Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants Crush Falcons – Grades
In a monster performance from the Meadowlands, the New York Giants dominated the Atlanta Falcons to stay alive in the race for the Lombardi Trophy.
Finally. It was easy. Finally I didn't have to spend the fourth quarter breathing into a paper bag. Finally the Giants came together and played 60 minutes of good, complete football. Ok, so maybe not 60 minutes. In what was billed as a battle between two evenly matched teams, the game opened with each offense looking evenly awful. An early onslaught of punts and failed fourth down attempts colored the first quarter as the respective defenses were dominating the lines of scrimmage. It wasn't until the second quarter that someone got on the scoreboard, and it wasn't via any sort of impressive offense.
In the shadow of his own goalpost, Manning began to feel the pressure of the game. Apparently thinking that any points were better than no points, the Giant quarterback dropped back to pass and, after being flushed from the pocket, ran into the end zone and feebly flicked the ball forward to no one in particular. Intentional Grounding in the end zone. Safety. 2-0 Falcons, the cherry on top of the crap sundae that was the Giants offensive game to this point. But like the slow starts the past few weeks, it would all turn around.
After a quick stop by the Giants defense on the ensuing free quick, Manning and company went to work - this time with the more conventional goal of moving forward. A third down run of 14 yards by the fleet footed (?!) Eli Manning gave the Giants a start. His running ways contagious, the New York Giant ground game would then take over. After being lost in the weeds for much of the season, and having had the proverbial search for their bodies all but called off, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs resurfaced in a big way in this quarter. The two who had combined to be the worst statistical rushing attack in the league, combined for 55 yards on the drive and took the Giants into the red zone. Manning finished it off with a touchdown pass to Nicks. 7-2 Giants.
The drive was so impressive that it had both coaches in a state of stunned inhibition. Inside of the two minute warning, Tom Coughlin didn't ask for a spot on what looked like a sure first down - leading to a punt - and the Falcons' Mike Smith attempted to rollover his time outs to the second half with his team driving inside of a minute. It was two minutes of coaching that was so bad that Marty Mornhinweg (Lions coach that took the wind rather than the ball in overtime) was passing judgement, and it kept us at 7-2 at halftime.
Always the Rubick's Cube, one side of the Giant performance in that first half should be lauded, the other should be loathed. The Giant's defense was sensational in the opening 30 minutes. They'd taken a Falcon offense ripe with weapons and held them to zero points. The defensive line was pressuring Matt Ryan hellaciously, and the defensive backs were playing like maybe only the 9th or 10th worst secondary in the league. They were giving this Giant offense every opportunity to win the game. Those opportunities were largely squandered in the first half, however. Manning and company looked hungover for the first quarter-plus of the game, a fact that is obscured because they had found a rhythm toward the end of the second quarter. With the issue very much in doubt, the Giants were going to have to find some life offensively if they wanted to win this game.
As the second half began I was struck with the fear that my fellow Giant faithful and I were once again doomed to a second half full of drinking, swearing, nail biting and that oppressive sense of anxiety that so often haunts my football experience. Such fears were put to bed quickly in what was, for my money, the best 15 minutes of football the Giants have played in years. Defensive line pressure, coupled with some great plays by Cory Webster (Haven't said that since 2007), was dominating the Falcon offense, while the Giants offense was finding success via both the ground and air. A Lawrence Tynes field goal made the score 10-2 early in the third, and set up the dramatic climax and turning point of the game.
Following the Tynes field goal, the Falcons went on offense and systematically drove down the field. Stalling in the red zone, however, the unit was faced with a third and fifteen - Enter the genius of Perry Fewell. Fewell - knowing that Mike Smith was still recovering from whatever brain freeze issue he'd suffered at the end of the first half - told his defense to allow the Falcons to pick up 14 and 9/10ths yards on the play. As Fewell had hypothesized, Smith ignored the chip shot field goal and left his offense on the field. Ryan was stuffed on the QB sneak, giving the Giants the ball back still up 8 rather than up 5. It was a brilliant bit of strategy by Fewell...He did draw it up that way, right? I hope so, otherwise that 14 and 9/10 yard pick up on 3rd and 15 is kind of embarassing.
Strategy or not, the Giants had the ball back and it was time to put this game away. On a third and long from inside their own territory, Eli Manning dropped back and found a Giant receiver whom, with two quick juke moves, split the Falcon defense and took the should-be moderate completion to the house for the back-breaking touchdown. That receiver? Of course, Victor Cruz. Huh? That really was Nicks? Really?! I thought for sure that Joe Buck had gotten that wrong. You mean to tell me that the Giants have two receivers that can run away from the defense? Fantastic! Manning to Nicks, 72 yards, 17-2 Giants.
In a lot of ways the game ended with those two sequences. After failing for the second time on a fourth and short, the Falcons looked a team defeated. The fourth quarter was a blur of Giant defenders punishing anything that moved in the Falcon offense, huge runs by Bradshaw and Jacobs, and the reemergence of Mario Manningham. The receiver from Michigan who's felt the ire of many Giant fans - Says the man who practically lead the torch-wheeling mob - caught several passes in the game's final quarter, including the game's final touchdown. 24-2 Giants. The exclamation point of Giant dominance was supplied by Osi Umenyiora who, on the Falcons' final play, reached over his blocker and tore Matt Ryan to the ground. With kneel downs, the Giants had the W.
And what a W it was. Without a doubt, it was the best game the Giants have played all season. After beginning the day in a state of lifeless malaise, the Giant offense came alive on Sunday. For the fist time since 2010, the Giant running game was not only a factor, but a dominant force worthy of the name "New York Giants." Finally the faces of Ahamad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs can come off the sides of New York area milk cartons. But let's not kid ourselves. This day was about the Giant defense. With the Giant offense accounting for all 26 points in the game, Tuck and the gang held an offense with as many weapons as you can hope for to zero points. The front seven dominated the Falcons in short yardage, abused Matt Ryan throughout the game, and kept the Falcon running game from gaining any sort of momentum - and they weren't alone. They may have spent the bulk of the season looking like a unit that wouldn't be able to cover a decent Pop Warner team, but the Giants secondary had themselves a game. Cory Webster and crew smothered these Falcon receivers. A sad - and made up - statistic, yes, but the Giants defended more passes today than they had all season. When the Falcons did catch the ball, sure tackling - haven't said that in a while - brought the Falcons down right away and kept the unit from gaining any semblance of momentum.
Without a doubt, this was their best game of the season - but not just the secondary, the team. This was a dominate showing by the Giants, and the latest in a string of three consecutive "Best Games of the Season." You want a team with momentum? A team that's hot? A team that's putting it all together at the right moment? Look no further than the men of New York. Finally it seems that the Giants are realizing the potential of a talent laden, experience laden team that has every opportunity to be great. With that pass rush, with that quarterback, with that running game, with those receivers, and with that kind of coverage from the secondary, any team out there should fear this NewYork Giant squad. Huh? They've got to go to Green Bay to play the Packers? Oh boy, that could be ba- NO! You know what?! Who cares?! BRING 'EM ON!
GRADES: Offensive Line - B: Manning felt a lot of pressure in this game. They took some costly penalties and looked lost for minutes at a time on Sunday. Still, when they were needed they opened up a lot of holes for Bradshaw and Jacobs. Not their best, but a solid performance overall.
Running Backs - A: This game featured some tough, hard, bruising running by both backs, running that carried the Giants on more than one drive. Excellent game.
Wide Receivers - B+: Early in the game - via a handful of drops - they looked destined for a low grade, but some great plays late by Nicks, Cruz and Manningham bumps their score up. Well done, indeed.
Eli Manning - A: Manning is becoming better and better at avoiding pressure in the pocket and making big time throws. He did it a handful of times in this game and peppered in some other great throws on what was a spectacular day. His audible game was sound and, while he may not have been a statistical king, he was what the Giants needed today. Superb day.
Special Teams - B: Coverage was good, Weatherford was great, but Tynes missed a field goal and the unit took two consecutive penalties on punt returns. All in all, an average day.
Defensive Line - A+: Do I need to explain? Brilliant game for Tuck, Pierre-Paul, Bernard, Umenyiora, ect. ect. ect.
Linebackers - A: Stuffed Michael Turner.
Defensive Backs - A+: Where has this been? Perhaps my expectations have been so decimated by the previous 16 games, but that seemed a sensational performance to me today. Sensational.
So Green Bay is next. Bring 'em on. Check back here for a preview of the game. GO GIANTS!