Nov 092011
 
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New York Giants 24 (6-2) – New England Patriots 20 (5-3)

by rnargi for BigBlueInteractive.com

Game Summary

Piranah in NC of The Corner Forum said “DON’T BE SCURRED!!!” and the 9.5 point underdog Giants weren’t. In a thrilling game reminiscent in many ways to Super Bowl XLII, New York went into Foxborough and defeated the New England Patriots, winners of 20 straight home games, in a thriller that will be talked about for a long, long time.

Not many people predicted that the Giants would win this game. As has been the case most of the season, the Giants were short-handed going in, missing three key starters on offense. HB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Hakeem Nicks and C David Baas all missed the game with injuries, and it’s not certain when any will return. The Giants did get WR Ramses Barden back after nearly a year of rehabilitating an injury.

The game started off slowly for both teams as neither could score in the first half. The Patriots had the best opportunity, missing a 27 yard field goal attempt just before halftime. Other than that, there were no scoring opportunities at all for either team. It was frustrating for the Giants, as they repeatedly pinned the Patriots deep in their own territory and started most of their drives with relatively good field position.

Without two of their most explosive playmakers, Bradshaw and Nicks, the Giants could not maintain a drive in the first half. Poor execution and penalties stalled drives over and over again early in the game. On six first half drives (not including the 1 play kneel down for a 1 yard loss), the Giants managed a meager 6 first downs and 96 net yards.

The second half began with New York capitalizing on two straight New England turnovers that they turned into 10 points and after forcing a quick three and out on the Patriots’ third possession of the quarter, the Giants were primed to get the ball back with excellent field position and all the momentum heading into the home stretch of the game. Unfortunately, CB/PR Aaron Ross muffed the ensuing punt, the fumble was recovered by New England at the Giants’ 33 yard line, and the Patriots and their fans were back in business.

After allowing 3 points off that turnover, the Patriots returned the favor when WR/PR Julian Edelman fumbled his next punt return opportunity, setting up the Giants with the ball at the New England 40 yard line. The Giants drove to a 1st and goal on the New England 2 when everything seemed to start unraveling. First, on 1st down, the Giants didn’t try to run the ball and Manning hit WR Michael Clayton for an apparent touchdown, but Clayton lost his bearings in the back of the end zone and stepped on the end line, nullifying the score. Then on 2nd down, QB Eli Manning inexplicably surrendered a delay of game penalty, making it 2nd and goal from the 7. Finally, following a 2 yard gain on an inside handoff to HB D.J. Ware in which he never had a chance to find a hole, Manning made a poor decision to throw off his back foot in the face of a New England blitz that was intercepted by CB Kyle Arrington. The throw was almost there. Just a bit more air and Manning had WR Mario Manningham in the end zone for a touchdown. That said, the interception by Arrington was special, as he came off the underneath receiver and made a sensational over the shoulder catch of the ball. That exchange took an almost sure 3 points off the board, and when the Patriots marched 80 yards for the tying touchdown on their ensuing drive the potential 10 point swing sure gave the game the feel of an opportunity lost for New York. Little did anyone know, that’s when the fireworks went off and one of the most explosive and heart pounding 4th quarters in memory occurred.

Like Eli Manning said after SB42, “If you’re tivo’ing the game, just fast forward to the 4th quarter.” After scoring to tie the game in the first minute of the quarter, the Patriots took the lead for the first time with a field goal with just over 7 minutes left in the game. The Giants defense rose up to stop New England after driving to a 1st and 10 at the Giants 29 yard line. Then all hell broke loose.

Eli Manning engineered an 85 yard touchdown drive to retake the lead with just over 3 minutes left, and not to be outdone, QB Tom Brady led New England on a 64 yard drive, converting a 4th down and 9 for a touchdown to take it right back.

Just like in SB42, Manning had the ball in his hands for one last chance and he seized the moment, driving the Giants 80 yards in 1:21 for the go ahead touchdown. With just 15 seconds left and no time outs, Brady was unable to get the Patriots into field goal range and the Giants were victorious.

The Giants only converted 4 of 14 third down opportunities (a 15th was converted via penalty), but 3 of them, including both touchdown passes, came on those last 2 drives. The Giants also once again won the turnover battle, forcing 4 and committing 2. Although the Giants were out-gained by 77 yards and New England ran 7 more plays than the Giants, New York won the time of possession battle by 34 seconds. New York was 3 of 5 in the green zone scoring 3 touchdowns and a field goal for their 24 points, while holding the Patriots to 2 of 4 scoring 2 touchdowns and a field goal for 17 points.

Offense

New York’s offense had a case of fits and starts all day, including their last 2 drives. While they were able to establish a much more effective running game on Sunday, they had all kinds of trouble converting on 3rd down. New York had 15 chances to convert on 3rd down. On 10 occasions, the yards to make were 5 yards or less (five 3rd and 5 yards to go, two 3rd and 4, one 3rd and 3, one 3rd and 2 and one 3rd and 1). The ran just one time on those 10 opportunities, a 3rd and 5 play, which resulted in a first down gain by Corner Forum favorite Da’Rel Scott. Another of the 3rd and 5’s was converted via penalty, and one more was the touchdown to Mario Manningham. Of the other 6 makeable 3rd downs, one was the 3rd and 1 touchdown pass to TE Jake Ballard. The other 5 attempts were all incomplete passes. Of the five opportunities that were of 9 yards or more, all were passes and the only conversion came on 3rd and 10 on the brilliant seam pass to Jake Ballard on the final drive.

With the success of the running game, it was somewhat surprising to see only 1 run on those 10 plays. As it was last week, it appeared New York was more at ease putting the ball in Manning’s hands rather than attempt short yardage runs.

On the day, the Giants had good balance prior to the final two drives, rushing 28 times (excluding the kneel down) and dropping back to pass 39 times (excluding penalties and the aborted play in which Boothe made a bad snap). The Giants passed 12 times and ran 5, including a scramble by Manning, on those final 2 drives.

Quarterback

On a day when Eli Manning was missing his number 1 wideout and his number 1 running back in the short passing game, he struggled a bit at times. He made a number of poor throws, particularly his interception in the 3rd quarter. Several others had a desperation feel to them. Most of that, however, can be wiped away with the knowledge that once again in crunch time Eli came through, not once but twice, to lead the Giants to victory late in the 4th quarter.

Eli’s numbers look pretty good on paper, as he finished 20 of 39 for 250 yards and 2 touchdowns to go with his interception. Manning also had a crucial 1st down 12 yard scramble that firmly entrenched the Giants in field goal range at the New England 21 yard line on the final drive, enabling them to go for the winning touchdown.

Manning’s Passer Rating for the day was just 77.9, which leaves him with a season mark of 98.8, good for 5th in the league. However, his Total QBR was a robust 81.3 out of 100, 7th best in the league this week and his overall T QBR is now at 68.2, 7th best in the NFL.

Looking a little closer at Manning’s day one can see why his Total QBR was much higher than his passer rating. Six of Eli’s incompletions were not on him. Two were dropped (Manningham and Jacobs), two were caught but the receivers didn’t come down in bounds though they should have (Manningham and Thomas Clayton), another probably should have been called pass interference against D.J. Ware and finally he and WR Ramses Barden were not on the same page on a throw into the end zone. Also, Manning threw the ball away 4 times.

Also not to be lost in the argument is the fact that Eli was under heavy pressure much of the day. Though he wasn’t sacked, Manning was hit 8 times and hurried a bunch more. Granted, C David Baas was not playing but that’s an unusually high number for Eli to be hit.

Running Backs

HB Brandon Jacobs promised during the week that everyone would see a change in attitude on the field, and he delivered in spades. On the day, Big Brandon accounted for 100 total yards. Jacobs had 18 carries for 72 yards and a touchdown, and also caught 4 of 5 passes thrown his way (1 drop) for 28 more yards. Jacobs was also a beast in pass protection. He was excellent in blitz pickup, and he didn’t “chip” when he went out in the pattern, he “clobbered.” DE Andre Carter was hammered on several occasions by Jacobs and had to be one sore hombre on Monday morning. Jacobs played with the passion and power of old. Many of his runs were sheer effort, as the offensive line wasn’t opening big holes. Interestingly, the Giants ran Jacobs out of one back sets more often than normal and simply slammed it into the line for positive yards. Somewhat puzzling was the fact that the Giants never ran Jacobs on 3rd down despite having 5 opportunities at it with less than 5 yards to gain. Jacobs did convert a 2nd and 2 for a first down, however, and at one point in the 4th quarter he had four touches in a row. If Jacobs can continue to run with the kind of authority he ran with on Sunday, the complement of Bradshaw and Jacobs could once again be deadly.

BBI whipping boy D.J. Ware had a solid game on Sunday, carrying 7 times for 23 yards (3.3 ypc average) and he did some heavy lifting in the 4th quarter where he had two 1st down carries for 5 yards each on the first go ahead touchdown drive. Ward also gained 10 yards on a 2nd and 20 carry in which he was hit in the backfield and broke several tackles to get those 10 yards.

Da’Rel Scott got into the action and converted a 3rd and 5 on a nicely designed pitch play to the right.

Bear Pascoe once again filled in for FB Henry Hynoski, and to his credit he didn’t get called for holding this week. He wasn’t used much, however, as the Giants used a single back look much more often than normal.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

The Giants didn’t have Hakeem Nicks on Sunday but they did get Ramses Barden back for the first time in nearly a year.

The emergence of WR Victor Cruz continued, as he led Giants with 6 catches on 11 balls thrown his way for 91 yards. At the halfway mark in the season, Cruz is tied for 21st in the NFL with 34 catches and 14th in the NFL in yards with 588, which are 13 more than Nicks. Cruz is also tied for 10th in the NFL with 4 touchdowns. Cruz drew the crucial interference penalty that set the Giants up on the New England 1 yard line on the final drive of the game. He also got a good block on the safety on Jacobs’ 10-yard touchdown run.

Mario Manningham only caught 3 balls for 33 yards. He committed a mental gaffe not getting his feet down in bounds on a play that he should have made, but he made up for it by also drawing a crucial interference penalty and also making a tremendous move off the line of scrimmage and then getting his feet down in the end zone on his touchdown. Manningham’s second gaffe occurred after he scored his touchdown when he incurred an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for apparently getting into a tiff with one of the New England defensive backs. The replay showed very little of what actually happened, but as he was walking away in celebration a Patriot nudged him and Manningham turned and got in his face. That’s not a smart move, and it cost the Giants the opportunity on the ensuing kickoff to continue to keep the Patriots pinned deep as they had all day.

Ramses Barden was thrown to 5 times, and the rust definitely showed on one play when he broke his route inside down in the end zone while Manning threw to the pylon. However, he made an unbelievable catch on a 2nd and 5 play in which the ball was poorly thrown and looked like a sure interception. Barden somehow reached in front of the cornerback and snatched the ball out of the air, spun off the CB and gained 9 yards and a first down. Earlier, he nearly scored when he caught an out route around the New England 7 yard line then barreled over the CB who hung on for dear life and brought Ramses down at the 2.

Jake Ballard is one tough son of a gun. He took two shots early on, one on an 8 yard catch in which the Giants needed 9 to convert a 1st down. How he held on to that ball is unknown. Later, he took a big shot on a ball thrown over the middle behind him. Undeterred, Ballard caught 4 balls for 67 yards. His two biggest came on the final drive. The first was a beautiful seam route that was thrown high and slightly outside him and he elevated and came down with it just before the safety would have intercepted it. Later, he made a great catch for the touchdown on a laser from Manning.

WR Michael Clayton should have had a touchdown on the drive in which Manning threw his interception but lost where he was in the end zone and came down with the ball out of bounds. That play would have been ruled a penalty anyway as the umpire had thrown his hat, indicating that Clayton had gone out of the end zone prior to catching the pass.

Offensive Line

The Giants didn’t have their offensive line intact for very long as they were without C David Baas. OL Kevin Boothe filled in fairly well, but made several poor snaps that luckily didn’t result in turnovers but they did affect drives. One snap, off his buttocks, skittered on the ground towards Manning who had to fall on it for an 8 yard loss, turning a 2nd and 11 into a 3rd and 19 on what was to that point the most promising drive of the day for the Giants. Later, an errant snap caused Manning to pause to make sure he could reach up and corral it. When he finally got set, the play was essentially over due to the pressure and Manning threw the ball away.

Both RG Chris Snee and LG David Diehl had subpar games, unable to consistently open holes for the running game. Diehl did have a great seal block on the Jacobs touchdown run.

The Giants gave up an uncharacteristic 8 QB hits, though Manning wasn’t sacked. The pass pressure from New England wasn’t exactly ferocious, but it was consistent and had Eli throwing off his back foot. Much of the pressure came from inside, preventing  Manning from stepping up. With the pocket collapsing down on him, Manning threw several balls off his back foot then ducking out of a hit.

Defense

Last week the Giants were unable to stop Miami after their first drive in the 3rd quarter and then slammed the door shut. This week New York allowed New England to get very little going until the middle of the 3rd quarter and then hung on for dear life. On the good side of the ledger, the Giants held the Patriots to no points in the first half for the first time in more than 70 games. That’s more than 4 years’ worth of regular season games. On the other side of the ledger, the Giants allowed New England to score on 4 straight drives, finally stopping the Patriots on the last drive which began with just 15 seconds left in the game.

The Giants used pressure and good coverage to keep New England at bay for nearly 40 minutes. Nothing really changed in the final quarter, as the Giants continued to pressure Brady but even when they got to him he was able to complete passes.

In what’s becoming a hallmark for this defense, once again they were able to keep almost everything underneath and not get hit with a deep pass. Early on the pressure was allowing the linebackers and safeties to get into position for two interceptions and also had Brady throwing wildly and incomplete. Later, when the pressure wasn’t getting home as often and the defense began to tire, Brady picked them apart seemingly at will. Fortunately for the Giants they had enough in them to limit two of the four late scoring drives to field goals.

Front 7

Though they got very few hits (3) and only 2 sacks, the Giants did get sustained pressure on QB Tom Brady. Even in the latter portion of the game the defensive line was getting home but a combination of being just out of reach and Brady making some incredible throws, they were not as effective as they were through the first 3 quarters of the game. The interior push from DTs Chris Canty and Linval Joseph were instrumental in limiting the New England rushing game after an initial gash from HB BenJarvus Green-Ellis. DEs Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora didn’t make as much noise as they usually do. Osi is still rounding into shape. On Sunday, Osi was in on 5 tackles, several of which were downfield in the secondary. Jason Pierre-Paul had a sack and was in on just 3 tackles.

New England seemed determined in the early part of the game to run the ball, and they did not have the same success that several other teams that the Giants have faced this season. On the opening play of their first drive, New England was in a double TE formation with Green-Ellis in the backfield and two receivers to Tom Brady’s left. The Giants countered with their four linemen and S Deon Grant over the TE to Brady’s left. They had a single high safety with Ross and Webster covering down on the receivers and S Antrel Rolle lined up on the other side of the field as a CB covering no one. LBs Mathais Kiwanuka and Michael Boley were in the gaps between the DTs and DEs, and at the snap Kiwanuka blitzed from Brady’s right. The TE easily took out Grant, and Boley got caught moving forward into an outstanding block from the Patriots center. That left a hole a mile wide for Green-Ellis. The other TE made a great block to influence Tuck to the outside then immediately got upfield to engage Rolle. Both Webster and Ross were in coverage with their heads turned away from the field. With Boley and Rolle neutralized, Ellis ran straight up the gut and wasn’t touched until S Kenny Phillips slowed him down enough after 14 yards to allow Boley to catch up and tackle him from behind. The play went for 18 yards. On the very next play, Kiwanuka made a great read, shooting the gap and catching Ellis at the line of scrimmage.

Speaking of Kiwanuka, he was extremely active and was in on 12 tackles, 6 solo. His heads up interception off a deflected pass by Boley ended what looked to be a promising drive by New England. Of his tackles, however, 5 of them were on plays that resulted in a first down by the Patriots. Other than the great play he made on the first drive, he had another on the next Patriots drive in which S Deon Grant followed the TE in motion to the right side, looped all the way around the line and caught HB Danny Woodhead in the backfield. On that play, DT Chris Canty got tremendous backfield penetration and had Brady by the ankles as he was handing the ball off altering the path for Woodhead right into Kiwanuka who beat the A gap to combine with Grant for the stop. Canty was getting good push in the interior all game and nearly sacked Brady when he bull rushed and beat a double team by the C and LG early in the 4th quarter. Again, Brady was just able to avoid the pressure and complete a pass. It’s just Brady being Brady.

Michael Boley is easily playing his best football as a New York Giant. While Kiwanuka (who incidentally played much more as a linebacker than and end this game) won the defensive player of the week award, a case could be made that Boley deserved the honor just as much. Boley was in on 10 tackles, 7 solo, and also had a strip sack of Brady that was recovered by the Giants and lead to their first touchdown and he also made the play on the ball that wound up being intercepted by Kiwanuka. Boley was victimized by TE Rob Gronkowski on the final New England touchdown drive, but he was interfered with. It may have been slight, but Gronkowski did push off and it should have been called.

While the Giants did give up 106 total yards on the ground, they actually did a pretty good job stuffing the conventional running game. The Giants allowed Brady to scramble for 5 yards and also allowed a 13 yard reverse to Wes Welker that caught them flat footed when Danny Woodhead bobbled the ball and it looked like it might go for an aborted play. Additionally, the Giants were caught on a direct snap to Woodhead that also got good yardage. On the Patriots’ final drive of the game, twice the Patriots caught the Giants in blitzes and ran two straight draws that covered 15 yards. So there were certainly signs of life in the run defense.

Speaking of the front 7, S Deon Grant would have to be considered one of them this week as he played a ton and mainly around the line of scrimmage. He was in on 4 tackles, all near the line of scrimmage. He did play coverage as well in the slot. Early in the 3rd quarter while covering Gronkowski on a skinny post, he intercepted Brady setting up the Giants’ first score of the day. On the Patriots’ very next play from scrimmage, Grant dropped into coverage from the WIL spot and nearly picked off Brady again. It’s clear that Grant has lost a step in coverage, but he’s been very good against the run. Grant also broke up the 3rd down pass to Gronkowski on the drive that New England scored on 4th down.

Jacquian Williams nearly had a sack on the first Patriots touchdown drive when on 3rd and 4 he did a nice job to fly around the right side and get to Brady from behind just as he let it go to Welker. A millisecond earlier and that’s either a strip sack or an incomplete pass. He had his arm around Brady’s waist as he threw, and it was still a dart right on the money to Welker for a huge gain of 27 yards. Hats off to Brady, the Giants did everything right but Brady simply made a better play.

Secondary

Safety Antrel Rolle is also having a superb season. On the day, he accrued 6 solo tackles, none better than his first which stopped New England’s first drive. After the 18 yard run to open the game, the Patriots ran 2 more times before Brady hit TE Hernandez for a 4 yard gain on 3rd down. The play was special because Hernandez caught the ball with an exceptional opportunity to convert the third down but a text book form tackle by Rolle dropped Hernandez in his tracks a yard short of the sticks.

S Kenny Phillips also was in on 8 tackles, 6 solo. Phillips is back with regards to coming up in run support but he’s not been as good as he should be in coverage. Rarely does he get into the passing game unless it’s to make a tackle. He had no passes defensed and he never broke up a pass with a hit. It could be that Phillips is never going to become the impact safety many thought he would be.

CB Corey Webster played well. He was burned for a 25 yard pass play to Wes Welker on a ball that looked like he’d intercept. It’s possible that he lost the ball in the lights or just never saw it coming. Other than that, Webster kept everything thrown his way in front of him and made 2 tackles on the day. The Patriots went to WR Chad Ochocinco 5 times on Sunday, and he didn’t have a catch. Much of that is on Ochocinco who is simply not on the same page as Brady but give credit to Webster for not allowing him a catch.

On the day, Brady attempted to get the ball to his wide receivers on 20 occasions (10 targets to Welker, 5 to Deon Branch and 5 to Ochocinco) and completed just 11 of them. Much of the throws were underneath, going to his tight ends an astounding 20 times and his backs 9 times.

Aaron Ross also played well in coverage and was in on 3 tackles. Ross has quietly had a good first half of the season.

Unheralded CB Michael Coe, pressed into duty after the Giants lost Justin Tryon for the year with a broken arm, had a huge pass defensed on the first New England field goal drive. On the 3rd and 3 play, he was lined up outside on WR Deon Branch. Coe engaged Branch at the line, and Branch made a good punch to get separation inside where Brady tried to hit him on the slant. Coe recovered beautifully and came from the outside underneath Branch to swat the ball away and New England had to settle for 3 points.

Special Teams

On a day when the Giants’ coverage and kick teams were the best they’ve been in recent memory, the special teams cannot be graded out with an A because of Aaron Ross’ muffed punt and KR Devin Thomas’ dropped kickoff return. Fortunately, the only one that cost the Giants was Ross’ muff. For a time, it appeared that this play might be the one pointed to and blamed for the momentum shift that followed had the Giants gone on to lose the game. Overall, the return teams did nothing special on the day.

With that out of the way, how about the effort by Steve Weatherford? He – combined with the Giants’ punt coverage unit – kept the Patriots in extremely long field position all game. Julian Edelman fielded 5 punts and only returned them 17 yards. Weatherfield punted 8 times and put 5 of them inside the 20. Most encouraging was that most of them were directional and completely bottled up the Patriots return team. New gunner Michael Coe missed a sure tackle on one of Edleman’s returns, but all was forgiven moments later when he fumble the ball after a hit by S Tyler Sash which was recovered by reserve linebacker Spencer Paysinger.

Coaching

No matter what is said, no matter how much people want to be down on HC Tom Coughlin and OC Kevin Gilbride, the locker room reaction is all anyone needs to know about how close knit this team really is. Gilbride called a great game, starting with the new look 1 back quick hitters with Jacobs.

Final Thoughts

The Giants now have to go cross country to meet the red hot 7-1 San Francisco 49ers, a strong running team and even stronger team against the run. This game is gigantic. First, it’s a head to head showdown with a team that they may be fighting against for a number 2 seed in the NFC. If the Giants do not get a first round bye, the Detroit Lions, New Orleans Saints or the Atlanta Falcons may be coming to the Meadowlands for a Wild Card playoff game. Obviously the chances of progressing through the playoffs become much better if they do not have to face one of those teams in the opening round. Secondly, the Cowboys have beaten the 49ers and if the NFC comes down to tiebreakers that would be huge for the Giants to be tied on that one. It’s a big game, and a big test for the Giants who will have to find a way to run the ball and stop the run if they’re to be successful.

(Boxscore- New York Giants at New England Patriots, November 6, 2011)
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