Dec 312008
 

Latest on Steve Spagnuolo: According to media reports, Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will interview with the New York Jets on Saturday for their head coaching vacancy. The Daily News reports that the Giants have granted permission to the Jets, Lions, and Browns to interview Spagnuolo.

Meanwhile, a newspaper report out of St. Louis says the Rams will not likely pursue Spagnuolo because he would be too expensive to hire.

Giants Make Roster Moves: As expected, the Giants have placed CB Sam Madison (broken ankle) on Injured Reserve, thus ending his season.

The Giants also waived LB Edmond Miles, who the team signed earlier this month.

To fill those two vacated roster spots, the Giants signed CB Rashad Barksdale to the 53-man roster from the Practice Squad, and signed street free agent LB Rich Scanlon.

Notes: The 2008 New York Giants finished the regular season 7-1 at home and 5-3 on the road.

The Giants led the NFL in rushing for the first time since 1993 with an average of 157.4 yards per game. The Giants also topped the league for the first time in yards-per-carry with an average of 5.0.

The Giants led the NFL with 69 trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line. However, the Giants scored touchdowns on only 35 of those red zone opportunities (50.7 percent was 20th in the league).

WR Amani Toomer’s 48 catches in 2008 increased his career total to 668. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the third-highest total by a player who has never been selected to the Pro Bowl.

PK John Carney set a team record by hitting 92.1 percent of his field goals (35-of-38).

P Jeff Feagles finished fourth in the NFL with a 40.2-yard net punting average, the best figure in his 21-year career.

Dec 302008
 
Minnesota Vikings 20 – New York Giants 19

Summary: In what amounted to a glorified pre-season game for the visiting New York Giants, the #1 seed in the NFC fell 20-19 to the NFC North Champion Minnesota Vikings.  While it’s never fun to watch your team lose, I am certain that most Giant fans were not in remote tossing mode at the conclusion of this one.  Starters Brandon Jacobs, Kevin Boss, Aaron Ross and Barry Cofield were all inactive and starting QB Eli Manning played just one half of football, and a host of backups joined the party in the 3rd and 4th quarters as the Giants prepare to defend their Super Bowl title.

Neither team managed much offense in the first quarter, but as the second quarter opened the Vikings put together a modest 8 play 37 yard drive en route to a 3-0 lead.  The Giants were unable to respond and were forced to punt for the third straight time to start the game.  Adrian Peterson, who had been held in check by the Giants run defense to that point, then exploded for a 67 yard TD run and the Vikings were up 10-0.  That lead would dwindle to a one-point bulge at halftime as Eli and the Giants put together three straight field goal drives before giving way to backup QB David Carr in the 3rd quarter.

Carr came out hot, leading the Giants to a 16-10 lead with a beautiful arcing pass to WR Domenik Hixon for a 23-yard TD.  Carr then led the Giants on a 38-yard field goal drive to push the lead to 19-10 until the Giants’ defense fell victim to yet another big play.  This time it was QB Tavaris Jackson to WR Bernard Berrian on a 54-yard TD pass after CB Terrell Thomas slipped to the turf and left the speedy Berrian all alone.  Carr again got the Giants in position to score, but Pro Bowl K John Carney missed on a 45-yard try, and the Vikings were then able to march 30 yards to give K Ryan Longwell a chance to win the game.  Win the game Longwell did, with a 50-yard boot that sent the Giants to their third loss in four games and propelled the Vikings to the NFC North Title.

Quarterbacks: Playing for only one half, Eli Manning was efficient with the football, managing to put together three scoring drives in the second quarter, but it was his inability to hit the big play that cost the Giants some points.  Things started well for Eli as he hit Domenik Hixon on the game’s first pass for six yards on a perfectly thrown slant route and followed it up with a well-timed flare pass to FB Madison Hedgecock who actually made the grab and then had the nerve to make another catch on the exact same play two plays later in the drive.  Manning was sacked by LB Ben Leber on 2nd and 6 and just overshot Hixon on the next play on a deep corner route and the Giants were forced to punt.  On the Giants’ next possession, it was a ho-hum three-and-out after Manning was unable to connect with Hixon on a 3rd and 2 as CB Cedrick Griffin got between Hixon and his intended route.  No replay of course, as Fox was so giddy with playoff scenarios they immediately cut to a Bears-Texans update which would annoy me all game long.

To start the second quarter, the Giants again went three-and-out with Manning hitting WR Amani Toomer for a 4-yard gain on 3rd and 7.  For anyone without an abacus or 10 fingers, that left the Giants three yards shy of the first down.  Following Peterson’s TD run, Manning led the Giants on a 5-play drive that resulted in a 51-yard Carney field goal, but Eli only went 1-3 for five yards on the drive, again missing Hixon on a deep sideline route and badly under-throwing Toomer on back-to-back plays.

Midway through the second, Eli finally got it going, completing 4-of-6 throws for 60 yards, the prettiest of which was a perfectly placed seam route to TE Darcy Johnson that picked up 26 yards.  When it mattered though, Manning again overshot Hixon on a fade route in the end zone and again the Giants were forced to settle for three.  To end his day, Manning got the ball back with just 27 seconds left, but was able to complete 2-of-4 passes for 33 yards to get the Giants in position for a 42-yard field goal.

Mister Handsome Pants, David Carr, got his first real action of the season, coming in after the break and going 8-11 for 110 yards and a TD.  Right off the bat, Carr was showing off his athletic ability, rambling seven yards to open the second half.  Carr moved the Giants to their only TD of the day, going 2-3 for 41 yards and a TD, en route to a 10-play, 80-yard drive that put the G-Men ahead 16-10.  On the TD drive, Carr converted a 3rd and 8 at midfield by nimbly avoiding the rush, rolling right and hitting Darcy Johnson for an 18-yard gain and a first down, showing all of the skills that made him the #1 pick in the draft.  Carr’s next big throw on a 3rd and 4 was a perfectly thrown corner route to Hixon, who had split the coverage and was wide open in the end zone.  The former Texan lofted a perfect strike and hit Hixon in stride to finally put the Giants ahead.  Carr wasn’t so lucky on his next drive, missing on his only pass to Amani Toomer en route to another Giants’ punt.  Carr had NO time to throw on the failed 3rd down conversion and must have felt like he was back in Houston as his head bounced off the turf.

Carr followed S James Butler’s INT with a scoring drive, going 4-5 for 48 yards, but was unable to punch it in from the 2-yard line and the Giants were again left to settle for three points and a 19-10 lead.  On the Giants’ final drive of the day, Carr led the Giants on a 10-play, 45-yard jaunt that ended in a missed Carney field goal which would come back to bite the team.  Carr did go 2-2 hitting rookie WR Mario Manningham twice for 21 combined yards and moved the chains both times.  Give Carr credit, he was sharp, poised and accurate against a Viking defense that needed the game and Carr gave the Giants a shot to win it which is all anyone could ask for on this day.

Running Backs: Derrick Ward got the 52 yards he needed to break the 1,000-yard mark and added another 25 for good measure finishing with 77 yards on the ground.  After an Ahmad Bradshaw return to the Viking 43, Ward seemingly answered Peterson’s TD run with a 33-yarder of his own, but two penalties on the play canceled out the run.  Nevertheless, Ward chipped in with a 10-yard run and a 5-yard reception to put the Giants in range to pull within a TD at 10-3.  Ward averaged a solid 5.1 yards per carry and looked quick getting to the edge all day, especially on a 13-yard power to the right in which he stepped behind a crushing lead block by C Shaun O’Hara and scooted through for a big gain.  TOUCHDOWN RYAN MOATS!  Sonofa, tricked AGAIN by FOX’s seamless cut-ins to the all important Texans-Bears game.  (Hey FOX, you suck!)

Ahmad Bradshaw had another so-so game, only averaging 2.8 yards on 10 carries, but did have a nice 10-yard run on a counter play that was designed to go left, but once Bradshaw saw no daylight, he bounced it back right and wiggled upfield for 10 yards.  On the very next play, WR Andre Johnson caught a TD pass to put the Texans…ohhh another FOX must see game cut in.

Even Danny Ware got in on the fun, running twice for 15 yards and causing my brother-in-law to exclaim “How many damn good running backs ya’ll got?”.

Wide Receivers: Domenik Hixon again led the Giants receivers with 62 yards and a TD on four catches, but more importantly, he was able to get deep a few times on the Vikings’ secondary and loosen up the coverage enough to keep the defense honest.  Hixon’s ability to get deep will be a big key as defenses tighten up in the playoffs and it will be on him and Manning to get that timing down if the Giants hope to hoist another Lombardi Trophy.  Hixon’s two catches for 33 yards on the Giants’ final scoring drive of the first half put the team in position for a third Carney field goal as the first half ended.  Amani Toomer only pulled down two catches for 16 yards but his 12-yarder on the Giants second scoring drive was vintage Amani as he ran a perfect comeback route and tiptoed in-bounds to make the grab.  During the parade of backups, Sinorice Moss made his presence known on the Giants’ final scoring drive of the day hauling in two passes from Carr for 43 yards, including a 27-yard strike on a dig route that moved the chains on a 3rd and 21.  Knock Moss all you want, but that cat can get separation in man coverage and did so beautifully on that play.  Steve Smith was one of seven Giants with two receptions as the second-year man out of USC finished up with 20 yards total.  Even Mario Manningham got in on the action, hauling in two Carr passes for 21 yards on the Giants failed scoring drive late in the final quarter.  Manningham displayed good quickness off the line and an ability to maintain separation on two quick slant routes, which is vital for any quick inside route.  It was brief, but a good showing by the rookie.

Tight Ends: Playing without injured starter Kevin Boss, the Giants turned to Darcy Johnson, who responded with 44 yards on two catches.  Johnson displayed his athleticism on a 26-yard seam route late in the second quarter as the Giants drove to a field goal on a 14-play, 79-yard drive.  Johnson’s second grab was another big gainer, this time an 18-yard strike from Carr on 3rd and 8 on the Giants’ lone TD drive of the day.

O-Line: Pro Bowl C Shaun O’Hara had a rough start, giving up a sack to LB Ben Leber that put the Giants in a tough 3rd and 11 on the game’s first offensive possession.  O’Hara redeemed himself by keeping a handle on Pro Bowl DT Kevin Williams and giving his QB a nice pocket all afternoon.  Overall though, the line functioned very well, controlling Pro Bowl DLs Jared Allen and Kevin Williams for the entire day.  LT David Diehl completely shut down Allen and had a good day run blocking as usual, leading the Giants to 135 yards on the ground and a solid 4.5 ypc average.  With the exception of the Leber sack and the ugly hit that Carr took, the line kept their QBs in position to make plays and had little trouble with the vaunted Viking front.

Front 7: Author’s Note: Given the varied fronts and personnel packages the Giants use under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, I’ll be looking at the front 7 as a whole initially rather than separating the D-line and Linebackers.  Hybrid roles such as LBs playing in a 3 point stance make analyzing the front 7 as one unit more cohesive.  It may change as we move forward or from game to game.

With the exception of one long run by Pro Bowl RB Adrian Peterson, the Giants’ front 7 did a solid job all afternoon on the Vikings’ offense.  Working without starting DT Barry Cofield seemed to be of little consequence as DE Mathias Kiwanuka and DT Fred Robbins combined to shut down Adrian Peterson on the game’s first snap and force the Vikings to go three-and-out on the game’s first possession.  More so than the defensive line though, it was the play of the LBs, namely rookie LB Bryan Kehl and WLB Chase Blackburn who had nine and six stops respectively, which made the Giants’ defense go.  Blackburn made a great early read, knifing inside of LT Bryant McKinnie to stop Peterson for a 1-yard gain on the Vikes’ second possession and combining with LB Danny Clark to slow down Peterson on a 4-yard gain just two plays later.  Blackburn also forced an errant throw from QB Tavaris Jackson on the same drive, slamming into the QB as he released the pass and then dumped RB Chester Taylor on a draw for his third stop of the drive.  Not to be outdone, Clark (five total stops) stripped Peterson of the ball on the Vikings’ next possession but the gang in purple recovered and ended up scoring a field goal on the drive.  MLB Antonio Pierce chipped in with four stops, but uncharacteristically missed his keys on a 19-yard screen pass to Chester Taylor that took the Vikings to the Giants’ 36 and in position for points.  In fact, all threee LBs badly read the OL, and not one was in position to make a stop.  OH YIPPEE TEXANS 10 BEARS 0!  Pierce made a big play on the drive though, stuffing Taylor for a 2-yard loss on a 2nd and 1, and forcing the Vikings to have to throw on 3rd down.

The aforementioned Kehl entered the game in the secondd quarter at the WILL spot in place of Blackburn and immediately diagnosed a power to the left, met FB Naufahu Tahi (Godblessyou!) in the hole and stuffed Peterson for a 3-yard gain.  Kehl also snuffed out a Vikings’ drive in the second quarter, perfectly timing a blitz in the B gap on 3rd and 10 and dumping Jackson for an 8-yard loss.  Kehl made another great stop on an misdirection run by Peterson in the third quarter that was designed to fool the LBs into pursuing right and being taken out of the play, but #53 read it well and was able to run down the play from the backside and limit what could have been another big run by Peterson.  Kehl then made another big stop, shooting into the backfield to deny Peterson to his side on the next play.

DE Justin Tuck will get his name in the paper this week, after a 3rd down swat of a Jackson pass on the Vikings’ first scoring drive of the day.  Unfortunately for Tuck, the next play to his side would result in a 67-yard dash by RB Adrian Peterson as Tuck was blasted out of the hole by C Matt Birk.  Ordinarily, Tuck does a great job of holding the POA, and redirecting his man to keep his feet and stuff the play on his side, but while engaged with FB Jim Kleinsasser, Birk shoved Tuck to the ground from behind, which honestly, I have no idea if its inside the rules or not anymore given the amount of egregious holding penalties I see go uncalled in a game.  Pierce also badly over-pursued the play; likely following the lead of FB Tahi, but Peterson cut it up inside and was off to the races.  Tuck did combine with DL Renaldo Wynn and DT Jay Alford on a 4th and 1 late in the first half, to stuff Tavaris Jackson for a 4-yard loss and give the Giants the ball back with just enough time to move into field goal range.

Defensive Backs: S Michael Johnson had a quiet day, but did manage to sack Tavaris Jackson early on 3rd and 6, flying just inside the B gap as the protection slid out to defend the edge.  Shoulda been Pro Bowl CB Corey Webster didn’t notch a tackle, but did knock down a 3rd and 5 pass to WR Sidney Rice forcing the Vikings to punt.  The play of the day though was turned in by veteran safety James Butler with the Vikings driving late in the third quarter.  Butler stepped in front of a Tavaris Jackson pass in the end zone and “raced” 47 yards to the Giants’ 45, which became the Viking 40 after a 15-yard roughing penalty on the intercepted Jackson.  I use the term raced lightly, as in the tortoise raced the hare, because let’s be honest, Butler isn’t going to win a medal in the 55 meters any time soon.  Rough day overall for rookie CB Terrell Thomas, who was victimized on Bernard Berrian’s TD early in the fourth quarter.  Granted Thomas slipped to the turf, but he gets the goat tag for the play, as should S Kenny Phillips who fell down trying to tackle Berrian on the play.

Special Teams: Shaky game overall for the special teams units, with Vikings’ KR Maurice Hicks exploding on the game’s first touch for a 38-yard return.  Ahmad Bradshaw did redeem the kick return team with a 58-yard return of his own that propelled the Giants to their first points of the game, but overall the return game was very bland.  The usually reliable John Carney suffered his first non-blocked miss of the year on a 48-yarder that was just wide right as the Giants were up by two points with just over three minutes left.  Had Carney hit that field goal, the Giants likely finish off the Vikings, but no one is perfect.  P Jeff Feagles was again on his game, averaging a NET of 45.3 yards per kick.

Coaching: I have to tip my hat to Tom Coughlin.  He played his starters for a half, rested the players who needed to rest medically and almost pulled off a win against a Viking team that had to win at home to make the playoffs.  The backups were playing in droves by the final quarter, but the Giants competed no matter who was in the game and every single player on the roster was prepared and played well.  The difference came down to a handful of plays that honestly, the starters probably make but I will leave the hypothetical alone here.

Steve Spagnuolo certainly had a similar challenge in getting so many players up to speed to play, and overall, his defense played well save for two big plays that cost the Giants dearly.  Signal caller Kevin Gilbride had the same challenge, getting backup QB David Carr ready to play and being able to call the plays that a backup offense would be able to execute.  Once again, given the stakes for the Vikings, you can’t complain with the results given the number of backups who saw significant action.

JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – Tough call here gang, David Carr played well in his half, D Ward went over 1,000 yards but I have to go with LB Bryan Kehl, who finished with nine tackles, leading the team.  Kehl has been missing from the rotation, but showed once again how quick he is to diagnose plays and use his exceptional quickness to get to the ball carrier.  For his efforts, Mr. Kehl gets a Where’s Waldo activity book because I have no idea where he’s been!

JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – I’m giving this one to FOX for their constant and annoying interruption of our game for Bears-Texans updates.  Look, I get it – I know it’s important to the Vikings’ fans, but do you honestly think they put down their pickled herring sandwiches and pointy Viking hats long enough to give a flying crap?  They were just as involved in the game as we were, they had everything to gain from a Viking victory and still you cut in every five seconds with what the stupid Bears were doing?  For your awful interruptions, everyone in the control room will be forced to wear a double-beer-holding hard hat with straws and drink every time Tavaris Jackson throws a bad pass against the Eagles.

(Box Score – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, December 28, 2008)
Dec 302008
 

Teams Lining Up to Talk to Steve Spagnuolo: According to various media reports, Giants’ Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is drawing interest from a number of teams looking for a new head coach. 1050 ESPN Radio is reporting that the Lions, Browns, and Jets have asked the Giants for permission to speak with Spagnuolo. Some media reports say the St. Louis Rams may also be interested. The NFL Network is reporting that the Giants have already granted permission to the Lions to interview Spagnuolo. The Star-Ledger is reporting that the Jets will interview Spagnuolo on Thursday or Saturday.

Raiders Interested in Gilbride: ESPN is reporting that the Oakland Raiders are interested in Giants’ Offensive Coordinator Kevin Gilbride as a head coaching candidate. The Daily News is reporting that the Raiders have indeed received permission from the Giants to talk to Gilbride.

Date and Time Set for Giants’ Playoff Game: The Giants will play their first playoff game of the 2008 NFL post-season on January 11, 2009 at 1:00PM.

Who their first opponent will be will depend on what transpires in the first-round of the NFC playoffs. If the Eagles beat the Vikings, then the Giants will play the Eagles. If the Vikings beat the Eagles, then the Giants will play the winner of the Falcons-Cardinals first-round playoff game.

December 29, 2008 New York Giants  Injury Report: CB Sam Madison (broken ankle), TE Michael Matthews (ankle), and S Mike Johnson (thigh) were all injured against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

“(Sunday) night after the game it was felt that (Madison) would unfortunately have to be finished,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “His season would come to an end.”

“Michael Johnson (came) out with his quad contusion,” said Coughlin. “He seems to be doing better today (on Monday). Mike Matthews with the sprained ankle that we will wait and see on that. I know they are going to do an MRI on Mike and try and get the swelling down and that type of thing.”

HB Brandon Jacobs (knee), TE Kevin Boss (concussion/ankle), DT Barry Cofield (knee), and CB Aaron Ross (concussion) did not play against the Vikings.

Coughlin was asked if he expected Jacobs to play in the first playoff game. “I hope so,” responded Coughlin. “That is what we are leaning towards. We are counting on that taking place, certainly. And I think he is making progress. And this rest is certainly going to do him good. But I certainly would like to see, if possible, I would like to see him with some solid practice time as well. I’m not sure if we are going to be able to do that. But that would be the goal.”

“(Ross) seemed to be very good today (on Monday),” said Coughlin.

“(Boss) is doing well,” said Coughlin. “I think he is doing well today (on Monday). I think that by Wednesday he should be able to go.”

Coughlin was asked if Cofield could have played against the Vikings. “I think the doctors were right in recommending that he not play,” responded Coughlin. “I know that he felt really good. On Friday he thought he felt better. I think part of that was the emotion and looking forward to playing the game. And I still thought he moved around with a little bit of hesitation. So I think it was the right move. And I think that the doctors were right in recommending that he not play.”

Burress’ Suspension Ends: The four-week suspension imposed by the Giants on WR Plaxico Burress ended yesterday. While Burress can no longer play for the Giants this season due to the fact that he was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury (NFI) List, theoretically he could rejoin his teammates. However, the Giants issued a statement indicating that would not be likely.

“Plaxico is taking his time to get healthy and tend to the important matters he has in his personal life,” said General Manager Jerry Reese. “Our medical staff has prescribed a treatment and rehab program for Plaxico with regard to his physical injuries. We will sit down with Plaxico at the appropriate time, most likely after the conclusion of this season.”

Notes: The Giants will only practice on Wednesday and Friday this week.

The Giants finished the regular season with NFL-leading and franchise record 2,518 yards rushing and 5.0 yards per carry.

The Giants finished the season with 427 points and 338 first downs, both the second-highest totals in franchise history. They scored 448 points in 1963 and had 356 first downs in 1985.

QB finished the regular season with 289 completions in 479 attempts (60.3 percent) for 3,238 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions for a passer rating of 86.4. The completion percentage and rating are career highs for Manning.

Dec 282008
 

Giants First Playoff Opponent Will Be Eagles, Falcons, or Cardinals: With a first-round playoff bye, the Giants will have to wait two weeks for their first playoff game. Who their first opponent will be will depend on what transpires in the first-round of the NFC playoffs.

If the Eagles beat the Vikings, then the Giants will play the Eagles. If the Vikings beat the Eagles, then the Giants will play the winner of the Falcons-Cardinals first-round playoff game.

Giants Fall to Vikings in Regular-Season Finale, Lose CB Sam Madison: The New York Giants fell to the Minnesota Vikings 20-19 earlier today in Minneapolis as the Vikings kicked a game-winning 50-yard field goal as time expired.

The Giants finished the 2008 regular season 12-4, losing three of their last four games. Worse for the Giants, in what was a relatively meaningless game, the Giants lost reserve CB Sam Madison for the remainder of the season with a fractured ankle. TE Michael Matthews also left the game with an ankle injury as did S Michael Johnson with a thigh contusion.

The Giants were without a number of starters and sat down even more during the contest. HB Brandon Jacobs (knee), TE Kevin Boss (ankle/concussion), CB Aaron Ross (concussion), and DT Barry Cofield (knee) were all inactive. Players such as QB Eli Manning sat out after intermission.

Neither team impressed offensively in their first two possessions as each team was forced to punt twice in the first quarter. The Vikings then managed to put together an 8-play, 37-yard drive that resulted in a 48-yard field goal by PK Ryan Longwell.

In New York’s first three offensive possessions, the Giants gained only 37 yards and two first downs.

Facing 3rd-and-1 on Minnesota’s fourth possession, HB Adrian Peterson broke off a 67-yard touchdown run that gave the Vikings a 10-0 advantage in the second quarter.

The Giants responded with three consecutive drives that resulted in field goals before halftime. The first was set up by a 58-yard kickoff return by HB Ahmad Bradshaw. After gaining one first down, the Giants had a 33-yard touchdown run by a penalty. The Giants did not gain another first down on the drive, but PK John Carney kicked a 51-yard field goal. Vikings 10 – Giants 3.

Minnesota then went three-and-out on its next possession with reserve LB Bryan Kehl sacking QB Tarvaris Jackson on 3rd-and-10. The Giants then put together a 14-play, 79-yard drive that stalled at the Vikings’ 12-yard line. Carney kicked a 30-yard field goal. Vikings 10 – Giants 6.

On the Vikings’ ensuing and last possession before halftime, Minnesota faced a 2nd-and-1 from the Giants’ 39-yard line, but the Vikings were unable to pick up the first down on three consecutive plays, including 4th-and-1. The Vikings turned the football over on downs. The Giants then drove 38 yards in 8 plays to set up Carney for a 42-yard field goal as time expired. Vikings 10 – Giants  9 at the half.

The Giants received the ball to start the second half. New York drove 80 yards in 10 plays as QB David Carr hit WR Domenik Hixon for a 23-yard touchdown pass. Giants 16 – Vikings 10.

The Vikings gained one first down and then punted. The Giants went three-and-out on their second possession of the third quarter. The Vikings then drove from their own 34-yard line to the Giants’ 6-yard line, but on 2nd-and-goal, Jackson was intercepted by safety James Butler in the end zone. Butler returned the football 47 yards to the Giants’ 45-yard line (an unnecessary roughness penalty put the ball at the Vikings’ 40). The Giants drove to the Minnesota 2-yard line but were forced to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Carney in the 4th quarter. Giants 19 – Vikings 10.

The Vikings quickly responded with a 3-play, 66-yard touchdown drive as Jackson found WR Bernard Berrian for a 54-yard touchdown strike. Giants 19 – Vikings 10.

The Giants might have salted the game away on their next possession as the Giants drove from their 25 to the Vikings’ 28-yard line. But after a 2-yard sack, Carney missed a 48-yard field goal.

The Vikings’ final and game-winning possession started at their own 38-yard line. It took the Vikings nine plays to move the ball 30 yards. With five seconds left, Longwell kicked the game winner as time expired.

Offensively, the item of note was that Ward rushed 77 yards on 15 carries, breaking the 1,000-yard mark. The Giants became the fourth team in NFL history with two 1,000-yard rushers. Manning finished the game 11-of-19 for 119 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Carr finished 8-of-11 for 110 yards, 1 touchdown, and 0 interceptions. Hixon was the leading receiver with four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, aside from the one big touchdown run by Peterson, the Giants did a nice job against the run as Minnesota was held to 110 yards rushing. Kehl and safety Michael Butler picked up sacks and Butler picked off one pass.

Post-Game Notes: Inactive for the Giants were HB Brandon Jacobs (knee), TE Kevin Boss (ankle/concussion), CB Aaron Ross (concussion), DT Barry Cofield (knee), LB Gerris Wilkinson (knee), WR Derek Hagan, DT Leger Douzable, and PK Lawrence Tynes.

The 2008 New York Giants set an NFL record for the fewest turnovers in a season. Their 13 giveaways were one fewer than the previous NFL record – set by the 1990 New York Giants. The Dolphins also finished the 2008 season with 13 turnovers.

Giants’ Regular-Season Opponents in 2009: The Giants’ regular-season opponents in 2009 will be:

Home:

  • Cowboys
  • Eagles
  • Redskins
  • Falcons
  • Panthers
  • Cardinals
  • Raiders
  • Chargers

Away:

  • Cowboys
  • Eagles
  • Redskins
  • Saints
  • Buccaneers
  • Vikings
  • Broncos
  • Chiefs
Dec 282008
 

Re-Signing Derrick Ward a Priority?: Newsday is reporting that inside the Giants’ organization, re-signing HB Derrick Ward, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2008 season, is a priority. The paper says the Giants had been optimistic about re-signing him, but his 215-yard performance against the Panthers may have driven up his asking price to the point where the team cannot re-sign him and HB Brandon Jacobs, who is also scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent.

Ward has rushed for 948 yards this season, the highest total by a backup running back in franchise history. Jacobs has rushed for 1,089 yards. If Ward rushes for 52 yards today in Minnesota, the Giants will become the fourth team in NFL history with two 1,000-yard rushers, joining the 1972 Miami Dolphins (Larry Csonka and Mercury Morris), 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers (Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier), and 1985 Cleveland Browns (Kevin Mack and Earnest Byner).

Article on Halfbacks Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward: Familiarity Breeds Success for Big Blue by Jay Greenberg of The New York Post

Articles on QB David Carr: Four Downs with Giants Backup QB David Carr by Jenny Vrentas of The Star-Ledger

Article on TE Michael Matthews: New York Giants TE Michael Matthews No New Kid on the Block by Mike Garafolo of The Star-Ledger

Article on the Coughlin Family and RG Chris Snee: Football Family: Chris Snee’s Wife is Tom Coughlin’s Daughter by Joe LaPointe of The New York Times

Dec 272008
 

December 26, 2008 New York Giants Injury Update: The latest on the injury front and the official status of each player for Sunday game against the Minnesota Vikings:

  • HB Brandon Jacobs (knee) – Did Not Practice – Questionable
  • TE Kevin Boss (ankle/concussion) – Did Not Practice – Doubtful
  • RT Kareem McKenzie (back) – Limited Practice – Questionable
  • DE Justin Tuck (lower leg) – Limited Practice – Probable
  • DT Fred Robbins (shoulder) – Limited Practice – Probable
  • DT Barry Cofield (knee) – Did Not Practice – Questionable
  • LB Gerris Wilkinson (knee) – Did Not Practice – Out
  • CB Aaron Ross (concussion) – Did Not Practice – Out

“(Ross) is doing better, yeah,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “He is doing much better, much better.”

HB Derrick Ward Honored Again This Week: Earlier this week, HB Derrick Ward was named “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” for his performance against the Carolina Panthers last Sunday. Now he has also been voted the “FedEx Ground NFL Player of the Week.” Against Carolina, Ward rushed for 215 yards on 15 carries. His 14.3-yard average was the highest in NFL history by a running back with at least 15 rushing attempts in a game.

Notes: Army had expressed some interest in Giants’ Wide Receivers Coach Mike Sullivan for their head coaching vacancy, but Army hired another coach.

The Giants are 7-0 in domed stadiums under Head Coach Tom Coughlin (6-0 in the regular season plus Super Bowl XLII).

QB Eli Manning is taking the three starting offensive linemen who did not make the Pro Bowl (RT Kareem McKenzie, LT David Diehl, and LG Rich Seubert) and their wives with him to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii for the week. “It’s a really nice thing on Eli’s part, we’re going to have a lot of fun,” said Diehl. “I think our wives are more excited about it than we are. We all want to be playing the Sunday before (in the Super Bowl) and then go on our vacation.”

Dec 262008
 

12/26/2008

By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, December 28, 2008: With the overtime victory over the Carolina Panthers last Sunday night, the Giants have locked up the #1 seed in the NFC, earning themselves homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye. Thus, other than potentially determining the Giants’ opponent in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, the Giants really do not have much to play for in this game.

Winning would be nice as momentum is good, but the #1 most important goal is to come out of this game as healthy as the team can.

CB Aaron Ross (concussion) will not play. TE Kevin Boss (ankle/concussion) is doubtful. DT Barry Cofield (knee), HB Brandon Jacobs (knee), and RT Kareem McKenzie (back) are questionable. That’s five key starters right there. On top of that DT Fred Robbins (shoulder) and DE Justin Tuck (lower leg) were limited in practice again all week. And WR Domenik Hixon (ankle/foot) is probably still nowhere near 100 percent. One wonders if the Giants should be cautious with all of these players.

As for the Vikings, they are playing with their playoff lives. They need to win this game or hope the Bears lose to the Texans.

Giants’ fans shouldn’t get worked up too much one way or the other over this game. Also keep in mind that since the Giants could possibly face the Vikings again in the playoffs, it doesn’t make much sense for the coaching staff to reveal too much in the play-calling department.

Giants on Offense: The Vikings have the #1 run defense in the NFL but the team will be without one of its key run defenders, DT Pat Williams. Still, right defensive tackle Kevin Williams (8 sacks) is a Pro Bowler as is right defensive end Jared Allen (14 sacks). The left side of the Giants’ line – David Diehl and Rich Seubert – will have their work cut out for them. The Giants may be further challenged up front if Kevin Boothe has to play for the injured Kareem McKenzie at right tackle.

And the Giants’ ground game won’t be at full strength either if Jacobs does not play. Derrick Ward and the offensive line, tight ends, and fullback will have to prove they can move the football against a top run defense – something they could not do against the Eagles or Cowboys (keep in mind that the Panthers were 18th in run defense and missing their best run stuffer).

It may be easier for the Giants to move the ball through the air. But the left side will have to protect Manning from Allen and Williams. And linebacker Chad Greenway is a good blitzer too. Boothe – if he plays – will have to play much better in pass protection than he did against Dallas.

As for Manning’s targets, the Giants will not only be without Plaxico Burress, but Kevin Boss will not play. That will make the Giants’ passing game much easier to defend. Left cornerback Antoine Winfield is yet another Pro Bowler. If the Vikings keep him on Amani Toomer – who has been largely invisible in the passing game – then Toomer will likely be a non-factor. That means the onus will really be on Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith. With Boss out, we may see many more multiple wide receiver sets with Sinorice Moss and possibly Mario Manningham being a bigger factor. Since this game doesn’t mean much, that’s the route I would take, that is, use the game as an opportunity to give experience to the young receivers.

The Vikings do have a solid safety combination in Darren Sharper and Madieu Williams. Sharper has had great success the past two seasons in reading Eli Manning and taking two picks for long interception return touchdowns.

In the controlled atmosphere of the dome, my strategy in this game would be to come out throwing the football by starting out with multiple wide receiver formations, and perhaps even some hurry up. Give future opponents something to think about and perhaps game plan for since the Giants are unlikely to do this at home in the windy Meadowlands in the playoffs. Plus, this strategy has the added advantage of giving the young receivers some experience against a defense that is the tops in the NFL at defending the run. And the players might have some fun with it. Of course, the Giants don’t want to get Eli hurt so if the Giants can’t protect Eli, simply run the ball and get the game over as quickly as possible.

Giants on Defense: The strength of the Giants’ defense is its defensive line and its secondary. But the defensive line is really, really beat up. Barry Cofield (knee), Fred Robbins (shoulder), and Justin Tuck (lower leg) are all ailing. Mathias Kiwanuka’s ankle injury from week one is probably still an issue and he’s most likely dog tired after his first season as full-time starter at defensive end. Some of these guys may not play or play long. That’s not a good thing when facing arguably the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson (1,657 yards) and his very talented back-up Chester Taylor. We may see a defensive line for long stretches that includes the likes of Renaldo Wynn, Dave Tollefson, Jay Alford, and Jeremy Clark. Heck, we may even see Jerome McDougle and Leger Douzable. Yikes! That’s why folks shouldn’t get to worked up over this one.

Obviously, if the Giants are to win this game, they must stuff the running game. The strength of the Vikings’ offensive line is on the left side with LG Steve Hutchinson and LT Bryant McKinnie. The weakside of the Giants’ defense will really be challenged by these two and Peterson.

The Vikings’ passing game has struggled due to issues at quarterback. That old head-banger Gus Frerotte suffered a lower back injury earlier this month and was replaced by former starter Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson is very inconsistent, but he has played better since his return to the starting line-up. He has a rocket for an arm and is a good athlete.

Minnesota’s most dangerous receiver is former Bear Bernard Berrian (20.1 yards per catch average). He has very good speed and can get deep. The Vikings will also throw to the backs (Taylor has 44 catches, Peterson 21) and the tight ends (former Giant Visanthe Shiancoe is easily having his best season with 40 catches and 7 touchdowns). With Aaron Ross not playing, the Giants really need Kevin Dockery and Terrell Thomas to step up and play well this weekend as the Giants will likely playing a lot of defenders in the box and relying on the secondary to win some one-on-one match-ups.

Just like last week, simple game plan. Stop the run, stop the run, stop the run!

Giants on Special Teams: In the crunch, the Vikings will use Bernard Berrian as a punt returner and he does have an 82-yard return for a score this year. The Giants need to find a way to get more productivity out of their return game, both punting and kickoff.

Dec 262008
 

Bill Sheridan Would Have Replaced Spagnuolo?: According to Newsday, had Giants’ Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo left the Giants last offseason to become a head coach of the Washington Redskins, Giants’ Linebacker Coach Bill Sheridan would have replaced him as defensive coordinator. The paper says Giants’ Defensive Backs Coach Peter Giunta would also have been a candidate.

Article on the 2008 New York Giants: Giants Can Give Fans Greatest Gift of All by Paul Schwartz of The New York Post

Article on WR Domenik Hixon: In Plaxico’s Absense, Domenik Hixon is Catching On as Giants’ Deep Threat by Ralph Vacchiano of The Daily News

Dec 252008
 

December 24, 2008 New York Giants Injury Report: The Giants issued the following injury report yesterday:

  • HB Brandon Jacobs (knee) – Limited Participation in Practice
  • TE Kevin Boss (ankle) – Did Not Practice
  • RT Kareem McKenzie (back) – Limited Participation in Practice
  • DE Justin Tuck (lower leg) – Limited Participation in Practice
  • DT Fred Robbins (shoulder) – Limited Participation in Practice
  • DT Barry Cofield (knee) – Did Not Practice
  • LB Gerris Wilkinson (knee) – Did Not Practice
  • CB Aaron Ross (concussion) – Did Not Practice

“Ross is struggling,” said Head Coach Tom Coughlin. “But we will see. He was better today. He will have all day tomorrow to rest and we’ll see.”

Teams Allowed to Interview Spagnuolo Soon: Teams that are interested in Giants’ Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo are allowed to interview him during the Giants’ upcoming playoff bye.

“We’ll do everything we can to try to get him to stay,” said Giants’ President and CEO John Mara, “but at some point the right offer is going to come along from somebody and he’s going to have to consider that.”

Article on Manning-to-Tyree Play in Super Bowl XLII: Manning to Tyree is a Moment ‘Yule’ Remember by Mike Lupica of The Daily News

Dec 242008
 
New York Giants 34 – Carolina Panthers 28 (OT)

Summary: 300.  A number, thanks to Frank Miller’s graphic novel turned movie, that is now most associated with Spartan King Leonidas and the legendary battle of Thermopylae.  For The New York Giants and their rabid fans, it is a number that drew a line in the sand and declared to the NFC, that the road to Super Bowl 43 will run through the Meadowlands.  It was the 300 yards (301 technically but that kills the metaphor and no one likes a dead metaphor) that your team amassed on the ground that sent the very dangerous Carolina Panthers home to lick their wounds, while the Giants began preparations to stand tall and defend their NFL Championship.

The electricity in an excited Giants Stadium came through loud and clear watching at home.  It was evident from the opening kickoff to Brandon Jacobs’ pile-moving game-winner in overtime, that the chance to claim home-field advantage throughout the playoffs was felt by everyone playing in, coaching or watching this game.  Both teams came out strong, with the Giants drawing first blood on a 32-yard field goal by Pro Bowl K John Carney.  Panther RB DeAngelo Williams responded though, with his first of four TDs with a 13-yard burst that put the Panthers up 7-3.  Back again came the Giants to take a 10-7 lead on a Brandon Jacobs 2-yard plunge, but the lead was short lived as the visiting Panthers would score TDs on their next two drives to take a 21-10 lead.  Finally waking up, the Giant defense forced the first punt of the night for the visitors, and gave the Giants good enough field position to march within field goal range in just 49 seconds and slice the lead to 21-13 at the half.

After surrendering 21 points and 208 yards on the Panthers’ first three drives, the Giants’ defense rose up and forced three straight punts while the offense clawed its way back from an 11-point hole.  A 12-play, 84-yard march spurred by Derrick Ward’s 22-yard dash and Eli Manning’s 4-yard TD pass to Kevin Boss brought the Giants to within one point at 21-20, a margin that would again grow to 8 points just three minutes later as DeAngelo Williams busted over right tackle for a 30-yard score, his fourth of the night.  Eli and the Giants came back again moving 44 yards in 7 plays and converting a two-point conversion to tie the game at 28 and force overtime after the Panther placekicker missed on a 50-yarder as regulation expired.

After trading three-and-out possessions, the Giants and Panthers stood deadlocked at 28 with just over 12 minutes to play in the extra stanza.  The march to 300 was then underway as Derrick Ward exploded for 82 yards on the ground in just three carries and Brandon Jacobs slammed home the game-winner from two yards out.  It was the ground assault that claimed the day, with the teams combining for seven rushing TDs and a staggering 459 yards rushing.  When the battle was over, the Giants stood alone atop the NFC playoff pile, ready to defend their title from home.

Quarterbacks: “And now, as then, it is not fear that grips him, only restlessness. A heightened sense of things.”  Eli Manning may not wow you on the stat sheet in a game like this one, but the Giant QB was sharp for most of the night with his passes and again came through in the clutch.  Finally adjusting to life without Plaxico Burress, Eli found his replacement Domenik Hixon on his first pass of the night, and followed that up by converting a 3rd-and-6 to Hixon four plays later.  On the play, Manning was able to side step some pressure, buy himself another second and find Hixon deep down the right sideline for a 40-yard gain that put the Giants at the Panther 18.  That was close enough for a John Carney FG that put the Giants up 3-0 on the game’s first drive.  Eli followed up 4-for-4 for 29 yards on the Giants’ next possession, including a perfect strike to Steve Smith on a critical 3rd-and-2 at the Panther 14.  On a night when points would be necessary, Eli came through when he had to and got the Giants in position for a 2-yard TD run to take a 10-3 lead.  Manning’s next two drives produced a whopping 16 yards as Eli went 2-for-4 for 10 yards and was sacked by LB Thomas Davis.  Eli closed out the half going 0-for-2 on the Giants’ final drive, but thanks to Derrick Ward’s 34-yard burst, the Giants were able to close the gap to 21-13.

The second half started out slowly as Manning misfired on a 3rd-and-5 and the Giants went three-and-out.  Curiously Hixon had CB Ken Lucas draped on him like a cheap suit, but shockingly no flags were thrown.  Down 21-13 still, Eli got the ball with plenty of time to play in the 3rd quarter and marched his team on a 12-play, 84-yard drive by going 6-for-6 for 53 yards and a TD pass to TE Kevin Boss to pull his team within one.  After another Panther TD, the Giants’ next possession went nowhere, as Manning was sacked twice and the Giants were again forced to punt.  Down 28-20 with just over 7 minutes to go, Eli was again perfect, going 3-for-3 for 40 yards, converting two big 3rd downs on passes to Amani Toomer and Kevin Boss.  On the completion to Toomer, Eli very alertly pump faked to hold CB Chris Gamble for the split second that Toomer needed to get some separation on his out route which turned into a 15-yard gain and a huge first down.  Following a big 3rd down completion to Kevin Boss, Eli’s next pass fell incomplete, but FINALLY a pass interference call was made and the Giants were in position at the 1-yard line to punch it in.  Still needing a two point conversion, Eli coolly found Hixon on quick in route and tied the game in what is becoming typical Eli Manning style.

Running Backs: “We did what we were trained to do, what we were bred to do, what we were born to do!”   That is, to run wild and carry the Giants to a first-round bye and home-field advantage.  Starter Brandon Jacobs piled up 87 yards on a tough 24 carries and no doubt got the Panthers’ best effort as he attacked the edges of the defense.  Despite a pedestrian 3.6 yard per carry average, it was Jacobs’ ability to run wide and threaten the defense laterally that ultimately enabled Ward to pop some big runs on a few isolation power runs later in the game.  Early on, Jacobs was corralled by the speedy Panther defense, and only managed 12 yards on his first 5 carries.  “The Jacobs Effect”, which is a physical property of the Giants’ offense that is not yet fully understood, did seem to be in play though as Jacobs next six carries went for 28 yards.  In fact, Jacobs had 11 of his 24 carries on the Giants’ first two drives of the night – a clear indication that Giants had every intention of running it all game long to wear down the Panthers.  Other than his three powerful TD runs, Jacobs’ best run of the night was a 10-yarder that was designed to go off-tackle, but Jacobs made two quick jump cuts inside and was able to crash ahead for a nice 10-yard gain that showed all of Jacobs’ abilities on one run.

A common reaction to the “The Jacobs Effect”, only known as “Ward’s Syndrome” began to take hold in the 2nd quarter.  Derrick Ward did what he was born to do, and in the process racked up an epic 215 yards on just 15 carries.  Ward’s first big run of the night came with the Giants down 21-10 with under two minutes to go in the half.  In a portent of things to come, Ward took a handoff from an offset position, following RG Chris Snee as he pulled left and exploded back up field for an outstanding 34-yard run to put the Giants within field goal range.  As the Giants drove to pull within a point in the 3rd quarter, Ward again ripped off a big run, this time galloping 22 yards over left end to move into Panther territory.  For the game, Ward had six runs of over 10 yards and four 20+ yard efforts.  His finest run of the night though was a 51-yard burst in overtime that was followed by runs of 14 and 17 yards that got the Giants down to the Panther 2-yard line and in position for the game winning score.

FB Madison Hedgecock had a busy day blocking and did well leading the way, but failed to get a yard on 3rd-and-1 on the Giants’ third possession of the game.  Hedgey was able to pick up 13 yards on a swing pass Manning on the Giants’ second TD scoring drive of the night.

Wide Receivers: “Submission? Well that’s a bit of a problem.”  Refusing to crumble in the wake of Plaxico Burress’ absence, Giant WRs stood and fought with the rest of their offensive mates, refusing to give in to the talk they weren’t good enough without their suspended teammate.  Domenik Hixon led the Giants again with 71 yards on four catches, including a 40-yarder in which he got behind the coverage on the Giants’ opening drive of the game.  Hixon failed to hang on to a Manning pass late in the first half after making a nice move to get inside of CB Chris Gamble, but evidently Gamble is permitted to hold one of Hixon’s arms as long as he gets up and acts like he made a great play.  Awful officiating on that non-call.  Steve Smith chipped in with three catches for 24 yards, all of which came on the Giants’ first TD drive of the night and all three went for first downs.  Smith again ran a great short out-route from the slot on 3rd-and-2 from the Panther 14 and his 7-yard reception again moved the chains.  Oddly, Smith didn’t point to his name on his jersey and didn’t act like a buffoon, which rules out the notion that anyone named Steve Smith must act like a 5-year old who just ate a box of Twinkies and hates his mommy.  Amani Toomer only had 27 yards on two catches, but one of which was a critical 3rd down conversion as the Giants drove to the tie the game at 28 late in the 4th quarter.

Tight Ends: In addition to his five catches, 46 yards and TD, Kevin Boss was outstanding blocking on the edge much of the night.  On Jacobs’ first TD run of the night, he stood up DE Tyler Brayton at the POA and allowed a nice lane for Jacobs to scoot through for the score.  Boss’ biggest contribution in the passing game came on the Giants’ second drive of the second half as he pulled in three passes for 19 yards and a TD.  It was Boss’ final catch of the night though, a 12-yard grab on a drag route on 3rd-and-5, that was his most important.  Boss also had a great moving lead-block on Ward’s 14-yarder on 3rd-and-7 in overtime.

O-Line: “In the end, a Spartan’s true strength is the warrior next to him.”  Moving as one cohesive unit all night long, the Giants’ front five on offense showed their true strength after being doubted by many after a handful of lowly performances.  After being stifled by the Eagles and sacked by the Cowboys, the Giants’ OL responded with a crushing performance in which they helped control the ball for 39 minutes and escorted Giant backs to 301 yards rushing and three TDs.  RT Kareem McKenzie gave up a sack to Tyler Brayton as the 4th quarter opened and LT David Diehl saw Julius Peppers blow by him on the same drive, effectively killing the possession, but this group rebounded in a big way after a dismal performance in Dallas.  Guards Chris Snee and Richie Seubert played their best games of the year, both pulling in tight quarters and leading the way on several of Derrick Ward’s big runs.  Snee blasted over the left side on Ward’s 34-yarder that set up a Giants’ field goal late in the first half, and Seubert cleared the way up the middle for Jacobs’ eventual game-tying TD late in the 4th quarter.  Seubert again led the way on the back breaking 51-yard run by Ward in overtime as he pulled right on a power lead play and blew the hole wide open for Derrick Ward.  C Shaun O’Hara also had a key block on the final Jacobs’ TD of regulation when he was able to blast through the DL and get a hat on Pro Bowl MLB Jon Beason and prevent him from making a stop.

Credit the guys up front on the Giants’ game tying 2-point conversion attempt, as they beautifully executed a play-action run in which Seubert pulled to lead, and Diehl crashed down on the DL, to give Eli a nice throwing lane inside.

Front 7: Author’s Note: Given the varied fronts and personnel packages the Giants use under Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, I’ll be looking at the front 7 as a whole initially rather than separating the D-line and Linebackers.  Hybrid roles such as LBs playing in a 3 point stance make analyzing the front 7 as one unit more cohesive.  It may change as we move forward or from game to game.

“Unless I miss my guess, we’re in for one wild night.”  Indeed it was a wild night for the Giants’ defenders, who were pushed around to the tune of 21 points and 208 yards on just three Panther possessions to open the game.  Unable to get to Jake Delhomme all night, the defensive front was stymied in the pass rush department for most of the game and had loads of trouble controlling RB DeAngelo Williams.  DE Justin Tuck and DT Fred Robbins were shoved out of the way on Williams’ first TD of the game, a 13-yard burst right up the gut in which RT Jeff Otah crashed down on Robbins and TE Jeff King stuffed Tuck.  It is bad news when a TE is easily handling your Pro Bowl DE in the running game.  The Panthers then marched on a 10-play, 66-yard drive in which seemingly the entire front 7 decided to just take a short nap.  DE Mathias Kiwanuka and MLB Antonio Pierce got their chances to be blasted back when LT Jordan Gross and LG Travelle Wharton drove them five yards back as DeAngelo Williams scooted by for his second TD in as many tries inside the red zone.  The defense again gave Delhomme plenty of time on his next drive as the veteran signal caller hooked up with Muhshin Muhammad for a 60-yard gain.  The Panther QB simply had far too much time to throw on the play and the pass rush was invisible.  Following the lack of pass rush, the Giants’ front was again tossed aside by the Panther O-Line as DeAngelo Williams scored AGAIN from one yard out as Tuck, DT Barry Cofield and Kiwanuka were handled easily at the point-of-attack once again.

It took the wily vet Pierce to finally get the defense cranking on the Panthers’ fourth drive of the night as he sniffed out another screen to Smith and dumped him for a 2-yard loss.  Fellow LB Chase Blackburn made a great read on a screen to HB Jonathan Stewart and forced Delhomme into a bad pass that fell incomplete as the Panthers opened the second half on offense.  The entire front 7 played faster after their awful start and held the Panthers to three straight drives that ended in punts, until DeAngelo Williams again gashed the run defense for a 30-yard TD.  The DL would respond on their next effort after P Jeff Feagles pinned the Panthers at their own 1-yard line.  Justin Tuck was in on two stops, and DTs Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield got good push up the middle as the Panthers were forced to punt from their 5-yard line after three plays and only four yards gained.  On 3rd-and-8, it was Robbins and LB Danny Clark who shot into the backfield to blow up the play and keep the defensive momentum going.  With the game finally tied at 28 with three minutes left, the defense had to make one more stand to preserve a shot at overtime and it finally came through.  Carolina started with great field position at their own 38 but only managed 30 yards on 9 plays.  Pierce and Clark combined on a direct snap to RB DeAngelo Williams to not make the tackles, but sacrificed themselves to take out the lead blockers and allow Chase Blackburn and S James Butler to come up and limit the big play.  Pierce followed that up with a great run blitz from the back side to stop Williams again and force the Panthers into a 50-yard field goal attempt in the swirling winds of the Meadowlands which would sail wide left.

Defensive Backs: “Somebody’s gotta watch your back.” It was UGLY early on, but on the whole, the defensive backfield recovered well after a very shaky start and did a solid job defending the explosive Steve Smith and the rest of the Panther passing game.  Smith’s speed was on display early on a bubble screen in which S Michael Johnson read the play but badly underestimated Smith’s speed as he raced by for a 23-yard gain on Carolina’s first possession.  Johnson then failed to get enough depth when he did not sink on a Smith crossing-route and the Panther WR snuck behind him for his second big gainer of the night on a 35-yard reception on the same drive.  Credit the Panthers’ play design on that one, as Smith went in short motion inside of the slot receiver and the Giants’ best cover man, CB Corey Webster, switched off of him to stick with WR Mushin Muhammad on the outside of the coverage scheme.  Webster led the team with seven solo tackles, including dumping DeAngelo Williams for a 2-yard loss on the Panthers’ first scoring drive.  Webster had a great pass breakup early in the 3rd quarter as he reached around Muhammad and swatted the ball away, forcing a Panther punt.  Webster again came up huge just after the 2-minute warning, batting away a pass intended for Smith.  CB Aaron Ross bit badly on a stutter step by WR Muhsin Muhammad and was just out of position as a 60-yard completion sailed over his head on the Panthers’ third TD drive of the night.

Rookie CB Terrell Thomas nearly had an INT on the Panthers’ fourth drive, but nonetheless the rookie from USC alertly read a combination route from the slot and sank back far enough to break up the pass and FINALLY force a Panther punt as the first half wound down.  Johnson was critical in the 4th quarter, drawing a holding penalty on WR Steve Smith as he was dragged down to the turf, and then shooting in on a perfectly-timed run blitz to stuff Williams on the very next play.

Special Teams: Both the kickoff and punt coverage teams were solid, and Pro Bowl K John Carney was again perfect.  But it was P Jeff Feagles perfectly placed 37-yard punt in the 4th quarter that pinned the Panthers at their own 1-yard line, which put the special teamers in the spot light.  Backed up so deep, the Panthers were forced to run three straight times to no avail and the Giants ended up with a short 44 yards to go after the ensuing punt and were able to tie the game just seven plays later.  R.W. McQuarters fielded two punts, gained 10 yards, and almost created nearly 80,000 heart attacks when he muffed a punt deep in Giants’ territory in overtime.  Luckily the ball bounced right back to him, otherwise, he’d be banished to Philadelphia, where coughing up stuff in big games is an Eagle tradition.

Coaching: Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and OL coach Pat Flaherty get the nod for this game.  Running power plays, counters and traps, from a shotgun formation that spread out the Panther defense, was what really opened up the game offensively for the Giants late in the first half.  That small wrinkle was enough to keep the Panthers on their heels, and give the Giants the spark they needed to get going again on offense after two failed drives.  When you run for 301 yards, you clearly found a hole in the defense and the coaches did an excellent job exploiting it.  The game’s big play, the oft-mentioned 51-yarder in OT by Ward, was nothing more than a power lead off right tackle in which LG Rich Seubert pulled to seal the edge.  As basic a football play as you’ll see, but the tiny of wrinkles of running from it from an offset I with a pulling guard made all the difference in the world.  Flaherty also employed LG Richie Seubert to chip inside on Panther RDE Julius Peppers who was held to one sack and was kept in check for most of the night.  By using Seubert to chip inside, Diehl was able to focus almost solely on Peppers’ speed rushes to the outside and Giant backs and TEs were not forced to stay in to pass protect that often.  Gilbride’s play design on the Giants’ 2-point conversion was fantastic as Eli faked an underneath handoff to RB Brandon Jacobs and LG Richie Seubert pulled right to force the LBs to commit to the stopping the run.  Once the middle was cleared out by the play action and Amani Toomer’s crossing route, Domenik Hixon slipped into the wide open space that was created and had an easy catch for the conversion.

The Panthers had the better of him early, but Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo dialed more pressure as the game went on and was able to get his guys in position to hold the Panthers to seven points in the second half and overtime.  Contrary to popular opinion, he did NOT lock up Corey Webster on WR Steve Smith, but stuck to playing inside/out coverage in two WR sets and played a safety high bracket on Smith when he was alone.

JPog (Joey’s Player of the Game) – With all apologies to LG Rich Seubert, I have to give the nod to RB Derrick Ward, who had a career night in the biggest game of the season.  Ward’s explosiveness in the hole enabled him to turn small gaps into big gains all night long and after the hammer of Jacobs, Ward’s explosion to the second level was a difficult thing for the Panther defenders to corral.  Ward’s 215 yards and 82 of it in overtime won the game for the Giants.  The defense made a few key stops and Eli Manning had some big time conversions but make no mistake, Derrick Ward’s big runs put the Giants in scoring position all night long.  For his effort, the super sub gets his very own throwback Lewis Tillman jersey, in a nod to other best backup RB the Giants ever had.

JBog (Joey’s Bum of the Game) – In the most important game of the year thus far, both teams laid it out all game long.  I refuse to name a bum in this game, because both teams played hard, played tough and played until the final whistle.  I considered Panther WR Steve Smith for his look-at-me antics, stupid holding penalty and even stupider face, but the dude can flat out play so he avoids the official JBoG but only by a thread.

(Box Score – Carolina Panthers at New York Giants, December 21, 2008)