Minnesota Vikings 23 – New York Giants 22
Overview: The Giants did everything they needed to do for 58 minutes to win the football game, but they forgot to remember that a football game is 60 minutes long. Sure, Giants’ fans will point to the inability to score touchdowns intead of field goals and the two costly turnovers that led directly to 10 points for the Vikings. Kanell didn’t play very well and the Giants couldn’t run the football. All that being said, the Giants had a 9 point lead with less than two minutes to play. A good football team HAS to be able to win a game in that situation. Blame? The Giants just didn’t make the plays they needed to make to win the game. Basic plays. You don’t scheme to put a safety man-to-man on one of the best wide receivers in the game when you should be in the “prevent” mode. Jake Reed on any safety is a mismatch. Strike one. Second, you have to recover the onside kick-off. Chris Calloway didn’t. Strike two. Third, as well as the defense played for 58 minutes, they gave up their second scoring drive in the game’s final two minutes by allowing the Vikes an easy field goal to win the game. Strike three and you’re out.
The Giants, the youngest team in the league, learned a valuable lesson. Play hard for 60 minutes and do not take anything for granted. The Giants now have to live with this loss for seven long months until training camp opens in July. Let’s hope the players can take that lesson to heart and rebound even stronger. Now the focus becomes the work of the front office and the coaching staff in the off-season. The Giants must get better if they hope to make the playoffs and win a Superbowl next season. The good news is that they are certainly capable of doing so.
Quarterback: Danny Kanell (16-32 for 199 yards, 1 touchdown, no interceptions) was not sharp for most of the game, but he did not lose the game. No interceptions, no fumbles, and he only took one sack. His accuracy was off for much of the game, but he threw the ball away when he needed to and kept some key scoring drives alive with nice decisions in third down situations. The bad news was that Danny was “off” on many of his tosses. Be it the weather, poor mechanics, nerves, or miscommunication between receivers and quarterback, there were a number of plays where Kanell had a man open, but just couldn’t connect. HB Tiki Barber was wide open in the end zone on one play, but the ball was thrown behind him. Kanell also had another opportunity for a touchdown on a nice pump-and-go route, but underthrew the receiver in the end zone. Two chances for touchdowns, two blown opportunities. Even his touchdown pass to TE Aaron Pierce was a poorly thrown ball. The good news was there were times when Kanell made key plays to keep drives alive. On the second field goal drive, Kanell found Charles Way for 27 yards on 3rd-and-3. On the touchdown drive, he hit Tiki Barber for 11 yards on 3rd-and-4. Kanell was at his sharpest on the Giants’ last scoring drive, when he went 6-for-6 and led the G-Men on a time-consuming 70+ yard march that seemed to put the final nail in the coffin. The drive was all Kanell: 18 yard pass to Patten on 3rd-and-9, 21 yards to Chris Calloway, 4 yard pass to Calloway on 3rd-and-4, and a 16 yard pass to Patten.
Wide Receivers: The receivers, as a group, probably played their strongest game of the season. Both Chris Calloway (6 catches for 53 yards) and David Patten (5 catches for 86) yards played well, though Calloway did drop one very catchable intermediate ball from Kanell on 3rd down. Indeed, if Kanell had been sharper, these two might have even put up bigger numbers. Patten has played better and better in the last half of the season. Amani Toomer and Kevin Alexander had no catches.
Offensive Line: Very good pass blocking, but very poor run blocking. The Giants only gave up one sack, but they also only picked up 76 yards on the ground for the entire game. Folks, you’re not going to win very many playoff games by running for only 76 yards. The Giants couldn’t run inside and they couldn’t run outside. And it didn’t matter who was carrying the ball. Ron Stone had a couple of nice run blocks, but everyone else struggled. Scott Gragg’s whiff led directly to Tiki Barber’s fumble. Greg Bishop, Roman Oben, and Lance Scott didn’t get much movement in their run blocks either. The Vikes dominated the line of scrimmage as evidenced by the Giants’ struggles in short yardage situations throughout the contest. Kudos must go to Oben for his pass blocking on DE John Randle, however.
Tight Ends: Since the Giants could not control the outside corner on the ground game, one must assume that Howard Cross and Aaron Pierce didn’t do a good job of run blocking either. Cross had no catches, but Pierce made a very nice effort on his short TD reception.
Running Backs: These guys didn’t have much of a chance due to the poor blocking. Tiki Barber (17 carries for 29 yards, 3 catches for 31 yards) and Charles Way (10 carries for 28 yards, 1 catch for 27 yards) had their moments, but too often they were both hit in the backfield, well behind the line of scrimmage. Even Rodney Hampton (8 carries for 18 yards) couldn’t get untracked. Barber did look much quicker in this game and made some nice moves in the hole. Way also did an excellent job on his catch — a play that was one ankle tackle away from a score. However, Barber did drop a couple of passes and did fumble. Granted, the pass to him in the end zone was behind him, he had a chance to make the play.
Defensive Line: These guys played a strong game but ran out of gas late in the game. Simply put, the offense let these guys down and they had to spend far too much time on the field in the second half of the game. The Vikings could not run the ball for most of the game, particularly in the first half. Minnesota could not get any movement on Michael Strahan, Robert Harris, Keith Hamilton, and Bernard Holsey. Hamilton, in particular, was once again a disruptive force in the middle. Against the pass, the front four wasn’t as successful without help on the blitz, but Strahan and Hamilton each picked up a sack. Late in the game, however, they couldn’t get enough heat on Randall Cunningham and allowed him to scramble around too much.
Linebackers: Like the line, the linebackers were strong in run defense, but they did not make enough impact plays. Jessie Armstead was fairly quiet. He did knock down a key pass early and the Vikes were never able to involve their backs much in the passing game. MLB Corey Widmer made a couple of nice plays inside against the run, including one tackle near the line of scrimmage that almost went for big yardage. Corey Miller played strong on the tight end and he, Widmer, and Garnes kept the Vikes’ tight ends quiet. Scott Gaylon and Marcus Buckley both played a lot, but didn’t make any big plays. Rushing Buckley is a waste of time as he doesn’t have the strength to disengage from blockers.
Defensive Backs: Very strong for 58 minutes and then terrible. The good news is that CB’s Jason Sehorn and Phillippi Sparks did a wonderful job on two of the best wide receivers in the game for almost the entire game. Sehorn made a terrific, highlight film interception when he out-lept Chris Carter for the pick (he also made a good return on the play). He was lucky that Carter dropped a sure touchdown against him as Sehorn inexplicably let Carter get behind him. He also whiffed badly on his blitz of Cunningham that should have been a sack. But for the most part, you couldn’t ask for more from a starting corner. Sparks played very tough on whoever he lined up on, be it Reed or Carter. Where the corners fell apart somewhat was on the last field goal drive after the on-sides kick. Conrad Hamilton was burned by Carter for a big play on 3rd down (why wasn’t Sehorn or Sparks on Carter?) and Sparks was flagged with a critical pass interference penalty that set the Vikes up in field goal range. Safeties Sam Garnes and Tito Wooten also played fairly well, especially against the run. Wooten, for once, made sure, crisp tackles. Why he was covering Reed man-to-man on Reed’s touchdown reception, we’ll never know.
Special Teams: Oh, Calloway! If you could have only covered the ball! You can’t lay this defeat totally on Chris, but if he recovers the on-sides kick, the Giants win the game. Amani Toomer also picked the worst possible game to make his first fumble on a punt return — a fumble that led directly to 3 points. Brad Daluiso kicked very well and made all five of his field goal attempts in difficult weather conditions, including two long ones. P Brad Maynard did a great job of punting early and was superb at fielding a couple of errant long snaps from Lance Scott, but he didn’t punt well on his two opportunities late in the game. Punt and kick coverage was decent except for David Palmer’s first kick return. Tiki Barber was only ordinary on his kick-off returns. Doug Colman did an excellent job of fielding a poor kick-off when the kicker slipped.