Chicago Bears 38 – New York Giants 20

Game Overview: The doom-and-gloom surrounding this loss is amazing. Many fans and sports reporters are overreacting. The Giants lost a football game. Period. They are 6-3 and still in good shape if they can survive the next two games and get some of the walking wounded back in time for the big game against the Cowboys.

It sounds like sour grapes, but I am still not all that impressed with the Bears. Despite all of the Giants’ injuries, I think New York would have won had it not been for: (1) the 26-yard draw play late in the second quarter, (2) the fluky 108-yard return off of the missed field goal, (3) the injuries to LT Luke Petitgout and CB Sam Madison, and (4) QB Eli Manning playing his worst game of the season (though the Bears’ defense obviously had something to do with the latter).

The most important thing for everyone to realize is that this loss is just one loss. It happens. It’s time to focus on Jacksonville put another winning streak together.

Defense – First Half: Except for the Bears’ last drive of the first half, you couldn’t ask for a stronger effort by a defensive unit that was missing two Pro Bowl defensive ends, a primary back-up defensive end, and both starting outside linebackers. Up until the last Bears’ possession, the Giants had allowed a measly five yards rushing on 10 carries and 44 yards passing. It was a dominating performance.

Up front, William Joseph (4 tackles) started at left defensive end and played well. He combined with LB Reggie Torbor to stuff one run for a 4-yard loss. Weakside defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka (2 tackles), on a zone blitz, dropped into coverage and intercepted QB Rex Grossman and returned the ball 32 yards down to the 1-yard line, setting up the Giants’ first score of the game. Later he penetrated down the line and nailed the back after a gain of only two yards. Inside, Barry Cofield (5 tackles) and Fred Robbins (6 tackles, 1 sack) were very stout against the run. Cofield played a great first half, clobbering the opposing running back twice behind the scrimmage – once for a 1-yard loss and an later for a 5-yard loss. Robbins’ pass pressure on Grossman led to the interception by Kiwanuka and he later helped to sniff out a screen pass that lost two yards. Robbins was flagged with a roughing-the-passer that was a bit touchy and did enable to Bears to move barely into successful field goal range.

At linebacker, Antonio Pierce (15 tackles, 1 pass defense) set the tone with his 1-yard run stop on the Bears’ first play. In the second quarter, he pressured Grossman on a blitz and then sniffed out a 3rd-and-8 draw play along with Reggie Torbor (5 tackles) that only picked up two yards. Pierce was all over a screen pass that lost two yards as well and caused an incompletion with a big hit on WR Mark Bradley. Torbor caused a 4-yard loss on one run and then did a nice job of defending a swing pass that lost another yard. Gerris Wilkinson (8 tackles) wasn’t as visible, but he did seem to do a nice job in coverage.

Except for the last drive, the secondary played well. Corey Webster (5 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 pass defenses), for as much grief as he deserves for his second-half performance, played well in the first half. He knocked away one deep ball to WR Muhsin Muhammad and later helped to cause another incompletion on a shorter pass to WR Rashied Davis. SS Gibril Wilson (9 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 2 pass defenses) played well. He caused an incomplete pass on another short pass to Davis and then did so again on a short pass to the fullback. Wilson made a huge play late in the first quarter when he stripped the halfback of the football and then recovered the fumble – a superb play. Sam Madison blew a chance at an easy interception on a poorly thrown football on the ensuing drive. R.W. McQuarters (3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble) was blitzed quite a bit with good success. He pressured Grossman to help cause one incompletion on the Bears’ first drive. On the ensuing drive, he was credited with a sack when he stripped Grossman of the football, forcing a punt after the Bears had entered Giants’ territory. McQuarters also helped to cause a screen pass to lose two yards. FS Will Demps (8 tackles, 1 fumble recovery) was there with Robbins on a blitz on the play where Kiwanuka picked off the pass.

Where it all went wrong for the Giants was on 3rd-and-22 with 1:30 left in the first half. It is absolutely inexcusable to allow a draw play to pick up the first down in such a situation and that’s exactly what happened. Even on 2nd-and-15 and 2nd-and-20, I was shouting at the TV, “Watch the draw!” Pierce said, “Third-and-22, everybody in the league runs a draw or a screen. We had guys in position to make tackles and we didn’t…That was probably the play of the game…But guys just have to make tackles in that situation. We had two guys right there.” I hope Pierce is accepting some of the blame on that play because he is indeed stating the obvious – it was situation that begged for a draw or screen pass. But Pierce and McQuarters were cleanly blocked out of the play and Demps missed an open-field tackle. If the Giants stop the Bears there, New York is ahead 13-3 or 16-3 at halftime.

What made matters worse, was that Madison then gave up two huge passing plays – a 22-yarder on deep crossing pattern to Muhammad and then a 29-yard touchdown pass to Bradley on a go route. On the latter, to add injury to insult, Madison aggravated his hamstring injury and was forced to leave the game.

After a near-perfect first half defensively, much of that effort was washed down the drain with an unfathomable brain fart on 3rd-and-22 and then two bad plays by Madison.

Defense – Second Half: For whatever reason, the Giants’ defense softened in the second half. Personally, I think it was a simple matter of the Bears’ starting to execute better. No doubt, the scoring drive right before halftime gave their offense some confidence. The Bears’ opening drive, despite not resulting in points, hurt dearly as it dramatically changed the field position battle in favor of the Bears. On the Bears’ first play, Muhammad caught a 19-yard pass (despite a strong pass rush by Kiwanuka) as there appeared to be a breakdown in the Giants’ zone coverage. The Bears were then able to generate their first power runs of the game with gains of 5 and 10 yards by HB Thomas Jones. The defensive line and linebackers were simply not playing as stout. Robbins jumped offsides, but Pierce helped to stop the bleeding with a tackle behind the line for a 1-yard loss. On 3rd-and-5, the Giants blitzed nickel back Kevin Dockery (the same kind of blitz the Giants used in the first half with McQuarters, but now McQuarters was forced outside due to the injury to Madison). Webster, who played an absolutely atrocious second half, was badly beaten by Muhammad for 21 yards. To his credit, Webster did strip the football and Demps recovered the fumble. The Giants momentarily dodged a bullet. On the pass to Muhammad, for some unknown reason, Webster was playing a mile off of the line of scrimmage against a receiver not know for his speed.

When the Bears got the ball back, their next drive started at the Giants’ 43-yard line (see how losing the field position battle hurt?). Things looked good as Wilson, who played a strong game in run defense, stopped Jones for two yards. On 2nd-and-8, William Joseph made a very impressive bull-rush, shoving his blocker right back into Grossman. Grossman looked like he was blindly dumping the ball away, but miraculously Jones caught the football and turned the play into a 4-yard gain. Worse, Joseph was then flagged with what I thought was a ridiculous roughing-the-passer penalty. So instead of 3rd-and-8 from the Giants’ 41-yard line, the Bears now had a 1st-and-10 at the Giants’ 22-yard line. I thought this fluke play was one of the costliest of the game. McQuarters bit on a pump-and-go route and smartly held the receiver for a 5-yard penalty instead of allowing a touchdown. But then the inside-run defense softened again as the Bears picked up good yardage inside on three running plays. On 3rd-and-3 from the 10-yard line, Webster was playing far to soft on Muhammad again and both he and S James Butler got burned badly for a touchdown.

The Giants turned the football over and Chicago’s next possession started at the Giants’ 21-yard line. Webster stopped one run for a 2-yard gain. McQuarters played too soft on Bradley giving up an easy 6-yard reception. On 3rd-and-2, the linebackers, Kiwanuka, and Demps were easily blocked on an 11-yard run down to the 2-yard line. Grossman then hit the tight end for a touchdown – either Wilkinson or Pierce screwed up in coverage. Bears 24 – Giants 13.

The Giants’ then cut the score to 24-20. The defense came out on fire as McQuarters had good deep coverage on Muhammad, causing an incompletion. Robbins and Demps then nailed the running back in the backfield for a 3-yard loss. On 3rd-and-13 with the crowd going nuts, Webster gave up a killer 13-yard reception. It was very tight coverage by Webster and he just missed knocking the ball away as Grossman threw a perfect pass to Muhammad. The problem was in such a situation, with the receiver that short of the first-down marker, Webster should have played it safe, not tried for an all-or-nothing play, and simply made the tackle. Instead, the drive continued and the field position battle started to change again. On the very next snap, Webster was beaten badly out of the slot by Davis for a 26-yard gain. At this point, it was blatantly obvious that the Bears were picking on Webster as they saw him as the weak spot in the defense. However, Robbins’ play stalled this drive as he first nailed the running back for a 1-yard gain and then sacked Grossman for a 9-yard loss on 3rd-and-9 (Robbins was playing right end on this play). (On a side note, the Giants never did stop blitzing in the second half as many claim – this is another play where the Giants sent a defensive back).

After the Bears were up 31-20 and Manning had thrown his second bad interception of the game, the run defense held on the first play. But Webster got abused again as Bradley caught a 38-yard pass down to the Giants’ 7-yard line. This play, combined with 108-yard return on the missed field goal, appeared to take the life out of the Giants’ defense. Three plays later, Chicago scored again, making the game 38-20. When the defense got on the field again with seven minutes to go, they laid down like dogs and allowed the Bears to embarrassingly run out the clock with nine straight positive running plays.

Offense – First Half: After an exceptionally promising start on the opening drive of the game, the offense struggled for the remainder of the first half. My first reaction to all of this while I was watching the game was that the Giants should have run the ball more. However, to be honest, the Giants didn’t run the ball well at all after the first possession. And they clearly did not pass it well either as Manning finished the first half 10-of-18 for 74 yards, zero touchdowns, and one interception.

On the first drive, Manning hit WR Plaxico Burress for 16 yards, Burress again for 13 yards (an illegal formation penalty erased this play), and HB Tiki Barber for five yards. On this drive, Barber broke off impressive runs of 18 and 21 yards.

But for the remainder of the first half, Barber only accrued 15 yards on nine carries (and six of those yards came on a draw play at the end of the half). Clearly, the Bears shut down the Giants’ running game. In many instances, the Bears simply crowded the line of scrimmage and dared the Giants to beat them with the passing game. Manning and his teammates failed this challenge. “Obviously it was not a good game for (Eli) – he didn’t play well,” Coughlin said. “He warmed up well, he felt well going into the game. He thought he was sharp in terms of what he was looking for. He felt like he saw the coverage well. Obviously, there was pressure and there were some throws that he couldn’t make because of that.”

Interestingly, Coughlin seemed to imply in his Monday press conference that Manning was at least partially to blame for the unproductive games by TE Jeremy Shockey and WR Tim Carter. Speaking of Shockey, Coughlin said, “You have to get the ball to the people who can make a difference and we weren’t able to do that last night. Our passing game wasn’t very effective.” And on Carter, Coughlin said, “He won his one-on-one battles. He did some good things. He got himself into position. He should have gotten the ball on occasion. As I said, we didn’t have a very good night with the passing game.”

The strong opening drive stalled with two poor passes by Manning – a sideline pass to WR David Tyree that was almost picked off and a 3rd-and-5 pass to Burress that was thrown far too high. Jay Feely missed the ensuing field goal.

Eli’s next pass, a deep pass to Burress, was underthrown and easily picked off, setting up a field goal for the Bears. ONE-AND-OUT. On the Giants’ next possession, Barber was stuffed, a pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe did not pick up a yard, and Manning’s 3rd-and-8 pass to Tyree was deflected and fell incomplete. THREE-AND-OUT. When the Giants got the ball back, a pass to Tyree picked up seven yards, Barber lost two yards on a running play, and a somewhat jumpy Manning drifted backwards in the pocket and his 3rd-and-5 pass intended for Tyree was knocked away (this was one of those plays where Manning falls backwards in order to avoid contact). THREE-AND-OUT.

After Gibril Wilson forced and recovered a fumble, the Giants got the ball at the Bears’ 31-yard line. On the first play, Barber was stuffed again and OC Shaun O’Hara was flagged with holding, putting the Giants in a 1st-and-20 hole. Manning then hit Barber for four yards on a swing pass, miraculously got away from a sack and completed a pass on a play where Shockey allowed immediate pressure (this play was wiped out due to offsetting penalties), hit Tyree for nine yards, and then had no chance on 3rd-and-7 as RT Kareem McKenzie allowed immediate pressure (McKenzie did not have a good first-half in pass protection). Feely did manage to hit the 46-yard field goal so at least the Giants got some points off of the turnover. But they didn’t even pick up a first down on this “drive.”

The next possession started off with a 9-yard run by Barber, then a 1-yard loss by Barber. On 3rd-and-2, Manning found Shiancoe for four yards and the first down. He then hit Burress for another 10 yards. Barber was then stuffed again, RG Chris Snee gave up a pressure that helped to cause Manning to pass under duress, and then on 3rd-and-10, McKenzie gave up another pressure and Tyree dropped the ball. Punt.

The Giants’ final viable possession of the first half started on the Bears’ 31-yard line after the 36-yard punt return by Morton. Again, the Giants were forced to settle for only three points despite such outstanding field position. Barber was stuffed again, Manning found Burress for 12 yards and a first down. Barber then got stuffed again. On 2nd-and-9, Manning hit Burress for what should have been a first down at the Bears’ 5-yard line, but Burress fumbled the ball away. Luckily the Giants maintained possession as Snee stripped the defender of the football but a holding penalty on Bob Whitfield, who was subbing for the injured Petitgout, turned what could have been a 1st-and-10 at the Chicago 13-yard line into a 2nd-and-19 at the Bears’ 27-yard line. Shame on Burress and shame on Whitfield – this was a really costly series of events for the Giants that has not been talked about much. After a Manning pass to Barber picked up seven yards, the Giants oddly called a running play on 3rd-and-12 that lost two yards. The field goal gave the Giants a 13-3 lead.

Many Giants fans argue – rightly or wrongly – that Coughlin should have called more running plays. The Giants had 31 offensive plays in the first half. They ran the ball 13 times and passed 18 times. After the first drive, Barber was shut down. The Bears were crowding the line of scrimmage and Tiki could not get past the line. Perhaps the Giants should have brought Brandon Jacobs in for a change of pace, but the biggest problem the team faced that it kept finding itself in long down-and-distance situations due to stuffed runs or penalties. There should have been more opportunities in the passing game, but pass protection was inconsistent as was Eli Manning. The fumble by Burress and the holding penalty by Whitfield were killers as was the holding penalty on O’Hara. Starting two drives at your opponent’s 31-yard line and coming away with only two field goals is not good. Had it not been for Kiwanuka’s interception, the Giants most likely would not have scored a touchdown in the first half. Personally, after seeing Barber get repeatedly stuffed, I would have switched to Jacobs to see if his style was more productive. But it is not a given that it would have been.

Offense – Second Half: Except for the touchdown drive in the third quarter, the Giants’ offense was abysmal in the second half of the game. And Manning only completed FOUR passes in the final two quarters of the game, as he was 4-of-14 for 47 yards. Now to be fair to Manning, he didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates. The Giants’ first drive of the second half started in a dangerous situation off of the goal line. O’Hara missed a block and Manning was immediately pressure and his pass intended for Burress was deflected at the line. Barber was stuffed on the next play. Then on 3rd-and-11, Manning fired a nice pass to Burress and Burress was clearly hit before the ball arrived, but the officials did not throw a flag. This was a big non-call.

On the second possession, Barber fumbled the exchange and recovered his own fumble (Barber injured his hand early in the game and didn’t appear completely comfortable out there – another argument for running Jacobs more). On 2nd-and-10, Manning was stripped of the football from behind as Bob Whitfield was badly beaten for a sack, despite also being flagged for holding on the play. This was a terrible turnover for the Giants as it set up the Bears at the Giants’ 21-yard line. Four plays later, the scored is 24-13. Don’t blame Eli for this one.

With the game slipping away at this point, the Giants did manage to put together a quick, impressive touchdown drive. Manning threw behind Tyree on first down for an incompletion. Barber was stuffed on 2nd-and-10 as Shockey missed his block on LB Brian Urlacher. Then on 3rd-and-10, Manning found Shockey for the first and only time of the game for a critical 15-yard completion. Barber then broke off his longest run of the season on a 46-yard cutback run behind good blocks from Whitfield, David Diehl, and Tyree. On the very next snap, Jacobs scored untouched from eight yards out behind good blocks from McKenzie, Snee, Rich Seubert, and Jim Finn.

When the Giants got the ball back, the score was still 24-20 with plenty of time in the game. The running game, which had dramatically sprung to life in the previous drive, remained somewhat productive as Barber ran for 5, 8, and 9 yards. Manning also finally found Burress again for 10 yards and then made a heck of a play by getting away from a free blitzer and hitting Tyree along the sidelines for 12-yard gain (this was an excellent catch by Tyree despite somewhat of a poor route). But what killed this drive and directly led to the biggest disaster of the game (the 108-yard touchdown return off of the missed field goal) was Whitfield getting beat again for a sack that caused a 14-yard loss. The Giants couldn’t overcome this play despite the aforementioned 9-yard draw by Barber. On 3rd-and-15, Eli appeared a little rattled and tried to force the ball to Burress down the field instead of taking a little more time to find an open receiver. The two sacks given up by Whitfield were catastrophic – the first led to a Bears’ touchdown and the second not only ended what looked to be a promising scoring drive when the Giants had regained momentum, but also led to the 51-yard field goal attempt.

When the Giants got the ball back, they were down by 11 points with 11 minutes to go in the game. I felt that the coaching staff panicked here. There was still enough time to overcome that deficit and the Giants should have gotten into their hurry-up offense and run some of those Tiki Barber draw plays. Instead, the Giants called three straight passes and Eli was way off the mark on two of them. The first he had to throw away as a free blitzer gave him no time whatsoever. Then he badly missed Tyree for what should have been an easy completion and then badly overthrew an open Carter on a pass that was picked off. It was a terribly display of quarterbacking.

When the Giants got the ball back for the final time, the game was over as New York trailed 38-20 with eight minutes to go. Barber picked up 19 yards on a draw (should have called this on the previous drive), Eli found Tyree for 10 yards. Barber missed Urlacher on a blitz pick up (Tiki did this a couple of times in the game) and Manning was hit as he unloaded the ball, causing an errant throw. Manning then horribly overthrew Shockey and threw the ball away on 3rd-and-10 as O’Hara again gave up an inside pressure (it wasn’t a good game for O’Hara either).

Eli played like crap. The breakdowns by Whitfield on the two sacks in place of Petitgout were catastrophic. The holding calls on Whitfield and O’Hara really hurt in the first half. Shockey and Jacobs were underutilized. I felt the coaching staff got away from the run too soon in the fourth quarter.

Special Teams: Aside from the 3rd-and-22 draw play, the costliest play of the game was the 108-yard return for a touchdown off of the missed 51-yard field goal. Stating the obvious, that was clear coaching mistake. Trailing by four points with almost 12 minutes to play in adverse weather conditions, the percentage play was to punt and pin the Bears back. For some odd reason, Coughlin chose the low percentage play, and it cost his team dearly. That said, the players on the field did a piss poor job of realizing the situation and preventing Devin Hester from scoring. “It looked like people were kind of relaxed,” said Shiancoe. “We didn’t know it was going to be short like that. That’s no excuse, though. We should cover that. We practice that every day.” Not only did this play regain the momentum for the Bears, but it devastated the Giants’ morale. Emotionally, they never recovered in the game.

Feely missed a 33-yard field goal. That’s not acceptable. He did hit from 46 and 40 yards out. His kickoffs were fielded at the 33 (squib kick after a stupid unsportsmanlike penalty on Jacobs), 5, 9, 3, and 7. Kickoff coverage was OK with returns being held to 11 (David Tyree on the tackle), 23 (Feely), 17 (Adrian Awasom), 33 (Feely), and 16 (Chris Claiborne). Obviously, it’s not a great sign when your kicker is making two tackles.

P Jeff Feagles did a nice job of limiting any potential damage by the dangerous Devin Hester. He punted five times for a 40.4 yards-per-punt average and pinned Hester along the sidelines three times. Punt coverage was also excellent as Hester only had returns of 3 and –3 yards.

Derrick Ward had returns of 21, 30, 12 (almost a disastrous fumble by Ward before halftime that Ward fortunately was able to recover), 25, 21, 27, and 15. Chad Morton broke off a 36-yard punt return that set up a field goal. His other return picked up nine yards.

(Box Score – Chicago Bears at New York Giants, November 12, 2006)