Philadelphia Eagles 23 – New York Giants 20

Game Overview: This season was an unmitigated disaster. Period. A team with Super Bowl aspirations, loaded with talent on paper, limped into the playoffs with a .500 record. The Giants squandered a 6-2 first-half start and a two-game lead in the NFC East. Players criticized the coaches and talked too much to the press. Injuries mounted. Offensive and defensive game plans, as well as game-day decisions by the coaching staff were erratic and a factor in the 2-7 finish. The offense was inconsistent; the defense was dreadful. And special teams regressed. There was too little discipline and too many penalties. Players lost confidence in the coaching staff, their schemes, and themselves. While some continued to play hard, it wasn’t hard enough.

Some eternal optimists will point to the fact that the Giants made back-to-back playoff appearances and “played hard” against the Redskins and Eagles. So what? The Giants only made the playoffs because an 8-8 record was good enough in a terrible conference. Just because there are worse teams that didn’t make the playoffs is no comfort. This team was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender. Instead the only reason it garnered national interest was because it became a soap opera sideshow. It was embarrassing.

In my mind, the 2006 season will go down as one of the worst I’ve experienced as a Giants’ fan. All the win against the Redskins did late in the year was ensure that the Giants would drop about eight spots in the NFL Draft and that the lame duck head coach would return for one more season. And the player who practically single-handily won that game has retired.

As for the game against the Eagles, it was yet another disappointing playoff loss on the road. The Giants’ all-time road playoff record is now 3-14. The franchise’s only wins in the playoffs in their entire history came against Eagles in 1981, the Rams in 1984, and the 49ers in 1990. No playoff wins on the road in 16 years…pathetic.

The defeat was truly a microcosm of the 2006 season for the Giants. But why should we have expected anything different? The issues that cost them the game were issues that troubled the team all season:

  • Inconsistent and often crappy quarterbacking.
  • Problems scoring in the red zone.
  • While scoring points early and late in games was not a problem, it was for the bulk of each contest.
  • A defense that could not prevent the other team from sustaining long drives.
  • A defense that could not prevent the other team from responding with a scoring drive after the offense had regained momentum.
  • Poor pass defense, both in terms of rushing the passer and covering receivers.
  • Missed opportunities to intercept the football.
  • Ineffectiveness when blitzing the quarterback.
  • Poor third-down defense.
  • Problems defending the run, especially late in the season.
  • Virtually no return game on special teams.
  • Too many dumb penalties.
  • Questionable game plans and in-game coaching decisions.

What really hurt the Giants in this game was not getting any points at all on three consecutive drives in the first half that started near midfield. These came at a time when the Giants were already up 7-0. They really blew a chance to seize the game and let the Eagles keep it closer than it should have been.

The Giants have some good football players, but they are not inspired to play well. They play like a mediocre football team with a mediocre coaching staff in a mediocre conference. And they are not very likeable either.

Coaching: The play-calling in the red zone was bad once again and was a significant factor in the loss. 1st-and-goal at the 3-yard line and the Giants called pass, run, pass. This despite the fact that Manning wasn’t playing very well. Brandon Jacobs, the Giants’ power back sat on the sidelines during both red zone opportunities inside the 5-yard line. Stupid. The plays called inside the 5-yard line simply did not seem well designed. It wasn’t just a matter of failed execution.

Quarterback: Except for the last drive of the game, Manning did not play well. He had two big pass plays on the opening scoring drive, but neither were particularly well-thrown balls – Plaxico Burress had to make adjustments on both. After that, Manning was dreadful until the last drive of the game. He finished the game 16-of-27 for 161 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. However, aside from the first and last drives of the game for the Giants, he was 8-of-18 for 49 yards despite being afforded reasonably good pass protection. 49 passing yards in nine offensive possessions! Even the 47-yard pass interference call on Burress was a poorly underthrown football. The good? He had two nice throws on the game-tying drive late in the 4th quarter.

Not coincidentally, the Giants struggled to put touchdowns up on the board when Eli struggled on the other nine offensive possessions. He looked gun-shy, made poor decisions (including one pass that was intercepted), missed spotting wide-open receivers (both Burress and Shockey), and suffered from accuracy issues again.

The Giants have a problem at quarterback.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress came to play. He had five catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns. He impressively outfought the cornerback for a 29-yard reception early in the game. A few plays later, he made another nice catch in the end zone for a touchdown on a pass that was off the mark. Manning ignored him for much of the rest of the contest until late in the game when Burress really took charge with three consecutive catches for 43 yards. All three receptions were huge: a diving catch of an 18-yard on 2nd-and-30, a 14-yard catch and run where he broke a tackle on 3rd-and-12, and then an 11-yard touchdown reception to tie the game.

Hopefully we’ve seen the last of Tim Carter (2 catches for 14 yards and a fumble).

Sinorice Moss and David Tyree did not catch a pass. Pathetic. Tyree also cost the Giants a much-needed timeout when he lined up on the wrong side of the formation.

Halfbacks: The Giants’ rushing totals look better than they really were. Against a defense that was specifically designed to stop him, Tiki Barber rushed for 137 yards on 26 carries (a 5.3 yards-per-rush average). 41 of those yards came on one run in the first half on the field goal drive. Tiki rushed the ball well on the first and last possessions too, both which resulted in touchdowns. But aside from those three scoring drives, Barber was held to 29 yards on 13 carries in the other eight offensive possessions. Unfortunately, the running game disappeared at the same time that Manning was struggling during those three consecutive drives in the first half that started near midfield.

Brandon Jacobs – two carries? None in the red zone?

Tight Ends: Jeremy Shockey toughed it out on a painful ankle. Unfortunately, he was limited to three catches for 25 yards – and all of those receptions came in the first half. He was shut out for the second half of the contest. Shockey blocked well for the most part. Of course, the highlight play was his 11-yard reception in the second quarter where he continued to fight for yardage after having his helmet knocked off. Three plays later, he also made a nice grab for a first down on 3rd-and-2 to keep the field goal drive alive.

Offensive Line: The offensive line actually played pretty well except for one major issue – penalties. LT David Diehl was flagged with three false starts; RT Kareem McKenzie was flagged with one false start; OC Shaun O’Hara was flagged with a holding penalty; and RG Chris Snee was flagged with a false start and a holding penalty (though the latter appeared a bad call).

But Diehl actually played surprisingly well at left tackle in just his second start at that difficult position against a very good opponent. The Eagles brought the usual pressure, but Manning was only sacked once and had decent time most of the game. And the Giants did rush for 151 yards, though as mentioned, the running game was too inconsistent. McKenzie was cleanly beat to the outside for the Eagles’ only sack of the game.

Defensive Personnel: The Giants have major talent issues at linebacker and in the secondary. It will likely take at least two drafts to fix these problems, assuming the Giants draft well.

Defensive Line: Same problems. Not enough of a pass rush, though Osi Umenyiora did pick up one sack and got a few other solid pressures. Who would have thought that rushing the passer would have been a problem for this team in 2006? QB Jeff Garcia had way too much time and was allowed to rollout of the pocket with too much ease. He’s much more effective outside of the pocket, but the Giants didn’t seem to know that.

The bulk of the Eagles rushing yardage came against the strongside of the defense – at Mathias Kiwanuka and at the linebackers in that area (Carlos Emmons and Brandon Short both played on Kiwanuka’s side during the game). Kiwanuka did flash at times in run defense, especially on pursuit down the line, but he had problems at the point-of-attack, particularly late in the game. Kiwanuka really faded down the stretch, especially in terms of his pass rush. Barry Cofield and Fred Robbins played much, much better than they did the last time these two teams met. However, neither played particularly well on the Eagles’ game-winning field goal drive. William Joseph continued to disappoint.

Linebackers: Antonio Pierce, Carlos Emmons, and Brandon Short were just dreadful against the run. All three looked unathletic and slow. Emmons was abused in open space on two end arounds, one by Westbrook and another by WR Reggie Brown. The Giants need to cut him. I wouldn’t re-sign Short either – he was handled with ease and/or failed to make plays on the game-winning field goal drive.

The biggest disappointment this year may have been Antonio Pierce. While Pierce thinks he was one of the best in the game, he wasn’t in 2006. He played like a journeyman (and this is coming from a guy who owns an Antonio Pierce jersey). Against the Eagles, he looked like he had problems reading plays and was step slow all game. He got blocked on the 49-yard touchdown run (along with Cofield and Kiwanuka) at the point-of-attack. Time and time again, I saw him hung up on blocks on positive running plays. He didn’t make any plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.

Who played the best? Reserve Chase Blackburn made a couple of plays in the hole against the run and fought hard for a sack. He did miss one tackle however.

Defensive Backs: All of the defensive backs looked dreadful for their inability to get off of blocks on Westbrook’s 49-yard touchdown run.

CB Sam Madison and CB R.W. McQuarters missed opportunities to come up with interceptions when the Giants still led 7-0. McQuarters was beat to the inside on a 28-yard touchdown pass by WR Donte Stallworth on an all-out blitz. CB/S Jason Bell played a lot at corner for the injured Kevin Dockery and was exposed. He repeatedly gave up short receptions underneath as he was playing off the football by at least 10 yards. For example, he had three passes completed against him on the Eagles’ second touchdown drive of the game. If you ask me, it was an incredibly stupid decision to have him play at corner over Frank Walker – who amazingly was deactivated for the football game. For all his faults, at least Walker plays tight coverage.

I don’t care for the Giants’ safeties. SS Gibril Wilson made a couple of plays in coverage, including saving a touchdown, but he is not very good in run support. He misses tackles and he really ran himself out of a couple of key running plays right at the point-of-attack on the Eagles’ game-winning field goal drive. Wilson was also flagged with a 5-yard facemask penalty.

FS Will Demps sucks. He missed a tackle on Westbrook on his 49-yard touchdown run. Demps was in excellent position to knock away a crucial 3rd-and-5 pass to WR Reggie Brown, but did not make a play on the football. Two plays later, the Eagles scored from 28 yards out. Late in the game, he missed another tackle on the 13-yard run that put the Eagles in easy field goal range.

Special Teams: The Giants’ kickoff return game was a joke all year. Sinorice Moss only averaged 18 yards per return on four kickoff returns. Chad Morton and Derrick Ward were equally ineffective earlier in the season. Obviously, the blocking schemes and/or personnel are an issue. R.W. McQuarters only averaged 7 yards per return on four punt returns, despite the fact that two of these opportunities came on chances down the middle near midfield. He also almost fumbled a punt away early in the third quarter.

Fortunately for the Giants, a block-in-the-back penalty on the Eagles called back a 65-yard punt return for a touchdown by Westbrook. The Giants did come close to blocking one punt.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, January 7, 2007)