September 2005

The 8:30 ESPN game, which makes two straight games with Patrick, McGuire, and Theisman. This is a terrible crew, and it’s a wonder that they’re still assigned to this telecast. Or as Paul McGuire would say, “Lemme tell you something. Lemme tell you something. This is a terrible crew….� These clowns’ presence on this broadcast cements its status as the most depressing telecast of them all; even the pre-commercial jingle, that awful siren noise, speaks of the end of the weekend.

Still though, the shots of a sun-drenched Jack Murphy Stadium – my policy is to call all these name-changing stadiums by their original names. Did you know that Candlestick Park is now called Monster Park? – and a Visa Skycam view of the visiting G-Men, huddled up and butting helmets, is enough for me to shake off the late Sunday blues. It’s game time.

Bill Simmons has picked the G-Men to win/cover in his column. This is a bad sign. Any true fan will know that the G-Men thrive on their self-image of blue-collar anonymity, their under-the-radar solidness. You see, the Giants aren’t “bad dudes� like the ’85 Bears or the 2000 Ravens. At their best, they are tough, solid good guys, who go about their business quietly and expect nothing in return but the stirring ovation of the Meadowlands faithful. Anytime we find ourselves too much in the public eye, our modest solidness is compromised. Case in point, 2002, and the offensive explosion towards the end of the regular season that prompted a week’s worth of repeat viewings of the flea-flicker to Toomer, shown from a skycam-type angle, the single prettiest shot of the single prettiest play of my career as a Giant fan. I ask you, fellow Bleeder of Big Blue, did that not indulge your vanity? And, I ask you, did not the Giants ooze with vanity that next Sunday? And did they not get their deserved comeuppance? What a bunch of assholes we were on that field that day: Shockey’s stupid skip dance; Shaun Williams and our dysfunctional secondary melting down in a de’ja vu of 1997; Trey Junkin.

Anyway, I don’t like when people do anything but underestimate us. The bulk of the Sports guy’s entry addressed the hot topic of the week, the response of the jilted San Diego crowd to Eli Manning:

So I’m supposed to pick them just because Eli Manning is coming to town and the Chargers fans are allegedly going to “let him have it?� Are you kidding me? Have you ever been to San Diego? That’s the most laid-back city in the country – San Diego makes Switzerland look like Compton.

But as kickoff approaches, it becomes very clear that Simmons has forgotten the truism that hell hath no fury like a city scorned. Just recently, think of the venomous response that Beltran got from Houston, and he only played there for two months and single-handedly got them a within a game of the World Series! How people tap into their primal feelings of rejection and abandonment, and how the mob atmosphere emboldens them! Even in San Diego. These Chargers fans are pumped, all 65, 373 of them, and you immediately know that it’s gonna be tough.

Nate Kaeding sails one into the still-blue San Diego sky and we’re underway. Ponder fields it 6 yards deep in the endzone and is forced to take a knee, to his visible displeasure. Good, we need guys like that. Eli leads his offense onto the field stoically, the loud, mean-spirited boos raining down on him. ESPN pans to the angry fans and the stupid signs that they make that spell “ESPN,� all starting with Eli, like “Eli Sucks Pele’s Nads,� or something stupid like that. Actually, that would be pretty funny, but they weren’t like that. They had all kinds of extra words and shit. What a dumb-ass way to get on TV.

After Tiki gets 5, Eli hits Shockey on a medium out, who quickly turns upfield and explodes into the open. Shockey in the open field with a full head of steam: is there any better sight for Giants fans? This was the closest thing that I can remember to Shockey’s famous preseason catch against the Texans, when he similarly caught it and turned upfield looking for contact, like Nelson in that Simpsons episode, barreling over those poor expansion-team defenders. We Giants fans were smitten. Jeremy, you had us at catch one. He gets 32 on this one, and we’re in business at midfield.

Tiki gets 9, then a couple for another first down. We face a 3rd and 5 on the next set, and Eli hits Shockey for 6 and the first. Staying with the pass, Eli hits Toomer on a slant for 12 — Amani’s good at catching those low balls where he sort of knifes under it with his lean body. 1st and 10 at the Charger 14, and Tiki bursts for 9, bringing up 2nd and 1 at the SD 5, where he is stopped for no gain on the next play.

3rd and 1, and here comes Brandon Jacobs, trotting on the field with a swagger. One of the announcers notes that he’s become something of a folk hero in the Meadowlands, a remark that speaks to our futility in short yardage situations these past few years. Jacobs has so far changed all that by converting all of his 3rd and shorts, but this time he gets stacked up by the Chargers, who were obviously keying onto him, and is stopped four inches shy of the marker. The announcers point out that Jacobs runs high, and at 6’4�, presents tacklers with a big target of a set of legs to take aim at. After the first couple of weeks, the league appears to be figuring this out, and it will be important for Colonel Tom to utilize Jacobs in less predictable situations and in less predictable ways. Jacobs looks like he has the speed to turn corners and the instincts to pick holes; why not spell Tiki with Jacobs and not generic Giants RB # 34, who happens to be named Derrick Ward?

But anyway, 4th and inches, and of course Colonel Tom “takes the points on the road,� a decision that is predictably concurred with by the idiots in the broadcast booth. Obviously, we were all disappointed that Coughlin didn’t go for it, and for obvious reasons; too obvious, in fact, to address here. But did you really expect us to go for it then? And it’s not like Colonel Tom is worse in this regard than most NFL coaches. Well, what can you say? Young Eli’s nerves appear to be just fine, and its 3-0 Giants.

Feely’s ensuing kickoff is fielded by the speedy, 5’6â€? Darren Sproles, who somehow gets himself shot out of a cannon to the San Diego 35. What an awesome player Darren Sproles must be to have on your team. San Diego’s offense trots out, a potent group led by superstar RB LaDainian Tomlinson. San Diego came out of nowhere last year and they still kinda carry the stigma from their good defense/plodding offense teams of the early ‘90s, but they ranked 10th in the NFL in yards last year and 3rd in points scored. In addition to Tomlinson, they have Pro-Bowl Tight End Antonio Gates, as well as Drew Brees, who ranks among the most underrated players in the game. Brees threw 27 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions last year, for 3,159 yards and a stellar 65.5 completion percentage. The guy isn’t just solid; he’s a big-time asset at QB. The Giants defense figures to have a pretty good shot at stopping Tomlinson and the run, though. We completely shut down the Cardinals running game — which after their first three games doesn’t seem to have really said much — but we also bottled up the dangerous Deuce McAllister in Week 2. Our defensive tackle rotation of Joseph, Clancy, Robbins, and Allen have stuffed the oppositions guards and freed our linebackers, who have done an excellent job shooting the gaps and making sure tackles. This Chargers offense is good, but has yet to get untracked this year, and I like our chances.

But the Chargers first three plays go for 19, 9, and 13, which, very quickly, brings them to 1st and 10 at our 24. So much for our 80-yard march for a Field Goal, as the Chargers are already in range. Two plays later, on a big third and three from the NYG 17, Brees hits receiver Eric Parker on a 9-yard slant in front of Curtis Deloach, who, for as much as I liked him in the preseason, has really looked bad this year. 1st and goal from the NYG 8, and Tomlinson darts and twists down to the 1, before easily plunging in on the next play. Kaeding hits the PAT, and we’re down 7-3.

Willie Ponder is getting much love from television commentators, which is interesting for us Giants fans who saw a small, obscure #87 returning kicks as the very picture of our Special Teams futility and inability to come up with impact players. But the sixth round draft pick out of Southeast Missouri State has proven us wrong, and I think it’s fair to say that Ron Dixon is the poor man’s Willie Ponder. Chris Berman even has a funny routine for him, making, “Hhmmm…. Hhhmmm [like, pondering]� sounds before breaking out with: “Willie Ponder, down to the….� In this case, Ponder hits a seam and streaks up the sideline before getting slowed up by the Kicker Kaeding, and shoved out of bounds at the Giant 42.

But after hitting Shockey for a first down, we can’t pick up another one, and Feagles hits another nice one to the San Diego 11, brought back by Sproles to the 15. The Chargers take over and immediately start marching, with Brees hitting the ageless Keenan McCardell for 12 on the first play. On the play after the next, Tomlinson for 8 and a first down, and then Tomlinson for 9, and after another play, Tomlinson around the bend for 28. First and 10 from the NYG 15, and Brees hits Keenan McCardell, working on Curtis Deloach. 14-3 and the Giants don’t know what hit them.

I suppose now would be a good time to gush over LaDainian Tomlinson, or as the announcers have started to call him, much to my chagrin and to that of all Giants fans who are by now very nervous and irritable like me, “LT.� Tomlinson pretty much embodies the Platonic ideal of the Running Back form. He is 5’10�, 220 lbs, with thick legs, arms, chest, and of course, neck. Even without his speed, quickness, elusiveness, vision, desire, and savvy, his frame alone would qualify him as a pretty fair power back. What struck me most as I was watching Tomlinson is his incredibly low center of gravity. He is one of those freakish athletes who naturally moves with his knees bent at an extreme angle, with his ass about a foot off the ground, making it relatively easy for him to break off a sudden cut, or powerfully explode through a hole or a tackle. These amazing legs – or knees – give Tomlinson his ungodly juke and lateral quickness, and also his excellent acceleration; he hits full speed quicker than the other 21 guys and leaves linebackers in his wake. And once he gets going, once he hits the outside, he has excellent pure speed for a running back, as those famous highlights of him at TCU, clad in # 5, running free against Baylor or UTEP attest to. He is also a smooth receiver out of the backfield, blessed with a great pair of hands and an instinct for good patterns.


Combine all of these qualities into one man, and you’ve got the best running back in football by a wide margin. Really, who is even close? You also have the consensus # Fantasy draft pick for leagues that weigh QB TDs and RB TDs differently, a fact that was referenced in that really funny ESPN Fantasy commercial. The Giants haven’t seen a guy like this before.

Kaeding kicks, Ponder returns, we get a holding, get it on our 19 and go three and out, the crowd taking it up a notch, giving the Chargers the ball back at their 38. A resurgent Charger offense lines up and immediately starts whupping ass, yet again. Brees to Gates for 15, and two plays later, Brees to Gates for 12. It appears we don’t have an answer for this guy either. Then Brees hits Keenan McCardell for 27 yards in front of Will Peterson. The Cardinals receivers and Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth are one thing, but Keenan McCardell? What’s with these guys. 1st and goal at the three, and Tomlinson takes it in. 21-3 Chargers, at 9:39 in the second quarter; we’re getting taken to school.

A bouncing Kaeding kick is fielded by Vishante Shiancoe at the Giants 30, who gets it out the 35. At least we have decent field position. We hit a big 3rd and 4 completion to Burress, and on the next set, catch a huge break when Terrence Kiel, who’s been getting soundly beaten by Shockey all day long, gets called for a Defensive Holding Penalty, which gives us the first at our 43. But an offensive pass interference on Shockey (bullshit call, actually) and a delay of game, sandwiching a Tiki run, brings us to 2nd and 22. But Tiki lofts a bomb in the middle of the field, and Tim Carter makes a play on it, coming down with it for a big 44 yard gain at the San Diego 15. Big play. This Tim Carter is a tantalizing player: always good when he plays, but always injured. He’s one of those athletes whose lean, tight muscular frames seems to guarantee injury, guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Cliff Floyd, who are too knotted with muscle for their own good. These guys are great, but watching them, it’s never a surprise when they get injured. A key component of being an elite athlete is having otherwordly flexibility; if the average guy stepped out on an NBA court, they’d get injured within two quarters.

A defensive holding and a 5 yard completion to the disappointing Shiancoe take us down to the San Diego 5, where Eli lofts a timing pattern to Burress who beats Quentin Jammer in the one-on-one, crisply snatching it out of the air for the Touchdown. Beautiful, and we’re back in it, sort of. 21-10 Chargers, with 3:34 in the half.

But the Chargers get the ball back and appear to be continuing with the business of easily marching the ball downfield on us. On 2nd and 8, Drew Brees swings one out to Tomlinson for 9. At this point it seems hard to imagine how we’re ever gonna stop this offense. With the dangerous Antonio Gates, our safeties must respect the pass, and with Tomlinson hurting us with the run, our linebackers have to be ready to shoot the gaps inside the tackle box. This leaves the swing pass to Tomlinson wide open, which the Chargers have apparently realized. And the next play looks like more of the same, with Brees swinging it out to Tomlinson, who seems poised to juke and hop his way to a successful first down gain. But Nick Greisen, a Giant since around the first Bush administration, pops the ball loose, and Carlos Emmons pounces on it, and it’s our ball at the Chargers 34, and we might make a game of this after all!

On first and 10, Eli throws one high to a streaking Shockey on a seam pattern. Shockey does a full-extension leap and gets absolutely crunched by the Chargers’ helping safety, but he holds onto the rock at eh Chargers 4. He’s a little slow to get up, but he’s okay. Then we line up 4-wide, and Eli hits David Tyree, the least likely of those 4, on a little out for the score. Feely puts in the PAT and its 21-17 Chargers, right at about the two minute mark.

And we’re not done. The Chargers appear to be in shock, and are in no shape to pull off their two minute drill. Two incomplete passes and a three yard gain and the Chargers are forced to punt, but a good boot by them puts us back at our 20, with 1:23 on the clock.

But this might just be our day: Eli shows good scrambling instincts by making a tough 4 yards on 3rd and 3, barreling headfirst for the necessary yardage. Ya gotta love when the quarterback eschews the slide. Two plays later and we’re faced with a 3rd and 10, but Colonel Tom pulls out a draw play, and Tiki scampers for 27 yards, displaying his uncanny ability to find open spaces. 1st and 10 at the SD 42, with 23 seconds left and no timeouts, and Eli hits Toomer for 25, putting it at the SD 17 with 15 seconds left. A Dave Diehl false start takes us back to the 22, and Colonel Tom decides to call in the Field Goal unit with those 15 seconds left. Why, I do not know. I really do not know. Why take the pressure off? At 40 yards, the Field Goal isn’t even guaranteed! C’mon, Colonel Tom! What the fuck’s the deal with you? But Feely drills it from 40, and we’ve (almost) crawled all the way back. What a gut check, what a ballsy effort, and the slate is wiped clean for the second half. At halftime, 21-20 Chargers.

And then, as darkness envelops Jack Murphy Stadium in the cool San Diego evening, we get annihilated. There’s really no other way to describe it; we got our asses completely handed to us on the way to being outscored 21-3 in the second half.

The onslaught began with a couple of trick plays, a reverse to Eric Parker and then a beautifully executed halfback pass from Tomlinson to McCardell. 28-20.

Then, we botch a potential big break of a reverse when David Tyree carelessly fumbles a the exchange; he had plenty of blockers and plenty of running room ahead of him, but by the time he is able to get a handle on the ball, he can only manage to get back within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage. On the next play, a pressing Eli, sensing the rapidly shifting momentum, gets picked off across the middle by a streaking David Florence, who easily takes it to the house, high stepping in Eli’s face as he takes it across the goal line. 28- — no wait, there’s a flag, and its offsetting penalties, and although theirs happened to be a ticky-tac roughing the passer call that had nothing to do with the interception, 3rd down is to be repeated, and the Giants are granted a reprieve.

But it doesn’t matter. We can’t move the ball, and its Tomlinson, Gates, penalty on us, Sproles for 21, and on 3rd and 13 from the NYG 14, Brees hits Gates for a 14-yard TD. 35-20, with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. The SD crowd is up, the Charges are celebrating, and the Giants look lost.

But our stonefaced and courageous QB leads us back on the next drive, and despite the fact that we lost the game, and despite the defense’s abominable showing, this game might go into Giants annals as the game that Eli Manning came of age. Oh, let me tell you, it was sweet to watch Eli assume a commanding mien in that “hostile environment!� It was on this drive that Eli was at his best: On 3rd and 11 at our 30, Eli bounces about the pocket amidst a pass rush to hit Plaxico across the middle for a 17-yard First Down. Two plays later, on 3rd and 9, Eli calmly hits Plax again, this time for 13. Then on 3rd and 12 from the San Diego 41, Eli, having nobody open, takes off down the middle of the field, diving, not sliding across the 29 for a first down, his second clutch 1st down scramble of the game. What an asset it is to have guys that can do this. Then, on 3rd and 10 from the Charger 29, Eli buys himself some time and hits David Tyree for 18 yards and the first.

First and ten from the SD 11, and we’re in business. The Chargers dominated the first quarter, we the second, they the third. Perhaps this seemingly see-saw track meet isn’t lost after all. But no, we stall horribly, and are faced with 4th and 9 from the 10. Colonel Tom settles for 3, Feely hits it, and with 12:18 on the clock, we are down by 12.

Then Darren Sproles brings the ensuing kickoff all the way back to our 39, almost immediately nullifying our Field Goal, which took us a good 6 minutes to earn. Tomlinson for 4, 10, and 8, then bowling ball Lorenzo Neal for a rare, reward-carry for 9. On the play after the next, Tomlinson delivers the coup d’grace. 42-23 Chargers.

Eli, however is still the beating heart of this Giants team, and on the next drive, he brings us all the way down to the SD 21, with 7:06 remaining, going to show that if we had been able to stop the Chargers just a couple of times, Eli and the offense were perfectly capable of winning this game for us. But we die another death when David Tyree fumbles at the San Diego 10, and on the next play, Tomlinson bounces an off-tackle outside and streaks down the sideline, finally bumped out after a 62 yard gain, giving him 192 yards for the day on 21 carries, averaging a staggering 9.1 yards per. His work is done for the day, and from here on out, we are treated to numerous shots of a playful Tomlinson on the sidelines, joking around with teammates and coaches, soaking up good vibes like a High School All-Stater who knows that he’s gonna get some quality ass at the post-game party. LT my ass, though.

Plays later, Kaeding kicks a 44 yarder to close out the scoring with 4 minutes left. 45-23 Chargers.

And that, fellow Giants fans, is called a reality check. San Diego’s a good team, and at 0-2, was desperate and dangerous. The Giants had cruised along the first couple of weeks with the help of excellent special teams and sloppy play by the opposition. But these Chargers weren’t fucking around, and we’re gonna have to play much better if we’re serious about being an upper tier team, which at this point, I still think we can be.

Our defense, obviously, is a major cause for concern, having been marched on by San Diego to the tune of 485 yards. This comes on the heels of our giving up 422 yards to the Saints, a statistic which is somewhat misleading given that some of these yards were gained with the outcome of the game in hand, but still…

Our secondary is a major issue, and ya gotta think that it won’t be too long before we see Corey Webster manning one of the corner spots, hopefully for many years to come. But it wasn’t just the corners. Our linebackers and safeties got lit up by Gates, so there is cause for concern in those areas as well. And our run defense sure crashed down to Earth, didn’t it! Jesus. But Tomlinson was so good, so quick and jumpy, that it seemed that even if we did get penetration or win our individual battles, he was able to find open space and create one-on-one matchups, which he invariably won. We need to get better.

But Eli Manning. Eli Manning. I had been telling people that Eli was “right on schedule,� and I believed it, and I still would describe his progress in this way. But this game afforded a glimpse into what Eli can become, and, we Giants fans hope, what he will become. He was decisive and determined, his throws consistently good. As I mentioned before, a particularly encouraging aspect of his performance was his pocket presence, his ability to buy time for himself without taking his attention off of his receivers. This can’t be taught, and it proves that, just as Ernie Accorsi told us, this kid has it. The trouncing aside, we can only hope that in the future, we will think of this as this as the game that Eli Manning showed us what he can do. I’m looking forward to seeing it all unfold. 2-1 and back to the Meadowlands, with a huge test coming up against the Rams.

Week 2, the strange home/road game against the Saints, who had cemented their status as the league’s sentimental favorite following their Week 1 win against Carolina, who, going into the game, seemed to be everyone’s candidate to become the most formidable challenger to the Eagles in the NFC this year. As my brother pointed out, this excess about how the Saints lifted the entire city of New Orleans on their shoulders, to paraphrase Joe Horn, really brought out the fact that the whole Katrina situation was completely bereft of high-profile New Orleans heroes. The Governor fucked up, the Mayor fucked up, but the ‘Aints made good! And Bush fucked up, and “Brownie� fucked up.

That said, there was a football game to be played. By the time I got back from work, put some Indian leftovers in the microwave, threw a tape in the VCR and my Tiki jersey over my shoulders, the kickoff squads were already out there. The G-Men were clad in their new road jerseys, a sight that I was expecting but was taken aback by nonetheless. White unis on the G-Men in the Meadowlands is something that you don’t see very often, maybe once every six or seven seasons against the Jets. (It should be mentioned that these new road jerseys are a significant upgrade. Basically, they make you wonder why the Giants didn’t institute them when they went back to their old-schools for the 2000 season, and why they wasted time on the half-assed old schools of the past three years, which will go down in Giants uni-ignominy with such hiccups as the mid-70’s white/red/white tri-striped helmet, sported most notably in the Miracle in the Meadowlands highlight. What a depressing squad the G-Men must have been back then, with a washed up Czonk carrying the load, and a QB who looked like a combination of the Czonk himself and future Giant Sean Landeta. It should also be mentioned that Herm Edwards looked exactly the same on that scoop ‘n’ score of yore as he does today.)

We’re kicking, and Feely puts one 3 yards deep in the endzone. Michael Lewis fields it, brings it out, and hands it off to Saints institution Fred McAfee, who within a couple of steps is met by about four Giants. It is Jay Feely’s hit, I believe, that jars the ball loose. “Ball?� asks my friend Dean, who is watching the game with me. “Ball,� Dean confirms, as rookie Chase Blackburn emerges from the pile triumphantly, rock in hand. The GGGGG-Men are in business at the Saints 10.

Tiki bursts up the middle for 7, then takes it down to the 1 on the next play. In comes Brandon Jacobs on 3rd and goal, who deftly reads Jim Finn’s lead block and marches the ball just across the plane, ending his run perfectly upright, a true Giant. Feeling the love of the Meadowlands faithful (Road game!), he clears himself space to do an awesome chicken-wing kind of dance, not unlike Jack Nicholson’s ritualistic little move in “Easy Rider� after he takes the day’s first pull of booze. Feely puts in the PAT, and its 7-0 Giants.

Feely’s ensuing kickoff is a tricky half-squib that successfully bounces through the Saints coverage for a touchback. Feely was third in the NFL last year with 13 touchbacks; this guy’s really gonna help us. This series affords ABC the opportunity to do their unique starting lineup intros, in which players introduce themselves and the schools they went to, like: “William Joseph: The U.� The true real-keepers say their high schools, or in Joe Horn’s case, “Canadian Football League.� These intros remind me once again of the undeniable resemblance between the Giants’ Will Peterson, the Yankees’ Robinson Cano, and the Knicks’ Trevor Ariza.

Very quickly, we get the Saints into a third and long. Aaron Brooks, the Saints athletic and rifle-armed Quarterback, fires a bullet in the direction of a comebacking Joe Horn. Will Allen, however, reads the pattern perfectly, and makes a great break on the ball and leaping in front of Horn with plenty of daylight ahead of him. But alas, this is Will Allen we’re talking about, and the ball improbably goes right through his swiss cheese hands and is snagged by Horn’s surer ones for a 24 yard gain. How it was physically possible for Allen to just completely whiff on that ball we will never know, but the play is emblematic of his consistent horrendousness when it comes to playing the ball. Allen’s a great “athleteâ€? and a tough player, but his 4+ years in the league have proven that he doesn’t have the requisite ball-skills needed to be an asset a position that, fundamentally, calls for preventing the other guy from catching the ball. Although we’ve just let them off the hook — big time — we hold them on their next set of downs and get the ball back at our 19.

What’s always been so tantalizing about Plaxico Burress is that he makes it look so incredibly easy. At a perfectly sculpted and sturdy 6’5, Plax stands out as a physical freak in a league of physical freaks. His strides are long and loping, and because his legs aren’t moving that fast so much as they’re covering a lot of ground every time they do move, he is able to stop and change direction with seeming ease. And he catches with his hands. The Giants second play on their second drive displays all of this, and has Giants fans thinking that we could be doing this on every drive for the next five years. Plax runs right at 5’10 Cornerback Jason Craft, who is furiously backpedaling to keep up with Plax’s easy strides. On the way downfield, Eli pins a beauty right on Plax’s back shoulder, who, for his part, smoothly turns his hips and effortlessly looks the ball into his hands for the 15 yard gain.

After a failed reverse to Willie Ponder, a play that Coughlin was probably hoping would hit big, Eli throws two beauties to Shockey that take us down to the New Orleans 43. On second and 1, Tiki makes a beautiful cutback and hits a seam, scurrying down to the New Orleans 6 before being pushed out of bounds. Unfortunately, the play is called back on an illegal block in the back by Plaxico, who got to his block a little late. Legit call, and after a sniffed-out screen pass goes incomplete, we’re at 3rd and 11. But on 3rd and long, Plaxico easily catches a comeback for sixteen yards and a first-down. On the next play, it’s Plaxico again, who makes an effortless grab again before turning upfield, crowhopping, and dishing out a huge lowered shoulder to the overmatched Jason Craft, sending him on his ass before being forced down after a seventeen yard gain. Plax is putting on a show on this drive, and the crowd is psyched. ABC pans to a pumped-up, crewneck besweatered, mustachioed Jersey dude of a Giants fan, and Dean and I comment on how proud we are to share our allegiance with him.

After an incomplete pass, Tiki scuttles through a hole for five. 3rd and 5 from the New Orleans 6, and Coughlin pulls out a quirky middle screen. Eli dumps it to Tiki who, off a great block by Kareem McKenzie, leaps across the plane for the touchdown. 14-0 Giants.

The giddiness of a potential blowout is short-lived, however, as Aaron Brooks completes three passes that, compounded by and egregiously bullshit roughing the passer penalty on Strahan, take the Saints down to the NYG 21. One of Brooks’ completions was a skinny post to Joe Horn, completed in front of Will Allen. I’ve been going off on Allen all game, but Dean points out that, as the replay shows, this Joe Horn is a pretty tough assignment. Horn is big and lean, and his breaks are lightning quick. The Saints move back five yards on the next two plays, but Brooks hits Horn, who absolutely loses Curtis DeLoach, on a fifteen yard bullet for the touchdown. Just like that, we’ve got a game again. 14-7 Giants.

While we’re on the subject of Joe Horn, now seems like as good a time as any to point out that Joe Horn is mic’d up for tonight’s game, another ABC staple. Horn’s a great receiver and a likable personality, and it’s a shame that he’s been labeled as a bad guy for his hot-dog antics. People jumped all over him about his cell-phone stunt – against the Giants, coincidentally – but I thought it was pretty cool. I don’t wanna go off on the subject, but isn’t there not a little racism in the No Fun League’s stringent policies on taunting? Anyway, I’m glad that Horn has become the public face for the post-Katrina Saints and redeemed his reputation, and that NFL fans can enjoy him for the great player and cool guy that he is.

We’re now into the first minute of the second quarter, as John Carney’s kick falls into the arms of Brandon Jacobs, who dishes out a blow to a would-be tackler. He just lowered his shoulder and cleared him out, ran him right over, and the crowd is re-psyched as NYG takes over at their 31. Jacobs pops right up, faces the Saints bench, and clenches his body towards them, taking kind of stiff-legged, swaying steps and, I’m pretty sure, screaming “Aaahhhh. Aaahhhh.� Good shit. This guy’s a regular Shockey.

Unfortunately, we can’t muster much on the next drive, as veteran safety Dwight Smith makes a big tackle on Shockey on a 3rd and 4 that stops him a yard shy. Feagles, however, sticks a beauty, pinning the Saints on their 5. After one first down, we stop the Saints, and get the ball back on our 43. On our first play, speedster Tim Carter streaks past his man along the sideline on a Go route and is open by at least two steps, or at least 4 yards. Eli misses him though, and misses him badly. It was a gimme of a touchdown, and we blew it. We fail to make a first down, and Feagles puts another beauty inside the 20. Special-Teams demon David Tyree makes a beautiful play getting off his block and making the stop, and on account of a Saints penalty, we have them at their 5 once again at 6:38 in the second quarter.

But we still can’t stop the pass. Brooks hits Joe Horn again, in front of Will Allen (again), for fourteen yards. These receivers, Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth, are simply much better football players than our corners, and I fear that this might be the case many times this year. I am somewhat bewildered by the fact that the short, ball-challenged Allen is matched up against the larger, more skilled Joe Horn, while Will Peterson drew the #2 guy Stallworth. Nevertheless, neither of our guys looks particularly good out there, nor, for that matter, does Curtis Deloach, who looked promising in the preseason but has seemed a step too slow in the games that count. Our secondary problems should take nothing away, however, from these fine Saints receivers and Quarterback Aaron Brooks. Brooks has been zipping passes on target all night, and his athleticism has allowed him to buy time for himself and let his superior receivers do their work. But Brooks, for all his potential, hasn’t achieved NFL greatness because of his propensity for the bonehead play. I say to Dean that Brooks owes us a turnover at some point, and with 3:39 in the half, we get one, on a brilliant, leaping snare of an interception by Carlos Emmons, who dropped into pass coverage and then stretched his entire 6-5 frame to make the pick. He brings it back to the New Orleans 26 but unfortunately gets called for a taunting, which brings the ball back to the 41.

These refs are making some pretty petty-ass calls here, but they make it up to us on the next series. After Eli takes a sack that seemingly brings up fourth down and our second three-and-out in a row, and also a feeling of frustration for having squandered the opportunity for at least a Field Goal, the Saints get called for an illegal use of the hands, 5 yards and an automatic first down. This emphatic automatic first down call was made by Ed Hocculi, who is the lead official in tonight’s game. What an honor it is for your team to play in the Ed Hocculi game, and what a thrill it is when Ed Hocculi muscle-boundedly signals your team’s first down!

We’re back in business, and on the next play Eli floats a quick fade to Shockey, who grabs it with nothing but daylight ahead of him, but just gets tripped up by safety Jay Bellamy. The play had touchdown written all over it, but Eli’s pass, thrown off his back foot, was a little underthrown, and Shockey had to slow up a little to catch the ball, allowing the toasted Bellamy a chance to take a swipe at Shockey’s shoestring. Still, the crowd is psyched as we go into the two minute warning, and on the next play, Tiki takes it through an ample hole, then smoothly bounces it outside off a tremendous block by Shockey, and blows a kiss to the crowd as he trots untouched into the endzone. Finally, we capitalize on an opportunity to expand our lead. 21-7 G-Men.

The Giants are able to three-and-out the Saints on their next possession, highlighted by Osi Umenyiora’s chase-down sack of Aaron Brooks, precluding him from finding open space and turning a broken play into a first-down. Osi’s speed is impressive, as he closes on Brooks like a fast linebacker. In the past, the Giants have had a hard time preventing mobile QBs from getting critical first downs, but with the speedy Osi and the slimmed-down Strahan, we should be significantly better in this area this year.

On 4th down, the Saints’ Mitch Berger punts a low liner that Chad Morton cautiously allows to bounce. But rookie James Butler, who’s been entrusted with the important duty of blocking the Saints releasing ends, boneheadedly loses track of the ball, allowing it to bounce off his calf, whereupon it is pounced on by the Saints at the NYG 37. After about 5 minutes of replays and Hocculi announcements, the refs confirm that it is indeed Saints ball. Once again, we have pissed away an opportunity to put some substantial distance between us and the Saints. This game is just presenting us with opportunity after opportunity to clinch it, but we haven’t been able to capitalize. In all fairness, though, the Saints have been much more sloppy. Just a mistake-filled game, with 1:15 to go in the first half.

And the Saints capitalize: Brooks hits safety valve Deuce McAllister, who evades a couple of tackles and makes his way all the way down to the NYG 9, with 31 seconds remaining. On the next play, Brooks fires an absolute laster to a wide open Ernie Conwell, but fortunately, Conwell doesn’t seem quite ready for it and the ball whizzes past his head for an incomplete pass. The next play goes to Joe Horn for a gain of 1, and with the clock ticking down and the Saints out of timeouts, Brooks is foced to stop the ball on a spike on 3rd down, bringing up 4th and goal from the 3. Jim Haslett, the Saints fiery, admitted former ‘roider, and poor clock manager of a coach, calls in Ol’ John Carney, who knocks in the 21 yard chip-shot. We were lucky to escape this one without a touchdown. 21-10 Giants, and as Nas so famously and eloquently sang, “It’s halftime.�
This has been a strange game so far, with both teams making key mistakes. The Giants could be up by a lot more than 11 if only for sharper execution here and there; from their perspective, the Saints have done nothing less than shoot themselves in the foot. Let’s see how we come out in the second half. The Fassel era was characterized by us sitting on leads that weren’t nearly as comfortable as we thought. Let’s leave that in the past with this bunch. Let’s see what happens in the second half of this weird game.

The Giants receive and then go 3-and-out. Great. After another good punt/cover by Feagles/Tyree, the Saints get the ball at their 27. The Giants are once again able stop the usually dangerous Deuce McAllister for a short gain, this time on a stop by Strahan and free-agent acquisition Kendrick Clancy. This Clancy has been a revelation so far. Picked up from the Steelers, he now teams with William Joseph to give the Giants a good run-stuffing combo at the DTs. Throw in Fred Robbins and other newcomer Kenderick Allen (pronounced Ken-Derek), and we are both deep and good at this position. With Strahan and Umenyiora at the ends and the rangy linebacking corps of Emmons, Pierce, and Torbor, and our front seven is straight solid, as evidenced from the way we’ve stopped the fun for 2005’s first 6+ quarters. Our pass defense, however, is another matter entirely, a fact that surfaces once again as Brooks his Donte Stallworth for a gain of 15, in front of Will Allen, who’s really not quite as bad as he’s been playing.

So 1st and 10 for the Saints, and Deuce is able to break off a 9 yarder up the guy, downhill and powerful. On the next play, Deuce makes a nifty little move and plunges forward for the first down, across midfield to the Giants 48. Deuce again for 4 to tlhe Giants 44, and the Saints appear to be in business.

But on the next play, Aaron Brooks gets his foot stepped on by his center, and fumbles the rock as he’s executing his reverse pivot. The scramble is on as the ball squirts into the backfield, and the speedy Brooks appears to have the inside track, but he bobbles it while trying to scoop it up, and as he’s tripping and falling to the turf, somehow manages to lightly boot the ball into the ample midsection of William Joseph, who cradles it as he trips over Brooks and onto the ground. Another huge break for the Giants; the Saints once again kill themselves, and the Giants take over at the NO 41.

Colonel Tom goes for the jugular on the next play, play-actioning a fake to Tiki and sending Toomer out on a deep post. But stepping into an oncoming pass-rush, Eli drastically underthrows Toomer. He really hasn’t looked sharp at all since the early stages of the game. To his credit, he’s avoided mistakes, which might well be enough to beat this self-destructive Saints team. And – my Lord – it seems they’ve just given us another gift, as they’ve just gotten flagged for a roughing the passer on this play. It was probably a bullshit call, another one made by this flag-happy Hocculi crew, but we’ll take it, and it’s 1st and 10 at the NO 26.

We fail to get a first down on our next set, but we make a smart play by hitting Shockey underneath their coverage on a 3rd and 20 (after a McKenzie holding) that brings us down to the NO 21, comfortably within Feely’s range. In his first Giants attempt, Feely puts it through from 38 to give us a 24-10 lead, midway through the 3rd quarter.

Feely’s ensuing one goes down to the 4, where it is fielded by New Orleans’ dangerous return-man Michael Lewis. A former beer-truck driver as well as the author of Moneyball and Liars Poker, Lewis can break one at any time, and is one of those guys who can change the complexion of a game in the blink of an eye. But this year, we seem to be loaded with balers on special teams, as rookie Chase Blackburn meets Lewis and slams him to the turf, emerging from the play psyched, a much-needed wild-eyed white guy. The Meadowlands is up, rooting on the defense, eager for a big stop.

Unfortunately, Brooks his Donte Stallworth for a 33-yarder to bring the ball to midfield, and after Antoine Smith is stuffed by Kendrick Clancy, Stallworth catches another one, this time for 18 yards. Besides the fumble and the pick, Brooks and these receivers have put on a show, absolutely torching our secondary. On the next play Brooks has Horn in single coverage against Will Peterson on an endzone post, but Peterson is step for step with him as Brooks’ pass sails wide of his target. Two plays later, on 3rd and 6, the Giants try another tactic to stop the pass, bringing a jailbreak blitz, which forces Brooks to throw into traffic, right as receivers Stallworth and Horn are crisscrossing. The ball bounces off Stallworth’s hip and into the arms of veteran Brett Alexander for the Saints second turnover of the quarter and their fourth of the game. Alexander returns it 24 yards to midfield. Amazing.

A couple of penalties stall our next drive, and we avoid disaster when Eli, attempting a screen pass, carelessly bounces one off the midsection of the Saints’ Will Smith, or as I like to call him, The Fresh Prince. Any one of the possible bounces and it could’ve been picked and possibly brought back to the house, but we escape with a mere incompletion and a 3-and-out. Still, this is yet another waste of a chance to expand our lead. We punt, Saints ball at their 26.

But alas, Brooks to Stallworth for 23 on the first play, a fucking broken record., bringing the ball to midfield. We get the Saints to a 3rd and 4, but Brooks finally hurts us with his legs and breaks contain for a 9-yard gain for a First Down. Brooks to Stallworth for 10, in front of Allen, and as the 3rd quarter gives way to the 4th, Brooks hits Horn for 19, bringing the Saints all the way down to the NYG 7.

Big series right here; this is still an eminently losable game. 1st and goal from the 7, and Deuce gets stuffed by Antonio Pierce for a short gain. On the next play, Brooks has Ernie Conwell wide open in the endzone, but his fastball is too hot to handle, and bounces off Conwell’s hands and out of the endzone for an incomplete pass. That’s the second time this game that Conwell hasn’t been ready for a Brooks bullet, and it’s cost the Saints dearly. This time Brooks is visibly pissed, and understandably so. Yet another big break for the G-Men.

A stupid delay of game pushes the Saints back to the 11, and on the next play, 3rd and Goal, a dropped Antonio Pierce gets a hand on Brooks’ laserbeam, which was intended for Joe Horn. Huge play. A-Pierce can ball, and the ‘Aints have to settle for 3.

Ol’ John Carney comes out to attempt the 29 yard chip-shot, but he shockingly doinks it off the left upright as the Giants crowd erupts in the background. Jesus Christ, ridiculous game.

The Giants take over at the 20, finally make a first down, but then face a big 3rd and 6 from their 36, with 11:21 remaining. Eli takes the shotgun snap and lofts a deep out to Toomer, who makes an absolutely gorgeous finger-tip catch while balletically dragging his feet to stay in bounds. 25-yard gain and big play for Amani, who had become something of a forgotten man in the Giants offense to this point. The Meadowlands crowd gives Amani a warm ovation, as well the man deserves. 1st and 10 at the Saints 39.

Tiki for 7, Tiki for 5, Tiki for 12 to the NO 22. Joe Theisman, by far the weakest link on the worst broadcasting crew, manages to pull a decent point out of his ass when he notes that Tiki is “such a good inside runner.� It’s the feet with Tiki, the light, sure feet that allow him to negotiate tight spaces with total confidence. What a player, and what an investment for me on the jersey! Definitely out of my top-5 all-time athletes. I’m gonna miss him when he’s gone.

Two plays later a 3rd and 2, and in comes Brandon Jacobs, who takes the rock and completely runs over a Saints LB on his way to another 3rd and short conversion. It wasn’t even a question, and he flails his arms – “Get up. Get up!� – as he trots off to a huge ovation. We stall on our next set, but Feely boots a 30 yarder to put us up by 17, a three score game. It was a 14-play, 68-yard drive, which elapsed 8:23 off the clock. 27-10 Giants, with 6:37 left. This one’s over.

Not much to report for the rest of the game. The Saints committed 2 more turnovers, one when Joe Horn fumbled as he was stretching out to try to score a meaningless TD with 3:40 left, seemingly an intentional throw across the plane of the goalline as if he didn’t know the rules. Then Shaun Williams (the real forgotten man) picks off a Brooks pass in the endzone. That’s 6 turnovers for the Saints, and a mic’d up Horn is shown lamenting to Fred McAffee: “Self-inflicted wounds.� We win 27-10. A quick glance at our last two games shows two lopsided wins, 42-19 and 27-10, and right now, we’re second to the Steelers in point differential. But is hasn’t been that easy, and we haven’t been that good. Take a look at the Saints turnovers in this game, and marvel at how this one was gift-wrapped:

Fred McAfee fumbles on the opening kickoff return – Giants TD
Aaron Brooks intercepted in the second quarter – Giants TD
Aaron Brooks fumbles – Giants FG
Aaron Brooks intercepted at the Giants’ 27 yard line – Drive killed
Joe Horn fumble at pylon – Touchback for Giants
Aaron Brooks intercepted in the Giants’ endzone – Drive killed

But shit. Except for the secondary and an inconsistent Eli, things are going about as well for us as we could’ve possibly imagined. We can expect Eli to get better; the secondary I’m not so sure about. Rookie 2nd round pick Corey Webster got some significant burn in the second half, so if Allen continues to flounder, we can see what the rook’s got.

Off to the left coast to face the 0-2 Chargers, a 4-12 team in 2003, a 12-4 team in 2004. Such is the state of the NFL these days, and you’ve gotta be psyched about these 2005 New York Football Giants.