New York Giants 24 – Jacksonville Jaguars 17
Game Overview: Now that was fun. It’s been a long time since the Giants have taken a huge lead on a team like that. The only thing that irritated me is that the Giants let the Jaguars make the end much more interesting than it should have been.
I wasn’t that impressed with the defense. I think the 3 points allowed after three quarters was a bit misleading. The Giants’ defense was aided by a number of mistakes by the Jaguars (i.e., the fumbled snap from center, Fred Taylor dropping the deep pass that was right on the money, the intentional grounding penalty by Mark Brunell, a couple of dropped passes by Jimmy Smith, etc.). The run defense was spotty at times and the poor tackling by the young corners in a few instances contributed to big plays. The Giants also gave up some big runs to the opposing mobile quarterback again. The Giants’ offense protected the defense with its long drives in the first half. In the 4th quarter, the defense couldn’t get the Jaguars off of the field. The Giants were fortunate that Jacksonville didn’t play with a sense of urgency at all during that quarter and they ran out of time. The 15-play drive that the Jaguars scored their first touchdown on really ticked me off. The Giants had the Jaguars in a 2nd-and-33 situation and let them convert that. Unbelievable. The Jags converted three 4th downs on that drive.
What was interesting is that Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn got more aggressive with some big blitzes, bringing both linebackers and defensive backs. This continued in the 4th quarter as well – the Giants were not playing a prevent defense on that long drive. Given the lack of pass rush from the front four, the Giants will have to live and die by the blitz down the stretch.
Offensively, Head Coach Jim Fassel calling the plays did make a huge difference. The articles in the press have mentioned the specifics all week, but the Giants got in and out of the huddle quickly, did not shift as much, snapped the ball quickly, and kept personnel substitutions at a minimum. The running backs were allowed to get into the rhythm of the game and Fassel didn’t hesitate to repeat plays. The difference in philosophy from Sean Payton was so obvious and startling that it suggests that Fassel has never really been on the same page as his offensive coordinator. That’s scary.
There was an article by sportswriter Bob Glauber of Newsday this week arguing that it will be only a matter of time before opponents decipher the Giants simplified offense and shut it down. He says that because it is less complex, the task of defending it will be easier. I’m not so sure that is the case. I’ve long been a proponent of running fewer plays better. This is what gives an offense its identity…its core. Joe Gibbs’ offenses were not complex in the 1980’s…neither were Bill Parcells’ offenses during that same time period. Both ran what worked over and over again and adjusted to what the opposing defense was doing. Jim Fassel seemed to embrace that philosophy in his press conferences this week. Fassel said it was his objective to take what defenses are giving you, don’t play to their strengths. If he continues to abide by that logic and QB Kerry Collins and his cohorts execute properly, there is no reason why the Giants can’t get on a bit of an offensive roll here.
Special Teams: Special Teams Coach Bruce Read has improved the Giants’ special teams a great deal simply because the Giants are no longer giving up big kick and punt returns. That continued on Sunday night despite some shoddy kickoffs from PK Matt Bryant. Bryant’s first kickoff was a terrible kick that landed at the 16 yard line. His second was better as it had good height and landed at the 5. However, his short squib kick right before halftime was so poor that it could have very easily led to a field goal opportunity for Jacksonville. Bryant’s two second half kickoffs were poor too – one went to the 25 (which was also a line drive), the other to the 13. Just terrible.
Bryant’s place kicking was also bad. He missed field goals of 41 and 37 yards in the second quarter, costing the Giants a 13-0 lead. He deserves no special mention for making a 27 yarder.
The Giants did not punt in the first half of the game. Punter Tom Rouen’s debut was not an auspicious one as his first punt was partially blocked and only went for 25 yards. Fassel said the block was not the fault of Rouen, but the protection. His second punt was a 51-yarder that just barely touched the endzone for a touchback – an excellent kick. His last punt was a 38-yard effort with 5 second left in the game…the main thing there was just to get the ball off. Good job. Bob Jones’ snaps to Rouen were off the mark and that needs to be corrected.
The Giants only were able to return one kickoff – a 19 yarder by Delvin Joyce. The Giants need to do a much better job of blocking for their returners. New York is once again last in the NFL in kick returns. Damon Washington returned one as the upback on a terrible kickoff by Tom Seder that landed at the 26. The Giants did a very good job of recovering the two onsides kicks (DeWayne Patmon and Dan Campbell).
Delvin Joyce never had an opportunity return a punt. He was forced to call for one fair catch in the second quarter when Tim Carter and Ralph Brown did a poor job of blocking the gunner outside. His only other chance was a fair catch as well.
Defensive Line: The big problem remains the fact that the Giants cannot get a consistent pass rush from their down four. I would not be upset at all if the Giants spent their first three draft picks of the 2003 Draft on defensive linemen. What was particularly annoying was losing contain on Brunell – giving up quarterback runs of 27 and 25 yards.
Kenny Holmes got more pressure on the quarterback in this game and surprisingly a couple of his good pass rushes came on inside moves. Kenny was also pretty active against the run (7 tackles) and did a nice job of recovering Brunell’s fumbled snap. On Jacksonville’s first drive of the second half, Holmes’ penetration stuffed HB Fred Taylor for a 2-yard loss. However, two plays later both Holmes and Lance Legree got clobbered on an 8-yard run by HB Stacy Mack. On the next drive, Holmes’ pass rush on Brunell on 3rd-and-4 forced an incompletion and made Jacksonville settle for a field goal. On Jacksonville’s first TD drive, Holmes got close to sacking Brunell twice. However, on Jacksonville’s last TD drive, Holmes lost contain on Brunell and this enabled the quarterback to scramble for 25 yards down the left sideline.
Legree played better this week, but continues to have some problems defending the run. In the first quarter, Legree and Mike Barrow successfully filled a gap that Taylor was trying to run thru and Taylor was forced to bounce the play outside where Holmes cleaned up. On Jacksonville’s first TD drive, facing a 3rd-and-1, Legree and DE Frank Ferrara got superb penetration and clobbered Mack in the backfield for a 2-yard loss. But it was Legree along with linebackers Dhani Jones and Kevin Lewis who got handled at the point-of-attack on Mack’s 22-yard run in the 3rd quarter. Legree and DE Michael Strahan then got blocked on the very next play as Taylor ran for 7-yards.
DT Cornelius Griffin was way too quiet. He had one decent pass rush in the first half, but that was about it. In the second half, Strahan and Griffin got handled at the point-of-attack (along with Brandon Short) on a Mack run off right guard for 15-yards. DT Matt Mitrione played quite a bit and continues to gain experience. He got a decent pass rush on one play and good penetration on one running play. However, he was also flagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the Jags’ first touchdown.
As you can see, the Jags ran at Strahan with some success in this game, which is an oddity. Michael did sack Brunell on a key 4th-and-4 play in the 3rd quarter after Brunell was flushed out of the pocket by the blitzing Omar Stoutmire. However, Strahan lost contain on Brunell’s 27-yard run on 3rd-and-4 that helped to set up Jacksonville’s field goal. The roughing the passer penalty called on Strahan in the 4th quarter was a joke.
Linebackers: The linebackers played better this week. On Jacksonville’s second drive, Mike Barrow combined with Lance Legree to close the gap HB Fred Taylor was trying to run through (Holmes cleaned up on the play). On the very next play, Barrow did a great job of reading the screen pass to Taylor and holding it to no gain. On 3rd-and-10, Brandon Short made a very sure tackle on TE Kyle Brady, holding him short of the first down and forcing a punt.
I got nervous when I saw Short split out wide all alone with Fred Taylor before the snap of the ball and only a terrible drop by Taylor prevent a huge play for Jacksonville. I like Brandon Short, but he’s not the kind of guy you want covering someone in space like that down the field. Jacksonville’s best run by Taylor in the first half was a 6-yarder run right at Holmes and Short. On the next play, Jacksonville tried to run left again, but this time penetration by Dhani Jones forced Taylor to change directions and Will Allen tackled him for a 1-yard loss.
In the second half, Barrow made an excellent pursuit play on a toss to Mack holding a 2nd-and-2 carry to a 1-yard gain. Short and Will Peterson also showed excellent pursuit nailing Fred Taylor near the goalline when he tried to bounce the play outside. Two Brandon Short blitzes up the gut at the end of the 3rd quarter helped to stop another Jacksonville drive. In the 4th quarter, both Short and Jason Sehorn missed a tackle on a13-yard pass to WR Bobby Shaw on 2nd-and-33. This was significant as the Jaguars ended up converting a 4th-and-1 on this series. On another 4th-and-1 later in the drive, both Dhani Jones and Kevin Lewis got blocked on Mack’s 4-yard run up the middle.
Defensive Backs: Corners Will Allen and Will Peterson were fine in coverage for the most part, but it was their tackling that wasn’t so hot this week. At the start of the second quarter, Jacksonville threw deep to their best receiver (Jimmy Smith) against Allen, but Allen was step-for-step and knocked the ball away. Two plays latter, FS Omar Stoutmire made a very good tackle on Kyle Brady to hold the much bigger Brady short of the first down and forcing a punt. (Incidentally, the Giants blitz on this play forced the quick throw). On the next series, Will Peterson played far too off the ball on a 3rd-and-5 play allowing an easy reception by Smith. To make matters worse, Peterson missed the tackle and the play went for 32 yards. On the next play, Peterson did a good job of defending a WR-screen.
In the second half, Peterson ran step-for-step with Jimmy Smith on a deep pass into the endzone. On the next series, SS Shaun Williams did a good job of reading a draw play and holding Mack to a 3-yard gain. In the 4th quarter, Williams did a great job of timing his blitz up the middle and sacked Brunell for a 13-yard loss. Two plays later, however, Peterson missed a tackle on Jimmy Smith that turned a 3rd-and-20 into a 4th-and-1. On the very next play, despite a good pass rush from Kenny Holmes, Peterson was beat on an out for 5-yards and the first down. On the next play, a blitz by Peterson forced an incompletion. Later in the drive, Williams hit on Mack caused an incompletion. Peterson was flagged with defensive holding on an out-and-up pattern. Then Williams and DeWayne Patmon were burned by Bobby Shaw for a touchdown on play-action rollout to the left where Shaw streaked across the field. On Jacksonville’s next drive, Will Allen turned an 8-yard completion into a 26-yard completion when he missed a tackle on Jimmy Smith. Smith’s touchdown reception came on a play where the Giants let him run across the formation unopposed. Strange.
Quarterback: My initial reaction of Kerry Collins (20-28 for 228 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions) before watching the game a second time was that he played decently, but nothing special. I was much more impressed after the second viewing. Why? Because just like Fassel was calling plays against away from the defense’s strengths, Collins was throwing the ball where the defenders were not. Most of Collins’ passes were the shorter stuff that doesn’t excite, but he slowly drove the dagger in Jacksonville’s heart by continuing to throw to where the coverage was weak and not forcing things. There were a couple of deep plays called, but the protection was not great on these plays and Collins didn’t risk turning the ball over. Smart play.
And Collins’ accuracy was pretty impressive. Of Collins’ five incompletions in the first half of the game, two were tipped at the line of scrimmage, one was dropped by Jeremy Shockey, and another was inaccurate because his arm was hit while throwing the ball. His two most important passes of the game were the 4th-and-17 strike to Tim Carter for 27 yards (the pass was a tad high but it got there) and his perfect 8-yard out to Ron Dixon in the endzone for a touchdown.
The only pass that I was real unhappy with Collins in the game was the 3rd-and-6 pass to Ron Dixon with 4:28 left in the game. Dixon was open, but the pass was too high. The Giants were forced to punt and Jacksonville then cut the lead to 24-17 on the subsequent drive.
Interestingly, as BBI contributor RobertR pointed out in The Corner Forum, on over 60 percent of the Giants’ 1st-and-10 situations in the first half, Fassel called for a passing play.
Wide Receivers: The stats for the wide receivers don’t look impressive, but these guys did their job. Kudos to Ron Dixon (4 catches for 46 yards and a touchdown) for stepping in for Ike Hilliard and making some nice catches. His first two receptions were slants – for 14 and 15 yards. His next was an excellent 9-yard grab along the sideline where he did a great job of keeping his feet inbounds. He walked the tight rope again at the end of this drive on his 8-yard touchdown reception with 16 seconds before halftime.
Amani Toomer (4 catches for 36 yards) did all of his damage on short underneath stuff, helping to keep the chains moving. His first reception was his best, a diving 11-yard reception along the sidelines.
The big play was the 27 yard reception by rookie Tim Carter on 4th-and-17. Carter did a nice job of finding the open spot in the zone and then he had to sky for a pass that was slightly overthrown. Earlier in the drive, he looked very good on a 13-yard reverse where he made a tackler miss. However, Carter was flagged with a false start penalty in the 3rd quarter.
All three of these wide receivers did an excellent job of run blocking. Don’t underestimate that aspect of their play.
Running Backs: Yes, the run blocking created some nice holes, but I honestly don’t think the offensive line blocking was dramatically different (or better) this week. What was different was (1) Tiki Barber started to cut back like the Barber we all know and love and (2) Fassel let the backs (and Ron Dayne in particular) get into a rhythm. If you have read my previous game reviews, you know that I was questioning Tiki’s focus and decision-making in many of the earlier games. Against Jacksonville, Tiki (19 carries for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns; 4 catches for 62 yards) did a nice job of spotting the opening in the defense and quickly accelerating in that direction. Tiki’s always been a good outside runner when healthy and given some room to operate. But where he is really dangerous is when he cuts back against the grain. On the Giants’ first drive, Tiki picked up 14 yards on two carries around left end. He then bulled his way up the middle for 4 yards on 1st-and-goal from the 6 yard line. On the next play, he made a nice cut back behind Rich Seubert and Charles Stackhouse for the touchdown. On the Giants’ next drive, Tiki’s 11-yard reception over the middle was huge as it moved the Giants from their own 2 yard line to the 13.
I thought one of the biggest plays in the game was Tiki Barber’s 36-yard catch-and-run on 3rd-and-3 at the beginning of the 3rd quarter. If the Giants punt there, Jacksonville may feel like they can get back into the game easier. Instead, this play set up Bryant’s field goal that put the Giants up 17-0. I also loved the hustle by HB Delvin Joyce on the play to get in front of Barber in an attempt to throw a block. (Incidentally, I’m a big fan of the formation used on this play, that is, having Barber and Joyce both in the backfield on 3rd down since both are good receivers out of the backfield). The back-breaker in the game was Barber’s 44-yard masterpiece for a touchdown. It was a 2nd-and-1 run up the middle, but Tiki broke a tackle and then bounced the play outside, using Amani Toomer as a shield. Barber then slowed up to allow Rich Seubert to get in front of him to make the final block near the goal line. Great vision and patience on the play by Barber. This is what has been missing from the Giants’ running game – not so much better run blocking, but breaking the big run. It is the big runs that inflate rushing statistics in today’s NFL.
Tiki was the halfback in the first quarter; Ron Dayne (13 carries for 52 yards, 2 catches for 7 yards) was the halfback in the second quarter. Dayne does look more comfortable in the one-back set, but the Giants did use him with the fullback still in this game as well. The most important thing is that the Giants kept him in the game and didn’t pull him after one carry. Fassel must have told him this before the game as Dayne didn’t look to the sidelines expecting to be pulled out. Dayne picked up 8-yards on a 3rd-and-2 carry behind good blocks from Chris Bober, Rich Seubert, Luke Petitgout, and Stackhouse. Collins then hit Dayne for 6 yards and on 2nd-and-4, Dayne ran for the first down behind good blocks on the left side of the line again. The drive stalled on 3rd-and-1 when Petitgout allowed the defensive end to hit Dayne in the backfield.
In the second half, Dayne had an excellent power run for 8-yards behind Petitgout and Stackhouse that moved the ball to the Jaguar 6-yard line. At the beginning of the 4th quarter, after the Giants held on 4th-and-2, it looked as if Dayne and the Giants were going to rip the heart out Jacksonville by grinding the ball at them. Three straight Ron Dayne power runs up the middle picked up 10, 9, and 2 yards. But on the fourth carry, Dayne fumbled the ball away.
The guy who is rapidly improving is FB Charles Stackhouse. Each week you can see him getting better and better as the lead blocker. He’s going to be a better player than Greg Comella if he keeps his head on straight. One of my favorite moments in the game was the congratulations that Charles Way gave to Stackhouse on the sidelines after Barber’s first touchdown run.
Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey is getting all the press, but once again I want to mention how well Dan Campbell is doing as a blocker. Dan Campbell is often the key block on many of the Giants’ most successful running plays. He is usually called upon to control the corner by blocking the end or a linebacker and inevitably does a good job. This allows the Giants to pull other linemen to his side to get out in front of the running back. Campbell also caught 2 passes this week for 19 yards – he’s improving as a receiver. The Giants must not let Campbell get away in free agency.
Shockey (2 catches for 24 yards) was a bigger factor in the game than his stats indicate because he was the victim of 3 penalties (two pass interference calls and defensive holding). On two of these plays, Shockey caught the ball anyways, but the Giants took the penalty in order to get the first down. His best catch was his diving 11-yarder on the Giants’ second TD drive; Shockey had the presence of mind on this play to get up and fight for extra yardage. However, all was not peachy for Shockey. He dropped one pass. He also got pushed back into Collins on a safety blitz and Collins was hit as he threw on an important 3rd-and-14 pass. Worse, Shockey was called for holding on the play, which was significant because two plays later Bryant barely missed his 41-yard field goal effort. In the 3rd quarter, Shockey’s missed block on 2nd-and-2 from the Jacksonville 6-yard line caused Barber to lose 2-yards. A better block here and Barber may score. The good news is that I spotted Shockey get a good block on a Barber run to the right (Campbell got a good block on this play too – as usual) as well as Barber’s 9-yard run right before his 44-yard TD (Campbell and Rosenthal got good blocks here too).
Offensive Line: The left side of the line was far stronger than the right side of the line, but for the most part, the entire group controlled the line of scrimmage. The only negative I saw from Petitgout was his missed block on Dayne’s 3rd-and-1 effort. The rest of his run blocks were very good and he held his rusher at bay the entire game. This was one of Rich Seubert’s best games yet because he didn’t have any glaring mistakes. Do not underestimate the incredible hustle he displayed on Tiki’s 44-yard touchdown run to make the final key block near the goal line. If Tiki doesn’t get in, you can’t assume the Giants would have scored anyways. Those type of blocks by offensive linemen win ball games.
Mike Rosenthal and Jason Whittle made some excellent run blocks too. But Whittle had some problems on the Giants’ second possession. Fassel and Collins wanted to throw deep on 1st-and-10 from the Jaguars’ 43 yard line, but Whittle got beat inside and Collins was forced to scramble instead. On the next play, Whittle and Campbell couldn’t make their blocks on a Barber run off right tackle. Barber then picked up 5 yards on 3rd-and-2 behind good blocks from Whittle and Bober. Two plays later, Whittle missed his block on a Barber running play. Then he was flagged for a false start. On 2nd-and-13, Collins was sacked as Mike Rosenthal got beat to the outside and Collins couldn’t step up into the pocket as Bober was bull-rushed up the gut.
Then it was Rosenthal’s turn to struggle on the Giants’ fourth and last possession of the first half. Rosenthal gave up an inside rush that forced an incompletion on 1st-and-10 from the Giants’ 44. Later on the drive, Rosenthal was beat to the outside and the rusher hit Collins’ arm as he threw. On the very next play, Rosenthal was beat again and Collins was sacked – this is what put the Giants in the 4th-and-17 situation.
The offensive line did a good job on the Giants’ first two series of the second half as the Giants put another 10 points on the board. However, the third drive of the second half was pretty ugly. Whittle gave up a sack to DT Marcus Stroud. Two plays later, Chris Bober was beat badly and Collins was forced to scramble for his life (Bober was also flagged for holding on the play). The offensive line really started to take control on the next drive, but Dayne fumbled the ball away after his fourth carry in a row. The offensive line had a chance to put the game away on the next drive when they got the ball back with 5:19 left, but they could not create enough running room for Tiki Barber who only picked up four yards on two carries.
Sense of Place
by David Oliver
I have never really cared for southern writers, except for Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers and Flannery O’Connor. The two ladies were Georgia girls. All wrote of struggles with demons, of one sort or another, resident in the human psyche. Maybe Carson summed it up best:
Whether in the pastoral joys of country life or in the labyrinthine city, we Americans are always seeking. We wander, question. But the answer waits in each separate heart — the answer of our own identity and the way by which we can master loneliness and feel that at last we belong.
My connection to Flannery is a little more personal. I had a good friend from Georgia. His mother was an artist who worked in glass. She had spent a lot of time with Flannery and on a visit to their home, she made sure to take me on a tour of the town, to Flannery’s home and to her own girlhood home. Flannery was a Catholic, and Catholics were probably rare in this part of Georgia. Her religious nature and her coming to grips with suffering had made a deep impression on my friend’s mother. It may have been my Catholicism at the time that so inspired her friend to share a little of Flannery’s life with me. The difference between these writers, who I like, and writers like Faulkner or Dickey or even Pat Conroy, writers I do not particularly like, or Thomas Wolfe, for that matter, is hard to put on paper. They all had a sense of place. The depth of that sense of place is what separates them from writers from all other sectors in America.
I suppose that I have been in the south long enough now, or at least out of NJ, to understand some of what they have felt. It’s funny, in a way, that some early posters here said that my writing reminded them of Thomas Wolfe, the Wolfe from North Carolina and not the Tom Wolfe from Washington & Lee who wrote CANDY COLORED, TANGERINE FLAKE, STREAMLINED BABY, and with whom I’d rather be compared. Funny because Thomas Wolfe is famous for his writing “you can’t go home anymore.” I guess it’s because I keep trying to go home and that many of you in the Diaspora of the American intellectual wilderness also would love to make that return, at least once. Wolfe was influenced by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, whose famous axiom is that you can’t place your hand in the same river twice. I have also been so influenced, but I keep trying to disprove Heraclitus, to argue the dialectics, to broach the difference between the concrete and the abstract. Descartes said “Cogito Ergo Sum.” I say, “if I can imagine it, it must be real.” Well, critics have said that Thomas Wolfe is unreadable. And many on BBI have said I am unreadable; so I guess there is a connection.
Writers since Wolfe, not necessarily Southern writers, but writers who have left what was once ‘home’ have explored this sense of rootlessness. I got a good laugh out of a work by Linda Matchan, THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD, when she said:
“But parts of the city, like a lot of big city neighborhoods in the past few decades, have reached a dangerous tipping point. The economy has slowed to a crawl, college graduates are leaving or moving to the suburbs. Houses I used to play in are shabby…Could it be that we romanticize our past? That we’re better off leaving our personal history to our memories? ‘THIS is where you grew up?’ my teenage son smirks as I drive him around the dilapidated section of the city – OK, I’ll say it, slums – that used to be my neighborhood.
It didn’t just happen overnight, of course. Maybe it took the death of a parent to make the point. We, the Pepsi generation, were always supposed to stay young. Now I can’t ignore the evidence that I’m not.”
Yes, Thomas Wolfe has inspired legions of writers, stirred them to face the inevitability of change, the sensation of returning to a beloved, familiar place only to find , well, to realize that it is we, ourselves, who have changed, and in that change, now feel like a stranger in a strange land. Earlier this year someone started a thread with a Hunter Thompson piece and someone else said something to the effect ‘if only Oliver could write like that.’ I can’t, I won’t even try, mostly because I am sober – have always been sober. I’ve never been enthralled with the WhiteRabbit and I don’t experience life in a kaleidoscopic, hallucinogenic blaze of sensations bouncing all over my senses as if I were a catadiatropic lens. Now, if I were writing about a car race, say the race in Miami I could tell you how “we stepped out into the heat baked streets bounded by the concrete and glass towers of Babylon, inhaling the mixed tanginess of the sea breeze, the coconut tinctured suntan lotion of the thong clad senoritas and Cuban-American mamitas, semi-naked with firm, fleshy breasts bouncing in the dappled sun rays of a Miami morning, driven by the salsa beat of the staccato blare of a high rev limiter on the new Toyota engines of these modern chariots careening beneath the people mover, filled with sleep-eyed office workers on their way into dungeons of depraved capitalism. My eyeballs rest against my lids for a moment in a rendezvous of lust, expectation and duty, and the closer I get to the racetrack street of Biscayne Blvd, the acrid sweet smell of invisible burning methanol, or is it the pipe we hit last night in that South Beach Bistro, the one with the crazy gays teasing the latina cucarachas in from Brazil, aiee, that beach, Rio, now that is the den of iniquity that makes South Beach resonate like a conservative republican reed in the salt flats of an Islamic nightmare, or maybe the coke laden rum, a whole new meaning to rum and coke; Christ, my fellow traveling writing friend just thumped me in the ribs, popping my eyeballs from their rendezvous with my lids to the midnight glaze of too dark polarized shades which I am wearing to give me the cool look of a true racing aficionado”. Now that is my race writing. Not here.
Speaking of the race in Miami, and Giant connections, I strike up a conversation with the maitre’d in the Media Room, a huge man wearing a NY Yankees cap. I ask him about the cap and one thing leads to another with my telling him I have been on the sidelines for a couple of years at Giants’ games. He tells me he lived up there for a few years staying with a fellow as, sort of a companion. I ask “T”, and he nods and says, yes. We discuss LT and his football prowess and I tell him about I almost became his representative with the NJ Auto dealers, but I knew I couldn’t baby sit him, or control him. He laughed at control and said “that’s about right.” He told me LT was spending a lot of time in Florida these days, in fact, most of his time, playing a lot of golf. We shared a laugh over LT playing a round of golf most Sundays before a game. The Giants’ universe is an example of the Big Bang theory; it is constantly evolving and expanding.
Here, I write of the return, the trip home, to the polar star of my wanderings, Giants Stadium and the football Giants. I have only been away since May but in that time it feels as if I have plunged into a black hole, no, that’s not right, for even though I am shackled here as Prometheus was once because I possessed the fire of football and brought it to you, in reality, it is more as if I passed through some worm hole and shot out the backside of a parallel universe. Everything is strange. I feel a disassociation as I drive into the lot. I foolishly strap on my waist pack and digital camera, only to have to remove them for Cerberus to sniff. The NJ State police guard the entrance to the Stadium, and they are not unlike Chiron at the gates of Hades, in full uniform, tall black boots, and peaked hats. But we do what we must do, both them and I. Who knows, maybe Ayn Rand was correct; maybe I am suspect because I am – well, I’m an old, fat photographer carrying too many bags even though I have pared down considerably, hardly a threat to anyone’s established order. OK, the dog likes me, even with the smell of all the cats and raccoons, the hair on every article of clothing. The State Police don’t even look in my eyes, they trust that dog’s scent detector so much, or maybe the dog can’t smell a damn thing and both he and his handler are getting pretty good overtime. It’s the drill and I follow the drill because I want to be here. I get some help from the parking lot attendant, they are all my friends, strapping up again, walk 50 paces and take everything off again so that the border guards can inspect each and every piece of equipment I lug with me. Oops, I’m not at the Border; I forgot, it’s easier to cross the Rio Grande than Lot 11( grin).
I’m in now, but the sense of vertigo gets stronger. There are lights but they seem dim, yellowish, and subterranean as you come out of the darkness. Two weeks ago I told you of the Polanski film with the hands reaching out from the walls. I must be going through a phase as tonight I am reminded of an old TV rendition of Beauty and the Beast, in which Richard Boone was the Beast. As the beauty entered his Palace, there were candelabras lining the hallways and rooms. The candelabras were human arms, coming out of the walls, holding the candles, waving slowly back and forth, lighting her way. Television crews were everywhere, the players from the Jaguars making their early walk to inspect the field, reporters, officials all moving past me, as if on a conveyor belt. I was moving slowly, the lights waving, and a silence surrounding me. Every noise was muffled, carts moved silently, people passed me in a mist. It was as if I was invisible. Then the spell was broken. “Hey, how are you? Where have you been?”, this from a security guard. Then Pat and Babe look up and say, “Oliver, where have you been, we haven’t seen you in a while.” I enter the room set aside for photographers. It is a different room, smaller, but adequate I still have trouble understanding why people who carry a pen are treated differently than people who carry a camera, but that’s not a real major concern. The boys look up and I am greeted by a chorus of “look who’s here”, “where have you been?”, “is everything ok?”, “racing season must be over”. I have to sit with each individual and catch up, explain where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing. Thomas Wolfe is wrong and right. I am home, in every sense. And yet, I might as well be on the moon. Most of these guys live within 20 miles of where they were raised. Their sojourns beyond the perimeter have been brief. But they are knowledgeable of the world and as in any club, I am welcome back, on my own terms, with only as much explanation as I care to give. This is the world of the Giants’ field rats, a unique and wonderful bunch of guys. In 10 minutes, I am comfortable here, as if I had never gone anywhere and this is the first game of a new season.
As this is a night game, I don’t go out for practice. I’m shooting high speed, high grain film, so the portrait shots won’t be very good. I’m pacing myself because yesterday morning I had another surprise, a nasty hemorrhage, and I have never liked the sight of my own blood. I walk towards the field and it seems brighter. Another gift of stepping back, I guess. This is the fresh view I had hoped for. More security guards, more salutations. Funny thing about how you can be anonymous, yet known. And each and every one of them knew I hadn’t been around. Some of these guys check in every now and then to BBI, I make it a point to say hello to all of them, to kibitz a little, sometimes bring them photos. They help me in innumerable ways. They are a good crew. I walk around the field to get my bearings. It’s a new field, sod now, laid right over the trays. The TV crews are going nuts. I have never seen so many idiots running around, or standing around doing nothing. I am told later that there was an army of interns here. And they were as obnoxious as a crew can be. There is never cordiality between TV guys and photographers. They have the right of way. Sometimes they abuse it. The regular crews and the NFL Films guys are all decent sorts. We have recognized that each has a job and there is a truce, if not friendliness. We share the field. They get what they need and once they have it, they step back for us. Not perfect, but it works.
I see Frankie Ferrara and am greeted with a big grin. I tease him and ask “Hey, Frankie, do something special tonight. I need a shot.” He cracks back, “I’ll do my best. The first sack is for you.” Everyone around us gets a kick out of that. Then I see Darnell Dinkins, hobbling along on his crutches. I haven’t talked to DD since last February and I’m sure he doesn’t know who the hell I am. Soon as I call out “hey, Double D”, he turns and smiles and says, “How are you?” I say, “You don’t remember me, do you?” and he says, “Yes, I do. And I remember what you told me in Florida, and now I’m here.” What I told him in Florida was that he should never give up on himself, that he should work hard, never take a minute off when he is on that field, in practice or during a game, and that he would make it. I’m happy for this kid, just as I am for Frankie. They receive tons of abuse and insults from weenies who never played the game, never had a dream, who lacked the courage to go out and do the impossible. Cervantes’ lovable fool, Don Quixote, has always been my inspiration, and I pass his message to every young workhorse who has a dream. Work hard, believe in yourself, dream the impossible dream.
I can’t wait to see Shockey in action. He has the potential to be an LT of the offense. I want him to jump up, to shout, and to show anguish over a bad play, because in time he will be the leader of this team. I’m confused by the passivity of the defense and I want to see if Johnnie Lynn learned his lesson in Philadelphia. And I want to see how JF calls the plays and how the team responds. One of the most interesting parts of the night is how many times, even before kickoff, and from how many people I hear the refrain, ‘this team really misses Comella.’ Yes, one of BBI’s favorite whipping boys. But that’s the truth; these are knowledgeable people, people who have seen every game hers so far, people who know the game and its players. And they were unsolicited comments. People here on this Board scoffed at Greg’s blocking abilities, but people up close know differently. That’s not taking anything away from Stackhouse, who may become very good, maybe even something special. But right now, Comella is a big loss.
All in all, it was a pretty decent game – well, three quarters were fun, then there was a lot of Jaguar offense. The Jags had a huge lead in time of possession in the 4th quarter, holding the ball for 10 minutes. They also had a small advantage in the third quarter, holding the ball for almost 9 minutes. As the Giants had an overall TOP lead of 6 minutes, it gives you a pretty good idea of the ebb and flow of the game. The Giants had a nice balanced attack, with 10 first downs by rushing, 13 by passing and 3 by penalty. KC had another bizarre night, completing 20-out-of 28 attempts for 228 yards. More importantly, he ran with authority on one play, then got crazy and tried it on a second. But he looked aggressive. And he came down field vocally animated towards Tim Carter on the series with the 4th-and-17. I can’t remember seeing KC ever so authoritative. He must be peeking at BBI. He was better than Mark Brunell, except for the 4th quarter. Brunell, incidentally, did a lot of play changing at the line, and his legs and arm made it as close as it was. He’s not Brett Favre, but he’s better than Jake Plummer and Jeff Garcia.
The first quarter looked as if it would be the Tiki Barber quarter. Tiki was involved in 5 plays on the first scoring drive out of 8, with a defensive penalty on one of the plays. His TD run was almost effortless as he strolled into the end zone untouched. The line blocked down and collapsed the Jax defense. Most noticeable on the play was big Mike Rosenthal stretched out in a prone position on the ground. I noted that he was in that position several times. Jason Whittle told me after the game that he was finally healthy, but I am not so sure. I have it on pretty good authority that we will be seeing more of Ian Allen on the right side before the end of the year. Ian is a big guy, looks tough, and it may be just a matter of getting the plays down. The only disappointment in the first quarter was that the Giants held the ball for 11 minutes and came away with only 7 points. Also of note is that JF went to Toomer, Dixon and Shockey early to get them into the game. It appeared as if the pace of the game had the Jaguars a little out of sorts. Defensively, Brunell looked as if he was establishing a rhythm, then fumbled. Kenny Holmes was on the spot for the recovery. The second possession was quick with the Giants giving up a couple of passes, but shutting down the running game.
The second quarter was also a large TOP by the Giants, holding the ball another 11 minutes. Brunell couldn’t get much going as Allen and Peterson were active. He did complete a nice 32 yarder on which Stoutmire made the stop. An intentional grounding call on Brunell effectively stopped a good march inside the Giants 34 yard line. Of concern was Matt Bryant missing his first FG of the season, then later missing another. On the positive side, the Giants were opportunistic. When it looked as if their drive was going nowhere, Akin Ayodele got a penalty, his second major. The Giants, faced with the 2 minute drill, went to trickery, with Tim Carter going around end for a nice gain. Then KC hit the ShockWave. There were 2 incompletes, one on which Carter was apparently not where he should have been and received a tongue lashing from KC. Then a sack. It didn’t look good, or feel good. Shades of Minnesota, on a 4th-and-17, JF was sending in the punt team. The fans let him have it as there were only 26 seconds left. JF called a timeout, then sent the offense back out. Collins through a high bullet to a wide open Carter, who made a nice leaping grab. Then he hit Dixon in the front corner of the end zone – a high, leaping grab by Dixon which was ruled incomplete, but reversed on replay and called a score. It was a classic Dixon body control catch. Watching Shockey on the field during the review was worth the price of admission. He gestured, pointed, clapped, and when the TD was awarded he ran down and grabbed Dixon in a bear hug.
The Giants came out in the third quarter and had a nice crisp drive ending in a Bryant 27 yard FG. A short kick put Jax in good position and then Mack ran right at the Giants. He carried 4 straight times gaining 15 and 8, then Barrow hit him and stopped him for a 1 yard gain and Legree with help from Dhani Jones stopped him for 2. The Jags went to the air and went nowhere as Michael Strahan finished them with a sack and 14 yard loss. The Giants took over and it was Tiki, Tiki, TD, with his patented burst down the sideline. Several linemen were noticeably on the move with him. The next KO was ok but Mack had a nice run back. Then it was Mack, Mack, Brunell on a scramble gaining 27, more Mack, then some Taylor and a FG. The Giants D was holding up pretty good, putting a lot of pressure on Brunell, but once again not getting the angles right and not protecting the right side. The Giants bogged down, there were a few penalties, then Tom Rouen had a terrible punt. It looked to me as if it had been tipped as it just flew over the line, end over end. It was an ugly kick. The Jags went nowhere and gave it back to the Giants early in the 4th quarter.
The Giants decided to ride the Dayne train and it worked – for 3 plays. But on his fourth straight carry, Ayodele made up for his early penalties by stripping the ball. Brunell went to work out of the shotgun. Shaun Williams got a nice sack, then Brunell hit Bobby Shaw, then Jimmy Smith, working on Patmon. Then an incomplete pass followed by another completion to Smith. Ferrara and Legree stopped Mack for a loss. Pete Mitchell caught a short pass. Pete Mitchell, yes, that Pete Mitchell. A couple of short gains, which the Giants seemed to be giving. Then one of those freak plays with two penalties, both on the Giants, one being a roughing call on MS. A pass to Smith, TD – a nice pattern with Smith just over the goal line. Matt Mitrione drew an unsportsmanlike on the play.
Jax tried an onsides kick which Patmon recovered. But the Giants were now in their full conservative mode. Two short runs and an incomplete pass. Punt. Brunell was in the shotgun full time now and the Giants were trying everything. Brunell was passing, dodging and running, and bringing the Jags closer. Finally, the TD pass. S. Williams went down and it looked serious as he was having trouble getting up. But he made an effort and got up, just a little late as the Giants were called for an injury time out.
Jax tried a desperation onsides kick which Dan Campbell grabbed, looked for a moment as if he was going to run with it, then wisely hit the deck Barber, Barber, Dayne, a punt and Jax had no time to do any other damage.
The Giants owned the first half, moving the ball well, distributing it, balancing pass and run. Their first six possessions, into the 3rd quarter, were TD, missed FG, missed FG, TD, FG, TD. Then it was punt, fumble, punt, punt. They looked totally inept in the fourth quarter, as if they had mentally gone into the locker room. What I liked out there was the offensive line. Everybody was engaging a man and it was a solid wall. I was teasing Whittle and Bober in the locker room and when Whittle told me he was now feeling pretty good. I said that was nice to hear because someone had to protect Bober out there. Bober laughed and said he needed all the help he can get. I talked with him about the irony of coming up as a tackle, trying it at guard and winding up as a center. He said he absolutely loves the position and learns more every game, but he is comfortable there and he could wind up there for some time. Seubert and Luke are the tough, quiet guys on the left; pro linemen just as you imagine they should be. Rosie is still improving. He is using his massive physique better and his wingspan, although he spent too much time on the ground in this game. They all told me they are young, aggressive, stick together, hang together, protect each other and intend to get better every game, as a unit as well as individuals.
Shockey is a character. He never stops moving, almost as if he is hyperactive, and he and Dixon together could be a nightmare for opposing defenses for years. We were joking around after the game, Mitrione, Stackhouse and me and Shockey came over to talk to Mitrione. As he walked past, I complimented his play and said very lowly, “Don’t ever let anyone take away your enthusiasm.” Looking straight ahead, he murmured back, “Don’t worry, I don’t intend to.” Speaking of Stackhouse, he appears much more comfortable with himself. But he was still tentative out there on a couple of plays and was almost waiting for someone to come and hit him. This allowed some penetration. But when he gets moving and has a clear shot, he can be devastating.
The defense was much more aggressive, throughout the game, including the 4th quarter. Very few QBs could have escaped the multiple blitzes the Giants were throwing at them. They desperately need to tighten up the right end, and then they will be formidable. Jason Sehorn may be unhappy as the nickel, but right now Allen and Peterson are doing the job. They do tend to go for the ball at bad times, however, and they are going to be burned. But I’d rather see them aggressive than playing off the receivers. Williams had one of his good games, coming up to stop the run, blitzing and helping in the passing game. The D line did an adequate job, but Brunell was in the shotgun and throwing so much, they weren’t tested. Almost all of the big gains came to the right side, even though Kenny Holmes was very active and in on 7 tackles.
I’m not real sure about the conditioning of the team and I’m not real sure about the consistency. But the offense looked crisp at times, even without going downfield. The line gives KC a lot of time and Carter, Shockey, Dixon and Campbell all were wide open at one time or another. Dayne looked good. More carries for Dayne, please. Tiki looked great, bouncing it out a couple of times to his favorite left sideline position. Special teams were both good and not good, but did a great job on the 2 onside kicks. Bryant looked troubled by something as he didn’t follow through on his first kick. It was just right. His second was just not in the zone. He looked OK on his third, looked comfortable on the extra points and had mixed kickoffs.
I always try to talk to Mike Rosenthal first in the locker room. He’s a nice kid and we just chit-chat about things, his development, his state of mind, little personal things. I asked him about the difference in his play this year and last and he told me, “The opportunity is here and I’m taking advantage of it.” We discussed the pressures on the O line and he told me that in this offense the linemen were asked to be both pass blockers and drive blockers, so “if one situation is working, we’re going to ride it; if it’s passing, we’re going to be pass blocking and if it’s running we will be drive blocking.” I asked him if there was a leader yet on the line and he told me it was, “kind of all of us. With Dusty out, the other guys, well, we’re all best friends. We all work out together, we’re in here all the time; it’s become a community effort. If someone is down one day, another guy picks him up.” He is really enjoying himself this year and is much more relaxed. He told me, “I’m loving it. It doesn’t get better than this.”
Matt Mitrione is down in the corner next to Stackhouse. He is a gregarious fellow, voluble and close to the guys around him. He started out telling me he is learning a lot, still making mistakes, but learning. I asked him from who, did he have a mentor, who was the biggest influence on the team for him. He said he was learning from everybody, “Grif is so patient with me, Ken is always on me about running stunts. Hammer is my biggest teacher.” I ask him about the Italian Stallion and he breaks out in laughter and tells me, “Frankie, sometimes he freaks out if you ask him a question, but Frankie is my biggest educator and mentor, my biggest motivator.” I asked him if he is related to Dan Mitrione and he tells me yes, that he knows only a little about him, but there is some stuff around the house and he is talked about at family gatherings. Dan Mitrione was a special guy. He was an AID tech who was in Uruguay training the police in counterinsurgency techniques. It was the hey day of the urban guerilla movement, I think they called themselves Montaneros. Dan was assassinated. I always remembered Dan, although I never knew him, he was a little before my service. It is ironic that I was in some places south of the border doing similar work and it is a special treat to meet a family member here playing for the Giants.
Stackhouse is right next to Matt . He jumped into our conversation and I started teasing him. I told him I hadn’t been to any games yet, but that I had watched several on TV. I told him that in the first game, I thought he was playing opposite Superman because I saw him make a block on an open space, an air block. He laughed and said, “C’mon now, I wasn’t that bad.” He is an energetic fellow and talks at a rapid clip. I asked him about his personal development and he started talking about great coaches, and, “blocking drill after blocking drill, picking up the pace of the game, working with the LBs, all great guys that take you along.” We talked about the blocking game and he told me he was “studying the game, going into the game and knowing what you have to do, play recognition; if you see a hand there, they’re going to do this; going out and working hard; trying to get better, better, every day; I can’t slack off; I’ve got to keep going up, accepting it as a job, keep getting better, that’s what I’ve been doing.” His delivery is rapid, staccato, a mantra, but not an abstract one. This kid is dedicated; he wants it.
I ask him about the O-Line and he tells me they all have great personalities (no we weren’t talking about any blind dates). He likes laughing around with them, joking with them, getting familiar with them, “just knowing basically what they are going to do, because I’ve had enough games now to see just about all the NFL defenses. I’m seeing what can happen, the worst case scenarios, putting them into my head while I’m out there with my hands down, getting ready to go into the play.” He continued on, “It took a lot of study; I’m watching film, watching film, game film, game film; now it’s actually coming through and working out for me.” He finished up by telling me, “It’s about time for us to go out and score TDs. We have an explosive offense, we just need to go out there and perform. You have got to be almost perfect on every play and that’s a challenge. I love a challenge, that’s the best thing about this game, you go out and get challenged on every play, Man vs. Man. That’s the best thing about this League.”
I finished up with Kenny Holmes who even on an active night had to listen to a couple of fans screaming throughout the second half, “Do something Kenny, make a play!” I’m sure they were some BBI guys sitting behind the Jags bench, maybe 15 rows in. Kenny told me the D wanted to come out and make a statement “especially after last week.” Then he told me, “We played well until the last part of the game and you just can’t play the way we played because we were sitting on a lead.”
I asked him how the defense has changed from last year. He thought for a while, obviously measuring his words, and said, “It is a lot less complicated. We don’t use a whole lot of our calls, so it’s narrowed it down and made it a whole lot simpler for me, and the younger guys.” We discussed aggressiveness and he acknowledged that they had discussed it during the week and felt that “We had to knock the QB down. We were doing that with 4 guys, and we wanted to put on more pressure, so we started bringing 5 and 6 guys this week, to not let him sit in the pocket. We started sending a LB here and there, to kind of mix it up. The pressure worked. Anytime you get a QB to not be comfortable in the pocket, I think it’s the best thing.”
Well, that’s about it. I just wanted to talk to a couple of guys, ease back into the locker room. Spent a few minutes with Dr. Joe and Pat from Inside Football talking to Dhani Jones’ parents, then walked out to the car. It was about 1:30 am. As I pulled out of a deserted parking lot, I looked around. There were papers and bottles littering the entire lot, as if some nomad encampment had recently departed. I was home, even if for only a little while. And it felt good.
Many thanks to Pat Hanlon, who puts up with an itinerant photographer’s coming and going, and who makes the whole thing possible. I deal with a lot of Media Directors and PR people, almost all competent and helpful. Pat is a Professional’s Professional.