It was more baseball weather than football weather. 80 degrees and sunny doesn’t exactly fit the description of what Bill Parcells once termed “Giant weather,� but it was a gorgeous Sunday for my first pilgrimage to the Meadowlands this year. I had gotten the tickets off Craigslist for $100 a pop, from this nice, middle-aged tax accountant named Jim Jacaruso, tickets that I would compulsively check my cargo pockets for one-hundred times from the time I left my house until they were scanned (another moment of panic).

Me and my friend Wong left super-early for the game, accounting for some sort of boneheadery that inevitably occurred when we 1) forgot to print out mapquest instructions as we had so diligently – and preposterously, as who the fuck gets lost on the way to the Meadowlands, anyway? – planned; and 2) somehow missed the many signs that say “Sports Complex� that line the roads from Lincoln Tunnel to the Meadowlands. But a clutch call to my brother pointed us in the right direction, and within minutes, the Mecca in the swamp was within our sights, surrounded by those signature weeds (which, as a child, I innocently thought were wheat crops, so pastoral did northern New Jersey seem) and chemical plants.

Of course, it was this week that the Giants and Jets made a joint announcement about partnering on a new stadium in the Meadowlands, one that will open in 2009, bear a corporate name, have 50 gazillion luxury boxes and possibly a retractable roof, and will surely have the writers and SportsDesk hosts spouting about the sparkling gem that it is and the dreary dump that the by-then imploded Meadowlands was. But I’ll take the Meadowlands, with the mercurial wind being funneled through the endzone door and Jimmy Hoffa’s bones.

After a languid hour or so of drinking $7.25 beers and watching warm-ups, it was finally game on. Jeff Wilkins puts the foot to it, Ponder brings it back to the 25 and the offense trots out. They’ve been about as good as we possibly could have wanted thus far, but they’ll have to keep it up against these high-octane Rams, who will surely put up some points of their own against our shoddy D. The greatest show on turf ‘aint what it used to be, but they’re still a pretty potent group, having rounded into form with 31 points in a win against the Titans last week. And our defense has been bad; there’s really no other way to put it. The Cardinals had 318 yards on us, the Saints 422, and the Chargers ran roughshod over us with 485 yards. Compounded with the injuries to starting ‘backer Carlos Emmons and #1 corner Will Peterson, and it’s hard to see how we’re gonna stop Mike Martz’s pass-happy attack. So, strange as it sounds for a Meadowlands game, this one’s gonna be a shootout, in 80 degree weather, no less.

But the Giants start off hot as Tiki scampers through a big hole for 13 on the game’s second play, and on the next play, we cross midfield on a 15-yard facemask. Eli swings it to Tiki for 9, and then on 2nd and 1 from the StL 31, Eli throws a high one to Burress on a square-in, who leaps and brings it down without breaking stride, galloping horizontally into the open field before turning it up into the endzone. 7-0 Giants, and a deep roar emits from the Meadowlands crowd. After scratching from behind all of last week, it’s nice to have a lead.

But given the shakiness of the Giants D, you know that the Rams are gonna put up some points, and so this TD feels more like holding serve than staking out a key lead. But we stop them 3 and out on their series, and after Chad Morton makes a ice 11 yard return, we take possession at around midfield. The O goes right back to work — with Tiki cutting off great blocking for 15 and Burress catching an easy out for 16 – before stalling on the StL 20. But Feely comes in and knocks the 38 yarder, and we’re off to a quick 10-0 lead only 6 minutes into the game.

The Meadowlands crowd, perhaps sensing the inevitability of the Rams putting up some points, and therefore trying to spur the Giants’ killer instinct, gets loud for this kickoff, and Feely doesn’t let them down. As I mentioned in the week 2 recap, Feely was third in the NFL in touchbacks last season, and has been/will be a key contributor to our excellent special teams. We get the Rams to 3rd and 10 and seem on the verge of having the opportunity to turn this into an ass-whupping, but Bulger completes one to Sean McDonald that just picks up the first down, one of those key plays in football games, before Bulger hits Kevin Curtis on a square-in in front of Curtis Deloach for 18. On the next play, Bulger hits a little out to Roland Williams, but he is submarined by Deloach as he’s turning upfield. He’s down for a while, and a big-screen replay confirms that it’s a grizzly injury: Delocach just basically snapped his leg with that hit. The Meadowlands lets out a gasp, and gives Williams a sympathetic applause as he’s carted off the field.

But Bulger goes right back to work, hitting McDonald on a square in that was perfectly covered but retardedly played by Will Allen, who showed remarkably poor technique by swatting at the ball with the hand that was closest to the receiver as the two were running across the middle, thereby costing himself an important foot and a half of arm length. Two plays later on 3rd and 4 from the NYG 21, and Bulger swings one out to RB Stephen Jackson, who’s being covered by Strahan on a zone blitz. Strahan jumps the route and comes within a hair of making a pick with nothing but green in front of him, but the ball eludes his fingers, as Jackson brings it in and trots in untouched for the touchdown. A couple inches here on the initial 3rd and 10, a couple inches there on the Strahan lunge and we could’ve been in a position to bury them, but it appears as if we have a game. 10-7 Giants.

On the Giants first play from scrimmage on the next series, Eli fakes to Tiki before bootlegging out, the whole defense having bought the fake. Plax is wide open as the safety help has jumped the running play, but Eli doesn’t plant and fire it downfield for him immediately, deciding instead to complete the arc of his bootleg before finally airing it out, and Burress hauls it in for a gain of 46. A great gain and we’re back in business, but that play had touchdown written all over it if Eli had cut his bootleg short and just planted and chucked. As it was, he allowed the Rams corner — who had dropped his assignment thinking that the safety had the deep half – to recover in time to make the tackle. But we’re back on the Rams side of the field on the 25, and on the next play, Tim Carter takes a reverse end-around upfield, gliding untouched through a caravan of blockers all the way down to the StL 3. I remarked in last week’s post that an end-around to David Tyree looked like it would hit big before Tyree muffed the exchange, and I remarked in the Week 2 post that Willie Ponder almost broke a big reverse, but this week we finally hit it big. I haven’t quite pinned down who our 3rd receiver is, Tim Carter or David Tyree, but they’re both pretty athletic and good. With Jamaar Taylor as the # 5, it looks like we have some depth at the receiver spot, a far cry from the days when we were on the brink of bringing Herman Moore out of retirement.

But 1st and goal from the 3, and the Touchdown seems imminent, but we can’t punch it in on the next three plays. But Colonel Tom musters up some sack on 4th and goal, and Eli, off his back foot, lofts a timing fade to Toomer, who makes a twisting leap while shielding the defender from the ball, managing to secure the soft toss with his left hand while getting both feet in bounds for the score. A Martz challenge reveals this strange Touchdown: Toomer twisted and kind of softly batted the ball from his right hands to his left, palming the rock with his left as he clearly gets both feet down. Challenge overruled, and its 17-7 G-Men.

The crowd, having erupted after Ref Walt Coleman (the old dude with beedy eyes that kind of looks like an even redder version of Colonel Tom) announcement that the calling on the field had stood, erupts again when Justin Tuck, a rookie defensive end from Notre Dame, comes down field like a guided missile, and sends the Rams kick returner sprawling will a full-speed flying shoulder. Tuck made himself noticed to many observant Giants fans last week during the game’s darkest hour, when LaDainian Tomlinson made one final mockery of us with his 62 yard romp late in the fourth quarter before calling it a night. On the play, Tuck chased him down from behind, the rookie D-End basically outrunning the all-world running back. This play impresses again, and makes it clear that the Giants have some ballers on special teams. With David Tyree, rookie James Butler, wild-eyed white dude Chase Blackburn, and Tuck, we’ve got some wild dogs looking to make hits, young dudes trying to prove themselves. The crowd responds, and the rookie is rewarded as the coaches wave him to stay on the field. Go’on, Rook!

We hold them three and out on the next series, and a second shitty punt by the Rams guy gives us the ball close to midfield. On 2nd and 13, Eli hits Burress up the middle, who slips a tackle as he turns around and picks up the first on a 14-yard gain. Wong remarks on seeing these guys in person, and how remarkable their ability to turn around after the catch is. I find the reckless abandon of defensive backs plugging gaps on running plays, and defensive linemen crashing down the line in pursuit to be two of my favorite live-action sites.

A couple of plays later on 2nd and 15, Eli hits Shockey on a short dig, who takes a huge hit by the stationed linebacker but keeps his feet, spinning out and gathering steam as he turns upfield, busting through two Rams before finally being brought down by a third guy — with the help of a facemask – after a gain of 13. The flag comes flying in, and Shockey rises up angrily, doing his patented ball-spin move. 15 yards tacked on and its 1st and 10 from the StL 20.

Two plays later and we’re at 3rd and 7. The Giants stack the right side of the formation, leaving Plaxico in a one-on-one with a short D-back. Plax runs a skinny post and Eli puts it in a perfect high spot for him, and Plaxico tears it out the air for the touchdown. We’re at 12:26 in the second quarter and this juggernaut offense has already put up 24. 24-7 Giants.

The crowd is smelling a rout, but the enthusiasm dampens after Rams return-man C. Johnson brings it back to the Rams 41, surely headed for more yards if Jay Feely doesn’t made a really nice leg tackle. And then the Rams rip off a big gain, as Bulger hits Kevin Curtis over the middle for an 18 yard gain. But a hit by Gebril Wilson — a really hard arm-wrap-around to Curtis’ head — somehow causes Curtis to drop the ball, and the swarming Giants recover. Our ball again, and Eli hits an easy out to Burress for 9. On 2nd and 1, Brandon Jacobs comes in, and following an excellent Jim Finn lead block and Vishante Shiancoe seal, hits the hole before getting to the second level and plowing some Rams for a good six yards, with some late help falling forward from his pile-pushing O-Linemen. You know those dudes just love the opportunity to do that, and that Jacobs is a hard man to bring down.

1st and 10 from the StL 39, and Eli hits Toomer for an easy 9, and a frustration roughing the passer call – dude drove Eli into the ground – brings it all the way down to the Rams 15. But, with an opportunity to put up another touchdown, we stall, and Feeley bangs in the 32 yarder. Still, give us credit for turning the lucky turnover into points. With 9:30 to go in what has already been a long first half, it’s 27-7 NYG.

With a comfortable 20 point lead, the crowd seemed to back off its rabidity and ease into the warm, lazy Sunday afternoon. Beers are enjoyed, non-football conversations started, and easy laughs abound. I myself was a little tired, having expended a good deal of intense energy to this point, and I sit back in my seat for the first time.

Pretty soon came a do-or-die moment for the Rams, and the Meadowlands crowd rose to their feet, doing their part to bury the visitors. On 4th and 7 from the NYG 40 (after a near/blown pick by Deloach), Mike Martz has no choice but to go for it. Bulger steps back and fires a short out to slot-receiver Dane Looker, who is quickly taken down by Will Allen, seemingly short of the first down marker. An initial spot by the line judge confirms this, but a second ref overrules the spot, unilaterally moving the rock up a crucial two feet, giving the Rams enough for a first down. Colonel Tom, clad in his black nylons and white sneakers, is furious, and although we don’t actually see the red challenge flag get chucked, REF heads to the booth to review the play. Having seen the replay on the jumbotron, Giant fans are optimistic about impending vindication, but the ref shockingly reports that the play stands. The crowd was as disappointed that the truth was not revealed during the replay timeout as a Kennedy conspiracy theorist was with the Warren Commission report. Or more accurately, I was as disappointed then as I was when Clay Shaw (aka Clay Bertrand) was found Not Guilty in “JFK.�

But alas, it’s first down Rams. The crowd tries to settle back into its complacent bubble, but the Rams continue to march, and on 2nd and Goal from the 1, Stephen Jackson easily takes it in, and although the crowd doesn’t want to acknowledge the unpleasant thought, we have a game again. 27-14 Giants.

A quick 3 and out followed, as the offense too was unable to shake the pervasive sleepiness. After another good punt by the excellent Feagles, the Rams took control at their own 38. Bulger picked up where he left off, quickly marching the Rams into Field Goal range with the help of a moronic personal foul by Will Allen, who as Wong points out, “is such the fuck-up.� They eventually get down to the NYG 14, but the D stiffens, for once. Wilkins boots an easy Field Goal though, and it’s now an eminently surmountable 27-17 Giants lead, with 1:52 to go in this interminable first half.

After a brief flurry of offense –31 yards of passes to Plax, who’s been amazing today – we face a 4th and 6 at the StL 35 with 43 seconds left. Colonel Tom goes for it, which makes sense. But we can’t convert and the Rams take over, and following some more Bulger abuse of our secondary, Jeff Wilkins lines up for a 48 yard field goal and the chance to bring his team within a touchdown. Wilkins misses the field goal, and the crowd lets out a small relieved cheer, and we go into halftime up by 10. It’s been a long first half, more than two whole hours, and the crowd has gone from sleepy complacency to sleepy dazedness. We might lose this game.

Wong and I are a little late getting back to our seats, dumbly pondering how this game got so close, and lamenting our porous D. Our pass defense has been a real problem this year, and though it has been well-hidden because of our sweet offense and some key takeaways, it’s still something that needs to improve if we’re serious about being an elite team. It’s always easy to point to the secondary when passing yards are being racked up, and I know that it’s always more complicated than that, but it’s hard to pinpoint any other area of the defense that’s been deficient. Besides for the amazing Antonio Gates, we’ve pretty much been hurt exclusively by the opposition’s wide receivers working against our corners. And make no mistake: our corners are bad. Allen seems worse now than he ever was, and Deloach has been disappointing after a strong preseason. A sign of the Giants pass-defending times: It is Deloach, not the former first-rounder Will Allen, who is matched up against Tory Holt, though mostly in press coverage with safety help. Where’s the rookie Webster? Hurt, but only mildly, and it seems like only a matter of time before he’s gonna be relied upon as the best corner we’ve got. Hopefully soon, because we can’t expect our offense to keep up this clip.

But yes, as I started to mention above, Wong and I are a little late getting back to our seats, and as we emerge from the little tunnel, the Rams already have the ball at midfield. The Rams convert two third downs and then a fourth down, and come to 3rd and 3 at the NYG 6 with an opportunity to pull within three points. The crowd is fearing the worst; the D has inspired no confidence as we face this key moment.

And then, hallelujah, Mike Martz makes, in the words of WFAN’s Chris Carlin, “the single worst call in a football game, amateur of professional, that I have ever seen in my life.� An inside handoff goes to Stephen Jackson, who is lined up in a kind of wing-back spot, who takes it horizontally before pitching it to a reversing Kevin Curtis. But the reverse bounces off Curtis’ hands and is momentarily loose, before Fred Robbins pounces on it for a ridiculous break for the Giants. The two most glaringly ridiculous things about Martz trick play call: 1) The Rams had converted 3 out of 3 third or fourth down plays on the drive, so there was absolutely no reason to think that the Giants were gonna stop them. And, having already gone for it on a fourth and one earlier, Martz was clearly in 4-down territory; and 2) Trick plays are supposed to be game-breaking, big plays that hit for many yards, not when you need three yards from your opponent’s 6.

But we’ll take it, and the crowd springs to life, and we storm back downfield on the next drive, finally alive again. A big pass-interference against Plax (they can’t stop this cat), a big third down completion to Toomer, a 14-yarder quick slot-out to Shockey, and then, to cap it off, a beautifull toss from Eli to a streaking Shockey for the 31-yard score. Archuletta’s coverage was good but Eli’s pass was better, and we’re back up by 17. 34-17 Giants.

And then, although our D still can’t really stop the Rams – who have taken it down to our 31 — and as the 3rd quarter gives way to the 4th, Antonio Pierce jumps a curl route and makes a key pick, a slick, huge play from our new athletic middle backer.

On our series, we face a key 3rd and 13 from around midfield. Eli takes the shotgun snap, deftly steps forward to elude the rush, and comes within a hair of crossing the line of scrimmage before firing to an open Plaxico, who does a nice job keeping his feet in bounds for the 30 yard gain and the first. Awesome. And, for the second week in a row, Eli has shown great pocket presence, as well as that great intangible, or instinct, that announcers love to talk about of knowing exactly where the line of scrimmage is. Despite Eli’s deft elusion, let me take this time to give some credit to our O-Line this year, something that has gotten short shrift with my jockage of the position guys. They’ve done a hell of a job, and I’ll write more on them in future posts. I promise, fellas.

Another first down (by Brandon Jacobs, for whom Chris Berman has started doing his awesome tank sound effect: tfp-tfp-tfp-tfp) and we’re in field goal range, and with 8:32 left, Feely knocks in the 23 yarder to put us up by 20 and basically seal the deal. 37-17 Giants.

The Rams come back and score a Touchdown on the next drive, taking them less than 3 minutes to do so. The Giants fans grumble, breaking out the “prevents you from playing defense line,� and I half-agree. There’s gotta be some happy medium for this. But the ensuing and not-so-tense onside kick falls into the arms of David Tyree, and this one’s in the books. As I’ve been mentioning, the crowd never got so into this one. The Meadowlands can be a madhouse, a cold, hostile, madhouse, but not today, and as the two minute warning approaches, the building is rapidly emptying out. There really weren’t any real moments of suspense or tension. In fact, the only moments of suspense or tension came when the Rams were threatening to make the game suspenseful or tense, which they were never able to do. It turned out to be a quiet, easy afternoon, a romp on our home field that showcased – yes, I am going to say it – the high powered offense of the 2005 New York Giants.

For some reason, Colonel Tom still has the starters in and is feeding Tiki, who is having no problem cutting up a vanquished Rams defense. This pisses Wong and I off and we cringe every time Tiki gets the rock. Why, Colonel Tom, why? This is analogous to Dusty Baker leaving Carlos Zambrano out there for the 9th after 120 pitches in an 8-2 game. Ridiculous, and it was in this way that Shockey rolled his ankle on opening day. Wong and I shout for Jared Lorenzen, but our calls for the Hefty Lefty go unheeded. Tiki scores on a nice TD run to close out the scoring at 44-24 Giants.

Since the stadium had already emptied out, we don’t have the usual torturous time getting out of the Meadowlands, and are back in the city in pretty good time. Tired, but excited about this squad, and as we go into the bye week, here are some stats to think about:

-The Giants lead the league in points scored, with 136. Huh? Yeah, the Giants lead the league in points scored. They’ve scored 40+ twice in four games, and they’re averaging 34. Last year, they were 22nd in the league with an average of 18.9.

-Eli’s QB rating is 97.8, good for fifth in the NFC, but his completion percentage is 53.7%, twenty-eighth in the league. That’s ok: the past two weeks he’s been absolutely terrific, and at this point, the Eli Manning era appears to be a smashing success. Really: could we have asked this to be going any better right now? Last year, he had 6 TD passes and 9 INTs. This year, he has 9 TDs and 2 INTs, both in the first game and both unlucky.
-The Giants turnover margin is now an amazing +10. This will probably not stay this way, but with Eli cutting down the picks and Tiki solving his fumbleitis (knock on wood)…. Hey, Colonel Tom’s career turnover ratio is +48, so it seems like our transition from the sloppiness that characterized the late Fassel era to the sharpness that Colonel Tom promised is for real.