Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants Beat Packers & Advance to NFC Championship – Grades
Hail Mary! The New York Giants have gone into Lambeau Field and beaten the mighty Green Bay Packers. Boom.
We will not go quietly into the night! We will not vanish without a fight! We're going to live on! We're going to survive! Damn right we're going to survive!
(If you didn't read my preview to this game and you have no idea what that's about, just scroll down. I promise it's not all Independence Day...Though it should be)
A 9-7 team who fails to crack the quarterbacking wonders of Rex Grossman (twice) and Charlie Whitehurst does not go into to Lambeau Field and beat the 15-1 Green Bay Packers. They don't stop Aaron Rodgers at home. They can't possibly go on the road an eight point underdog and take down the overwhelming Super Bowl favorite. Can they?
From the opening kick the answer was resounding. Maybe, though the first possession was exactly what the Giants wanted. Kevin Gilbride's game plan of being woefully ineffective on on first and second down, then picking up the third and long was working perfectly. With a host of first down throws, Eli Manning was leading his team on a long drive. A Tynes field goal capped it off and the Giants were on the board first. 3-0. It was a near perfect start for the Giants, a start that would only get better on their next possession.
Following a Packer field goal, the Giants took the ball over looking for a repeat performance of the game's opening. After yet another 3rd down completion (Gilbride, that genius!), lightening struck for the Giants, as it so often has on this winning streak. Manning found Hakeem Nicks over the middle, who bounced off one defender, and took off into the secondary, leaving Packers in his wake. 66 yards later the Giants were back on top, 10-3. It was yet another in a string of big plays that have been a sight for sore Giant-fan eyes - Giant-fan eyes that spent years watching Tiki Barber break into the open field and get caught from behind by random linebacker X.
Not to be outdone by his New York counterpart, Aaron Rodgers would take the ball on the ensuing possession and begin to formulate an answer to the Giant score. They'd never get the chance. Inside the red zone Greg Jennings fumbled the ball away. It was picked up by Kenny Phillips and returned up the sideline to set the Giants up with good field position...Or so it seemed. Regrettably for the Giants, the officials were about to execute plan "Let's see if we can get ourselves fired for gross incompetence." The Jennings fumble was overturned because the receiver was deemed down by contact. Tom Coughlin, who's head wasn't tucked securely into his rear (un-like the refs) challenged the ruling, but after a long review the officials determined that the play should stand as called, beginning the era of "two feet on the ground = down by contact" in this NFL. The Packers, of course, took the gift and drove into the end zone. 10-10.
A parade of incompetence followed - missed field goal, turnovers, ect - before the Giants were able to proivde the turning point of this game. A Tynes field goal and a Michael Boley third down sack gave the Giants the ball with a less than a minute in the half and a 13-10 lead. The now customary failed first and second down plays lead to a handoff to Bradshaw on third down, the Giants were looking to run out the clock. Bradshaw was, however, able to scamper across the field for 27 yards and get out of bounds with six seconds left - a brilliant play by the running back. Then, the type of play that you'd expect to go against the Giants, went for them. With the world expecting a six yard out and a field goal attempt, Eli Manning defiantly declared "To Hell with conventional wisdom! I'M THROWING INTO THE CROWD!" Manning unleashed a Hail Mary that somehow found Hakeem Nicks standing damn near alone (as alone as you can be on a Hail Mary) in the end zone. Managing to not drop it - which, let's face it, is a 50/50 proposition with these receivers - Nicks gave the Giants a 20-10 lead going into halftime.
It was a near-perfect half for the Giants. Yes, they'd gotten some help: The Packers, who'd apparently spent the bye week eating the greasiest foods they could find and refusing to wash their hands, had dropped plenty of balls. But make no mistake, holding that prolific offense to only 10 points in the first half was a defensive showing that was nothing short of brilliant. They'd need to find a way to manufacture more pressure on Rodgers, but to this point it was a job well done. Offensively, Eli and company looked great. Manning was dissecting that Packer secondary, and by being so bad on first and second down, he was using plenty of clock in the process. As hard as it sounds: Stay the course, get the win.
The second half opened with the Giant defense following the rallying cry. After allowing Rodgers to drive down the field, they came up huge. Umenyiora came around the edge and stripped Rodgers. The ball was recovered by Grant, and the Giants were in business. Unfortunately, the stay the course portion of the halftime notes seemed to elude the Giant offense - a quick three and out, aided by an awful third down spot, and thus began a quarter of Giant offensive incompetence. It didn't prove overly costly for the G-Men, however, as the Packers were only able to net a field goal. A fourth quarter opening, and drive ending, sack by Jason Pierre-Paul and the aforementioned Michael Boley left the Packers without the ball and down by seven. The Giants, seemingly unburdened with the hangover that plagued them in the third quarter, took the ball, and took to the red zone. Manning, very smartly, took a sack on a third down however, and the unit settled for yet another Tynes field goal. 23-13.
Early in the ensuing Packer possession, it was once again time for the strategic brilliance of Perry Fewell to show itself. Fewell, the amazing tactician, told his defenders that rather than tackle Ryan Grant on any of the three or four opportunities they had, let Grant escape down the field where Kenny Phillips would cause a fumble that would be picked up by the focus of the Giant turnaround - Chase Blackburn - and returned to the five. Manning would deposit the ball into the end zone on the next play with a brilliant pass to Manningham. 30-13 Giants.
Sadly however, having used their yearly allotment of easy wins last week against the Falcons, and hurt by maybe the worst phantom roughing the passer penalty I've ever seen - the refs were still upset that they couldn't find a way to overturn the Grant fumble - the Giants were unable to hold the three score lead and let me rest easy. A touchdown throw to Driver gave the Packers some life at 30-20. That life would be largely extinguished on the next possession, however, as the Giants running game finally resurfaced. Two big runs, one by Bradshaw and another by Jacobs, and the G-Men were back up 17. For the few people in the world who didn't know the game was over then - all of them Giant fans - they knew minutes later when Rodgers was picked off to end the game. The Giants were going to the NFC Championship.
Let me get this out of the way: Yes. The Giants got help by the the Packers playing as poorly as they have all season. But you know what? That doesn't mean a damn thing. The Giants won. They won! For the fourth straight game, for the fifth time in six games - seriously, how did we not figure out Rex Grossman?! - and the second time in these playoffs, the Giants beat back their opponents, and did what they needed to get a win. Furthermore, by my money, this was their fourth straight "Best game of the season." They may have gotten help, but the Giant defense stifled a Packer offense that was nothing short of prodigious all season. The Giant offense, specifically Eli Manning, was brilliant once again, and if you aren't a Giant fan who's burdened by the fear of crushing disappointment, you knew this game was over with plenty of time left. It was a brilliant, sparkling win for the Giants who now head to San Francisco the hottest team in professional football.
Grades: Refs - F: Try as they might, they couldn't keep the G-Men from coming out on top.
Offensive Line - B: Poor run blocking, sporadicly great pass blocking. Good day, but not their best.
Running Backs - B: They did next to nothing for almost the entire game, but they looked brilliant on the final drive, and Bradshaw's run at the end of the second quarter changed the game.
Wide Receivers - A: I'm not sure that they dropped a single pass in Sunday's game. I'm also not sure that I've been able to say that in any other game this year. Great catches by Cruz, Nicks and Manningham. Well done.
Quarterbacks - A: The man was otherworldly - the better QB on this day. He moved in the pocket, threw into tight windows, audibled well, and carved up this defense. Brilliant.
Special Teams - C: Don't get a kick blocked again.
Defensive Line - B: They didn't do a lot early in the game, but they came alive when they were needed. Well done.
Linebackers - A: Stuffed the run, played well in coverage. To me, Sunday was their best game of the season.
Defensive Backs - B+: They covered these wide receivers remarkably well down field for a team that spent most of the year getting beaten like a rented mule.
And so the Giants move on to the NFC Championship game next week in San Francisco, check back here during the week for my preview of the game. Go Giants!