Jan 232003
The Outsider’s Report: Abrupt Year End Special Edition

By BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Daniel in MI

Nngnnghrgh. Hmm? What? The playoffs are over? Have they played the Superbowl yet? Did we draft anyone? Huh?

They wouldn’t let the TOSRs (The Outsider’s Report) staff watch any of the recent games on the court-ordered vacation, which followed the Giants collapse in SF and our subsequent binge/rampage. Frankly, we were not really able to keep close track of time with the windowless accommodations, the Phenobarbital cocktails, and the constant body cavity searches (at first you hate them, then you get used to them, after a while you come to depend on them). But, we’re out now and feeling much better, thanks. Our parole officer thinks it would be good for us to “keep occupied, get back to work, and for God’s sake put on some clothes when you’re going outside.” In this spirit, we’ve begun to decipher our increasingly frenzied notes which were scrawled in our notebook, then on cocktail napkins, then on the walls of our apartment, and finally on our pets. We’re not sure what to make of the final note, which read, “Sell the house. Sell the kids. Sell all our Junkin. Drop the refs, exterminate them all.”

We’ve made as much sense as we can out of all of it, and so we’ve put together this TOSR: Abrupt Year End Special Edition. As always, while much of what you’ll find in TOSR is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it does score over more pedestrian news media in two important ways: 1) it’s free, and 2) it doesn’t contain any quotes by Warren Sapp.

There were many stories coming out of this season, but clearly the biggest was the stunning emergence of a dominant rookie on the Giants offense. For years, the team has been in search of a threat, someone to strike fear in the hearts of defenders, someone to be the car battery attached to the nipples of the catatonic offense. This year, the Giants brain trust found what they were after. We speak, of course, of fiery phenom Daryl Jones. The rookie’s statistics speak for themselves, 13 games, 8 receptions, 90 yards, and a gaudy 11.3 yards per catch. Add to this his contributions to the running game (1 rush, 4 yards, 4.0 average) and you have the total package. The media has struggled to find enough adjectives for this kid, but they universally use the extremes, words such as: immeasurable, unbelievable, and invisible. But, more impressive is the awed reaction from those who have had to face him, it is as if these opponents have been struck dumb, “Daryl Jones? I really can’t think of anything to say about him,” raved, Idrees Bashir, a DB for the Colts after facing Jones. “Darnell Jones? Did I face him this year? I guess he did ok,” emoted Eagle DB Brian Dawkins. Clearly, the Giants are set on offense for the foreseeable future.

Other rookies also contributed this year, although not all in positive ways. The Giants seem disappointed with rookie TE Jeremy Shockey. This rookie caused problems for the team almost immediately, sleeping in his car and fighting with teammate Brandon Short, and then proceeding to anger teammates and fans with his bombastic, self-aggrandizing antics. Apparently, Shockey did nothing to exceed the team’s expectations, as Giants HC Jim Fassel said, “We expected this kind of impact from him.” QB Kerry Collins noted, “He really energizes this team….” It’s a bad sign when teammates have to resort to euphemisms like “energize.” Worse was the impact Shockey had on other offensive teammates. “He catches a lot of passes, demands a lot of attention from opposing defense…” said Amani Toomer implying that Shockey is a ball hog. TE Coach Mike Pope was frustrated by Shockey’s selfishness and inability to play well with others, saying, “He just wants to win, he’s ultra-competitive.” Fans responded by sarcastically buying his jersey in record numbers to mock him, as if saying, “Look, we are all as good as Shockey is.” Even his own agent said, “He could be the next Anna Kournikova,” indicating that Shockey would never win anything. Off the field, Shockey insulted alternative lifestyles, was late to scheduled radio spots, and attacked young football fans by assaulting them with small blocks of ice. The league collectively voted to send Shockey to Hawaii, in an apparent disciplinary move, to be around some good players in the hopes that he might learn something. Frankly, we can only hope that Shockey learns to blend in better and not make waves, like Ron Dayne did. Maybe next year.

Another big story from this year was the trials and tribulations of OC Sean Payton. The Giants began the year able to move the ball, but failed to finish drives. The lack of scoring hurt, and came to a head following a 3-point performance against Philadelphia. Jim Fassel took the play-calling back. To the public, Jim insisted that Sean was still a vital part of the Giants coaching staff, but behind the scenes, Sean had been emasculated. During one coaches meeting, Sean went to get a beverage. Fassel snapped, “Put that coffee down! Coffee’s for Coodinators only. You think I’m f*cking with you? I am not f*cking with you. I’m here from downtown. I’m here from Tim and Wellington. And I’m here on a mission of mercy. Your name’s Payton? You call yourself a play-caller you son of a bitch? The good news is: you’re fired.” It was harsh. Don’t worry, though, our crack sources tell us that Sean is contacting other coaches. Our top notch TOSR connections tell us Payton may be going into broadcasting, he’s said to have contacted Bill Parcells! It’s a sad day for the former OC when he’s sunk to becoming a TV hack like the Tuna!

On defense, the year has been a tremendous success. New Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn took over for John Fox, and kept the basic schemes, but simplified. We caught up with Johnnie Lynn trying to figure out what rule allows a team to run a 2-minute offense outside of the two minute warning, and he explained the philosophy. “We maintained our basic schemes, like our ability to collapse late and only defend for two downs, but I got rid of complicated nuances such as pass rush and turnovers allowing us to do what we do best. Next year, we’ll determine what that is.” Newcomers revitalized the defense, including Tahini Jones Omar Stoutdrinker or something like that, it’s hard to say given the impact they made. Jones excelled at getting into position to make a play, and soon hopes to improve the other finer elements of the game, such as actually tackling someone, shedding blocks, and coverage. Jones’ play was instrumental for sealing victory in the first 49ers game. For his part, Stoutmire really made a big impact taking the free safety position over for Shaun Williams. Omar’s zero interceptions showed his value, and put him just one behind Johnnie Harris, and only two out of a tie for first place on the team. “There is nothing like getting an interception,” Stoutmire said wistfully, “Breaking on the ball, watching it into your hands, tucking it, and dashing toward the opposing endzone to the roar of the fans. I hear it’s great!”

Make no mistake, these strong interception figures owe much to a powerful pass rush. While the DE tandem of Strahan and Holmes racked up 11 and 8 sacks respectively, fellow line mates were right there to pick up the slack, as Lance Legree, Dwight Johnson, Keith Hamilton each approached the opposing quarterbacks menacingly, and next year hope to actually register a sack. Plus, the run stuffing ability of Legree, Ferrara, and Johnson left plenty of opportunities for LBs and especially DBs to make tackles. They also left mobile QBs gasping and fearing for their health. Reached for comment with his mother in a hot tub fully of chunky soup, Donovan McNabb agreed, “I couldn’t catch my breath when we played those guys, I was running so much. I was really afraid I’d pull a hamstring.”

And of course, the Giants special teams continued to show the kind of effort we’ve come to expect from them. This cohesive unit was always there with words of encouragement. P Matt Allen exemplified this, “When we lined up for the potential game winning kick against the 49ers, I just said to Trey, ‘Whatever you do, don’t screw this up. If you even twitch slightly you’ll send it wide. Millions of New Yorkers will hate you, and you’ll cost the team a shot at the Super Bowl. Don’t over-think it, either. And don’t try to aim it. And relax.’” New Special Teams Coach Bruce Read was encouraged by what he saw. “Well, apart from bad snaps, short punts, and missed kicks, I think we really had a great year. It’s hard to look bad compared to the last couple of special teams coaches they had here. These guys actually thought they had good coverage.”

Despite the season ending on a botched play, Matt Allen took it like a man and stood up to be counted for the botched snap play. “It was totally not my fault, and it is unfair to say it is. The snap was off. And the coaches didn’t tell me what to do. And when we talked about it in practice I couldn’t hear because of the planes overhead. And Matt Bryant was yelling at me. And the refs blew the call. And the terrorists were threatening. And the sun was in my eyes. And the dog ate my homework. It’s Trey’s fault.” The newly acquired veteran long snap specialist Trey Junkin handled it like a veteran. “The 4th and 5th bad snaps of my career cost the team a shot at the Super Bowl. Then, after many, many more bad snaps, I came to the Giants, and my 300th and 301st bad snaps did the same thing. I wish I had stayed retired. I wish I had never come here. I wish I had never played football. I wish I had never been born. I wish my parents never met. I wish mankind never evolved from apes. I wish the Earth’s crust never cooled. I wish the Big Bang never happened. Other than that, I feel fine.”

And, so, Giants fans, the season ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. In the end, the season is best summed up by an unemployed guy the team met while in San Francisco when he said, “Bummer.”

Jan 082003
San Francisco 49ers 39 – New York Giants 38

Game Overview:

Christmas Ted, what does that mean to you? To me it was a living hell. Do you know what it’s like falling in the mud and getting kicked, in the head, with an iron boot? Of course you don’t, no one does, that never happens. Sorry Ted, that’s a dumb question. – Captain Rex Kramer, Airplane

Well, after this game, Giants’ fans certainly know what it feels like to get kicked in the head with an iron boot. And to make matters worse, after hearing that the NFL publicly admitted to screwing up the pass interference call at the end of the game that would have given the Giants a second chance to kick the game-winning field goal, we know what it feels like to get kicked in the nuts with an iron boot.

For three quarters, this game was pure bliss. Then it became a downright nightmare. I think the best post I’ve seen describing the events came from BBI contributor “jfkupstate”:

This whole thing is amazing when you look back at it. I really don’t understand now after hearing all that has been said why the officials didn’t take the time to get it right. How much time was taken last year over the “tuck” play in the the Patriot/Raider game? Why didn’t they huddle and check to see exactly who was eligible? The head of NFL officials was at the game for Christ sakes! It was blatant pass interference so the flag should have been thrown at that even if they weren’t sure who was eligible, and then it could have been sorted out. I read that all three flags thrown were for Tam Hopkins being downfield. You mean to tell me that all three of these goofballs had their eyes on Hopkins and nothing else?

Anyway, I am finally starting to calm down but I still can’t believe it happened to our team. Do you realize how many things had to go the phoney-9ers way for them to pull this off? First of all Jeremy Shockey has to drop the touchdown pass. I’m sorry, and I love this kid but that is a sure touchdown pass – absolutely has to be caught. If you are as good as you say you are you have to make the catch. That would have been 42-14. Even if the 49ers score 3 touchdowns with 2-point conversions and a field goal, they lose by a point. Next they get the quick touchdown and convert the 2. It is getting late in the 3rd quarter so they need the ball back quick. We oblige them with a 3-and-out. To help them out a little more we get off a crap punt and throw in a stupid 15 yard penalty that in my opinion could have been let go judging by the way the officials let everything else go. So now with a short field they score easily thanks to Jason Sehorn’s weak arms turning Terrell Owens loose in a direction where there was no one between him and the goal line. Throw in another easy 2 pointer.

They need another 3-and-out and low and behold we give ’em one. They somehow settle for a field goal to make it 38-33. We need a time consuming drive for a score…any kind of score just to break the momentum. All of a sudden we start moving the ball in chunks again. Down to the 24-yard line of San Francisco. We go for the field goal to go back up by 8 but botch it. San Francisco comes right back down to go ahead. All this time with no penalties, no tipped passes, no sacks, basically no negative plays.

Now comes all of the craziness. After the 2-point attempt failed, the great Terrell Owens pulls one of the bonehead plays of all times by hitting Allen in the head then gets bailed out by Shaun Williams by getting the offsetting personal foul. You have that moron Jeremy Newberry trying to rip Will Allen’s head off (for which there is no penalty) yet Williams gets penalized and ejected for coming to his teammates aid. Where were his bigger teammates and where in the world were the officials?

So now we get a good kickoff return. Collins does a nice job of getting the team into field goal range (although way to much time was wasted after the first pass completion). We all know what happened next. The final break for the 49ers was the officials totally blowing the call.

So if you look back at the end of the 3rd quarter and the 4th quarter, it is amazing how many things had to go right for them to win. If just one of a number of those things went the other way…Shockey’s drop, if they missed one of the 2 pointers, we make one of the 2 field goals, we don’t go 3-and-out on one of those possessions, a better punt on one of those, a tipped pass, a sack or some sort of penalty (you can’t tell me their line didn’t hold on any of those passes) to break the momentum, or if the officials had a clue, I think we would all be looking forward to next week. The one thing I keep thinking back to is 38-14. In my opinion, 42-14 would have been insurmountable…38-14 should have been!!!

That’s the disaster in a nutshell. It will go down as one of the greatest games in NFL history for everyone but a Giants’ fan. To us, it will rank up there with “The Fumble”, Flipper Anderson’s touchdown reception in overtime, and the late collapse against the Vikings in the playoffs. What stinks the most is the Giants really had a shot at winning the whole thing this year. No team in the NFC or AFC was that impressive and the Giants were hot. But in the end, the players – specifically on defense and in the kicking game – did not get the job done. The Giants were up 38-14 with 4:22 left in the 3rd quarter. In about 18 minute, the Giants gave up three touchdowns, two 2-point conversions, and a field goal. And the Giants missed two field goals.

But there is something to learn from this if Ernie Accorsi and Jim Fassel are paying attention: (1) Your kicking game must be sound or you don’t have a chance at the Super Bowl. This includes your long-snapper, holder, field goal kicker/kick-off man, and punter. (2) The Giants’ defense is not good enough. There is not enough starting talent or depth in the front seven and this has to be a priority in free agency and the draft. And the defensive coaching staff, once again, was not able to adjust to a spread offense playing catch-up.

Can the Giants build on this and become a stronger team? Hell yes. But what must be recognized is the opportunity that was lost. You don’t get many chances to win a Super Bowl title in this league and the Giants had a shot this year. They let it slip away.

Coaching: Understandably, there are a lot of fans out there who are very angry and who are taking out their frustration by calling for the heads of Jim Fassel, Defensive Coordinator Johnnie Lynn, or Special Teams Coach Bruce Read. There were things that could have been handled better. At his press conference on Monday, Fassel said:

…we came after them and we blitzed them and weren’t getting there. We were singling guys up. Nothing was really working. The quarterback was buying time and making a play here and there. I was going to use my timeouts talking to him. We blitzed them. We played zone. There were no other things we could do. We played them man to man. We played them 2 man. Guys were shaking free all of the time and we weren’t making plays.

The Giants’ defense did NOT blitz in the first half of the game and the defense would have done even better than it did had the Giants tackled WR Terrell Owens after his short catch and kept QB Jeff Garcia in the pocket on the second scoring drive. Interestingly, at the beginning of the second half, the Giants blitzed on every pass play on the 49ers first possession in the second quarter. And the Giants did blitz twice on the first 49er scoring drive of the second half that cut the score to 38-22. But after that, the Giants only blitzed once on the next three scoring drives. It was obvious that the pass rush of Michael Strahan-Cornelius Griffin-Frank Ferrara-Byron Frisch was not putting any heat on Garcia and that Garcia was in a comfortable rhythm and merely playing pitch-and-catch. The Giants need to do something disrupt that rhythm and Lynn chose to do nothing. The 49ers changed up their offense by spreading things out, going no-huddle, and Lynn did NOT adjust. Yes, by blitzing you are exposing your corners to some very good wide receivers and risk giving up a quick score. But you also have to realize that your corners are the strength of your defense and this is why you drafted them in the first place. The Eagles have excellent corners and it affords them the ability to be aggressive on defense when they need to counter the opponent’s momentum. Simply put, Lynn was out-coached. Jim Fassel, as an offensive coordinator, would love to play against Johnnie Lynn. Fassel would never have to worry about the blitz.

Even more damning is what I heard after the game:

The defense (especially the defensive backs) feels that Johnnie Lynn “froze” in that he made no changes when things started happening in the second half while the 49ers made major changes at halftime. They continued to stay in a man-to-man defense. Some of the players went to Lynn during the second half and asked that they switch to a zone and he said, “No, we’re sticking with what worked during the first half.” Keep in mind the Giants “zone” is very close to a man-to-man coverage. Accordingly, while nickel back Jason Sehorn obviously played poorly, his teammates feel that some of the fault lies with Lynn, as he left him out there (along with “all of us”) to get burned and gave him no zone help. Defensive Backs Coach DeWayne Walker also suggested to Lynn they switch to a zone and was told “no” by Lynn.

Colin of the Great Blue North Draft Report also made a great point that has hurt the Giants all year in obvious passing situations: SLB Brandon Short is not athletic enough to play nickel linebacker. This was proven in the games against the Titans and 49ers. Either Shaun Williams or Johnnie Harris should play that spot with the other playing strong safety.

Head Coach Jim Fassel is to blame for a bit of this mess as Johnnie Lynn works for him. He should have walked over to Lynn and said, “What the heck are you doing?”

Now that all said, while Lynn could have made things much easier for the players, the players are the ones that still didn’t make the plays when it counted. The Giants were not playing “prevent” defense. The big problem was the pass rushers never got close to Jeff Garcia and to make matters worse, lost containment on him. Strahan never beat Scott Gragg and Griffen never beat Ron Stone. There were breakdowns in coverage and missed tackles. All the Giants’ defense needed was for one player to make one play and it would have all been over. They did not do that and that is not Lynn’s fault.

I don’t blame Fassel when the offense stalled in the second half. The criticism that the Giants were in a “prevent offense” mode late in the game is simply not true. New York’s first possession after San Francisco cut the score to 38-22 was run, pass, pass. The drive after that was run, pass, pass. That’s four pass plays and two running plays. And every coach in the league tries to run the ball late in the game when they have a big lead (remember Bill Parcells?). The next drive (which resulted in a missed field goal) was pass, run, pass, run, run, pass, run. The Giants were not too conservative. The only place I would have changed things is that after the 49ers had cut the score to 38-30, instead of the first play being a run, I would have called a pass.

What about the 4th-and-1 decision to go for the 42-yard field goal. In hindsight, it looks like the wrong move. But Matt Bryant had just hit a similar pressure kick the week before against the Eagles in overtime. If he hits the field goal, the 49ers have to score eight points to win. If the Giants go for it on 4th-and-1 and don’t get it, 6 points wins the game. Plus, Tiki got dinged on the preceding 3rd-and-2 play so you might have had to go with Ron Dayne there. A strong argument can be made for either case, but it wasn’t a “bad” decision at the time.

Other coaching nitpicks: Fassel should have called a timeout after the first completed pass on the last drive (in my opinion). The Giants lost 22 seconds as the clock ran from 53 to 31 seconds (the players should have also hurried up faster than they did there too).

And someone should have reminded that nitwit Matt Allen to fall on the ball and call a timeout if something went wrong with the snap. According to everyone but Allen, the Giants have practiced the aborted field goal play over and over again in practice – so he SHOULD have known what to do. Think about it. All Allen has to do in practice is punt, hold, and think about continency scenarios. He knew the situation…he panicked. But someone should have said something to him – especially since the snap on the previous field goal attempt was errant.

Fassel is an asset to this team. I wasn’t sure of that until this season. The players on this team never wavered in their support of him in 2002, even in the dark times. Fassel’s teams play hard all the time. He demonstrated conclusively against good teams that he knows what he is doing as a play-caller. (The good news is that the Giants won’t ever have someone steal their offensive coordinator away from them now since there really isn’t one). Is he a great coach? No way. But he’s better or as good as most of the active ones. The jury is still out on Lynn, but this was his first year and there wasn’t enough talent or depth in the front seven to create a formidable defense. Yet still, New York was third in scoring defense in 2002, trailing only the Eagles and Buccaneers. But it is very worrisome that he doesn’t seem to be able to adjust very well in pressure situations. Under Bruce read, kick coverage, punt coverage, kick returns, and punt returns all improved. It’s not his fault that he was given a shitty punter and snappers.

Officiating: What a colossal screw up!!! My money says the officials did not know (i.e., forgot) that Rich Seubert was eligible and since they assumed he was ineligible they did not call pass interference. Whether one of the original three flags was thrown for pass interference is open to debate, but regardless, in that situation, a flag should have been thrown and then it should have been determined if Seubert was eligible. It wouldn’t have mattered if it took 30 minutes – get the call right. The Giants should not have blown the lead, but they still should have had an opportunity to win the game because they put themselves back into position to win it at the end.

And the questionable officiating did not end there. On the Giants’ second drive of the game, on 3rd-and-5, Collins’ pass to Shockey was almost intercepted. On the play, a defensive back slammed into Shockey head on past the 5-yard bump area and then LB Julian Peterson pulled Shockey down by his jersey. Illegal contact and pass interference both should have been called and the Giants awarded a 1st down instead of having to punt. This play occurred right in front of an official. Then late in the second half, WR Amani Toomer was mugged on his 24-yard touchdown reception by CB Ahmed Plummer. Toomer’s great effort and a perfect pass from Collins did result in a touchdown, but if the pass had fallen incomplete, the Giants would still have been at the 24-yard line with only 16 seconds left before halftime. Inexcusable non-call.

The officials really screwed the Giants on Dhani Jones’ late hit on the punt returner. Jones barely touched the returner and the only reason he did was that the returner moved forward after the fair catch – WHICH ITSELF IS A PENALTY. If anything, the penalties should have offset. Instead, the 49ers got the ball at the Giants’ 27-yard line and scored three plays later.

The refs also let 3 seconds tick off the clock AFTER the incomplete deep pass to Toomer on the last desperate drive. To make matters worse, the 24-second clock was started too early during the officials’ discussion after that play and a bogus delay of game penalty called on the Giants. The ref alongside Fassel told him they were going to reset the clock and the officials never did – even after they had huddled up to discuss the matter. Those were 3 seconds and 5 yards stolen from New York.

Special Teams: This game will always be remember for the botched field goal at the end of the game. The simple truth of the matter is that Matt Allen should have fallen on the ball and called time out. (Of course, then you are looking at a 48-yard field goal or so). As it was, he was lucky as hell that DE Chike Okeafor was stupid enough to interfere with OG Rich Seubert on his desperation pass. (Unfortunately, the referees didn’t do their job and call the penalty). Also having a brain lock on the play was OG Tam Hopkins who for some reason was running down near the goal line himself as an ineligible receiver. Can you imagine the outcry had Hopkins stayed put and the flag was still not thrown when Okeafor pulled down Seubert?

The tragic figure in all of this is long-snapper Trey Junkin. Trey has long been regarded as one of the best long snappers in the game, perhaps even NFL history. He is 41 years old, but he was still doing a great job of long-snapping at 40 for the Cardinals. And Junkin was real solid all week in practice. But his two snaps to Bryant on the botched field goals were not good and ultimately proved devastating on the last kick.

I’m no expert on what to look for on field goal attempts. The snap on Bryant’s missed 42-yarder was not good, but it looked to the untrained eye that Allen was able to set the ball in time. In my opinion, Bryant should not have missed that field goal. Bryant was very solid this year, hitting 26-of-32 field goals in the regular season. You can’t ask for much better than that. But he did miss important kicks against the Texans, Eagles, and 49ers. He will have competition in camp in this summer; it will be interesting to see what kind of competition. The fact that he choked in the biggest game of his life with a terrible shank makes me nervous about his future with the team.

Bryant’s kickoffs landed at 7 (21 yard return, Wes Mallard making the tackle), 13 (18 yard return, Kevin Lewis), 7 (19 yard return, DeWayne Patmon), a squib kick to the 26, 12 (18 yard return, Nick Greisen), 8 (20 yard return, Derek Dorris), and 13 (17 yard return, Derek Dorris). The kickoffs were better this week, but still mediocre; kick coverage was very good.

Matt Allen’s punts went for 32 (pooch kick fair caught at the 10-yard line); 29, and 46 yards (fair caught at the 18-yard line). The killer was the 29-yard punt and ensuing personal foul penalty called on Dhani Jones for the hit on the fair catch. This play was equivalent to a turnover in terms of the field position surrendered and was devastating when it came (right after the 49ers cut the score to 38-22). It set them up on the Giants’ 27-yard line and soon it was 38-30. I think it was the decisive moment of the game.

Kick returns: Delvin Joyce had returns of 19, 23, touchback, 28, 16, and 32 yards. The last kick return came with only about a minute left in the game and Joyce almost broke it. As it was, his excellent effort set up the Giants on their own 48-yard line. Daryl Jones returned a kickoff 30 yards.

Punt returns: Joyce’s returns went for 7, 15, and 11 yards. That’s pretty darn good.

Johnnie Harris recovered a muffed punt that set up New York’s third touchdown of the game.

First Half Defense: The 49er running game was not a factor. The 49ers had the ball five times in the first half and their halfback rushing totals on those drives were 0 (no rushing attempts), 9 (2 rushing attempts), 2 (1 rushing attempt), 7 (4 rushing attempts, 1 touchdown), and -1 (1 rushing attempt). The 49ers second drive was a harmless 6-play effort and the third drive was a 3-and-out. The fifth drive ended on a Jason Sehorn interception. What hurt the Giants were the 14 points given up by the first and fourth drives.

As far as I could tell, the Giants did not blitz in the first half. They relied on their 4-down linemen to get heat on QB Jeff Garcia. This they rarely did. I saw DE Michael Strahan (2 tackles) and DT Cornelius Griffin (3 tackles) get pressure on one stunt that caused an incompletion and I saw DE Kenny Holmes (1 tackle) force a quick dump off on 3rd-and-12 on a 3-man rush. But that was it. The pass rush from the down four was pathetic. Lance Legree (0 tackles) and Frank Ferrara (1 tackle) split time at right defensive tackle and did nothing. Strahan, Griffen, and Holmes were far too quiet. This forebode of trouble later in the game unfortunately. Holmes did tip away a 3rd-and-8 pass on the 49ers one 3-and-out in the first half.

That all said, the Giants would have done a number on the 49er offense in the first half had two things not happened:

  • First Drive: One play – a ten yard pass to WR Terrell Owens turns into a 76-yard scoring pass because both CB Will Allen (5 tackles) and MLB Mike Barrow (2 tackles) miss the tackle and it is off to the races. An inexcusable mistake by two of the Giants’ better defensive players. 7-0 49ers.
  • Fourth Drive: The Giants could not keep Garcia in the pocket and prevent him for scrambling for key yardage (3 rushes for 27 yards). This was a shadow of trouble to come in the second half. Garcia got around left end on a bootleg for 11 yards when Holmes failed to maintain his contain responsibilities. Then both Strahan and Griffen allowed Garcia to get around their side twice for a total of 16 yards – including a 10-yard rush on 3rd-and-6. If the Giants stop that, the 49ers punt. On the very next play, the 49ers bring out the trickery as Owens passes to WR Tai Streets for 25 yards (Allen and FS Omar Stoutmire fooled on the play). Three plays later it is 14-14.

Some last thoughts on the first half: Despite the lack of a pass rush, things would have been fine if it weren’t for the big play by Owens and Garcia’s scrambling. Pass coverage was pretty sound and nickel back Jason Sehorn made a spectacular interception by running a route as precise and sharp as the intended receiver on a cut in over the middle. This pick set up New York’s last touchdown of the first half, making the score 28-14. SS Shaun Williams made a real nice play in run defense as did SLB Brandon Short on a halfback draw play. I was impressed with the hustle demonstrated by DE Byron Frisch to chase down Garcia short of the goal line on the play preceding their 1-yard touchdown run.

Second Half Defense: Interestingly, the Giants came out aggressively on the 49ers first drive of the second half. On 1st-and-10, they blitzed Barrow and Short. On the next 1st-and-10, they blitzed Barrow. On 3rd-and-2, they blitzed Shaun Williams and Short. The drive was stopped on 4th-and-1 by Kenny Holmes and Dhani Jones hitting FB Fred Beasley for no gain right at the line of scrimmage. The next drive was a good 3-and-out. Holmes was out of the game at this point with a shoulder injury and DE Byron Frisch was playing in his spot and Frank Ferrara was playing at defensive tackle. The Giants did NOT blitz on this drive.

After that, it all went south as the 49ers scored on every other possession: touchdown (2-point conversion), touchdown (2-point conversion), field goal, and touchdown (2-point conversion failed).

We went into the two-minute offense, our no-huddle offense very early, and because we had some success with it, we stayed with it. They don’t substitute defensive linemen very often, so part of the plan was to wear them down. – 49er Head Coach Steve Mariucci

  • Third Drive of the Second Half (7-plays, 70 yards, 2:24): The down four continues to get absolutely no pressure on Garcia. TE Eric Johnson beats FS Omar Stoutmire for 12 yards. WR Tai Streets beats CB Will Allen for 11 yards. Brandon Short holds HB Garrison Hearst to a 3-yard run. The Giants blitz both Short and Barrow, but Sehorn is beaten by Owens for 12 yards. Johnson beats Short for 6. Barrow blitzes and Garcia gets his pass off to Streets, but Streets can’t keep his feet in bounds. On 3rd-and-4, Barrow is spying Garcia. Garcia passes to Owens for the first down against Sehorn; Sehorn can’t make the tackle and Owens runs the additional 18 yards for the score. On the 2-point conversion, Stoutmire blitzes, but CB Will Peterson is beat by Owens. 38-22.
  • Fourth Drive (3-plays, 27 yards, 0:41): No blitzing on this drive; no pass pressure from the down four. Short holds Beasley to 3 yards after a reception. Short is called upon to match-up on WR J.J. Stokes on a short crossing pattern. No contest and a 10-yard reception results. On 1st-and-10 from the 14, Frisch loses contain and Peterson is unable to play off a block as Garcia scrambles unmolested into the endzone. Owens beats Allen for the 2-point conversion as Garcia has all day to throw. 38-30.
  • Fifth Drive (15-plays, 74 yards, 5:26): This was a long drive that really wore out the Giants’ defense. On one play, the Giants blitzed Stoutmire and on another play Strahan and Griffen did manage to get some heat on Garcia. Strahan also got close on one more play, but that was it. Garcia had too much time. Johnson caught a 5-yarder against Stoutmire. Then the Giants rushed 3-men on 2nd-and-5 and Owens got open against Short in the zone for 21 yards. No one got open on the next play and Garcia threw it away. On 2nd-and-10, as Barrow spied Garcia, WR Cedrick Wilson beat Allen for 18 yards. Shaun Williams then made a nice play breaking up a pass that he came darn close to intercepting and thereby winning the game. Johnson then caught a pass for 9 yards and the Giants held on 3rd-and-1. But on 4th-and-1, Garcia had all day to throw and checked down to his 3rd or 4th receiver (Streets) for the first down. Streets then beat Allen for 5 yards, pressure from Strahan and Griffen resulted an incompletion. On 3rd-and-5, Sehorn was beat by Owens for 9 yards and the first down. On the next play, Sehorn was beaten again by Owens for what should have been a touchdown, but Owens dropped the ball. After a 49er run only picked up 3 yards, Garcia’s 3rd-and-7 pass fell incomplete as Strahan got some pressure. The 49ers kick the field goal. 38-33.
  • Sixth Drive (9-plays, 68 yards, 2:01): The defense looks dead tired and defeated. The down four can get no pressure on Garcia and there is no blitz to help them out. The result is predictable. Stoke for 4 yards. Incomplete to Streets. 7 yards to Owens on 3rd-and-6 as Peterson is beaten. Incomplete to Streets. 7 yards to Johnson as Short is beaten. On 3rd-and-3, Peterson and/or Short screw up coverage on the right side of the defense; Johnson is left all alone on a killer 25-yard catch-and-run. Garcia scrambles for 12 as Frisch and Ferrara lose contain. Incomplete to Stokes. 13-yard touchdown pass to Streets as Peterson is beaten. The Giants blitz all out on the 2-point conversion and Allen picks it off. Too little too late. 39-38.

On the last two defensive plays, Shaun Williams lost his composure after two 15-yard penalties were called on Owens. But Williams’ personal foul penalties wiped out the gains to be had from Owen’s foolishness. Williams was thrown out of the game, but Owens should have been so too (not that it would have mattered). And where was the penalty marker on the 49er center for ripping Allen’s helmet off?

Quarterback: The best news to come out of 2002 for the Giants is that Kerry Collins (29-of-43 for 342 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 1 interception) is the real deal. Collins put together one of the best seasons any Giants’ quarterback has ever had and played a magnificent play-off game. In fact, I would contend that this performance was even more spectacular than his effort against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game: (1) the game was on the road; (2) the 49er defense is far tougher than that Viking defense; (3) Collins threw two interceptions against the Vikings (only one was his fault), but only one against the 49ers (and that wasn’t his fault); and Collins would have had five touchdown passes again had Shockey held onto the ball in the end zone.

As much attention as Toomer, Shockey, and Barber got in the game, it was the pinpoint throws by Collins that juiced up the offense. The first drive ended with an interception that bounced off the hands of Ron Dayne. The second ended when there officials ignored Shockey getting mugged on 3rd-and-5. After that, the next four drives in the first half resulted in touchdowns. The key throws on the first drive were an 18-yarder to Toomer over the middle, a 10-yard out to WR Ron Dixon on 3rd-and-9, and a perfectly-thrown fade-stop to Toomer for a 12-yard touchdown. On the next drive, Collins hit Shockey for 27 yards over the middle on a seam route and then dropped a perfect jump ball on Shockey for a 2-yard touchdown. After the 49ers muffed the punt, Collins correctly read an all-out 49er blitz and quickly threw to Toomer on the sideline for a 8-yard completion and another score. Last drive of the first half – a perfectly thrown seam pass to a streaking Tiki Barber for 30 yards on 3rd-and-8 with 33 seconds left. Two plays later, he threw a perfect pump-and-go pass to Toomer in the end zone for his fourth touchdown of the game from 24 yards out and 16 seconds left on the clock.

In the second half, Collins’ completions to Toomer on the first two drives helped to set up 10 more points (should have been 14, but Shockey dropped a touchdown pass). But on the next two drives, the increasing pressure of the 49er comeback seemed to get to Collins a bit as he was off on a deep sideline pass to Shockey (who was well-covered). On the next play, he took a coverage sack and the Giants were forced to punt. Then on the next drive, on 2nd-and-11 and 3rd-and-8, Collins looked a bit rattled. The last pass was almost intercepted and the Giants were forced to punt.

But on the last two drives, Collins got his act together. He hit Shockey for 7, Campbell for 10, and Shockey for 9 yards. But Bryant missed the 42-yard field goal when Barber couldn’t pick up the first down on 3rd-and-2. Then the 49ers took the lead 39-38. On Giants’ last drive, Collins hit Dixon for 10, tried to hit Toomer deep but was almost picked off, Dixon for 19, incomplete to Toomer, and Toomer for 5. Collins got the Giants in position to score 45 points – it’s not his fault that Shockey dropped the ball and the special teams missed to very makeable field goals.

Wide Receivers: Another piece of great news coming out of 2002 is that Amani Toomer (8 catches for 136 yards, 3 touchdowns) has become a prime time player against top competition. This was not the case with Amani before 2002. The 49ers put their best cornerback on Toomer (Ahmed Plummer) and Toomer ate him alive. Toomer had three touchdowns in the first half and all were well-run routes, especially the fade-stop on his first score and the double-move on his last score. Collins caught his next touchdown at the 49er 3-yard line and broke away from Plummer for the score. The last touchdown reception was a great catch falling backwards as Plummer face-guarded and interfered with him.

Toomer had an 18-yard reception wiped out by a holding penalty by Dan Campbell late in the first half. In the second half, Toomer had a 17 yard reception on the Giants’ first scoring drive. He then caught a 46-yard deep strike from Collins that set up the Giants’ final points of the game.

Ron Dixon started (5 catches for 52 yards) and at least presented another credible threat. He had a big catch on the 3rd-and-9 play for a first down on the Giants’ first touchdown drive of the game. Dixon caught an 11-yard slant on the field goal drive in the 3rd quarter. Dixon’s biggest catches were his 10-yard and 19-yard receptions on the last desperate drive.

For some reason, Daryl Jones never looked back for the ball on Collins’ 3rd-and-17 deep pass right before the muffed punt by San Francisco.

Tight Ends: The Giants wouldn’t have been dominating the game if it weren’t for the presence and performance of Jeremy Shockey (7 catches for 68 yards, 1 touchdown). However, I think I will always be haunted by Jeremy’s drop of an easy pass in the end zone that would have made the score 42-14. There are two things that bug me about Shockey: (1) the easy drops, which he seems to have 1-2 per game, and (2) the hot-dogging on almost every pass play that he is involved in. I don’t mind the latter so much most of the time, but I didn’t like his showboating after his touchdown reception. But that’s me. The more serious problem is the dropped passes (Shockey dropped another in the game as well – though that was on a fastball from Collins that was partially obstructed from his view by a defender). The spectacular play that he made came on the second touchdown drive. Shockey easily beat Julian Peterson for a 17-yard reception at the San Francisco 10-yard line, then bounced off a big hit from safety Zack Bronson and ran the ball down to the 1-yard line. Two plays later he caught a 2-yard touchdown pass on a jump ball over safety Tony Parrish.

Both Shockey and Dan Campbell (2 catches for 13 yards) continue to be tremendous assets as blockers. Campbell did get flagged for a holding penalty from the fullback spot in pass protection however late in the first half.

Running Backs: Unlike the first game against the 49ers, Tiki Barber (26 carries for 115 yards, 1 touchdown; 5 catches for 62 yards) had a huge day against the 49ers. The first drive started off with a heavy does of Tiki: 4 runs for 13 yards, 2 receptions for 20 yards. New York’s fourth drive was sparked by a 29-yard cutback run by Barber to the left (behind good blocks from Luke Petitgout and Jeremy Shockey). And the final touchdown of the first half was set up by Tiki’s 30-yard reception down the middle of the field on 3rd-and-8 with 33 seconds left. On the play, Tiki held onto the ball despite receiving a big hit from the safety.

Barber was also effective in short-yardage with a 3-yard run on 3rd-and-1 on the first drive, a 4-yard run on 3rd-and-2 on the third drive, and a 3-yard run on 3rd-and-1 on the fifth drive. Barber was overpowered however by LB Julian Peterson on a blitz, resulting in a 9-yard sack on this latter drive.

In the second half, Barber opened things up with a 22 yard run behind good blocks from Chris Bober, Rich Seubert, Campbell, and Toomer. On the next play, both Barber and Campbell did a great job of picking up a 49er blitz on a pas play that gained 17 yards. Then Barber picked up 8 on a patient run around right end behind Jason Whittle. On the next play, Campbell picked up a blitzing linebacker and behind good blocks from Shockey, Rosenthal, and Whittle, Barber scored from 6 yards out to make the scored 35-14. Barber didn’t carry the ball on the field goal drive. And against a fired up 49er defense on the next two drives, Barber could find no room on two first down carries that netted -2 yards. On the failed field goal drive, Barber ran for 4, 10, -1, and 1 yard. It was the latter that came up short on 3rd-and-2 right before the missed field goal.

Ron Dayne (3 carries for 4 yards) was not effective. Worse, Collins’ only interception of the game came on the first drive when his pass to Dayne bounced off Dayne’s hands and into Julian Peterson’s. The Giants were moving on this drive and the turnover swung the momentum back to the 49ers.

Charles Stackhouse caught 2 passes for 11 yards out of the backfield – both in the first half.

Offensive Line: Once again, a fantastic effort in terms of pass and run blocking. The Giants had some problems with DT Bryant Young in the middle (OC Chris Bober in particular), but New York largely controlled the line of scrimmage against a defense that gave them problems on September 5th.

Luke Petitgout was flagged with a false start in the first quarter. And Seubert missed a key block that could have really helped the Giants. After the 49ers had cut the score to 38-22, a Tiki Barber run to the left looked like big yardage if Seubert was able to block the safety. But Seubert missed the block and Tiki lost -1 yard. Three plays later came the bad punt and personal foul penalty that gave the 49ers the ball at the Giants’ 27-yard line.

As some BBI’ers argued at the beginning of the season, it would take time for this offensive line to gel, but it would be a decent line once its cohesiveness grew. And that’s exactly what has happened. In fact, this may be the best pass blocking offensive line in the franchise’s history. Is this a smash-mouth, power-blocking offensive line? No. But you can’t have it all and I’ll take what they have. I keep reading comments that the Giants need a new starting right guard or right tackle, but I’d keep this group together. They play well together and will only continue to get better with time. I wouldn’t screw around with success. If the Giants draft or sign someone who can beat out Whittle (who played much of the second half of the season with four broken ribs) or Mike Rosenthal, then great. But I wouldn’t count on it so I’d re-sign them all and go from there. Also, keep in mind that in 17 games, Tiki rushed for over 1,500 yards and 12 touchdowns behind this line. That’s not chopped liver. Get a better short-yardage back and they’ll be fine.

(Box Score – New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, January 5, 2003)
Jan 032003

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, January 5, 2003: Again with the 49ers in the playoffs. Incredibly, this will be the seventh time in New York’s ten playoff appearances since 1981 that the Giants and 49ers have met. The only playoff series they have not run into San Francisco are 1989, 1997, and 2000. And ironically, after a roller coaster ride in 2002, the Giants face the same team that they lost to on opening night all the way back on September 5th. The Giants lost that game 16-13 as the Giants had problems scoring in the Red Zone, Kerry Collins threw 3 interceptions, and the Giants’ halfbacks only managed 39 yards on 21 carries (just awful).

This is a different Giants team now however. On the downside, stalwarts such as DT Keith Hamilton and WR Ike Hilliard are in Injured Reserve. But on the upside, guys who were green as grass on September 5th are now much more experienced and much more confident, especially on the offensive line. The Giants are hot…winners of four impressive games in a row. The 49ers have struggled a bit down the stretch. Many in the national media are even giving the Giants a good chance to beat the favored 49ers on Sunday. BBI posters in The Corner Forum who thought the Giants would lose their last four games now predict an easy victory. That makes me nervous. The 49ers are a good football team with some outstanding players. They are playing at home in front of their fans, with their own proud tradition behind them. Just seven starters remain from the Giants’ last playoff appearance; in other words, many of the youngsters on this team have never experienced the intensity of a playoff game. The playoffs are single elimination…one screw-up on special teams, offense, or defense can cost you the game. There usually is no room for error.

But the Giants have some things working in their favor. The 49ers thankfully provided the Giants with a lot of bulletin board material this week that will only ad to New York’s intensity. The two “Wills” are playing hurt, but they are still both outstanding. The linebackers are playing good football right now. Amani Toomer and Kerry Collins are playing the best football of their careers. The offensive line is coming together. And there is the aura of Jeremy Shockey. There is just something about the man that says, “Don’t worry, I’ll carry you to the Super Bowl and win it for you.” I don’t know what it is, but I just have the feeling the Giants will be alright because they have Shockey.

My biggest worries heading into this game? Special teams (specifically the kickers), containing QB Jeff Garcia in the pocket, and turnovers.

Giants on Special Teams: I hate to say this, but Matt Bryant’s ever-shortening kickoffs are an invitation to disaster. If not a big return, then simply by providing the opposition with continued superior field position. Same story with Matt Allen’s punting.

Bryant’s efforts on field goal attempts in the post-season will be crucial.

The 49ers just signed a new kick returner this week, Vinny Sutherland, due to injuries to regular returners Cedrick Wilson and Jason Webster.

Giants on Defense: The 49ers were not as productive on offense this year as they had hoped, but they still finished the regular season eighth in the NFL in total offense. And they are quite capable of an offensive explosion in any game. The Giants on defense will have to play a smart, physical football game.

There has been a lot of attention in the press this week about the Giants’ secondary versus All-World WR Terrell Owens. But I think the biggest keys in the game will be (1) keeping the mobile QB Jeff Garcia in the pocket, and (2) stopping the running game. In the 49er games I’ve watched, Garcia keeps crucial drives alive time-and-time again by either scrambling out of harms way and then finding the open receiver or running for a key first down. It’s frustrating to watch. And the Giants have not had a lot of success with mobile quarterbacks this year. The rush lane discipline of DT’s Cornelius Griffin and Lance Legree in particular has left much to be desired, but DE’s Michael Strahan and Kenny Holmes have also been at fault. The New York pass rush has not been good in recent weeks from the down four. Legree doesn’t have a sack this season, Griffin has only four (and three of them came in one game), and Strahan hasn’t picked up a sack in weeks. With the greater need to maintain disciplined pass rush lanes this week, look for a continued anemic pass pressure – not good when you are facing a high-flying passing attack. What about blitzes? Sure, the Giants must and will blitz some. But the 49ers run a true West Coast Offense and you don’t want to leave halfbacks or tight ends all alone too much.

Then there is the running game. Contrary to popular myth, the 49ers have been at their offensive best when they have been able to run the football. They have a nice one-two punch in Garrison Heart and Kevan Barlow. Hearst has more wiggle and Barlow more punch. After the first Giants-49ers meeting this year, if I’m San Francisco, I came away from that game with a lot of respect for the Giants’ secondary and a defense that was concerned with stopping the pass first and foremost. That’s why I would come out trying to cross New York up with the running game.

Strahan will face our old friend RT Scott Gragg, who did a real nice job on Strahan on September 5th. We still do not know if Pro Bowl RG Ron Stone (ankle) will play. If he does, he will line up over Griffin’s head. OC Jeremy Newberry, who was running his mouth this week about kicking the asses of the Giants, is another Pro Bowler. Derek Deese is one of the best pass blocking left tackles in the game so Holmes will have his hands full. Rookie Eric Heitmann is the new starter at left guard and will play against Legree. The complexion of things changes quite a bit depending on the availability of Stone.

Linebacker coverage playing against the 49ers is always crucial. Hearst (48 catches), TE Eric Johnson (36 catches), and FB Fred Beasley (22 catches) are all important weapons in the 49er passing attack. Michael Barrow, Dhani Jones, and Brandon Short will have to do well here – particularly against Hearst and Johnson. Short will likely be a San Francisco target in the passing game. Also key this week, will be the ability of the linebackers to avoid the lead block of Beasley in the ground game. Beasley is one of the best run blocking fullbacks in the game.

Jeff Garcia is a Pro Bowl quarterback. WR Terrell Owens has 100 receptions for 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns in just 14 games. WR Tai Streets has 72 catches and 5 touchdowns. And WR J.J. Stokes is a former first rounder who comes off the bench. Combine these three with the pass receiving ability of the backs and tight ends and this is a difficult passing game to defend. This is the kind of game where CB’s Will Allen and Will Peterson can really start making a name for themselves with the average viewer. Same story with SS Shaun Williams and FS Omar Stoutmire. Shutting down the 49er passing attack will attract attention. Will Allen covered Owens most of the game on September 5th and did a superb job on him, but a late zone coverage breakdown by Dhani Jones cost the Giants dearly on the 49er game-winning field goal drive. Can’t just play Owens tough for most of the game – but all of the game. Owens will undoubtably see multiple coverages and attention from different players. A big key is to not let Streets or Stokes to do damage elsewhere. Nickel back Jason Sehorn will be key.

Stuff the run. Keep Garcia in the pocket. Limit the damage the receivers do. Added bonus? Create some turnovers in order to help out the offense.

Giants on Offense: The big key is to not turn the football over. Last week, the Giants fumbled the ball 7 times (lost 3) and threw an interception. Tiki Barber needs to hold onto the football and Kerry Collins needs to make smart decisions. Do that and the Giants should be fine.

The 49ers have some talent in the front seven, but their secondary has been a bit weak this year and they are not helped by the fact that CB Jason Webster is ailing with an ankle injury and may not play. If the offensive line gives Collins time and Collins and the receivers are “on”, the Giants should be able to do some damage in the passing game. It helps that WR Ron Dixon is back this weekend, but Dixon is bound to be a bit rusty and has been guilty of some costly dropped passes in the past.

Up front, the Giants face a big challenge inside as DT’s Bryant Young and Dana Stubblefield will battle RG Jason Whittle and LG Rich Seubert, respectively. These two gave New York a lot of problems on September 5th as the Giants were not able to establish a running game and pass protection was shaky. DE Andre Carter (12 sacks – one more than Strahan) faces LT Luke Petitgout and Chike Okeafor faces RT Mike Rosenthal (Okeafor sacked Collins on opening night as did Stubblefield). Providing solid pass protection for Collins against these four and potential blitzes is important as is creating running room for Barber and HB Ron Dayne.

At linebacker, the 49ers have an outstanding player in Pro Bowl SLB Julian Peterson – a very athletic player for his size who plays a physical game. Peterson says he is not intimidated by Pro Bowl TE Jeremy Shockey and contends he will do a good job of covering him. If he does, the Giants will be in trouble.

The bad news for the Giants is that FS Zach Bronson (foot) returns from injury this week. SS Tony Parrish (7 interceptions) is a hitter and will often be called upon to guard against Shockey as well. San Francisco’s best cornerback is Ahmed Plummer who normally covers the flanker (Ron Dixon’s side of the field). It will be interesting to see if the 49ers put Plummer on Toomer or keep him on Dixon. If Webster can’t play, then rookie 1st rounder Mike Rumph, who has struggled somewhat this year, will start. The Giants absolutely need Toomer and Dixon to play well as Shockey will have his hands full.

My strategy would be to try to get up early on the 49ers early with the passing game, then hit them with a heavy does of Barber and Dayne. Then go for the kill shot off of play-action. Most of all – don’t turn the ball over.