – New York Giants 19

By Joey in VA for BigBlueInteractive.com

Summary: In what amounted to a glorified pre-season game for the visiting New York Giants, the #1 seed in the NFC fell 20-19 to the NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings.  While it’s never fun to watch your team lose, I am certain that most Giant fans were not in remote tossing mode at the conclusion of this one.  Starters Brandon Jacobs, Kevin Boss, Aaron Ross and Barry Cofield were all inactive and starting QB Eli Manning played just one half of football, and a host of backups joined the party in the 3rd and 4th quarters as the Giants prepare to defend their Super Bowl title.

Neither team managed much offense in the first quarter, but as the second quarter opened the Vikings put together a modest 8 play 37 yard drive en route to a 3-0 lead.  The Giants were unable to respond and were forced to punt for the third straight time to start the game.  Adrian Peterson, who had been held in check by the Giants run defense to that point, then exploded for a 67 yard TD run and the Vikings were up 10-0.  That lead would dwindle to a one-point bulge at halftime as Eli and the Giants put together three straight field goal drives before giving way to backup QB David Carr in the 3rd quarter.

Carr came out hot, leading the Giants to a 16-10 lead with a beautiful arcing pass to WR Domenik Hixon for a 23-yard TD.  Carr then led the Giants on a 38-yard field goal drive to push the lead to 19-10 until the Giants’ defense fell victim to yet another big play.  This time it was QB Tavaris Jackson to WR Bernard Berrian on a 54-yard TD pass after CB Terrell Thomas slipped to the turf and left the speedy Berrian all alone.  Carr again got the Giants in position to score, but Pro Bowl K John Carney missed on a 45-yard try, and the Vikings were then able to march 30 yards to give K Ryan Longwell a chance to win the game.  Win the game Longwell did, with a 50-yard boot that sent the Giants to their third loss in four games and propelled the Vikings to the NFC North Title.

Quarterbacks: Playing for only one half, Eli Manning was efficient with the football, managing to put together three scoring drives in the second quarter, but it was his inability to hit the big play that cost the Giants some points.  Things started well for Eli as he hit Domenik Hixon on the game’s first pass for six yards on a perfectly thrown slant route and followed it up with a well-timed flare pass to FB Madison Hedgecock who actually made the grab and then had the nerve to make another catch on the exact same play two plays later in the drive.  Manning was sacked by LB Ben Leber on 2nd and 6 and just overshot Hixon on the next play on a deep corner route and the Giants were forced to punt.  On the Giants’ next possession, it was a ho-hum three-and-out after Manning was unable to connect with Hixon on a 3rd and 2 as CB Cedrick Griffin got between Hixon and his intended route.  No replay of course, as Fox was so giddy with playoff scenarios they immediately cut to a Bears-Texans update which would annoy me all game long.

To start the second quarter, the Giants again went three-and-out with Manning hitting WR Amani Toomer for a 4-yard gain on 3rd and 7.  For anyone without an abacus or 10 fingers, that left the Giants three yards shy of the first down.  Following Peterson’s TD run, Manning led the Giants on a 5-play drive that resulted in a 51-yard Carney field goal, but Eli only went 1-3 for five yards on the drive, again missing Hixon on a deep sideline route and badly under-throwing Toomer on back-to-back plays.

Midway through the second, Eli finally got it going, completing 4-of-6 throws for 60 yards, the prettiest of which was a perfectly placed seam route to TE Darcy Johnson that picked up 26 yards.  When it mattered though, Manning again overshot Hixon on a fade route in the end zone and again the Giants were forced to settle for three.  To end his day, Manning got the ball back with just 27 seconds left, but was able to complete 2-of-4 passes for 33 yards to get the Giants in position for a 42-yard field goal.

Mister Handsome Pants, David Carr, got his first real action of the season, coming in after the break and going 8-11 for 110 yards and a TD.  Right off the bat, Carr was showing off his athletic ability, rambling seven yards to open the second half.  Carr moved the Giants to their only TD of the day, going 2-3 for 41 yards and a TD, en route to a 10-play, 80-yard drive that put the G-Men ahead 16-10.  On the TD drive, Carr converted a 3rd and 8 at midfield by nimbly avoiding the rush, rolling right and hitting Darcy Johnson for an 18-yard gain and a first down, showing all of the skills that made him the #1 pick in the draft.  Carr’s next big throw on a 3rd and 4 was a perfectly thrown corner route to Hixon, who had split the coverage and was wide open in the end zone.  The former Texan lofted a perfect strike and hit Hixon in stride to finally put the Giants ahead.  Carr wasn’t so lucky on his next drive, missing on his only pass to Amani Toomer en route to another Giants’ punt.  Carr had NO time to throw on the failed 3rd down conversion and must have felt like he was back in Houston as his head bounced off the turf.

Carr followed S James Butler’s INT with a scoring drive, going 4-5 for 48 yards, but was unable to punch it in from the 2-yard line and the Giants were again left to settle for three points and a 19-10 lead.  On the Giants’ final drive of the day, Carr led the Giants on a 10-play, 45-yard jaunt that ended in a missed Carney field goal which would come back to bite the team.  Carr did go 2-2 hitting rookie WR Mario Manningham twice for 21 combined yards and moved the chains both times.  Give Carr credit, he was sharp, poised and accurate against a Viking defense that needed the game and Carr gave the Giants a shot to win it which is all anyone could ask for on this day.

Running Backs: Derrick Ward got the 52 yards he needed to break the 1,000-yard mark and added another 25 for good measure finishing with 77 yards on the ground.  After an Ahmad Bradshaw return to the Viking 43, Ward seemingly answered Peterson’s TD run with a 33-yarder of his own, but two penalties on the play canceled out the run.  Nevertheless, Ward chipped in with a 10-yard run and a 5-yard reception to put the Giants in range to pull within a TD at 10-3.  Ward averaged a solid 5.1 yards per carry and looked quick getting to the edge all day, especially on a 13-yard power to the right in which he stepped behind a crushing lead block by C Shaun O’Hara and scooted through for a big gain.  TOUCHDOWN RYAN MOATS!  Sonofa, tricked AGAIN by FOX’s seamless cut-ins to the all important Texans-Bears game.  (Hey FOX, you suck!)

Ahmad Bradshaw had another so-so game, only averaging 2.8 yards on 10 carries, but did have a nice 10-yard run on a counter play that was designed to go left, but once Bradshaw saw no daylight, he bounced it back right and wiggled upfield for 10 yards.  On the very next play, WR Andre Johnson caught a TD pass to put the Texans…ohhh another FOX must see game cut in.

Even Danny Ware got in on the fun, running twice for 15 yards and causing my brother-in-law to exclaim “How many damn good running backs ya’ll got?”.

Wide Receivers: Domenik Hixon again led the Giants receivers with 62 yards and a TD on four catches, but more importantly, he was able to get deep a few times on the Vikings’ secondary and loosen up the coverage enough to keep the defense honest.  Hixon’s ability to get deep will be a big key as defenses tighten up in the playoffs and it will be on him and Manning to get that timing down if the Giants hope to hoist another Lombardi Trophy.  Hixon’s two catches for 33 yards on the Giants’ final scoring drive of the first half put the team in position for a third Carney field goal as the first half ended.  Amani Toomer only pulled down two catches for 16 yards but his 12-yarder on the Giants second scoring drive was vintage Amani as he ran a perfect comeback route and tiptoed in-bounds to make the grab.  During the parade of backups, Sinorice Moss made his presence known on the Giants’ final scoring drive of the day hauling in two passes from Carr for 43 yards, including a 27-yard strike on a dig route that moved the chains on a 3rd and 21.  Knock Moss all you want, but that cat can get separation in man coverage and did so beautifully on that play.  Steve Smith was one of seven Giants with two receptions as the second-year man out of USC finished up with 20 yards total.  Even Mario Manningham got in on the action, hauling in two Carr passes for 21 yards on the Giants failed scoring drive late in the final quarter.  Manningham displayed good quickness off the line and an ability to maintain separation on two quick slant routes, which is vital for any quick inside route.  It was brief, but a good showing by the rookie.

Tight Ends: Playing without injured starter Kevin Boss, the Giants turned to Darcy Johnson, who responded with 44 yards on two catches.  Johnson displayed his athleticism on a 26-yard seam route late in the second quarter as the Giants drove to a field goal on a 14-play, 79-yard drive.  Johnson’s second grab was another big gainer, this time an 18-yard strike from Carr on 3rd and 8 on the Giants’ lone TD drive of the day.

O-Line: Pro Bowl C Shaun O’Hara had a rough start, giving up a sack to LB Ben Leber that put the Giants in a tough 3rd and 11 on the game’s first offensive possession.  O’Hara redeemed himself by keeping a handle on Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams and giving his QB a nice pocket all afternoon.  Overall though, the line functioned very well, controlling Pro Bowl DLs Jared Allen and Kevin Williams for the entire day.  LT David Diehl completely shut down Allen and had a good day run blocking as usual, leading the Giants to 135 yards on the ground and a solid 4.5 ypc average.  With the exception of the Leber sack and the ugly hit that Carr took, the line kept their QBs in position to make plays and had little trouble with the vaunted Viking front.

Front 7: Author’s Note: Given the varied fronts and personnel packages the Giants use under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, I’ll be looking at the front 7 as a whole initially rather than separating the D-line and Linebackers.  Hybrid roles such as LBs playing in a 3 point stance make analyzing the front 7 as one unit more cohesive.  It may change as we move forward or from game to game.

With the exception of one long run by Pro Bowl RB Adrian Peterson, the Giants’ front 7 did a solid job all afternoon on the Vikings’ offense.  Working without starting DT Barry Cofield seemed to be of little consequence as DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DT Fred Robbins combined to shut down Adrian Peterson on the game’s first snap and force the Vikings to go three-and-out on the game’s first possession.  More so than the defensive line though, it was the play of the LBs, namely rookie LB Bryan Kehl and WLB Chase Blackburn who had nine and six stops respectively, which made the Giants’ defense go.  Blackburn made a great early read, knifing inside of LT Bryant McKinnie to stop Peterson for a 1-yard gain on the Vikes’ second possession and combining with LB Danny Clark to slow down Peterson on a 4-yard gain just two plays later.  Blackburn also forced an errant throw from QB Tavaris Jackson on the same drive, slamming into the QB as he released the pass and then dumped RB Chester Taylor on a draw for his third stop of the drive.  Not to be outdone, Clark (five total stops) stripped Peterson of the ball on the Vikings’ next possession but the gang in purple recovered and ended up scoring a field goal on the drive.  MLB Antonio Pierce chipped in with four stops, but uncharacteristically missed his keys on a 19-yard screen pass to Chester Taylor that took the Vikings to the Giants’ 36 and in position for points.  In fact, all threee LBs badly read the OL, and not one was in position to make a stop.  OH YIPPEE TEXANS 10 BEARS 0!  Pierce made a big play on the drive though, stuffing Taylor for a 2-yard loss on a 2nd and 1, and forcing the Vikings to have to throw on 3rd down.

The aforementioned Kehl entered the game in the secondd quarter at the WILL spot in place of Blackburn and immediately diagnosed a power to the left, met FB Naufahu Tahi (Godblessyou!) in the hole and stuffed Peterson for a 3-yard gain.  Kehl also snuffed out a Vikings’ drive in the second quarter, perfectly timing a blitz in the B gap on 3rd and 10 and dumping Jackson for an 8-yard loss.  Kehl made another great stop on an misdirection run by Peterson in the third quarter that was designed to fool the LBs into pursuing right and being taken out of the play, but #53 read it well and was able to run down the play from the backside and limit what could have been another big run by Peterson.  Kehl then made another big stop, shooting into the backfield to deny Peterson to his side on the next play.

DE Justin Tuck will get his name in the paper this week, after a 3rd down swat of a Jackson pass on the Vikings’ first scoring drive of the day.  Unfortunately for Tuck, the next play to his side would result in a 67-yard dash by RB Adrian Peterson as Tuck was blasted out of the hole by C Matt Birk.  Ordinarily, Tuck does a great job of holding the POA, and redirecting his man to keep his feet and stuff the play on his side, but while engaged with FB Jim Kleinsasser, Birk shoved Tuck to the ground from behind, which honestly, I have no idea if its inside the rules or not anymore given the amount of egregious holding penalties I see go uncalled in a game.  Pierce also badly over-pursued the play; likely following the lead of FB Tahi, but Peterson cut it up inside and was off to the races.  Tuck did combine with DL Renaldo Wynn and DT Jay Alford on a 4th and 1 late in the first half, to stuff Tavaris Jackson for a 4-yard loss and give the Giants the ball back with just enough time to move into field goal range.

Defensive Backs: S Michael Johnson had a quiet day, but did manage to sack Tavaris Jackson early on 3rd and 6, flying just inside the B gap as the protection slid out to defend the edge.  Shoulda been Pro Bowl CB Corey Webster didn’t notch a tackle, but did knock down a 3rd and 5 pass to WR Sidney Rice forcing the Vikings to punt.  The play of the day though was turned in by veteran safety James Butler with the Vikings driving late in the third quarter.  Butler stepped in front of a Tavaris Jackson pass in the end zone and “raced” 47 yards to the Giants’ 45, which became the Viking 40 after a 15-yard roughing penalty on the intercepted Jackson.  I use the term raced lightly, as in the tortoise raced the hare, because let’s be honest, Butler isn’t going to win a medal in the 55 meters any time soon.  Rough day overall for rookie CB Terrell Thomas, who was victimized on Bernard Berrian’s TD early in the fourth quarter.  Granted Thomas slipped to the turf, but he gets the goat tag for the play, as should S Kenny Phillips who fell down trying to tackle Berrian on the play.

Special Teams: Shaky game overall for the special teams units, with Vikings’ KR Maurice Hicks exploding on the game’s first touch for a 38-yard return.  Ahmad Bradshaw did redeem the kick return team with a 58-yard return of his own that propelled the Giants to their first points of the game, but overall the return game was very bland.  The usually reliable John Carney suffered his first non-blocked miss of the year on a 48-yarder that was just wide right as the Giants were up by two points with just over three minutes left.  Had Carney hit that field goal, the Giants likely finish off the Vikings, but no one is perfect.  P Jeff Feagles was again on his game, averaging a NET of 45.3 yards per kick.

Coaching: I have to tip my hat to Tom Coughlin.  He played his starters for a half, rested the players who needed to rest medically and almost pulled off a win against a Viking team that had to win at home to make the playoffs.  The backups were playing in droves by the final quarter, but the Giants competed no matter who was in the game and every single player on the roster was prepared and played well.  The difference came down to a handful of plays that honestly, the starters probably make but I will leave the hypothetical alone here.

Steve Spagnuolo certainly had a similar challenge in getting so many players up to speed to play, and overall, his defense played well save for two big plays that cost the Giants dearly.  Signal caller Kevin Gilbride had the same challenge, getting backup QB David Carr ready to play and being able to call the plays that a backup offense would be able to execute.  Once again, given the stakes for the Vikings, you can’t complain with the results given the number of backups who saw significant action.

JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – Tough call here gang, David Carr played well in his half, D Ward went over 1,000 yards but I have to go with LB Bryan Kehl, who finished with nine tackles, leading the team.  Kehl has been missing from the rotation, but showed once again how quick he is to diagnose plays and use his exceptional quickness to get to the ball carrier.  For his efforts, Mr. Kehl gets a Where’s Waldo activity book because I have no idea where he’s been!

JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – I’m giving this one to FOX for their constant and annoying interruption of our game for Bears-Texans updates.  Look, I get it – I know it’s important to the Vikings’ fans, but do you honestly think they put down their pickled herring sandwiches and pointy Viking hats long enough to give a flying crap?  They were just as involved in the game as we were, they had everything to gain from a Viking victory and still you cut in every five seconds with what the stupid Bears were doing?  For your awful interruptions, everyone in the control room will be forced to wear a double-beer-holding hard hat with straws and drink every time Tavaris Jackson throws a bad pass against the Eagles.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, December 28, 2008)
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