December 2006


I.

How much pain can you stand? At this point, it’s beyond anger – I think my anger peaked last week after Vince Young picked up that first down on 4th and 10 when Kiwanuka let him go and then Demps missed the tackle. Everything since then has been more like a cruel joke, at our expense, which keeps on getting more sadistic at every turn. And no matter how amped the Meadowlands crowd was today (props to them), and no matter how well Eli played (props to him), things only seem to get worse.

II.

Where to start? Well, as in all close games, this one was decided by a few plays. Let’s take a look at some of them:

–First Quarter, 3:03: Kiwanuka interception, then fumble

After we authoritatively march down field and score to take a 7-0 lead, a horrendous Feely kick gives the Cowboys good field position. A deep pass to Whitten lands them in Giants territory (sound familiar?), but two plays later, ‘Nuke appears to (partially) atone for last week’s Vince Young gaffe by picking off a Romo pass.

But as he’s making his way close to midfield, he somehow loses the ball. After repeating viewings of the play, it looked like ‘Nuke, sensing imminent contact, tried to secure the ball with both hands, but in so doing, clumsily dropped it on the carpet.

Pretty inexplicable, but when the Cowboys recovered, that probably cost the Giants at least three points.

–First Quarter, 1:42: Pierce’s pass interference

Three plays later, Romo fired one deep downfield for a streaking Anthony Fasano, who was running an endzone seam on Antonio Pierce. Pierce’s coverage wasn’t terrible, but he grabbed Fasano’s upper-right arm before their feet got tangled up, causing Fasano to fall to the ground. The flag flew in after Fasano hit the ground, but the actual pass interference was for the arm-grab. Had their feet not gotten tangled up, they probably wouldn’t have thrown the flag. (But then again, if their feet hadn’t gotten tangled, Fasano may have caught the ball.) As it happened, the pass interference gave the Cowboys a 1st and goal at the 1. They punched in the touchdown on the next play.

So in a span of four plays, we went from: Having the ball close to midfield, with offensive momentum and a 7-0 lead; to: tied 7-7. We let them off the hook, and we would pay the price later.

–Second Quarter, 12:07: Plax’ personal foul

Two plays after catching a lucky break when Anthony Henry was flagged on a phantom pass interference penalty on Plax to give the Giants a first down on 3rd and long, Plax gave it right back with an asinine, after-the-whistle pop on Cowboys safety Anthony Davis.

This put the Giants at a 2nd and 25, taking them from the Dallas 41 back to their own 44. Although we picked up 18 yards on the next two plays, we came up well short of both the first down and field goal range. It’s fair to say that the personal foul (the first of four!) cost the Giants at least three points.

–Second Quarter, 1:30: The failed 4th down attempt

Coughlin’s decision to go for it is debatable. NYGMen commentator Dan was on it from the beginning. “What the fuck is wrong with Coughlin!” he exclaimed in a voicemail message.

Whether the call was correct or not, let’s look at the play: The announcers blamed Bob Whitfield for not making his block on DeMarcus Ware, the guy who wound up making the tackle on Jacobs. But upon closer inspection, I think the guiltier party was actually Rich Seubert.

As an extra tight end on the play, Suebert’s job was to block down on end Chris Canty while Whitfield pulled around and kicked out outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware. The hole between Seubert-Canty and Whitfield-Ware was where the play was supposed to go. But Canty stood his ground, clogging up that hole just enough so that Jacobs bounced the run outside, right into the waiting arms of the kicked-out Ware.

If you watch the play, there was a little bit of a hole, which Jim Finn led through to block Bradie James, but basically, the area was pretty clogged. Jacobs may have prematurely bounced the run outside a little, and Whitfield may not have gotten quite the ideal kick-out block, and so, to a degree, both those guys were at fault. But Canty’s stuffage at the point of attack was really what blew the play up. It was yet another play in this game that cost us at least three points.

–Second Quarter, 0:22: (Marion) Barber’s 25-yard run

Facing a 3rd and 1 at the G-Men 48 yard-line with just 22 ticks remaining, Marion Barber broke open a huge run that put the Cowboys in comfortable field-goal range. A first down wouldn’t have been that costly, but the 25-yard gain was.

Looking at the film, it appeared to be a perfect call for the defense – I don’t know if we were “out-coached” on the play or what, but we were certainly out-numbered at the point of attack.

R.W., who was responsible for outside contain on the play-side, found himself one-on-one with a guard. Because he ceded about 120 pounds to the guy who was blocking him, R.W. tried to slip inside the block and then recover in time to shut off the outside. But when the guard got a body on him he was unable to keep contain. And when the pursuing Antonio Pierce got cut by a down-blocking Patrick Crayton, Barber was off for a big gain (which was 10-yards longer than it should have been because of a[nother] missed tackle by Will Demps).

The play after the next, Gramatica drilled a field goal to put his team up by 3 at the half and send the G-Men into the locker room to a chorus of boos.

–Third Quarter, 5:31 to 4:41: With 1st and goal at the 4, the G-men manage only a field goal

The first of the two consecutive times when we failed to capitalize on first and goal. It’s hard to isolate a particular play or play-call on this one – the G-Men just didn’t come through.

An incomplete fade to Plax, a stuffed Tiki run, and a good play by Anthony Henry to break up the 3rd down pass to Shockey. We settle for the field goal when we really should have had the touchdown.

–Fourth Quarter, 10:42: With 1st and goal at the 8, the G-Men manage only a field goal.

Call this Part II. An impressive drive downfield takes us deep into Cowboy territory, but we again fail to capitalize. This time, we actually may have gotten lucky: Eli’s 3rd down pass to Plax was read and jumped by the savvy Aaron Glenn, but Glenn dropped what should have been an easy pick.

Either way, if you have two consecutive 1st and goals from inside the 10, you should score more than 6 points. We wound up tying the game, but as Colonel Tom said after the Jacksonville loss, “We’re leaving points on the board.”

–Fourth Quarter, 6:01: Gibril’s inexplicable whiff on the flat-pass to Patrick Crayton

Yet another play this season that perfectly encapsulates this team’s maddening propensity to blow opportunities. Gibril read it perfectly and made an amazing break on the ball – it looked like one of the easiest interceptions-returned-to-the-house-untouched that you will see, an incredible gift just when we needed it most. This play could, and should, have turned our season around.

But alas, Gibril misjudged it a little bit and broke a little too much upfield on the ball – he should have widened his angle into the flat a little more. Consequently, he had to strain a little to reach for the ball, and even though he got his left hand on it, it continued on course and into the arms of Patrick Crayton’s, who turned it upfield for the first down.

What makes this play even more painful is the fact that it occurred on 3rd down – even if Gibril didn’t pick it but merely broke it up, we would have been four points better off.

But in the world of the 2006 Giants, the play went for a first-down. The ‘Boys scored a touchdown a few plays later.

–Fourth Quarter, 1:00: The Whitten Play

Shades of Monday night, 2003. Shocking, and, as in 2003, it was preceded by another shitty kickoff and shitty coverage. (I don’t have the stats on this, but as Troy Aikman pointed out, our kickoff coverage was atrocious. What’s happened to Feely’s leg this year?)

But anyway, the play itself: First, credit belongs to Romo for 1) eluding the rush and rolling out of the pocket. He did this exceptionally well all game; and 2) throwing a perfect strike to Whitten.

Second, blame goes to the Giants defensive scheme. It was hard to know who was at fault here, but both Whitten and T.O. (who was dragging across the field behind Whitten) where behind the Giants last man, which should have been Will Demps.

For his part, Demps had jumped a route on a receiver who was wide open on the sideline, so it’s hard to blame him on the play. Either way, when Romo rolled out, he found Whitten in single coverage with Pierce, and T.O. in single coverage with Kevin Dockery. Both Cowboys handily beat their respective men (this was Pierce’s second key lapse in pass coverage this game), and Romo put the throw on the money.

And despite a false-start that knocked the Cowboys back 5-yards, Gramatica won it four plays later.

I.

Ok, it has been a pretty ridiculous week, but by now, all the bullshit has run its course and we’re left in the same predicament we would have been even if we hadn’t choked away last week’s game: Beat the Cowboys and be in first place, lose to the Cowboys and be in second place.

Now, it has been said from many quarters that the Giants are done if they don’t win this week. That losing four in a row, especially with all the backbiting and bullshit, will devastate a team with such a fragile psyche as the Giants.

I disagree. The fact is, we stand a good chance of making the playoffs even if we lose, if for other reason that that everyone who we’re competing against the NFC really, really sucks.

Now, it’s always tempting to say, “If we don’t win this week, fuck it! There’s no way we’re a playoff team!” But even if we lose this week and then win only two of the next four – in other words, go 2-3 from this point on to finish at 8-8 – there’s still a good enough chance of us being in the top three teams of the following group of seven: Saints, Panthers, Vikings, 49ers, Falcons, Rams, Eagles.

And going 2-3 down the stretch is, like, kind of a worst-case scenario. So as bad as it has been, there’s still a good chance that we’ll be watching this team in a playoff game even if things don’t get appreciably better over these next few weeks.

II.

Plus, we’re still very banged up. Let’s not forget that, and let’s not forget that this swoon is partially attributable to injuries. Nuke’s been good, and Joseph’s been competent, but your defense takes a huge hit when you’re missing two Pro-Bowl defensive ends.

Whitfield’s been better than expected, but he has needed more help in pass-blocking than Petitgout would have, which deprives Eli of a receiver. Plus, he’s not nearly the run-blocker that Luke is.

Madison’s not that good and R.W. has been fine in his place, but Kevin Dockery, who filled in for the starting R.W. in the dime package last week, was horrendous. It’s hard to say that Corey Webster is better than anyone right now, but when you consider Frank Walker… (to be fair, aside from the personal foul penalty, Walker wasn’t all that bad last week.)

We have a bunch of seemingly interchangeable parts at strongside and weakside linebacker (neither Short, Emmons, Torbor, Wilkerson, and Blackburn is that much better than the other guy), but when that group is thinned out, they are especially vulnerable to fatigue in the long, sustained drives that the Titans and Jaguars have put together on us the past couple of weeks. Didn’t our defense look tired? (A thinned-out linebacking corps also means that you have to sign an out-of-shape Chris Claiborne and watch him pick up personal foul calls. Chris Claiborne’s is officially the 2006 Giants’ most depressing player, supplanting 2005 winner Jay Foreman [who, judging by the fact that his place of birth is Eden Prarie, MN, is probably the former Vikings great Chuck Foreman’s son].)

But anyway, we’ve had injuries, and we still do. Yes, we’re getting Osi and Short back tomorrow, but we’re really not out of the woods yet:

–Pierce is probable with a knee injury.

–Emmons (groin) and Gibril (shouler) are questionable (god damn, Emmons! The guy can’t stay on the field!), but both practiced later in the week and should play.

–Madison (hamstring) is questionable, but practiced and should also play.

–Webster is questionable (turf toe). There’s a good chance he won’t play.

Any one of these guys can re-aggravate their injuries, and any one of these guys could be yet another loss that we cannot afford.

The Cowboys, in contrast, have zero players on their injury report. And they’re a good team playing it’s best football of the year.

So if we don’t win tomorrow, I’m not prepared to write the season off. I mean, it obviously depends on how we play. Like, if the offense continues to shit the bed and Romo slices us up, than yes, I will be very, very down on this team and will believe that even if we get our guys back and make the playoffs, we’re really not a serious contender.

But if the offense comes alive a little and we hang with the Cowboys but just don’t get a few bounces? It’s still only one game, and anything can happen, which means that if we get to the playoffs, get a little healthier, and see these guys again… I like our chances just fine.

III.

Ok, it was a pretty embarrassing week in Giants-land. You’ve all read about it and seen Sean Salisbury and Mark Schlereth talking about it, so there’s really no need to rehash everything that went on.

I don’t mean to discount that there are real issues with this team, because there obviously are, but the media feeding frenzy this week was way out of proportion. Consider the Strahan-Plax thing:

It started when Strahan was talking to Joe Benigno on FAN. Now, when players go on the FAN, there’s a real emphasis on appearing forthright and genuine. Like, guys can’t bullshit and sugar-coat their way through the interview like the usually do. So when the subject of Plax came up, I’m sure Strahan felt the need to be kind of honest about it. I mean, everyone saw what happened: It was a disgrace, and Strahan, in his honesty, didn’t say otherwise.

He did, however, make the point that Plax was a “great guy” and a “great player,” and all that, and was basically as nice about it as he could have been while still being honest about the fact that Plax had that lapse and has those lapses.

But the media seized upon it and really made it into something that it wasn’t: Strahan calling Plax out. It really wasn’t like that. I mean, Strahan might have said what he said, but his intention really wasn’t to be a dick and knock Plax over the airwaves. When Peyton Manning said, “We had some problems in protection,” he was intentionally burying his linemen. But Strahan was just kind of acknowledging what all of us knew, and trying to put as happy a face on it as possible.

But yes, the media was all over Strahan about it, and this led to the famous bagel-eating “Say it to my face” episode. Here, Strahan acted like a real dick, as he is wont to do with the media. I still like the guy, and this doesn’t really approach Bobby Bonilla-levels in terms of assholery, but he was clearly in the wrong and acted like a complete schmuck. What he was saying – something about how the G-Men “are men” – didn’t really make sense. The whole thing was pretty weird.

But his intention on that one was clear: He was trying to divert attention away from his comments about Plax and blame the media – sort of, like, an “us against them” thing. Again, it was pretty dickish and stupid and completely backfired, but he wouldn’t have even been in the position of defending his comments if the media hadn’t blown them out of proportion in the first place.

IV.

You know what? Fuck it. Too much has been said about all this bullshit already. We just have to come out and play better. If we do, we’ll have a new lease on the season.

Expect the Giants to come out in their red jerseys. It’s gonna be in the low forties tomorrow and dark before halftime. It’s either gonna be really awesome or really depressing.

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