Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants Lose a Heartbreaker – Grades
In a game in which they figured to be massively overmatched, the Giants fought hard - for the first time in weeks - and took the undefeated Packers down to the final play.
Is there such a thing as an encouraging loss? If there is, then we all just watched it in the Giants' hard fought 38-35 loss to the Packers. Defensively it wasn't the best game you'll see the Giants play, but for the first time in weeks this Giants team showed some life.
The game started with a bang when on the third play from scrimmage Manning found Travis Beckum - yes, he's still on the team - deep down the middle of the field. Beckum, as only a Giant could, used five juke moves to get around two Packer players and rumble his way into the end zone. 7-0 Giants, an explosive start - exactly what the G-Men needed. The Giants defense furthered the impressive open by forcing the Packers to punt on their first possession. Kevin Gilbride's unit then took the opportunity given to them and promptly fell on their face. A three and out on their next possession gave the ball back to the Packers who, of course, drove down the field and scored. Rodgers to Finely, 7-7.
On the ensuing possession Manning found Cruz deep down the center of the field and a theme began to develop. The Giants were utilizing the deep ball, taking advantage of a secondary that has shown some vulnerability this season. The drive would lead to a field goal, 10-7. Tuck and the gang would hold the Packers offense on the ensuing possession and hand the ball back to Manning. Once again, however, the offense would take this opportunity and throw up all over themselves. Manning, feeling pressure, threw a pass into the flat which was intercepted and returned for a touchdown - a horrible mistake for a quarterback who should know better. 10-14 Packers.
Rattled, the Giants offense was forced to turn to their stellar punting talent on their next possession. His kick would be downed at the six (WEATHERFORD FOR MVP!). And then, lightning struck. Perennial special teams dynamo, occasional decent linebacker, and the only man in the NFL to successfully rock a bowl cut - Chase Blackburn - intercepted Rodgers deep in Packer territory. A touchdown run by Jacobs followed, 17-14 Giants, they were back on the lead. This time, however, it was the Giant defense that would squander opportunity. They allowed Rodgers to march his Packers down the field and, thanks to Aaron Ross blowing a coverage in spectacular fashion, find Donald Driver for the touchdown. 17-21 Packers.
The half would end at that score, one that any Giant fan had to be thrilled with. It was anything but a flawless half, but the Giants hadn't been run out of their own building - which, let's be honest Giant fans, was a real fear following last week's complete debacle. It was certainly good enough to have Giants fans allowing themselves the thought that maybe they could win this game. The defensive line was getting pressure and the secondary was...well, getting burned a little less than usual. If the secondary, now down Kenny Phillips, could tighten up coverage at all, and if the defensive line could start to keep contain, while continuing to get pressure, the Giants appeared to be in good shape.
The opening of the second half would challenge that thought, however. With the help of a pass interference call so soft Roger Goodell thought the refs got it wrong, and with the help of a couple different third down conversions, Rodgers and crew drove down the field and scored on a pass to Jennings. 17-28. Refusing to fall apart like so many week's before, however, Manning would answer. On the next possession he completed yet another deep ball to Nicks and took the Giants back into the red zone. The drive ended in spectacular fashion. Nicks, with one arm being used as a pull-up bar by Charles Woodson, reached out with his other and completed a one handed touchdown grab. 24-28 Pack.
A Giant field goal early in the fourth quarter brought the score to 27-28, Packers. The ensuing Packer possession was stifled by the Giants defense and you began to think that momentum was shifting toward Big Blue. That thought, like so many others, proved fleeting, however. The Giants offense would, once again, steadfastly refuse to take advantage. In an all too common show of complete ineptitude in the face of opportunity, the Giants would go three and out deep in their own territory. The ensuing punt would give the dynamic Packer offense great field position and they would, of course, take advantage. With a touch of controversy, Rodgers found ageless wonder Donald Driver for the touchdown. Did he step out of bounds? Did he get both feet down? I'm not sure. Aaron Rodgers, in a bit of quarterbacking brilliance unseen by the league in its history, had somehow found the one spot in the stadium where there'd only be one camera to catch the action. He reads defenses, he reads Fox's camera angles. This quarterback does it all. 27-35.
Not to be outdone however, Eli Manning - one of the best two minute quarterbacks in the game (it feels good to say that again) - would bring his team back. Completions to Bradshaw and Cruz took Big Blue deep into Packer territory and they would capitalize on a touchdown pass to Nicks, 33-35 with a two point conversion needed to tie the game. What happened next can only be explained by direct quotes from me following the TD.
"Now would not be a the time for the draw to Ware.
[TEN SECONDS LATER]
"DRAW TO WARE, WHAT A HELL OF A CALL! THAT KEVIN GILBRIDE IS A GENIUS!!!!!"
35-35, inside of a minute to play...just too much time. Once again, a Giant unit would vomit all over themselves in the face of opportunity - I know that's imagery that I've used in this article already, but I think it captures the essence of what happened perfectly. The Giants secondary would be torched like a feeble Roman village under siege by the Visigoths. With a few brilliant passes Rodgers had given his kicker a chance to win the game. He would. 35-38 Packers.
Perhaps "encouraging loss" was too strong. After all, the Giants had plenty of opportunities win this game. Poor defensive possessions in the face surging Giant momentum, and inept offensive drives following stops cost the Giants on Sunday. But you know what? They had a shot to win it late, which a lot of people, myself included, thought was a pipe dream. With the NFC East race developing the way it is, and with the Cowboys vomiting all over themselves against the Cardinals - I really love that saying - you weren't necessarily looking for a Giant win on Sunday. It would have been nice, but it wasn't what was needed. Following two effortless disasters against the Eagles and Saints, Giant fans really needed to see their team come out and actually give a damn - which they certainly did today. It's hard to say that any loss is one that you can be proud of, but this may be as close as you can get. There are certainly things to improve on - the offense needs to be more consistent, the secondary needs to actually cover people - but make no mistake, this was an encouraging game for the G-Men.
Grades: Offensive Line - B-: There were some good holes to run through, particularly late in the game. Eli didn't consistently have the type of pocket you'd hope for, however, and they did take a few bad penalties. Overall, it was a much better game for the unit - could have been a B.
Running Backs - B+: Good hard running from all the backs, Jacobs included.
Wide Receivers - B+: I think Eli did a lot of the work, but no drops + lots of touchdowns = high grade in my book.
Eli Manning - B: Costly, awful, horrific pick 6 early in the game, we know this, but that team isn't anywhere close to in this game without Manning. Take away that one mistake and this was an almost flawless game for the QB.
Special Teams - C: Nothing overly good. Nothing overly bad.
Defensive Line - C+: They got some pressure on Rodgers, but they needed to do more to win this game. They also lost contain too many times, allowing Rodgers to escape the pocket and run for first downs.
Line Backers - C: They didn't play an awful game, but they got burned down the middle of the field too much.
Defensive Backs - D: Burned badly and repeatedly, especially when it counted.
Check back here during the week for my preview of Giants-Cowboys, and as always: Go Giants.