Green Bay Packers 34 – New York Giants 25
Game Overview: I know many of you are not superstitious, but the whole year had that “jinxed” feeling to it. It started with a schedule that put the Giants in Denver when they were opening their new stadium with their legends of the past on hand. As the Giants are walking through the airport in Newark early Tuesday morning, they pass some of the September 11th terrorists who are about to hijack a plane. Many of the players see the Twin Towers collapse from their homes. All of the sudden football doesn’t feel as important as it once did. The refs then literally steal the Rams game when they call a phantom holding penalty on a successful field goal attempt…the Giants end up losing by one point. The Giants dominate the Eagles the following week, but can’t get the damn ball into the endzone. Another one point loss. One of the most important players on the team, Keith Hamilton, basically becomes a one-armed player due to injury. Kenny Holmes has a bum knee. Cornelius Griffin has a bum ankle. Jason Sehorn’s knee keeps locking up. Jessie Armstead – who is already slowing down – tears his hamstring. Tiki Barber misses all of the preseason. Ike Hilliard’s toe never got better. The left side of the offensive line got old real fast. The Giants take a 21-14 lead on the Eagles with 2:43 left in the game and end up losing 24-21 as a miracle play falls four yards short. The officiating all year is horrific – flags are regularly thrown on the Giants for dubious calls, but they are rarely tossed for the other team’s infractions. In the end, even Michael Strahan’s NFL sack record is tainted. As David Oliver points out, bad karma indeed.
But many of the Giants’ problems were of their own creation. Execution was sub-standard. Most of the offense was far too inconsistent and the play-calling was questionable at times. The big problem was again was the fact that the Giants simply could not score enough points – averaging slightly over 18 points a game. They never did blow out anyone. Defensively, the Giants had a lot of injuries, but they were still disappointing – culminating with perhaps their most uninspiring performance of the season against Green Bay. The Giants’ defense didn’t play a physical game in 2001. Special teams remained an inexcusable joke that cost the Giants games. The Giants were worst in the league at kick coverage and returning kicks. The punting game caused self-inflicted wounds at times.
I wouldn’t read too much into the Green Bay game. The Packers are motivated and heading to the playoffs. The Giants’ loss to the Eagles the previous week sapped moral and motivation for New York. The bad news was that there were flashes of more damn inconsistency at troubling spots. The good news was that some of the young guys got a chance to play.
Quarterback: Kerry Collins’s performance was mostly positive, but there were a few old negative tendencies that came to the surface once again. First, it’s important to remember the year as a whole – not just what transpired in the last quarter of the season. Many fans are guilty of only remembering the last few games and not the entirety.
Collins was way too inconsistent in 2001. Why? Who knows? Perhaps he simply had a down year. Perhaps 2000 was his career year. But until the last minute drive against the Cardinals, Kerry’s leadership, poise, decision-making, and accuracy all waned. Coaches and teammates silently stewed. Then came three impressive back-to-back-to-back late drives against the Cardinals, Seahawks, and Eagles. Collins started standing tougher in the pocket, making better decisions, and throwing the ball more accurately again. The old Collins of 2000 seemed to be re-emerging with the incredibly important additional attribute that he started to prove that he could be a come-from-behind signal caller. All this leaves fans – and probably management – a bit unsure of how much they should trust Collins in 2002.
Some of the old negatives appeared at times against the Packers. There were a few plays where Collins was bit too jumpy in the pocket (you can tell that the pass protection on his blindside makes him nervous – he doesn’t trust Lomas Brown and Glenn Parker anymore). On the short passes to Tiki, he was looking too quickly in his direction again – leading the opposition’s linebackers to intended target. Kerry had a chance to hit a big play in the second quarter when Green Bay came with an all-out blitz. He had Toomer on the slant, but the throw was off his back foot and too low. Collins fumbled a shotgun snap and he threw a poorly overthrown ball off his back foot that was intercepted at a key spot in the third quarter when the Giants were driving and trying to cut the lead to 34-17.
But, as I said, the positives out-weighed the negatives. There may have been a few plays where he was jumpy, but I mostly saw continued toughness in the pocket – even when it was collapsing. The Giants moved the ball well and would have had even more points if it weren’t for failures by the supporting cast (breakdowns in pass protection, dropped passes, etc.). Collins did a good job of looking off the coverage on a few throws. There were several passes that were pretty damn sharp, throwing into tight quarters that many quarterbacks wouldn’t even dare. His slant passes were particularly impressive and he had a really nice touch on a deep pass to Tiki for 25 yards. In the end, Collins had thrown for 386 yards and two touchdowns.
Offensive Line: On the surface, with 524 total net yards, you would think the offensive line performed very well against the Packers. Indeed, when you consider the fact that Collins dropped back to pass 59 times and was sacked only once, pass protection certainly wasn’t poor. Plus the Giants gained 146 yards rushing. They must have done something right, right? Yes and no. The pass protection was strong for the most part, but there continued to be annoying breakdowns on the left side that disrupted plays. Much of the ground game was due to the strong blocking of the tight ends as it was the offensive line. Indeed, the Giants were not able to generate anything running left and largely abandoned that option. The left side of the line just seems old and tired…one got the sense that Lomas Brown and Glenn Parker couldn’t wait for the season to be over. Fresh blood is needed.
The positives are that Luke Petitgout continues to develop into one of the better right tackles in the league. There are times when he struggles a bit in pass protection – and he did on two plays that I spotted against Green Bay – but his run blocking has truly become an asset and many of the Giants’ positive run come off his blocks on the strongside. They have all year. Strange, because Luke doesn’t look like a big, bruising run blocker – but he gets movement. Added to that is his ability to get out quickly to engage linebackers – he got a great downfield block for instance on Dayne’s big run (this is what I mean when I say engaging at the second level). Luke is rounding into a fine, fine player because he can block at the point-of-attack as well as block on the run. Now if he can just stop with the false starts – one took away a 50-yard field goal.
Jason Whittle replaced Ron Stone (wrist) and played pretty darn well for someone who hasn’t seen much time. Whittle played hard and you could tell that he was fighting and scratching for everything. Jason worked to sustain his blocks and generally did a good job in that department (i.e., Ron Dayne’s 61-yard run) and moved pretty well. But he didn’t really overpower anyone and couldn’t blow people off the line like Stone can (when motivated and playing well). If he starts next year, he’s the kind of guy who can help you on pulls, screens, getting out to engage the linebacker, etc., but not necessarily the guy you want to run behind when you need to run right up the gut. His pass protection against the Packers was very solid.
Dusty Zeigler doesn’t make many mistakes and also moves really well. Indeed, he probably is one of the best pulling centers in the game and is fun to watch on screens. For a big guy, he doesn’t get a lot of movement either, but not many centers in this league do. Zeigler is smart, works hard to engage his man, and solid in pass protection. I only spotted two instances where his man got in Collins’ face against Green Bay. Unfortunately, one of those instances was the bootleg pass to the left after Dayne’s long run. The defensive tackle got to Collins too quickly and Kerry wasn’t able to set up properly to hit Dan Campbell rolling away from the fake. Whittle could have helped out here too.
It’s the left side that bothers me. To be fair to Lomas, he kept one of the best pass rushers in the league this year mostly at bay. But what was truly upsetting was to see him give up a critical sack and turnover against a journeyman, back-up defensive end. Most frustrating was that here you have a 38-year old veteran, a 7-time Pro Bowler, use as poor of technique as you could possibly see in the NFL. Not only did he not keep his feet moving, but he ducked his head – a huge no-no in pass protection. The Giants were driving at this point and looked ready to cut the lead to 27-17.
Parker had a couple of nice blocks on pulls (a la his play in 2000), but there were also those instances where he simply wasn’t quick enough to get out on his block again. There was also too much pass pressure coming from his area. You can tell that the pass protection on the left side makes Collins nervous (rightfully so). On the third play of the game, Brown and Parker couldn’t handle DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Collins had to dump the ball off quickly. 3-and-out. On the next drive, Parker and Brown could get no movement at the point-of-attack and Tiki was stuffed on a left-side run. On the very next play, Kabeer pushed Brown back into Collins. Kerry hurried a throw that was not thrown far enough to the outside, resulting in an interception. Pressure given up by Brown also influenced Collins’ second interception.
Tight Ends/Fullback: Dan Campbell and Howard Cross were blocking machines on Sunday. The Giants were largely so successful running the ball because the ability of these two to get critical blocks at the point-of-attack. For all the grief the Giants’ motion offense gets from fans, when it works, it is a beautiful thing to watch. Often times, the Giants will start the play with a balanced look, but when all the motion is complete, they will have overloaded the formation to the strongside. It often ends up that Cross and Campbell are over there together. The Giants best runs occur when Petitgout, Campbell, Cross, and Comella can all execute their blocks on the right-side – and that’s what happened on Sunday. Now if the Giants could just get a left guard who could move a bit faster and sustain a little longer, then the Giants may really be in business. Cross is still blocking very well and I’m not sure he’s gone just yet – there is still a role on this team for someone who can block like him.
Comella blocked well too, but his biggest problem was that he dropped a couple of passes, including a critical one on 3rd-and-5 that would have given the Giants a 1st-and-goal from the 3-yard line. Instead of making the score 14-14, the Giants had to settle for 14-10. Marcellus Rivers continues to play a lot. Even though he is not seeing the ball, just playing is great experience for him. He learned a valuable lesson on Sunday on Collins’ first interception that was thrown slightly behind him. Marcellus has to cut his route sharper to the outside and not round it off so much. That will come with experience.
Wide Receivers: Amani Toomer (5 catches for 79 yard) made a couple of excellent catches (i.e., his leaping grab of a high Collins’ throw despite getting hammered), but also continued to have some problems catching the ball. He had two second half drops on pretty passes from Collins. What’s weird about Toomer’s drops is that this was never a problem before this season. Maybe he is just in a funk. His other miscues included committing an obvious offensive pass interference penalty.
Ike Hilliard (3 catches for 31 yards) was surprisingly quiet except for his spectacular 8-yard reception on 3rd-and-goal for a touchdown. Ike showed amazing presence (to know where the line was) and body control (to be able to keep his feet in bounds) on the play.
The receivers continue to block well for the run, including Ron Dixon. This is what gives me hope for Dixon. If a receiver is lazy, it shows up in his run blocks. Dixon really works hard at his run blocking – at least it looks that way on the tape. He got an excellent block down the field on Dayne’s long run. Joe Jurevicius got a really good block on the CB on a 9-yarder and 16-yarder by Barber. In the passing game, Dixon (3 catches for 61 yards) made a couple of quality 20-yard catches down the field – something I expected from him all year. I didn’t like the route on a deep pass that was obviously intended for him. Instead of giving the CB a move or head fake, he simply ran straight down the field. He remained covered and Collins was forced to throw the ball away. Dixon also dropped a pass late. Joe Jurevicius (8 catches for 82 yard) was productive underneath, but missed two big plays down the middle of the field because he didn’t get both his hands up on the ball. Strange.
Thabiti Davis caught two passes, including a big one on 4th down. Although Jonathan Carter didn’t catch a pass, he got a lot of playing time and had two passes thrown in his direction. The experience will help.
Halfbacks: Ron Dayne (10 carries for 81 yards, 1 touchdown) really played well down the stretch. Give him some room to operate and once he has a head of steam, defenders cringe at the thought of tackling him. What is really clear is that Dayne has become more comfortable with the Giants’ blocking schemes (i.e., the motion, the pulling, the lead fullback, etc.). He reacting more now, rather than thinking, and it shows. His 61-yarder was blocked well, but he also had to fight through some tight confines at the line; he also showed the burst that those at training camp were talking about in the summer. I was actually more impressed by his shorter runs. He did not hesitate at the line when there was no hole and powered it up there regardless – something he didn’t do last year. On the Giants’ first scoring drive, Dayne started things off with a nifty sidestep of a blitzing linebacker in the backfield and turned a loss into a 3-yard gain. On the next drive, he picked up 3-yards after spinning off a tackler at the line of scrimmage. The biggest negative on Dayne was his fumble to start the game that put the Giants into a 2nd-and-13 hole from their own six-yard line.
Tiki Barber (9 carries for 65 yards, 6 catches for 53 yards) started off a bit slowly. I spotted him missing an early blitz pick-up and he dropped a 3rd-and-2 pass from Collins. But he had a number of sizeable runs to his right and an all-effort, 10-yard touchdown where he fought like crazy for the last yard. He played hurt and took a pounding – but he stayed in there for most of the game.
Defensive Line: The entire defense didn’t play with a lot of emotion or intensity and were pretty much humiliated in my opinion. The injuries were a factor as the defense was stripped of Jason Sehorn, Will Allen, Keith Hamilton, and Shaun Williams. Up front, Hamilton (no tackles) hurt his knee and on the very next play the Packers took advantage of it, running right up the gut at the gimpy Hamilton for a 25-yard touchdown early in the first quarter. For the rest of the game, Lance Legree (6 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) played hard and hustled, but he had his problems playing off blocks and didn’t make much of an impact. I did like the way he hustled however; even when knocked to the ground, he would fight to get back in on the tackle. I thought Cornelius Griffin (2 tackles) played a decent game. He got the most pass pressure of any of the Giants on Favre and did a good job of holding his ground at the point of attack for the most part.
Michael Strahan (4 tackles, 1 sack) and Kenny Holmes (3 tackles) got close on the pass rush at times, but were largely non-factors. Both had their problems at times against the run. Strahan got blocked on one early run pretty easily by the second-string tight end. Indeed, by the third quarter, the Giants’ run defense had reach the level of disgusting as the entire front seven was being shoved around. Strahan’s efforts to get his sack were hampered by the Packers mixing things up with misdirection, quick throws, and added pass protection slid in his direction. The Packers also didn’t run a lot of plays – 57 to the Giants’ 81 – mostly because they were scoring too quickly. He did get close on probably 3-4 occasions, but Favre got rid of the ball just in time.
Cedric Scott (2 tackles) saw a lot of playing time as Holmes aggravated his knee injury. There was one play where Scott looked impressive as his shot down the line from the backside to tackle the back. At times he was pretty darn stout at the point-of-attack, but I also saw him having some problems at other times – including one occasion where he was blocked by the tight end. It was good for him to see some playing time.
Linebackers: Invisible. Probably as bad a game as I’ve seen these three play. Michael Barrow’s numbers (11 tackles, 1 pass defense) look good, but I’ll be damned if I graded him positively except for a very few plays. Jessie Armstead (7 tackles) missed tackle on Ahman Green turned a no-gainer into a 25-yard touchdown. He also missed two tackles on Green Bay’s field goal drive right before halftime – costing the Giants’ another three points. He missed a couple of more tackles in the second half, and like Barrow, had problems playing off of blocks. Two really solid backside tackles against the halfback late don’t compensate. Was Brandon Short (2 tackles, 1 pass defensed) even on the field? I saw him make one good play against the run and one against the pass. That was it.
Green Bay’s backs were getting far too open underneath – the backers must share a lot of the blame there.
Defensive Backs: Dave Thomas (3 tackles) was beaten like a drum and it was embarrassing. He played back to prevent the big throw and the Packers just kept throwing the ball in front of him for cheap, easy yards. Then when he moved up, they beat him deep. I’ll cherish his over-achieving play in 2000, but he’s done. He blew the coverage on Favre’s 26-yard touchdown toss to Bill Schroeder on the Pack’s first drive (indeed, there looked to be quite a few mental as well as physical breakdowns in the secondary as some guys were simply too wide open in zone coverage). Thomas’ man (Corey Bradford) got free of him right before halftime for 45 yards and this set up a last-second field goal. On this play and a few others, the lack of athleticism on the part of Thomas was startling as Thomas had problems even keeping his feet. Thomas’ other big play given up was the 57-yard touchdown where Bradford simply just ran by him. There were three deep balls thrown in Thomas’ direction that he defended very well, including the terrible pass interference call on him.
Will Peterson (2 tackles, 1 pass defensed) got beat deep once for 47 yards, but had solid coverage on the play. Other than that, he was quiet as Favre through away from him and at Thomas.
Emmanuel McDaniel (2 tackles) had his problems. Antonio Freeman had EMac beat deep for a touchdown but Freeman dropped the ball. He was also beat on a couple of short throws underneath. Ralph Brown (1 tackle) saw a lot of playing time and didn’t embarrass himself.
I see a lot of complaints in The Corner Forum about where is the safety help? Unless a fan knows what kind of coverage the Giants are in and the responsibility of the safeties on a given play, I don’t see how we can accurately judge if a mistake was made (either mental or physical). Still, it seems a bit odd that there is no safety in the picture on some of these deep passes. Perhaps it is simply a matter of fact that the Giants put their safeties elsewhere or the opposition beat a blitz. Perhaps someone is screwing up. Sam Garnes (4 tackles) was invisible yet again. Shaun Williams (5 tackles) was forced to leave the game early with a knee injury. He looked good helping out Thomas on one deep shot into the endzone. Williams had nice coverage on Bubba Franks on another play to force an incompletion. But he used incredibly bad technique with an attempted shoulder tackle on a receiver that was broken for a 27-yard gain. Also, on many of Green’s runs, Williams was on the receiving side of too many hits. Very unlike him.
Omar Stoutmire didn’t help out Thomas on the long TD pass…was he supposed to? Stoutmire did make a nice play by knocking away a pass intended for Bradford on 3rd-and-11.
Special Teams: God am I tired about writing about how bad the Giants’ special teams are. The good news was that Morten Andersen continued his accurate field goal efforts – including a 50-yarder that was taken off of the board. P Rodney Williams also punted exceptionally well – four punts for a 46.8 yard average. Punt coverage, given the strong work of Williams, was solid with returns of 0, 6, 0 (fair catch), and 2 yards. Ron Dixon did a good job of getting down field as a gunner and Dhani Jones was in on two tackles.
Kick-offs and kick coverage were another story. Green Bay came into the game struggling on kick returns. Welcome to the fiasco that is the Giants’ kick-off coverage!!! First, Owen Pochman was only able to get his kicks to the 8, 12, 16, and 6. And the Giants gave up returns of 31, 35, 53, and 19. On the 35-yarder, Ralph Brown and EMac lost contain as Clayton White missed an early tackle opportunity by not breaking down properly. On the 53-yarder, both Jack Golden and Thabiti Davis missed tackles.
Punt and kick returns were pretty bad. Tiki had nowhere to run on his returns (blocking sucked again). Ron Dixon got a chance late to return a punt and did too much dancing (some things never change). Jonathan Carter did not hit the “holes” fast, but did show some vision and moves. Still, by slowing down, he made it easier to tackle him. He only managed returns of 9, 14, 23, 19, 24, and 12. Two holding penalties on returns – by Kevin Lewis and Clayton White – hurt as well.
It Wasn’t Lombardiesque
by David Oliver
As the Packers came to town to close out the season. There were a few things for which to be grateful: the game wasn’t at Lambeau; the rain held off and Michael Strahan got his record, deservedly so, to the delight of a horde of photographers who stayed til the bitter end for this one shot, which I somehow missed. Kerry Collins also set a record by taking every snap for two successive years, a testament to the philosophy of it’s better not to take punishment and live to throw another day, and to the perverse stubbornness of his Coach who just doesn’t believe his second and third guys are worth more than throwing the ball in practice. So the 2001 season could be remembered as the year the Giants had four kickers and three quarterbacks, no special teams gunners and salary cap difficulties. Pretty quirky stuff. But it didn’t figure in to this game, so we’ll confine our analysis to the Packer-Giants entertaining meeting.
It was entertaining because Brett Favre came to town. And he is worth the price of admission anytime. He completed only half of his 30 passes, for 315 yards, and finished with a rating of 109.7. I have seen a lot of great ones play the game, many on television, but some in person. I consider myself fortunate to have photographed Dan Marino, John Elway, Brett Favre and Troy Aikman. I never photographed Joe Montana or Steve Young. Phil Simms was probably the most underrated and undervalued of his time. That’s about it for greatness. Favre is always a delight. He has a canon for an arm, plays with the heart of a teenager and the soul of a warrior, is almost impossible to sack, tantalizes you with a variety of movements and throws from an unbalanced position, and is a complete QB.
Strong arms come and go; but very few will find a place in history with just a strong arm. Each of the QBs above had or has a strong arm, with the possible exception of Montana. But there are the intangibles: Marino had an incredibly quick release and unbelievable fire; Elway was atomic powered and could engineer miracle comebacks; Aikman had accuracy; Favre is a wild man who throws hard, leads by desire, never loses in the cold and has developed accuracy over the years. He stays animated and he is into the game, as a game. He is a joy to watch. Every one of these QBs developed touch to go with their strong arms. Montana was the master of touch.
It is unfair to compare Kerry Collins to any of these legends, so I will just reiterate the numbers. Kerry completed his second year as the only QB to take a snap at Mara Tech and in this game he completed 36-of-59 passes for 386 yards. But he threw 2 interceptions against 1 TD, had a long of only 29 yards and had a rating of 71.7. How do you amass these stats, yet have such an abysmal rating and be considered only so-so? Like several of his predecessors in Blue, Kerry has not developed “touch.” He has no feel for the short game, unless it is a straight drop off to Tiki Barber. He is a method thrower, rear back and fire it, often with incredible accuracy – more accurate than Kent Graham, but the absence of touch is what keeps Kent a career back-up and it keeps Kerry in the “wonderment” class, as in I wonder what kind of game he will have today. Kerry hit nine different receivers, but his average completion netted only 10.7 yards, with a long of 27, although he actually had 4 completions longer than 20 yards. He did play a stronger game again – his last two games showed considerable improvement. He only had one or two of those goofy throws to the ankles, he ran out nicely, he used pretty good discretion, and despite an abysmal third quarter, he kept the Giants in the game until the end. He is not in Favre’s league, but he had a decent game for the second straight week.
The receivers were running all over the lot. Coach Payton again opened up the playbook and the machine rolled. It was a tantalizing performance which should fuel the “what ifs” for the off-season. Interestingly enough, the two guys rumored to be heading elsewhere were the most active. Joe Jurevicius (JJ) had 8 grabs for 82 yards, tough yards, with a nice 25 yard grab and go and Greg Comella had 7-for-59 yards with a 26 yarder. It would be a shame to lose either or both, as this is how the passing game should go and these are the guys who can bring up a notch. JJ takes a pounding out there. He was manhandled on a couple and the refs were using their towels to blow their nose. Just plain disgusting officiating, one more time. Greg has been another of the walking wounded – guys who don’t complain, don’t talk about it, saddle up and go give good effort every play. He is a classic fullback and his hands are a weapon which will not be easily replaced. It’s a shame that Kerry and Coach Payton couldn’t figure out that the way to break an eight man rush is to throw to the fullback OVER THE MIDDLE. Oh, well, here goes the merry-go-round, buy your tickets now.
Tiki pulled in six receptions and Amani had five, but Amani dropped an early, easy catch and a couple were thrown to the stilt walker. Ron Dixon had three receptions for 61 yards and again showed that promise. His problem is that he is not a system player; he can run like the wind, has great body control and nice hands. He can’t get up in the morning, has a lite attention span and thinks he is the second coming of Jerry Rice, but he has talent, and it is the kind of talent you can’t just write off. Ike also pulled in three, one of which was needed, the kind of play Ike has been good at. I still think back to that day in Jacksonville when Dave Brown threw the pass behind him and he slowed, only to be clothes-lined by a defender, which snapped some vertebrae. What a career he might have had. Sigh, more Giants karma. Dan Campbell, Thabiti Davis, and Ron Dayne rounded out the receiving.
The running game was very nice with Big Ron rumbling for 81 yards, 61 on one gallop. Tiki added another 65 on nine carries to go with his six catches. Ron Dayne also ran in a 2-point conversion, led by a nice block laid by Dan Campbell who just kept pushing the defender backwards. Dayne’s 61-yarder came right down the sideline on the Giants bench side of the field. I was standing on the 20 with a 300MM lens and watched the big back rumble past. With that lens I could only get his head and a side view at that. It is this kind of burst which he brings to the table. I’ ve mentioned trade rumors before and it would be a shame if the Giants let him go for worthless draft choices. In fact, the only trade I would make for Ron Dayne would be for Daunte Culpepper. I’ll fess up again – I said Ron Dayne would gain over 1,000 yards; I figured him for 1,200 just as EA says, but I’m revising that figure; as a feature back , RD is good for 1,500 yards a year. I watched Ahman Green in college, kind of hoped the Giants would grab him. Green is nowhere near the runner that Dayne is. Ronnie with the G-Men is tattooed, Blued and screwed. The key is, as Coach Payton says, balance. But 19 carries between two great backs and 59 passes is not balance. Unless, of course, they get confidence in RD’s hands and send him out of the backfield also.
Okay, 36 pass completions and 146 yards on the ground isn’t chicken feed, unless you are a critic of the Giants’ line. I don’t find them to be as bad as most here at BBI. Lomas Brown again did a pretty good job, Glenn Parker did a Parker like job and the last six games has performed as well as he did last year. Zeigler was again steady, Stone again wasn’t missed, Luke is improving steadily and Whittle looked good. Even Chris Bober got some reps and he had some movement. Back to the off season. Had the Giants brought in Dave Szott, we wouldn’t be talking about wholesale replacement of the line. And although this isn’t a season review, I’ll say it again, you can’t replace 60 % of your offensive line at once and win, not in the draft. And any free agent replacement who can do the job better is going to cost big bucks. Having said that, the Giants will need to draft one and sign one, but today, against the Packers, the line did it’s job.
On defense, Barrow again led the way with 11 tackles, although more of them were shared this week. He also got in on a pass defense. Jessie added 7 tackles, sometimes looking very good, and others looking very average. Lance Legree saw significant action and contributed 6 tackles. Williams and Garnes contributed 9 between them. Michael was concentrating on the sack, which he got late in the game, with the help of some good sportsmanship by Favre. The Packers killed Michael in this game using two and three blockers, mauling him, holding him, grabbing at him. The refs are once again responsible for a whole lot of unnecessary discussion. If they did their job, Strahan would probably had 2 or 3 sacks in the game, which is saying something when you are playing Favre. The Giants were getting some penetration, but Favre has incredible field vision and got rid of the ball, sometimes while being hit, others an instant before. Cedric Scott got some good time and contributed two hits, Ralph Brown had one, Dhani Jones had two, Frankie Ferrara had one. Dave Thomas, EMac and Stoutmire played throughout. Thomas was brutalized on an interception on one of those plays where the ref wasn’t blowing his nose. He was just putting an exclamation point on poor Dave Thomas’ season. Kind of sad, Dave Thomas of Wendy’s – departs – and Dave Thomas of the Giants probably follows, in a football way. Life is just full of little ironies. Ralph Brown told me in the locker that he was excited, that he felt the young guys were a good nucleus for the future. He said he would be working hard this off-season “to improve his playing speed.” Pass defense was not noticeably worse without Allen. There were only 15 completions, but one went for 54 and one for 45 – they both hurt.
Special Teams were as usual. Rodney Williams did have a pretty good day, kicking four times for 187 yards, with a long of 52 and two inside the 20. Punt returns were negligible, kickoff returns not much better. Kickoff coverage was terrible.
What else is there to say? The Giants had a nice advantage in time of possession, rolled up 524 net yards on offense, had 25 first downs and lost the game. The Packers started fast, or the Giants started slow, with a penalty on the opening kick, then the usual botched fumble from scrimmage and three net yards on the first drive. Their possessions went in a bizarre fashion, punt, interception, TD, punt, FG, missed FG, punt, punt, fumble, interception, TD, TD, end of game.
To a man, the Giants were happy for Michael Strahan’s record, yet, no one mentioned Kerry Collins’ record. There was a strange mood in the locker room; some veterans were still dismayed over not making the playoffs, some were wistful over the possible end of a Giants stay, the young guys seemed relieved that it was over and were ready to get out of there and go take a vacation, the coaches were silent, brooding. Lomas Brown, ever, the gentleman, the diplomat was assigning his locker to a successor. He was asked why he was already giving it away and he flat out said he’s not sure if the Giants want him to come back, although he’d love to and would take the minimum. He was funny about the locker, pointing out one player and saying “Don’t give this corner to him, he’s weird,” in a friendly way and telling us that it was professional to establish locker rights. We joked a little about agent’s and various things. Lomas is a class act and can easily fill the bill as a strong reserve, if not part time starter.
Brandon Short told me that he felt that he improved by leaps and bounds and that next year would be a coming out year. He is ready to show his stuff. Jack Golden had a tackle today and was upbeat. His mom has just had surgery and he has been worried for a couple of months. Jack is a great guy and he hustles. Many people don’t understand his role on the unit – he was brought in as the enforcer, and his feistiness is encouraged. He is not just a hot head, his job is to bring a little life out there. Jack needs to reflect a little in the off-season and come back refreshed because he has the ability to be a good one.
Walk around the room with me. No one is talking today’s game, except the Strahan record. All the beat writers want to know is who is coming and going, how the players feel about it. The Practice Squad guys shower, dress and leave quickly, quietly; the young guys who got reps out there today are animated, eyes bright, happy they played in a game. Comella and JJ, polite, bruised, quietly answering questions; Jason Garrett, nattily dresses and smiling as if he had just won the Super Bowl, another gentleman. Jesse James Palmer, Mr. GQ, talking alone with Kenny Palmer at his locker. Crowds with Jessie, Barrow, Lomas; it seems as if all the reporters are at one end of the locker and it may just tilt and sink into the Meadowlands.
Barrow is answering questions about Jessie and other veterans who might be elsewhere. He is saying how this is a business and how he knows what it is like to be “fired” to not be wanted. He tells us he has counseled Jessie to have faith in God’s plan, to remember how “He blew out his knee in college, how he came in here as an 8th round draft choice.” He says Jessie will play somewhere next year, hopefully here. About other guys, he talks about when he came in here there was a supposed “disunity” problem, and how guys were brought in because of locker room presence. He says there has been a bonding with these guys, on and off the field, and he feels sadness that some of that may be lost, but he hopes all of the rumors aren’t true.
Morten Andersen summed it up best for me. He told me he wants to come back, that he’ll play somewhere, but he hopes it’s here because he likes the players, he likes Von Appen and the tradition, the honor of playing for a franchise like the NY Giants is something special. He’s been around for a long time and there was no locker speak or media talk here, this was a football player telling me how unique it is to be a Giant. He is disappointed in the year because “it is a team sport, and you get your satisfaction out of the team’s accomplishments. ” He said special teams was a large disappointment; the kicking game was short, the coverage teams were placed at a disadvantage and they didn’t give the team the ball in good positions to score. There is no ducking here; Mort feels specials let the team down, and he wants to be part of turning that around. He likes the personnel and told me he doesn’t feel as if the Giants are that far away, they are, after all, “the team that went to the Super Bowl last year.” But the most critical factor in the year, he told me, was the two one point losses to the Rams and the Eagles. He felt these losses hurt the psyche of the team, “and it never recovered.”
There were no excuses; there was some elation, some wistful thinking, some sadness, a lot of wonder. It was a little different Giants’ locker room – but one theme remained constant; these are great guys, and notwithstanding their year was over, my year was over, our year was over, these are our Giants and that’s why we love them. That’s football.