Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants Win Battle for New York – Grades
IT'S A FESTIVUS MIRACLE! The Giants defense - much maligned and mostly meager - came to play today for the first time all season. They lead the G-Men to a 29-14 triumph over the Jets.
Festivus. A holiday made famous by the 90's sitcom Seinfeld. To me, it's the perfect analogy to this Jet-Giant battle. First. We "Aired the Grievances." Following a pair of embarrassing and emasculating losses, the Giants and Jets both let their mouths do the talking that their games clearly couldn't. The Jets did what the Jets always do, and the Giants took a jab at Darrelle Revis, calling him a "decent" corner - big talk for a receiving corps that, at times, simply refuses to catch the ball. But talk is cheap, play is what talks, and thus begins the "Feats of Strengths."
And it didn't start well for the Giants. Run, Run, penalty, short pass, punt. Not the start we were looking for. Quickly, the game was in the hands of the Giants defense - oh boy - and as expected, Sanchez and crew began to methodically drive down the field. They were gaining yardage at will, yes, but something looked different. This wasn't the listless Giant defense that normally gets off the bus. There were defensive lineman near the quarterback. There were defensive backs in the picture when receivers caught the ball. Could it be? Were the Giants actually playing defense? They were! I mean, yeah, they gave the Jets a fourth down conversion on a twelve men on the field penalty - AWFUL COACHING - and the Jets scored a TD on the drive, but baby steps, people. Be encouraged that the Giants defense was showing a pulse at all.
The Giants offense sure wasn't. Apparently they had, as a unit, taken the OVER on Vegas' 3 and out prop bet in this game...That or Kevin Gilbride had the Jets Defense in his fantasy championship game - it could really have been either. Poor run blocking and drops meant that deep in the half the Giants had only netted three points. And then: The first miracle of Festivus. On a third down from their own one, Manning dropped back and found Victor Cruz. The rookie shook two Jet defenders and took off down the field. 99 yards later the Giants were on the lead. 10-7. The Jets would rally inside the two minute warning, but a missed field goal at the gun would keep the Giants out front.
If you were a Giant fan you had to be ecstatic. Yes, the offense looked confused, or uninspired, or maybe a little drunk, but this defense was playing huge - well, huge for them. The defensive line was pressuring Sanchez, forcing him to make hurried, off-target throws, and the defensive backs were covering. Other than their first half shut-out of the Patriots, this was the best half of football the Giants defense had played all year...so far (Foreshadowing, people. Writer's tools. Boom.). If the Giants offense could find a rhythm, you got a real sense that they'd come away with this win.
And then things got ugly. The second half began thus: Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. Punt. I'm guessing that both teams had come together and bet their collective game checks on the OVER for punts, as well. It would be the Giants who, at the death of the third quarter, stumbled upon the renegade strategy that the great minds of football call, "scoring." Set up by a big completion from Manning to Cruz, Ahmad Bradshaw ran through - Yeah. Ran through. - the Jet defense and into the end zone. 17-7 Giants, and at the start of the fourth quarter their defense would just need to protect a ten point lead - oh boy.
But then. The second miracle of Festivus. Mark Sanchez's pass was intercepted - Oh yeah, I said intercepted - by Kenny Philips and returned deep into Jet territory. A clutch play from the Giants secondary? I've never heard of such a thing. The Giants converted with a Lawrence Tynes field goal. Not ideal, but we'll take it. 20-7 Giants. Big Blue was now up thirteen points in the fourth quarter. Game over? Should be. But, refusing to let Giant fans relax, the Giant defense began to give the gift of yardage. Sanchez and company were moving the ball at will, and were quickly on the Giant one yard line. Ready to go in and make a game of this. But then. The third miracle of Festivus. Mark Sanchez fumbled on the snap and it was recovered in the end zone. GIANT BALL!
Finally, Giant fans could relax. They'd take to the ground and run the clock down to a point where a come back would be impossible. Hang on. What the? What the Hell?! WHY IS ELI THROWING?! For the life of me I don't know why he was, but predictably, the pass tipped off the incredibly unsure mitts of Hakeem Nicks and was intercepted. I'm not sure what the opposite of a Festivus miracle is, but that's it. The Jets would drive back down the field and score on a Sanchez run. 20-14 Giants. Every game's a struggle.
But then. The fourth and final miracle of Festivus. The Giants had two different opportunities to salt the game away via the run. They could convert on neither. But - and this is the miracle - their defensive line bailed them out. This unit, which had been pressuring Sanchez relentlessly throughout the game, came through in the clutch with a Toleffson sack following the first possession. And on the second? Well, if Festivus isn't over until you pin your father, this game wasn't over until Chris Canty pinned Mark Sanchez in his own end zone. Safety, and the exclamation point on the best half of defense the Giants have played all season. 22-14 Giants. Yes, they would emphatically drive home the point with another Ahmad Bradshaw touchdown run and a late interception - after they let Sanchez drive down the field just quickly enough to get the nerves going (seriously, it can never be easy) - but the game was over with that Canty sack. 29-14 Giants.
This was a monumental win for the G-Men. Not just because it kept them alive for the NFC-East title, and not just because they overcame some truly horrific officiating, but because for the first time all season the Giants defense won them the game. It wasn't a shutdown effort, but it was an effort - something you hadn't seen from this unit for a long time. The defensive line played with a passion and ability that they hadn't shown in weeks, and the defensive backs showed an ability to cover that I was convinced they didn't have. Offensively, they weren't what they've showed that they can be, but they were what they needed to be. We know what this offense can do, let's not get on them because they only did just enough to get the win.
For the Jets, it's a crushing defeat. What started with such possibility, absolutely fell apart for boisterous gang in green. In a game in which Sanchez and company should have been prolific, against what is an absolutely horrid Giants pass defense, they were pedestrian at best. Their defense was also less than impressive, and with the loss, coupled with the Bengals win, the Jets' playoff hopes are thrust in jeopardy. They'll need to win and get help to get back to the tournament.
In the end, though, this game is about the Giants, and I think it was the exact game the G-Men needed. It's down right infuriating that we as Giant fans have to suffer through the effort they gave last week against the Redskins to get this kind of effort, but this is the team we love. Let's be happy that they show effort at all - they could be the Rams. Next Sunday they'll host the Cowboys, winner takes the NFC-East, and today the Giants finally showed the kind of defensive game that they'll need to actually get that win. It was the perfect Christmas present for Giant fans everywhere, and an especially special an added bonus that it came against the gas bags that are the Rex Ryan lead Jets.
Grades: Offensive Line - B-: They played well in the second half, including some great blocking on both touchdown runs, but they allowed too much pressure on Manning and did nothing to open up running lanes early in the game. Not great, but acceptable.
Running Backs - B+: Not their best game, not their worst, but when it counted Bradshaw, Jacobs and Ware each had huge, tough runs that helped win this game. Well done.
Wide Receivers (other than Cruz) - C-: CATCH THE GOD DANG BALL! See what you made me do? You made me take the Lord's name in vein on Christmas. Dammit Nicks!
Cruz - A: 99 yard touchdown run? Another big catch that lead to a Giants score? Great game.
Eli Manning - B: This wasn't his best game. He wasn't elite. But like Batman at the end of the Dark Knight, he wasn't what the Giants wanted, he was what the Giants needed today.
Special Teams - B: Meh. Decent returns. Decent coverage. Whatever. Not great, but not bad.
Defensive Line - A: Tuck, Pierre-Paul and the gang won the game for the Giants late. They put consistent pressure on Sanchez and took the game over in the fourth. Easily their best game of the season.
Line Backers - B: Didn't win the game, but didn't cost them the game - as they have in the past. Well done, gentlemen.
Defensive Backs - "B" for any other team in the league "A" for the Giants: By far, this was their best game of the season. They actually appeared to be playing tough coverage. They forced a few turnovers and broke up a handful of other passes. This was truly a terrific effort to limit Sanchez, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress to only 14 points. Well done, indeed.
What a way to celebrate the Holiday Season if you're a fan of Big Blue. Take this win and celebrate Giants faithful, though be sure to also take this time to celebrate the actually important blessings that you've been given in this holiday season - if you'll permit me the brief moral message. So although it's been said many times, many ways - for all of us at 1045theteam.com - Merry Christmas everyone, and Happy Holidays. And as always, go Giants (that last part is just from me).