New England Patriots 27 – New York Giants 26
We missed it by THAT much! The keyboard is staring at me, mocking me in its own qwerty way. It knows I slapped it on Sunday afternoon, but it’s not sure why. It wasn’t a hard slap, just a “here we go again” 4th-quarter meltdown-turned-comeback-turned-meltdown slap that let it know “Hey pal, we’re in this together until the end.” Indeed for Tom Coughlin and his band of misfit toys, there was no happy ending this time against the undefeated New England Patriots as Stephen Gostkowski’s 54-yard please-go-wide left kick sailed inside the uprights. It was not a most-gripping victory for the home fans as our own Prince Akeem looked on in street clothes.
Up 20-10 after a 2nd half opening FG drive, the Giants’ defense forced a quick 3-and-out from Tom Brady and the world’s most dangerous group (NWE not NWA now hold that distinction). Four plays later, the Giants let the Patriots off the ropes by surrendering an 82-yard punt return to Danny Amendola that turned into a 3-play, 7-yard TD drive that seemed to wake up the groggy Pats’ offense and cut the home team’s lead to just 3. Eli Manning and company answered on a 45-yard FG drive that pushed the lead to 23-17, but it was the failure to find the end zone that would ultimately doom the G-Men’s chances to pull off a MetLife Miracle and upend the unbeaten Patriots for a second time. MLB Jasper Brinkley was having none of it and came up with a sack strip of Tom Brady to give Eli just 31 yards to put the game out of reach. As they did all afternoon, the Patriots answered the bell, sacking Manning on the drive’s first official play, pushing the ball back to the 44 yard line and forcing a quick 3-and-out when a score could have pushed this game out of reach.
After being bottled up most of the day by journeyman safety Craig Dahl, TE Rob Gronkowski, who was thwarted in Super Bowl 46, got his revenge with a 76-yard catch-and-run that pushed the Pats ahead 24-23. Another punch-less offensive effort by the Giants that force fed the ball to a blanketed Odell Beckham Jr. gave dimple chin the ball and the chance to put the game away. After driving his team 81 yards and seemingly taking a 30-23 lead, a holding call wiped out a LeGarrette Blount TD, Tom Brady did the unthinkable and threw an interception to CB Trumaine McBride at the 1-yard line and suddenly the Giants’ 4th quarter Eli Manning magic looked to be coming back to claim the Patriots. Twelve plays later, he did it; Eli pushed the lead to 29-24 with a 5-yard TD pass to Odell Beckham Jr., who had been held in check since a first quarter TD that ate up 87 yards. Only he didn’t. Replays showed that Beckham got two feet down but failed to make a “football move” in the end zone as CB Malcom Butler swatted the ball out of his hands.
A Josh Brown FG inched the Giants closer to the miracle with a 26-24 lead but clumsy play calling and execution left 1:46 for Tom Brady to pick his way down field. Rookie S Landon Collins then stepped in with the biggest non-play of the season, leaping high for a hurried Brady pass and seemingly ending the game with a clutch interception but it was not to be as the ball squirted out and gave #12 another chance to ruin the day. True to form, Brady came through this time against his nemesis and delivered the ball to the Giants’ 36-yard line. Gostkowski’s boot (he too is perfect on the season) ended the chance for the 2015 Giants to match their 2007 predecessor’s feat of ending the Patriots perfect season. So Mr. Lenovo laptop, you can blame me for the sudden jolt, but really your ire should lay with Tom Coughlin or Eli Manning, or Landon Collins or Odell Beckham or Tom Brady, anyone but me old friend.
So the debate will rage, was Eli great or the goat for the clock mismanagement as the Giants drove to take the lead in the 4th quarter? His heady slide in bounds forced the Patriots to use their final timeout but the inexplicable timeout with 2:06 left and the clock winding down to the 2 minute warning will haunt this game as long as it’s discussed. The timeout seemed to pay off with a TD pass to Beckham, but after the review negated it, the Giants had one more play to run before getting to the 2-minute warning. With 2:01 left, Manning completely missed a wide open Beckham underneath for a sure TD and the ball sailed wide of WR Dwayne Harris. It may be a matter of seconds, but not stopping the clock with 2:06 left may have forced the Patriots to use their final timeout there or at least had the Giants with 1st-and-goal at the 5-yard line with 2 minutes left. At that point, you can safely run the ball even against the Pats 6 DL formation on 1st and 2nd down, forcing the Pats to spend their final timeout and then running the clock down before your 3rd down play. That would have reduced the final time for Brady to less than a minute, but as Coughlin said, he was playing for the TD and rightly so. I posit the argument because that’s what gets discussed ad nauseum but in reality this game was far too close to pin on any one thing.
Late game confusion aside, Eli was again terrific against Tom, piling up 361 yards and two TDs and leading the Giants to six scoring drives, the first of which was a perfectly placed ball to Beckham who split coverage on his way to an 87-yard TD that evened the game at 7 on the Giants’ opening sortie. Manning consistently drove the team down the field but against Belichick’s vaunted umbrella defense that gets tighter to succeed against as you drive inside the 20, FGs were the rule and not TDs. Manning’s first-half 2-minute TD drive was vintage Eli. First was a perfect sideline pass to Rueben Randle, a dime to Harris to keep the drive alive and a seam to Will Tye to get the G-Men to the 1-yard line. The exclamation point was a perfectly-arced fade pass to Dwayne Harris to close out the first half and put the Giants ahead by 7. Manning’s non-TD pass to Beckham was again perfectly placed. But in a game of inches, the ball being slapped away was another in a long line of plays that had they gone the other way, see the Giants to victory. Eli contributed to the Giants’ rushing total with a 10-yard uh, jaunt we’ll call it on the Giants’ opening drive of the second half.
Not a lot of good here when your longest rush of the day comes from your 34-year old QB who’d probably rather watch another Nationwide commercial of his chicken parm-loving brother than take off running. Rashad Jennings “led” the group with 11 carries and 39 yards but the inside trap play that had become this groups bread-and-butter was simply stuffed all day by the Pats. Former Pat Shane Vereen predictably was bottled up by his previous employers, contributing only 26 total yards and really having no statistical impact on the proceedings aside from a 3rd-down conversion early in the 2nd quarter. Vereen’s presence out of the backfield was crucial however, as we will show later in a breakdown of his impact on the Patriots’ coverage schemes. Personal RB favorite Orleans Darkwa had two tough runs for 9 yards but was held to 6 on his other 3 totes.
WR Odell Beckham Jr. started the day with a bang, knifing through the Patriots’ secondary for an 87-yard TD on the Giants’ second offensive snap. Tough sledding from there on out against Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler including Butler’s quite frankly mean slap away of a TD late in the 4th quarter that could have been the game clincher. Beckham was challenged physically all day by Butler and honestly lost the battle after an opening haymaker. OBJ finished with 104 yards on 4 catches but was targeted a team-high 12 times. Give Butler credit for clamping down on the dynamic sophomore playmaker. Dwayne Harris again came up big for Eli with 82 yards on 6 catches with a TD and consistently providing a safety valve underneath for his QB. Harris just missed a diving pass from Manning on the goal line on the Giants’ game tying drive late in the first half. It was another play and another few inches short of where this team wants to be, truly the story of the afternoon. Myles White contributed one catch but it was a 28-yard sideline beauty that had the Giants in position to score. White also appeared to be interfered with on a Manning pass into the end zone, but in a game that saw plenty of hand fighting in the secondary, it was an understandable no-call given how the game was officiated all day. Rueben Randle again chipped in with a crucial catch to spur a Giant scoring drive as the first half closed. Randle’s impact wasn’t FanDuel great (sorry Fantasy junkies) but his 51 yards on 3 catches was enough to keep the Giants toe to toe with the unbeaten Pats. As with everyone else though, there was a play Randle will want back – when he pushed off to negate a 11-yard gain which would have had the G-Men to the Pats’ 20 up by 6 points and driving. The ensuing play was DE Rob Ninkovich’s sack of Manning which effectively ended any scoring threat.
Will Tye is starting to assert himself, but like many of the young Giants has some room to improve. Tye pulled down 5 balls for 56 yards but it was the just miss of a potential TD from Manning that will stick in the rookie’s craw as will a flat out drop from Manning as the Giants drove to close out the first half. Tye rebounded quickly to snag a Manning pass that covered 31 yards and got the Giants in possession of a 17-10 halftime lead. Tye’s edge blocking was better. The rookie TE is improving technique wise, keeping a wide base and keeping his feet under him to maintain good leverage in the running game.
Inside the Game
Exploiting a tendency. Notice on TE Will Tye’s 31-yard rumble down to the Patriot 1, Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo spotted a weakness two plays earlier on a formation that saw Beckham, Vereen and Tye on the play side. Knowing that Belichick is committed to shading or doubling an opponent’s best weapon(s), the Giants tried Beckham down the right sideline with Vereen coming out of the backfield to see what type of coverage they would get. Two plays later, that tendency to shade to Beckham and Vereen cost the Patriots down the field.
Vereen and Beckham are essentially doubled down the field with intermediate coverage watching Vereen short and Beckham in the slant area with a FS over the top to keep Beckham from getting too deep. Note the keying from the FS and the split from the intermediate defender to react to either Vereen or Beckham. The result is TE Will Tye (circled) singled up in the seam.
Flip the formation and again Vereen is watched by middle coverage, Harris is drawing LB attention and Beckham is again spied by the deep safety play side leaving Tye (circled in the middle) one on one. The three blue circles are all shading to cover two Giant players, leaving Tye to exploit the match-up.
The giant hideous circle shows four Pat defenders who were accounting for Vereen, Harris and Beckham. And the adorable little circle is a deep safety who was guarding against Beckham deep and who left a huge hole for Tye and Manning to exploit en route to a 17-10 Giants’ halftime lead. Credit Ben McAdoo and Eli Manning for recognizing the intermediate, short and deep help to hem in Beckham and Vereen and deploying Tye into the hole it created. In a game of counter-punching, McAdoo and company won this battle against a Pats’ defense that has a history of taking out a team’s two biggest threats. (Remember…”This is still a Nicks and Cruz game” from SB 46 when Mario Manningham popped open?)
Just like the rest of this team, some good and some bad from this group. Playing without LG Justin Pugh and losing C Weston Richburg for a half, the group probably out-performed expectations. But the success running inside was completely thwarted by a well-prepared Patriots team. LG John Jerry and C Dallas Reynolds filled in capably, but there was an absence of any running game. LT Ereck Flowers gave up the second-biggest sack of the game with Giants driving in the 2nd quarter. DE Chandler Jones went low and outside, got perfect leverage on the 330lber and knocked the ball out of Manning’s hand to force a fumble, killing an excellent chance for points in the 2nd quarter. LG John Jerry did the job pass blocking, but the difference in quickness between his pulling and Pugh’s pulling may have been just enough to keep the Giants’ favorite running plays from working as planned. RT Marshall Newhouse gave up the sack to Ninkovich that killed a Giant drive that could have salted the game away or at least increased the 4th-quarter lead to 9 points at the least.
Once again it seems the BBI review team has inspired another Giant to pick himself up by the Lederhosen, this time German import DT Markus Kuhn. Much maligned just about everywhere except 1925 Giants Drive in East Rutherford, the veteran DT came to play finally. Kuhn chipped in with 4 stops but it was his ability to finally hold up against double teams inside that spearheaded the defense to the tune of surrendering only 77 yards rushing on 23 carries. Kuhn’s Bavarian locks were flowing again on a fumble return caused by Brinkley’s sack and strip of Brady. Credit the return of JPP to the improved play inside. The constant double teams he faced allowed Kuhn and fellow DT Cullen Jenkins to see less traffic inside and hold the point-of-attack much better than they had in recent weeks. After coming out with a funky glove, JPP went back to the Martha Stewart oven mitt line and quickly swatted a Brady pass to make his kitchen ware work for him and forced an errant pass on the Patriots’ sickening game-winning drive. Overall a good effort by the DL, even putting enough pressure on Brady to force an errant throw that should have ended the game, and coming with 3 whole sacks in one game (though only 1 went to a DL).
Jasper Brinkley did his best to will his defense to victory with 12 tackles and a sack, but it wasn’t enough to keep the best offense in the NFL from ultimately winning this battle. Brinkley was again powerful inside getting good penetration on several runs to keep huge HB LeGarrette Blount in check. And it was #53’s throw down of Julian Edelman that broke the WR’s foot and took a key playmaker off of the field for 3 quarters. Brinkley’s 4th-quarter sack and strip of Brady was all the veteran could do to hand his team the game but it was not to be. Devon Kennard again played well on the edge, ending a screen play Antonio Pierce style late in the first quarter and piling up 6 stops overall. Jonathan Casillas was active with 7 stops but was late covering on Brady’s 4th-down pass and game-saving completion by – you guessed it – just inches. He also took a terrible angle on the game’s final offensive snap allowing WR Danny Amendola the space to cut inside and make it into field goal territory.
It’s tough to knock these guys considering the opponent and how well they played for 3 quarters, but Tom Brady exploded for 200 yards in the second half and ultimately won the game through the air. S Landon Collins’ rocky season continued as the rookie failed to seal the game with an interception-turned-drop on the Pats’ final drive. He also failed to play with inside leverage against TE Scott Chandler on the Pats’ first TD of the game. This group simply couldn’t get stops on 3rd and 4th down on the game’s alpha and omega drives and it cost them dearly. Credit S Craig Dahl with playing Gronkowski as well as he could for 3 quarters until the All Pro ultimately burned him for a 76-yard TD catch-and-run. Dahl was aggressive all day long, separating Chandler from the ball deep inside G-Men territory and hopping on Tom Brady for a sack that forced a Patriots FG. Dahl just missed on Gronkowski’s long TD which again put a bad ending on an otherwise strong game from the once and former Giant. Jayron Hosley filled in solidly at times, knocking away a 2nd-down Brady pass as the first half wound down and knifing inside to drag down Gronkowski to force a FG in the first. It was Hosley though who completely whiffed on a Brandon LaFell’s 54-yard catch that put the Pats in scoring range. CB Trumaine McBride was flagged for a pass interference penalty in the end zone but redeemed himself on the Pats’ next foray, picking off Brady and preventing a potential 31-23 deficit that became a 26-24 Giant lead.
Penalties on returns and Amendola’s 82-yard escape on a punt return brought the once-maligned group back to the fore of the “where did it go wrong?” discussion. Josh Brown was perfect again, hitting all four FGs and both XPs. P Brad Wing was in no way to blame for Amendola’s long punt return, it was a perfectly-placed sideline shot that Amendola simply made a great play on. Harris averaged a modest 19 yards on 2 kick returns and a solid 10-yard average on 4 punt returns. Kick coverage was again good, but that punt coverage, oy vey.
Against the league’s best offense, the Giants played a strong 3 quarters but finally caved in in the 4th. Steve Spagnuolo’s charges kept Brady in check with a combination of man and zone coverages that focused on shutting down do-everything TE Rob Gronkwoski. Holding this offense to 4 punts and a respectable 27 points is an accomplishment that seemed impossible coming into this game but again it wasn’t quite enough when you rely on a rookie safety and two 10-year plus vets as your deep patrol. As much as it would be nice to give tons of credit to Spags and his defense for 3.5 quarters, the failure to stop another game-clinching drive undid all of the good will. The result wasn’t satisfying, but again the effort and fight was, as his 32-ranked defense gave the Patriots all they could handle for 3.5 quarters.
Ben McAdoo’s offense was good, but not good enough. McAdoo’s gang notched 6 scoring drives, but only scored 2 TDs in a game decided by one point. McAdoo again kept to the running game despite its ineffectiveness and it provided Eli with enough balance to power to another 300-yard plus day. Inches here and inches there and we’re celebrating an improbable win, so I won’t kill any of the coordinators for this one. They both had their groups ready to play.
Cram it in your Cramhole Award
In a game full of lead changes, big plays and ultimately a depressing ending, I just can’t give out the award to anyone on that field on Sunday. Love him or hate him, Tom Coughlin and his guys were ready despite the 4th-quarter head-scratchers again. It’s been covered relentlessly since it happened and it may have no place in a silly football redux, but I really want to cram this award in ISIS’ or ISIL’s faces and then down their collective throats for the horrific attacks in Paris last week. It’s not often that world events creep into the reviews but this was a doozy, and on a day that we were all a little deflated, keep in mind that we were peacefully watching a football game between millionaires that didn’t go our way. It sucked to be sure, but as I age and keep getting fatter (get in mah belly ISIS), I have a hard time cramming things like football when a band of misguided nitwits seek to murder innocents. So ISIS, ISIL, jerkfaces of the highest order, cram it in your suicide-vest-laden cramholes.