Dec 292004
Cincinnati Bengals 23 – New York Giants 22

Game Overview: The Giants lost this game for one reason and one reason only: an inability of the players to make plays when it mattered most.

It’s too bad because, despite all of the injuries, the Giants played well enough for most of the game to win the contest. The Giants’ defense held a very good offense to 233 total net yards and a very good rushing attack to 63 net yards. They forced two turnovers and stopped the Bengals twice on 4th down. But with a chance to seal the deal, the defense failed to hold the Bengals on 4th-and-10 late in the game, allowing a first down and then two plays later the game-winning touchdown.

The offense out-gained the Bengals by 100 yards, rushed for 142 yards, and put together six scoring drives. But five of these scoring drives resulted in field goals, the most-damning being the Giants’ last scoring possession when the team had a 2nd-and-1 from the Bengal 5-yard line but was forced to settle for a field goal. A touchdown here, with five minutes left, would have put the game out of reach for Cincinnati.

But what probably hurt the Giants the most all day was the poor punt and kickoff coverage. Time and time again, the Bengals started drives in outstanding field position because the Giants gave up too many big returns. And to make matters worse, dumb penalties on special teams made the situation even worse. The 42-yard return with just over 2 minutes left in the game was simply inexcusable.

Basically, the Giants somehow found a way to lose a football game where they controlled both lines of scrimmage, won the turnover battle, and out-gained the opposition by 100 yards.

“That is one of the most bizarre games I’ve ever seen in my life,” Head Coach Tom Coughlin said after the game. “I have no explanation for why, play after play after play with opportunities, we can’t make a play.”

Offense: I thought the Giants did a really good job of varying their offensive sets in this game. There were all kinds of different formations and personnel packages that appeared to keep the Bengals off balance.

Quarterback: Eli Manning (19-of-37 for 201 yards, 0 touchdowns, 1 interception) put together another credible performance. No, it was not a great effort, but he played well enough for the Giants to win and played with a certain degree of poise that belies his inexperience. He also was not helped by 5-6 dropped passes (one would have been a tough catch). Still, Manning missed on some throws that would have helped his cause – and that of his team.

The Giants had the ball six times in the first half and scored on their last three possessions of that half. On the first drive, Manning found WR David Tyree over the middle for 10 yards on 3rd-and-5. But the drive ended as a false start moved New York back and on 3rd-and-7 the Bengals overloaded the weakside and a free blitzer hit Manning just as he threw the ball, causing an incompletion. On the Giants’ second possession, a 2nd-and-6 pass to a wide-open HB Tiki Barber was deflected at the line of scrimmage (a constant theme). On 3rd-and-6, WR Ike Hilliard dropped a well-thrown pass (Hilliard took a big hit on the play, but he should have held onto the ball).

The third possession was a prime example of the problem being not with the plays being called, but the failed execution on the part of the players. After 12-yard run by Barber (and good blocking by the offensive line, FB Jim Finn, and TE Jeremy Shockey), the next run only picked up 1 yard as Finn and WR Amani Toomer did not block their respective opponents. On 2nd-and-9, Toomer dropped a pass from Manning. On 3rd-and-9, Shockey dropped a pass over the middle that would have easily picked up the first down. This is what Head Coach Tom Coughlin is talking about when he points out that the players are not making plays.

The fourth drive of the half resulted in a touchdown, but it did not start off well for Manning. He overthrew Toomer on a deep post route. He then badly overthrew TE Marcellus Rivers over the middle. But after an 8-yard completion to Shockey, Manning rolled to his right to hit Hilliard for 20 yards on 4th-and-2. Three plays later, Manning made a big-time play when he stood tough in the pocket and hit Shockey down to the 1-yard line despite a free blitzer clobbering him just as he threw (and knowing that he was going to be hit). Barber scored on the very next play. On the fifth possession, Manning was lucky that a quick out pass to Hilliard was not picked off and returned for a touchdown. But on the very next snap, on 3rd-and-5, he threw and absolutely beautiful sideline pass to Shockey for 27 yards – this pass dropped perfectly into Shockey’s hands despite tight coverage (and Manning was again getting hit on the play). Manning didn’t get the play off in time on the next play and delay of game was called. This was a costly penalty as the Giants had to settle for a field goal on 4th-and-1. Two plays earlier, Manning threw a low pass to Rivers. It would have been a tough catch, but he got his hands on it (again, the failure to make the tough play in the clutch). On the final field goal drive of the half, Manning made clutch throws on to Tyree for 25 yards (on 3rd-and-4) and Shockey for 6 yards (on 3rd-and-1).

The Giants had the ball five times in the second half. The first three of these drives resulted in field goals. On the first drive, Manning only threw two passes. Manning found Hilliard over the middle for 14 yards on 3rd-and-4. On 3rd-and-7, Eli badly underthrew a wide-open Tyree for what would have been a first down. The Giants were forced to settle for a field goal. On the next possession, Manning hit Toomer twice in a row over the middle for gains of 11 and 16 yards. After a holding penalty moved the Giants back 10 yards, Manning threw an 8-yard screen to Barber. On 2nd-and-12, Barber dropped a swing pass where he had a lot of room in front of him. On 3rd-and-12, Manning was sacked and the Giants kicked the field goal.

On the third drive, Manning only threw two passes. One was an 8-yard completion to Shockey on 1st-and-10. The other was a 3rd-and-6 pass from the Bengal 10-yard line. With a free blitzer right in his face, Manning tried to swing the ball out to Shockey, but the pass was almost picked off. Had it been, it would have been returned for a touchdown. On the fourth possession, when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock, Eli threw a poor pass to Amani Toomer on 2nd-and-7, but Toomer made an excellent low catch for the first down. Manning’s 3rd-and-5 pass hit a Bengal defensive linemen in the head and the Giants were forced to punt. “Amani makes a first down on 3rd-and-five if we could have gotten him the slant ball,” Coughlin said. On the Giants last possession of the game, the Giants started in Bengal territory and only needed about 20 yards for a legitimate game-winning field goal attempt, but Manning’s pass was once again deflected at the line of scrimmage. This time it was intercepted on the rebound. Game over. “Shockey had a little dig, about 12-14 yards,” Manning said. “He opened up and was going to be there, but the ball was tipped. There is no one you can blame on that one. Their guy made a great play. I will have to look at it on film and see if my arm was too low, or if it was just that their guy had his hand in the right spot.”

Wide Receivers: The biggest problem the Giants have on offense right now is that they have no one stretching the field. Opposing defensive backs don’t fear the deep throw with Tim Carter and Jamaar Taylor not playing, so they are much more aggressive in covering the Giants’ receivers (including Shockey) tightly and taking chances. I guarantee that this offense would be much more productive if there was somebody in the line-up who would put the fear of God into these defensive backs.

It is clear that Toomer (3 catches for 35 yards) is playing hurt. He has a noticeable limp. And for the second game in a row, he did not make a catch until the second half of the game. On the Giants’ third series of the game, he blew his block on the defensive back that was supposed to give Barber the corner. On the very next play, he dropped a pass from Manning on 2nd-and-9. In the second half, Toomer had two key catches over the middle for 11 and 16 yards on a field goal drive that gave the Giants the lead. He also made a heck of a catch on a very low pass from Manning for 8 yards and a 1st down when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock.

We are probably seeing Ike Hilliard’s (4 catches for 46 yards) last days as a Giant. While he made some plays in this game such as his 20-yard catch-and-run on 4th-and-2, he just isn’t making any plays down the field anymore. And unlike Toomer, he has no injury excuse. The Giants’ second drive of the game ended when Hilliard dropped a 3rd-and-6 pass; Hilliard took a big hit on the play, but this is a play that he needs to make. Late in the first half, Hilliard made a very poor effort on an attempted block of a defensive back on a Barber run to the left. Hilliard did catch a 14-yard pass on 3rd-and-4 early in the 3rd quarter.

David Tyree (2 catches for 35 yards) continues to receive valuable playing time and made two big catches in the first half. One was a 10-yard completion over the middle on 3rd-and-6. The other was a 25-yard reception on 3rd-and-4.

Running Backs: Another productive game for Barber (22 carries for 109 yards, a 5.0 yards-per-carry average, and 1 touchdown). However, for the second time this season (the first being against the Ravens), Tiki put the ball on the ground twice (the Giants recovered on fumble and a penalty erased the other). On the later fumble, had it not been for the penalty, the Bengals would have recovered the ball inside their own 10-yard line, costing the Giants three points. These late season fumbling woes are a bit disconcerting.

The Giants’ ground game was productive most of the day, gaining 142 yards. There was strong run blocking, particularly to the right side of the offensive line, but there were also plays where Barber made important yardage on his own. I was particularly impressed with his effort on the Giants’ fourth possession of the game. Tiki started off with a very physical 9-yard run to the right. Then on 3rd-and-1, on a play designed to run to the left, Barber saw that both OC Shaun O’Hara and LG Jason Whittle had been shoved back into the backfield, he cutback to the right and picked up the first down pretty much on his own. Barber finished off the drive by running over a linebacker in the hole on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line.

Barber’s biggest screw-up in the game was dropping Manning’s 2nd-and-12 swing pass when the Giants were at the Bengal 14-yard line. Barber had a lot of room to run in front of him and may have been able to given the Giants a 1st-and-goal situation down near the 1-yard line. Manning was sacked on the very next play and the Giants had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.

Ron Dayne (6 carries for 33 yards) had his most productive game of the year. The Giants ran a smart play where they put Barber and Dayne in the game at the same time, then spread Barber out wide. With the defense thinking pass and the linebackers spread out away from the center of the formation, the Giants ran Dayne up the gut for an 11-yard gain. On the Giants’ first possession in the second half, Dayne picked up another 11 yards on a run out of the spread formation again. But on the very next play, TE Marcellus Rivers blew his block and Dayne was stuffed out of the traditional two-back set. On the Giants’ third drive, New York had a chance to put the game away with a touchdown. After a 6-yard run by Barber, Dayne ran hard right up the gut for a 9-yard gain, giving the Giants a 2nd-and-1 at the Bengal 5-yard line. At this point, I had no problem giving the ball to Dayne again. He had been running well all day and seemed to be in a rhythm. But Dayne’s damn inconsistency reared its ugly head at this point. The Giants tried to run up the middle one more time…I thought this was a good call as the Bengals were starting to wilt up front and the Giants were running inside with good productivity. OC Shaun O’Hara was unable to engage the middle linebacker and keep him out of the hole, but Dayne made matters worse by hesitating a half second and thereby slowing down his momentum. Dayne was stuffed and the drive bogged down as the Giants had to settle for another field goal.

FB Jim Finn (2 catches for 7 yards) has really improved his blocking this year and I thought he was particularly sharp and physical as a run blocker in this game. There was one play where Finn was lined up on the line of scrimmage off LT Luke Petitgout’s shoulder where he missed his block, but Finn did a great job most of the game as a lead blocker out of the traditional fullback stance. Most of Barber’s yardage seemed to come with Finn leading the way and taking out a linebacker. I hope the Giants can hold onto Finn as he will be an unrestricted free agent.

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey (6 catches for 64 yards) was an important cog in the offense on Sunday, but he also dropped two passes, including a 3rd-and-9 throw over the middle that would have picked up a first down. One 6-yard completion to Shockey put the ball down to the 1-yard line, setting up Barber’s touchdown carry. He also had a key 27-yard reception down the right sideline on 3rd-and-5 and a 6-yard reception on 3rd-and-1. Shockey’s run blocking was very good, including helping to spring Barber on 12- and 9-yard runs in the 1st quarter and a 6-yard run in the 2nd quarter. Shockey made an excellent block on Dayne’s 9-yard run, but he should have done a better job of jamming the blitzer on the 3rd-and-6 pass intended for him near the goal line that was almost picked off. Shockey was to hit the defender and then get out on his pattern, but the blitzer came in too fast and was right on top of Manning. It was an interesting play by the Giants because they had pulled their linemen in the opposite direction, doing a good job making it seem as if New York was running a sweep to the left, but the blitzer was not fooled on the play and neither was the defender covering Shockey.

Visanthe Shiancoe appears to be creeping more and more into the line-up again. He seemed to be on the field just as much as Marcellus Rivers, if not more. Rivers couldn’t come up with the football on a low throw in his direction in the 2nd quarter. And Rivers was easily pushed aside by a Bengal defender at the point-of-attack on a Dayne run that was stuffed early in the third quarter. Shiancoe, on the other hand, made a good block a few plays earlier at the point-of-attack against the defensive end on a play that picked up 8 yards. It was also interesting to note that Shiancoe, not Rivers, was in the game when the Giants were attempting to run out the clock.

Offensive Line: Another solid game for this much maligned group. The Giants ran the ball pretty effectively, gaining 142 yards on 28 carries (over 5 yards-per-carry). In particular, the Giants were able to do some damage running to their right behind strong blocking from RG Wayne Lucier, RT David Diehl, Finn, and Shockey. There was one short yardage play where both OC Shaun O’Hara and LG Jason Whittle got shoved back into the backfield, forcing Barber to cut back to his right for the 1st down. Petitgout, O’Hara, and Whittle made nice blocks on Dayne’s 11-yard run in the 2nd quarter (and O’Hara made a nice block on Barber’s 12-yard run up the middle earlier in the game as did Whittle). The strong running game continued in the second half, although there was one play where Lucier got run over by the defensive tackle and Barber was hit in the backfield for a 2-yard loss. And on the play where Tiki first fumbled, O’Hara failed to engage the linebacker who stripped the ball. Lucier, O’Hara, and Finn got excellent blocks on Tiki’s 21-yard run late in the 3rd quarter. But on the following play, Lucier couldn’t sustain his run block long enough and his man tackled Barber after a 2-yard gain. Petitgout made a nice block on an 8-yard run by Barber (as did Finn again) and Diehl made a nice block on a 9-yard run by Dayne. On the 2nd-and-1 play where Dayne was stuffed, O’Hara started the play off by helping Lucier double-team the tackle, but he couldn’t get to the linebacker in time who hit Dayne in the hole. But by in large, the Giants controlled the line of scrimmage.

Manning had decent time in the pocket despite a lot of blitzing by the Bengals. The Bengals did get to Manning on the first possession as they overloaded the right side of the line and there were too many people and not enough blockers to pick up – Manning was hit as he threw. Lucier also got beat by a spin move on the deep pass to Toomer in the 2nd quarter as Manning was hit as he threw. On the Giants’ last drive of the half, Lucier gave up another pressure off of a stunt and Petitgout got beat on the next play as Manning was hit as he threw. The biggest snafu came on the last offensive play of the half as someone (Petitgout?) failed to pickup the blitzing safety and Manning was sacked for an 8-yard loss, erasing any chance for a touchdown. “I mean we had the ball on the 10-yard line and we have a play called and we screw up a base protection with no sight adjustment and no hot,” said Coughlin. “We just have a base protection that we don’t handle properly which creates a sack which forces the field goal.”

The biggest problem in the second half was Luke Petitgout’s three obvious screw-ups. (But let’s keep in mind that Petitgout was toughing it out with a very sore back). Facing a 1st-and-10 from the Cincinnati 12-yard line, the Giants tried to run a misdirection cutback run in Petitgout’s direction, but Petitgout held the end, leading to a 10-yard penalty that moved the ball back to the 22-yard line. Then on 3rd-and-12, Petitgout got beat to the outside and Manning was sacked. The Giants were forced to settle for a field goal. Then when the Giants were attempting to put the game away with a late touchdown, Petitgout was flagged with a false start on 3rd-and-1 from the Bengal 5-yard line. Again, the Giants were forced to settle for a field goal. “It catches up to you when you don’t get the touchdown,” Petitgout said. “I had a penalty, I gave up a sack. It’s my fault. I take the blame. I gave the game away. I played Santa Claus in the red zone.”

Diehl was also flagged with a false start on the first drive that helped to stall that effort.

Defensive Line: An undermanned defensive line did a superb job of keeping a very good running attack in check. The Bengals only managed 63 yards rushing and the dangerous Rudi Johnson was held to a mere 31 yards on 19 carries (1.6 yards-per-carry).

The four starters up front – Lance Legree (4 tackles), William Joseph (4 tackles), Fred Robbins (3 tackles, 0.5 sacks), and Osi Umenyiora (1 tackle) – played a physical game with excellent intensity. And Legree and Robbins were toughing it out despite being obviously banged up (a clear indication that many on this team have not quit).

Once again, Legree stood out in run defense. I hope the Giants can find a way to keep this soon-to-be unrestricted free agent. Time-and-time again he held his ground at the point-of-attack or penetrated into the backfield, including on the 4th-and-1 stuff (and the 3rd-and-1 play before it).

It was also a breakout game for Joseph. Joseph played virtually every snap as far as I could tell and did not wear down. Early on I was nervous again as I saw him run by the back in the backfield on a stunt (again, a failure to locate the football). But he also got a good pass rush on QB Jon Kitna on the Bengals’ first drive. Joseph got another pressure late in the 2nd quarter. In the 3rd quarter, Joseph really started to take over the game. He stuffed Johnson for no gain on one play after fighting through a block. Two plays later, he took a hard slant inside of the guard, penetrated into the backfield and tackled Johnson for a 4-yard loss. The Bengal possession ended when both Joseph and Legree penetrated into the backfield to tackle Johnson for a 2-yard loss on 4th-and-inches. On the next Bengal possession, Joseph nailed Johnson again for a 2-yard loss. He then penetrated to disrupt a run that picked up 3 yards. At this point of the game, the Bengals stopped trying to run the football on the Giants. The biggest negative was that Joseph (as well as Umenyiora and Carlos Emmons) got fooled on the shovel pass on 3rd-and-1 that picked up 21 yards and which moved the ball down to the 1-yard line. Joseph also got easily blocked on the 1-yard touchdown run that ensued.

Fred Robbins was stout against the run, made a couple of penetrations to disrupt runs, and shared a sack. He did miss a tackle on the 21-yard shovel pass. Umenyiora was the quietest of the bunch. I was actually surprised that the Bengals didn’t test him more, but he generally held his ground fairly well. I would have liked to have seen more pass pressure from him. Osi was flagged with an offsides penalty. I did like his hustle in chasing down the shovel pass.

Of the reserves, Reggie Torbor (3 tackles, 1.5 sacks) saw a lot of time at right defensive end and made an impact as a pass rusher. Torbor and Robbins split a sack on Kitna late in the 1st quarter. Torbor then sacked Kitna on 3rd-and-8 in the 2nd quarter on a quick outside move around the left tackle, forcing the Bengals to settle for a long field goal attempt. Later in the quarter, he got another good pass rush on Kitna, forcing a bad throw that should have been picked off. On the very next play, on 3rd-and-10, both Torbor and Umenyiora pressured Kitna to throw the football away. On the first play of the Bengals’ game-winning touchdown drive, Torbor sped past the left tackle, who was forced to grab him by the collar. It was as blatant a holding penalty as you will see but it was not called.

Damane Duckett (zero tackles) played some. He looked better to me this week in terms of holding his own at the point-of-attack. He also made one nice play where he forced back a double-team, thereby disrupting the blocking on the play.

Linebackers: This group also deserves a lot of credit for keeping the Bengal running game in check. Carlos Emmons (6 tackles) played a physical game and also made a couple of plays in coverage. The biggest negative on him is that he took the wrong angle on Kitna’s 15-yard scramble on 3rd-and-6 on Cincinnati’s first touchdown drive. Not only did Emmons miss Kitna, but he took out the pursuing Umenyiora on the play. He also misread the 21-yard shovel pass and then missed the tackle. Carlos helped to stuff the 3rd-and-1 running play right before the 4th-and-inches stuff. Emmons also made a great play in the flat on a 3rd-and-4 pass play, forcing a Bengals’ punt with just over 4 minutes left in the game.

Nick Greisen (5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) made an impact with both his sack and forced fumble. Greisen did miss a tackle in the backfield on an 11-yard carry by Johnson in the 2nd quarter. There was also another play where both Greisen and Emmons were slow to read a draw play that picked up 9 yards.

Kevin Lewis (3 tackles) was pretty quiet although he made a nice play in run defense on the Bengals’ first offensive play of the game. Lewis couldn’t make the play in the hole on Johnson’s 1-yard touchdown run late in the 3rd quarter.

Defensive Backs: Really a mixed bag. For most of the game, the defensive backs did a good job against a very good receiving corps. Kitna was only able to pass for 182 yards and Pro Bowl WR Chad Johnson was held to 46 yards. But the defensive backs failed to make the clutch play in key situations and it ended up costing the Giants the game.

Frank Walker (3 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass defense) was up and down. Walker started at right corner in place of Will Peterson, who was being disciplined for missing team meetings. Walker played aggressively, including helping to stuff Rudi Johnson up a running play up the middle on 3rd-and-1 at the start of the game. Walker came down the line to hold up Johnson from behind, forcing a punt. On the next possession, Walker did a good job of coming up to hit and tackle Chad Johnson on a short completion that only picked up 3 yards. But two plays later, Walker got beat by Johnson for a 5-yard touchdown pass when Walker failed to turn around to make a play on the football (had he done so he probably would have knocked the ball away). I thought the roughing-the-pass penalty called on Walker on a 3rd-and-7 incompletion was a tough call. Walker was flying full speed at Kitna and there was no way he was going to be able to pull up. Walker ended a Bengal drive with a 4th-and-10 interception in the 2nd quarter when Kitna misread the Giants’ coverage (apparently Walker is the only Giants’ corner who can catch the football). Walker only gave up two completions in the second half, but both were big. First he got beat for 13 yards on an out pattern on 3rd-and-9 on the Bengals’ first second-half touchdown drive (Walker almost tipped the ball away). But where Walker really screwed the pooch was at the end of the game. He (along with Brent Alexander) failed to make a play on the football on the 4th-and-10 completion to Houshmandzadeh that saved the game for the Bengals. “If he can go up and catch it, we ought to be able to go up and knock it down,” Coughlin said. “We have two people there.” Walker then missed sacking Kitna on Kitna’s 4-yard touchdown pass to win the game.

It was one of those games again for Will Allen (3 tackles) where a few plays overshadowed the positive. Allen was a big reason why the Cincinnati passing game struggled, but he also continues to give up completions on plays where he has good coverage but doesn’t make a play on the football. For example, on the Bengals’ first touchdown drive, Kitna found WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh over the middle despite tight coverage from Allen. Allen also failed to make the tackle short of the first down on this play and a 17-yard gain resulted. On the next play, the Bengals scored the touchdown. Houshmandzadeh beat Allen for 16 yards in the 2nd quarter. On the Bengals’ touchdown drive late in the 3rd quarter, Allen was beat by Chad Johnson for three short passes in a row, for gains of 9, 4, and 6 yards. One was an in-cut, another a crossing pattern, and the last a slant.

Will Peterson (6 tackles, 1 pass defense) played a lot in the nickel. He supplied good deep coverage on Chad Johnson on 3rd-and-16 in the 1st quarter. Peterson had very good coverage on Houshmandzadeh near the goal line in the 2nd quarter. However, later in the quarter Peterson dropped a sure interception when he expertly played the in-cut by the receiver, but failed to hold onto the football. Peterson made a nice play on the goal line in run defense on 1st-and-goal from the 1-yard line in the 3rd quarter. On the play right before the Bengals fumbled the ball away, Peterson gave up an easy 10-yard reception by playing too far off the ball.

FS Brent Alexander (3 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) did a nice job of knock down a 3rd-and-7 pass intended for Houshmandzadeh, but Frank Walker’s roughing-the-passer penalty erased the play. Alexander did a good job of recovering the running back’s fumble and returning it 29 yards. But Alexander will be remember for not being able to knock the 4th-and-10 pass away from Houshmandzadeh on the game-winning touchdown drive.

SS Curry Burns (4 tackles) and made some plays in run support.

CB Curtis Deloatch played well in coverage all day except for that he got beat on the 4-yard touchdown pass to Chad Johnson at the end of the game.

CB/S Nickel Back Terry Cousin missed a tackle on the 21-yard shovel pass.

Special Teams: I contend that the special teams punt and kickoff coverage did more to lose this game than any other facet. The Bengals returned three punts for 7, 12, and 42 yards. The 42-yarder with just over 2 minutes left gave the Bengals the ball at the Giants’ 24-yard line, setting up the game-winning touchdown. On this play, Curtis Deloatch overran the returner while at the same time being penalized for being out-of-bounds too long on his charge down the field…an around terrible play by Deloatch. Ron Dayne also missed a tackle on the return. Earlier in the game, the Giants missed a great chance to recover a fumble on the Bengals’ first punt return. And on another punt, Curtis Deloatch smashed into the returner well before the ball arrived, resulting in a 15-yard penalty that gave the Bengals the ball on the Giants’ 46-yard line. Seven plays later, the Bengals scored their first touchdown of the game.

Feagles punted four times for a disappointing 38 yards-per-punt average.

Kickoffs and kickoff coverage were very poor too. Steve Christie’s six kickoffs were fielded at the 25, 7, 26, 6, 6, and 13. The Bengals muffed the first return, but Marcellus Rivers committed a 15-yard face mask penalty that gave the Bengals the ball at their own 45-yard line, helping to set up a field goal drive. The other Bengal returns went for 40 (drive starting at 47), 14 (drive starting at 40), 36 (drive starting at 42), 26 (holding penalty moved ball back to 22), and 21 yards (drive starting at the 34). In other words, the Bengals started four possessions at or past their 40-yard line after the Giants’ kicked off. Just terrible!

The best aspect of special teams play was that Christie hit all five of his field goal attempts – from 31, 36, 44, 41, and 28 yards out.

Mark Jones suffered a groin injury before warm-ups and did not play. Ike Hilliard returned punts and did nothing, returning two punts for 3 yards. Blocking opposing gunners remains a problem. The Giants were lucky early in the game that a punt by Cincinnati’s punter hit a Bengal first before touching Frank Walker or the Bengals may have recovered the ball on the 1-yard line. Not only did Walker not block the gunner on this play, but he almost caused a turnover by not getting away from the football after Hilliard cleared out of the area. Walker again failed to block the gunner on Cincinnati’s last punt of the game and then was flagged for holding. This was a costly penalty as it erased a 14-yard return and moved the ball back to the Giants’ 7-yard line with just over 4 minutes left in the game.

Willie Ponder returned five kickoffs for a 24.2 yards-per-return average. His best return was the 35-yarder right after the Bengals scored their late game-winning touchdown. This 35-yard return set up the Giants at the Cincinnati 47-yard line (after a 5-yard penalty was tacked on) with plenty of time to get into game-winning field goal range.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Cincinnati Bengals, December 26, 2004)
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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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