Jan 232008
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New York Giants 23 – Green Bay Packers 20 (Overtime)

Re-sil-ient, adj., Marked by the ability to recover readily, as from misfortune.

“Let me spoil the ending for you.  The Giants are not going to be Super Bowl champions this year.  They will likely be a Wild Card team that loses in the first or second round of the playoffs.  That’s their talent level.  That’s their coaching level.  So enjoy these last five regular season games and any playoff games because it’s a long time before training camp rolls around again.  And the Super Bowl match-up between the Patriots and Cowboys is going to be depressing enough.

“For whatever reason, the Tom Coughlin-Eli Manning marriage doesn’t appear to be working.  These two are intrinsically tied to each other because they arrived on the scene together.  Coughlin is said to have fully supported dumping Kerry Collins and drafting Eli Manning.  Manning has flashed, but he obviously isn’t what he was supposed to be.  Unfortunately, what Manning was supposed to be was Tony Romo.

“The Giants find themselves in a bit of bind here.  Coughlin will likely make the playoffs for the third year in a row this year.  But while Coughlin has proved to be a decent, serviceable head coach, one doesn’t get the sense that the team will get much better than it is under him.  It just feels like the Giants will be just good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but not do any damage in the playoffs.  Is that totally his fault?  Of course not, but the Manning-Coughlin dynamic does not appear to be working, and if change happens, it is not going to be Manning who leaves.”

– Eric from BBI, Late November 2007, After the Giants Lost to the Minnesota Vikings

Since the Coughlin, Manning, and the Giants are too classy to do what needs to be done, I will do it for them:

Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning are going to the Super Bowl.  Repeat after me.  Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning are going to the Super Bowl.  Amazing.  I fully admit I was dead wrong.  After what transpired in 2006 and I did not think the Coughlin-Manning combination was going to work.  I did not think Coughlin was capable of coaching a team to the Big Dance and I was becoming increasingly worried that Manning was incapable of quarterbacking a team to the same destination.

After the Giants beat the Buccaneers in the first round of the playoffs, I wrote the following:

“What has become clear since these two arrived on the scene at the Meadowlands after the 2003 NFL season is that the fortunes of both seem to be implicitly tied together.”

They were, they are, and they will be.  But now, it is all good.

I will make one last comment before I shut up and simply review what transpired on the field last Sunday.  This team has a resiliency that defies explanation.  To go on the road three times in the playoffs, as severe underdogs, and defeat three division champions, including the #1 and #2 seeds in the conference is almost an impossible accomplishment.  But also keep this in mind:  The Giants trailed in all three of these games.  They did not become discouraged.  They did not quit.  They did not lose their composure.  They kept fighting and found a way to win.

Those of us who have grown up in areas of the country that experience dangerous wind chill temperatures know how painful and discouraging the cold can be.  It can suck the life and will out of you.  At –24 wind chill, this was the third coldest game in NFL history.  Yet the Giants were not content with their playoff victories against the Buccaneers and Cowboys.  They did not let a Packer team that took 10-6 and 17-13 leads take command of the game.  They did not let in-game adversity such as the 90-yard Packers’ touchdown, the lost fumble by McQuarters, the holding penalty on Snee, or two missed field goals discourage them.  Self-doubt never entered their minds.  They knew they were going to win.

The Giants – not the Packers – looked like the more comfortable team in the harsh climatic conditions at fabled Lambeau Field.  Indeed, this game should not have been as close as it was.  The Giants were clearly the better team on the field.  Yet when adversity struck, they still willed themselves to victory.

Quarterback: In the playoffs, Eli Manning has now out-dueled two Pro Bowl quarterbacks, two media darlings.  Against Green Bay, with a Super Bowl appearance at stake, he outplayed sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer Brett Favre, a quarterback who not only is one of the best in the history of the game but a quarterback who was experiencing one of his best seasons in his career.  He has also performed extremely well against four of the best defenses in the NFL the last four weeks.

In terrible weather conditions, Manning played as well as could be expected.  He completed 21-of-40 passes for 251 yards, 0 touchdowns, and, very importantly, no interceptions or fumbles.  Indeed, had it not been for some costly drops, his game would have been even more impressive.

What impressed me the most about Manning was, unlike previous bad weather games, he did not appear fazed by the environment.  He threw the ball accurately and made good decisions for the most part.  And his pass protection was not as solid as the stat sheet would indicate.  For example, on the Giants’ first offensive possession, a 14-play, 71-yard drive that resulted in a field goal, Manning made two clutch throws despite having immediate pressure in his face.  One was the 19-yard throw to Burress on 3rd-and-10; the second was a 6-yard toss to Toomer on 2nd-and-7.  On this drive, Manning also completed tosses of six to Burress, 11 to Burress, and 12 to Boss.  Manning was a bit lucky however on 3rd-and-10 as he did not correctly read the zone-blitz and his throw was dropped by the defensive tackle who had dropped back into coverage.

On the second field goal drive, Manning hit Burress for seven (nice back-shoulder throw) and Burress for 21.  Steve Smith dropped a 2nd-and-12 pass.  On 3rd-and-12, Manning threw a wonderfully accurate deep pass intended for Tyree, but Tyree could not reel the ball in (it also looked like pass interference, but that wasn’t called).

On the final drive before halftime, Manning made another real nice deep throw, this one was completed to Burress for 32 yards.  Burress then could not maintain possession on another deep ball that would have led to sure points, either a field goal or touchdown.

The Giants scored a touchdown on their opening drive of the second half.  Manning completed passes to Burress for nine and 18 yards – the latter another nice back-shoulder throw.  However, he did miss a wide open Steve Smith deep on a play that might have resulted in a 57-yard touchdown (I’m not sure if the safety would have made the tackle).  The Giants also scored a touchdown on their second drive of the half with Manning completing passes to Burress for eight, Toomer for 23, and Toomer for eight yards.

I thought Manning’s worst throw of the night was his end zone shot to Burress in the 4th quarter.  Burress had a step but the ball was underthrown and should have been intercepted.

Wide Receivers: Plaxico Burress has been MIA in the playoffs (a total of 43 yards against the Buccaneers and Cowboys), but he delivered in a major fashion against Green Bay.  Burress caught 11 passes for 151 yards, despite playing against the type of aggressive, physical corner who has given him problems in the past.  (And obviously despite the cold and the torn ligaments in his ankle).  Burress did most of his damage in the first half with seven catches for 105 yards.  On the Giants’ opening 14-play march, he had catches of six (for a first down), 19 (for a first down on 3rd-and-10), and 11 (for a first down).  On the second field goal drive, Burress had catches of seven and 21 yards.  The latter was a very nice catch as Burress had taken a sharp blow to his head from the corner.  He had not quite regained his balance when the ball arrived, yet he still managed to come down with the pass.  However, he was fortunate that his fumble on the play rolled out of bounds.

Later in the second quarter, Burress somehow managed to hold onto a 9-yard pass on 3rd-and-3 despite taking a hellish hit from the safety as the ball arrived.  With about a minute to play, Burress made a major-league reception by coming down with a 32-yard deep pass despite very tight coverage.  Burress’ concentration on this play was impressive.  However, Burress did cost the Giants some sure points when he was unable to maintain possession of another deep pass by Manning on the same possession when he hit the ground.

In the second half, Burress had two catches for 27 yards on the first touchdown drive; he also had one catch for eight yards on the second touchdown drive.  In the 4th quarter, Burress made a real nice reception against the sideline for 14 yards on 3rd-and-3.

Amani Toomer caught four passes for 42 yards.  But he did drop what should have been an easy first down reception on the Giants’ second drive of the game.  Toomer’s biggest impact came on the second touchdown drive.  He made a circus catch on a 23-yard pass from Manning where he laid out for the football while somehow still keeping his feet in bounds.  On the next snap, he caught an 8-yard pass down to the Packers’ 4-yard line.  The Giants scored on the next play.  Unfortunately, in the 4th quarter, on 3rd-and-5, not only did Toomer get flagged with offensive pass interference, but he also dropped the ball on the play.

It was not a good game for Steve Smith, who had two catches for 25 yards.  He dropped a pass on 2nd-and-12 on the second field goal drive.  In the 4th quarter, on 3rd-and-7 before Tynes’ first field goal miss, a pass intended for Smith fell incomplete and Manning appeared to be lecturing Smith after the play as if he ran the wrong route.   Smith also dropped Manning’s 3rd-and-5 pass in overtime right before the game-winning field goal.  That could have proved costly had Tynes missed again.  To his credit, Smith did flash an ability to get deep on a play where Manning missed him in the third quarter.  And Smith did come down with key receptions of 14 and 11 yards on the last Giants’ drive in regulation.

David Tyree saw some action.  The Giants used him in motion as a blocker.  He had a shot to come down with 3rd-and-12 pass near the goal line on the second field goal drive, but he couldn’t hold on as the defensive back made contact before the ball arrived (no penalty was called).

Running Backs: Brandon Jacobs (21 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown) set the tone for the evening on his first run of the game as he clobbered CB Charles Woodson.  Jacobs’ yardage numbers are not gaudy, but the Packers’ game plan was to crowd the line of scrimmage and dare Eli Manning to beat them.  Jacobs concerned the Packers to such an extent that it caused them to leave Burress one-on-one with CB Al Harris.

In the first half, Jacobs carried the ball nine times for 34 yards (a 3.8 yards per carry average).  His best run was a 12-yard effort around left end to start the second field goal drive.  He also had a real nice power run around left end for nine yards near the end of the second quarter.

In the second half, Jacobs’ productivity dropped as he had 33 yards on 12 carries (2.8 yards per carry).  The Giants featured him heavily on their opening drive of the third quarter, but it was tough sledding as Jacobs ran for 2, 1, 2, 3, 3, 5, 4, and 1 yards.  On the last attempt, he also fumbled on the play and the Giants were extremely fortunate to not only recover the football but also pick up the first down on 3rd-and-1.

Ahmad Bradshaw is such an excellent change-of-pace for the Giants.  Defenses get so used to Jacobs that they let their guard down a bit when Bradshaw gets in the game.  But Bradshaw inevitably surprises these defenses with his own power.  Bradshaw finished the game with 63 yards on 16 carries.  In the first half, he had four runs for 19 yards.  He really impressed me on one play by upending a blitzer who was bearing down on Manning.

Bradshaw looked much sharper running the ball than Jacobs in the second half of the game.  He was featured on the Giants’ second touchdown drive and had runs of 4, 10, and 4 yards for the touchdown.  The latter was a nice cutback run.  Bradshaw also made something out of nothing on a 9-yard screen pass in the 4th quarter.  On the Giants’ last possession in regulation, Bradshaw had a 44-yard draw play for a touchdown called back due to a penalty.  Later, on 3rd-and-1, he badly faked out the pursuing linebacker en route to an eight yard gain.

Madison Hedgecock has had better days as a lead blocker.  While he had some nice run blocks, I spotted too many runs that went nowhere because Hedgecock either missed his block or couldn’t handle his man.  Hedgecock was also flagged for a costly false start on 1st-and-10 from the Packers’ 17-yard line, helping to cause the Giants to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.

Tight Ends: It also wasn’t a great game for Kevin Boss, who struggled as a blocker at times.  For example, on the Giants’ first drive, Boss gave up a pass pressure on one play, then failed to take out his man on a Jacobs’ run.  While he did make an 11-yard reception on this drive, he also couldn’t come down with a well-thrown ball by Manning into the end zone on 2nd-and-10 from the 11-yard line.  Boss and Hedgecock did make good blocks on Jacobs’ longest run of the night (for 12 yards) on the second field goal drive.  The biggest impact by Boss?  His extremely important recovery of Brandon Jacobs’ fumble on the goal line.

Interestingly, Grey Ruegamer played some tight end.  However, the first time I spotted him in the game from this position, he fell down while attempting to make a block.

The Giants still miss Jeremy Shockey folks.

Offensive Line: With the Packers crowding the line of scrimmage, it was tough going for the ground game.  Still, the Giants dramatically out-rushed the Packers (134 to 28) to take some of the heat off of Manning.  And on some of the runs that went nowhere, the problems were not always with the linemen but the tight end or fullback.

Pass protection was mostly OK, but Manning made his blockers look better at times in the first half by accurately delivering the ball under pressure.  Also, on Manning’s errant throw into the chest of the defensive tackle on the first drive, both tackles Kareem McKenzie and David Diehl gave up outside pass pressure.  Earlier on this drive, more pressure came on a play where the left side had problems picking up a stunt.  Diehl also gave up a pressure on the Giants’ final drive of the first half.  I thought pass protection was much stronger in the second half.  The sack given up by David Diehl was VERY questionable as it appeared that the defensive end had crossed the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped.

Diehl was flagged with a costly holding penalty when the Giants were trying to run away from their own goal line late in the second quarter, leading to a punt and good field position for Green Bay.  Two plays later, Shaun O’Hara made a poor shotgun snap that was luckily fielded by Manning.  RG Chris Snee’s holding penalty on Ahmad Bradshaw’s 44-yard touchdown run was a big negative.  Snee also whiffed on one pull in the second half on a Jacobs’ run.  LG Rich Seubert got pushed back on one Jacobs’ run that picked up minimal yardage.

When Grey Ruegamer came into the game for the injured Seubert, it wasn’t pretty at first as he missed his block on a Bradshaw run that lost a yard.

The star of the game on the offensive line?  RT Kareem McKenzie who handled the Packers’ most dangerous defensive lineman with ease, despite playing on a bad ankle.

Defensive Line: The defensive line did a great job against the run as Ryan Grant, who had rushed for over 200 yards the week before, was held to 29 yards on 12 carries.

However, the pass rush was not effective.  Not only did the Giants not sack Favre, they rarely got in his face.  Favre was only hit four times all game.

The tackles played fairly well against the run.  Justin Tuck (4 tackles, 1 quarterback hit, 1 pass defense) played well in run defense from the defensive tackle position – amazing for a guy who isn’t built like a tackle.  He and Jay Alford stuffed an early Grant run.  Tuck later crushed Grant for a 3-yard loss on a shovel pass from Favre.  In the second quarter, Tuck deflected one pass and tackled Grant for no gain.  In the second half, Tuck chased down a screen pass, limiting the damage to two yards.  However, the Packers were able to run at his side on one of the few times he played strongside end.

What’s interesting to note is that Jay Alford (2 tackles) has clearly moved up the defensive tackle rotation.  Both Russell Davis and Manny Wright were inactive and Alford saw a lot of playing time.  He looked good against the run and a couple of times on the pass rush.

Starters Fred Robbins (2 tackles) held his ground well too.  He tackled Grant once for no gain.  Barry Cofield (0 tackles) was quiet.

Michael Strahan (2 tackles) did not make much of impact.  I spotted one decent pass pressure in the first half and one good play against the run in his direction.  I spotted him getting close to Favre one more time in the second half.

Osi Umenyiora (0 tackles, 3 quarterback hits) was the most active pass rusher, with most of his pressure coming in the second half.  In the third quarter, he just missed stripping Favre of the football on one play.

Linebackers: The undercoverage by the linebackers was much tighter in this game than it was in Week Two.  In addition, the run defense was superb.

I was worried at the start of the game as the linebackers (particularly Kawika Mitchell) and the safeties (particularly Gibril Wilson) bit on play-action on the first two plays of the game as Green Bay easily picked up two first downs.

One of the plays of the Giants’ season was made by Antonio Pierce (6 tackles).  Facing a 3rd-and-10 from New York’s 19-yard line, the Packers ran a screen pass to the left that looked primed to pick up an easy first down or touchdown.  The only defenders on that side of the field were the defensive backs far downfield with the receivers.  Brandon Jackson had three blockers in front of him.  Out of nowhere, Pierce surged through one of those blockers and wrapped one arm around Jackson as the lineman tried to shed Pierce from Jackson.  Pierce desperately held on until reinforcements arrived.  Pierce played the run well throughout the game, including on the first offensive snap in overtime.

Kawika Mitchell (3 tackles, 1 pass defense) got beat by TE Donald Lee for an 18-yard gain despite very good coverage.  He later made a nice play on a draw play to limit Grant to a 2-yard gain.  In the fourth quarter, Mitchell knocked away a pass intended for WR Greg Jennings.

Reggie Torbor (1 tackle) was quiet.

Defensive Backs: Of all of the units on offense and defense, I was most impressed with this group.  Considering the absence of a viable pass rush for most of the game, this may have been the Giants’ defensive backs best game of the season, especially when you consider the fact that Aaron Ross and Sam Madison were beat up and Kevin Dockery did not play.

I don’t know who has kidnapped Corey Webster (3 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass defense) and replaced him with a body double, but thanks.  Webster has played three superlative games in a row.  Yes, he was responsible for the 90-yard touchdown reception as WR Donald Drive knocked him off balance during his attempted chuck.  But Webster – as he has done all post-season – did not get down on himself and elevated his play as the game wore on.  Early in the game, on 3rd-and-12, the Packers threw a short pass to their left, but Webster made a very sure tackle for a 1-yard loss on WR Koren Robinson in the open field.  After the 90-yard play, Favre and the Packers went after Webster deep again, but Webster had excellent coverage on the play.  In the fourth quarter, Webster made a hell of a play by tackling Ryan Grant for a 7-yard loss on a screen pass on 3rd-and-3.  And of course, there was no play bigger than his interception of Favre in overtime.  Really, another remarkable effort by Webster against top-flight competition.

Sam Madison (2 tackles) played hurt and played well.  He was not exploited in coverage and did a nice job of covering WR Greg Jennings in the end zone on one attempted pass in his direction.  His biggest negative was the very costly 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty in the third quarter that kept alive what ended up being a touchdown drive.

Aaron Ross (1 tackle, 1 pass defense) also played well.  He made a crushing hit on one play, causing an incompletion on 3rd-and-5.  (He’s got to be careful with that shoulder!!!)  He was beat for a 20-yard gain on 3rd-and-10 by Driver early in the fourth quarter.

R.W. McQuarters (2 tackles, 1 interception, 1 pass defense) played well for the most part.  However, I think he is the man responsible for leaving WR Koren Robinson all alone for a 16-yard gain on the Packers’ last scoring drive.  McQuarters bit on the play fake by Favre.  Also, he rapidly turned from a hero to a goat when he fumbled the ball away after intercepting it, allowing the Packers to score three points and tie the game.

Gibril Wilson (8 tackles, 1 pass defense) played well.  He almost came down with an interception on the Packers’ first drive (he probably should have caught the ball).  And he was very aggressive in run defense.  However, he did miss an open-field tackle on a CB blitz in the second quarter.  The Giants need to forget about these strongside cornerback blitzes (I’m not talking about the slot blitzes).  This is the second game in a row where the opposition has seen it coming and hurt them.  On the 90-yard touchdown play, I thought Wilson had the angle on Driver down the field.  I’m not sure why he couldn’t make the tackle.

James Butler (6 tackles) looked slow as crap on the 90-yard play, had problems running on the field, or gave up on the play.  He was also beaten badly on the 12-yard touchdown to TE Donald Lee in the third quarter.  Butler did combine with Madison to limit one reception by Robinson to no gain.

I thought Michael Johnson (1 tackle) got a raw deal on the illegal contact penalty that was called on him on 3rd-and-10.  The receiver made initial contact with Johnson and Johnson did a nice job of knocking the ball away.  This penalty led to three points for the Packers.

Special Teams: The 47-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes now rivals Pat Summerall’s kick in the snow against the Cleveland Browns in 1958.  It was an incredible effort, one of the most impressive feats by a place kicker I’ve seen as long as I’ve been watching football.   Consider these factors:  (1) Tynes was sick; (2) the kick came in overtime in a Conference Championship; (3) Tynes had missed twice just minutes earlier, including at the end of regulation; (4) it was windy; (5) it was below zero; (6) it was from 47 yards out; and (7) it was perfect.  Before this kick, the Giants were 0-2 in their history in overtime playoff games.

Tynes finished the game 3-of-5 on field goal attempts.  He connected from 29, 37, and 47, but missed from 43 and 36.  The latter kick came at the regulation and could have proved devastating.  On the 36-yard miss, the long snap by Jay Alford was high.

Tynes kickoffs were fielded at the 14, 7, 19, 12, touchback, and 7.  Green Bay returns went for 11 yards (David Tyree on the tackle), 24 yards (Geoffrey Pope and Chase Blackburn), 0 (muffed, Tank Daniels), 49 (Blackburn), 0 (touchback), and 19 yards (Rueben Droughns).  The 49-yard return hurt as it helped set up Green Bay’s second touchdown of the game.

Jeff Feagles (32.5 yards per punt) did not punt well.  His kicks went for 21, 34, 37, and 38.  The Packer returner was limited to one yard total on two returns, with Zak DeOssie and Domenik Hixon making tackles.

The Giants’ returners were quiet in the first half.  Hixon returned two kickoffs in the first half for 14 and 17 yards.  R.W. McQuarters returned two punts in the first half for 9 and 2 yards.  McQuarters saved quite a bit of field position on the former return by running up to the short punt and fielding it before it hit the ground.

In the second half, things got a lot more lively.  Hixon returned three more kicks – for 21, 33, and 36 yards, with the latter two giving the Giants excellent field position.  McQuarters returned two more punts – for 6 and 0.  However, the latter stat does not reflect the drama of the play.  It was an exciting return by McQuarters that looked to set up the Giants in excellent field position for a game-winning score (and may have scored as a wall was being set up), but McQuarters was stripped of the football.  As the ball bounced backwards, it looked like the Packers were primed to recover the loose ball close to midfield with just over two minutes to play.  Hixon made one of the biggest plays of the season by out-hustling and out-fighting a host of Green Bay Packers for the football.  It may have saved the game for New York.  Also give credit to Michael Johnson who helped to prevent a Packer from recovering the loose ball by batting at it.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Green Bay Packers, January 20, 2008)
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Eric Kennedy

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

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