Diary of a Giants Fan: Giants Playoff Bound With Domination of ‘Boys – Grades
In a week 17 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants needed a win to secure an NFC East Championship, a playoff spot, and a season ending that wasn't a crushing disappointment. They'd get that win in resounding fashion, a 31-14 shellacking of Romo and the Boys.
After fourteen games of searching, the New York Giants finally found a defense last week against the Jets. The defensive line won that game for the Giants, and the question loomed, could they do it again? Were they finding a rhythm and gaining momentum as a unit? Or had we just witnessed the blind squirrel find his one nut - if you will. It would have to be the former if, with the playoffs on the line, the Giants were to officially cast aside the collection of UFLers that the Cowboys are...Alright, that's a touch strong. I'm better than that. Sorry Cowboy nation.
The Giant faithful didn't have to wait long for their defensive line to announce their presence. After matching underwhelming and uneventful drives, Tony Romo took the field for the second time, then quickly took to his back. Kiwanuka brought pressure up the middle and the sack was finished off by Jason Pierre-Paul, leading to a punt - an excellent start that the G-Men would look to improve upon via their offense. Victor Cruz: Enter stage right. On a third down play, Manning dropped back to pass and hit the undersized, undervalued, under....under....underprobowlvotegetting (I'm not sure that's in your standard dictionary) receiver over the middle. With a turn of the corner, and great blocking downfield by Nicks, Cruz was down the sideline. 76 yards later it was 7-0 Giants, a record setting touchdown for Cruz. He had just become the first player in Giant history to actually run away from trailing defenders. I've never enjoyed watching men dance, but I could watch that man samba All. Day. Long.
Back on offense with the ensuing possession, Tony Romo quickly found himself back on his...well, back. Osi Umenyiora came from the outside and reminded the world that he does, in fact, still play for the New York Giants. Sack. Punt. Muff. Missed by Cowboys. Mercifully fallen on by Giants. Why do we even put someone back there to field these things? Unfazed by the Benny Hill side show that had just played out in front of him, Eli Manning took to the field and began moving his team. Completions to Nicks and Cruz took Big Blue inside the Cowboy five. Ahamad Bradshaw, apparently as unflappable as his quarterback, would ignore the fact that his offensive line had apparently chosen to option the man whom they were running the ball at. He'd juke he defender out of shoes deep in the backfield and run it in for the touchdown. 14-0 Giants.
Once again the Cowboys would take to the field following a Giant touchdown looking to answer. Once again, however, Romo found himself at the bottom of a dog pile. This time it was Jacquian Williams, a Giant linebacker whom, to this point in the season, had only been known as "Who the hell was that and why does he still have a starting job?!" The next Cowboy possession was only marginally better. They did begin to find a bit of a rhythm, but despite having an endless amount of green in front of him, Tony Romo decided, "Line of scrimmage be damned!" Three yards after crossing the line, Romo threw a forward pass. The illegal pass lead to a penalty and a punt. And with the ensuing Giant possession, thus began the legend of Henry Hynoski. The man caught three passes on the drive, including one in which he, the 270 pound fullback whom I'm guessing runs the forty in twelve seconds, hurdled a Cowboy defensive back for the first down. The acrobatics came on the heels of Bear Pascoe's hurdle on the Giants' first touchdown drive. Now, if we could only get Kevin Boothe to catch a pass and hurdle a defensive back then we'd have the three least athletic Giants making ridiculous plays.
The drive of Henry Hynoski glory was capped off by Ahmad Bradshaw breaking a few tackles and spiking the ball over the goal line. 21-0 Giants, the perfect way to end what was a near perfect half of football for the G-Men. Offensively, the Giants were moving the ball almost at will. Rob Ryan's defense was looking as tattered and frazzled as that gun-metal gray salad he's got going on. Defensively the Giant D-line had, indeed, answered the bell. They'd sacked and pressured Romo throughout the first half and hadn't allowed that should be dynamic offense to find a rhythm. As a Giant fan you just hoped that they could stay the course. Stay the course, cruise to the win.
But it can never be that easy, can it? An unspeakably underwhelming possession opened the half for the Giants and was immediately answered by the Cowboys. Utilizing short drops and quick passes that kept the Giants pass rush from getting to Romo, the Cowboys drove down the field and scored with a touchdown pass to Robinson. 21-7. And things just got less comfortable. A veritable parade of poor Giant offensive possessions followed, and the game's momentum - despite a fourth and one stop by the Giants defense deep in their own red zone - began to shift heavily toward the men of Dallas. Refusing to make this an easy night, the Giants allowed Romo and company to drive back down the field and make it a one score game with a touchdown pass to Robinson. 21-14. And things are now decidedly uncomfortable. Why can't it ever be easy?
With the Cowboys down only a touchdown, the weight of this season was now firmly on the back of the Giant offense. And it was showing. The offensive line looked frustrated, the running backs looked unsteady. The pressure, it seemed, had gotten to them. Except of course, for one man. Eli. Bleeping. Manning. With the world falling apart around him, Manning moved in the pocket, avoided pressure, and delivered a strike deep down the field to Victor Cruz. It was hauled in by the oh so rhythmic receiver. It was, for my money, a season saving play. With another great connection to Cruz, the Giants would get back on the board with a Tynes field goal. 24-14. They were back up by double digits and the crowd, who'd already begun lamenting the impending disappointment, was alive once again.
With new life, the defense forced a three and out and gave the ball back to Manning, who found that fourth quarter magic once again. He drove his team down the field, and with two completions to Nicks, they were back in the end zone. 31-14. It was Manning's 15th fourth quarter touchdown of the season, a new record. The game now felt almost like I could start to feel comfortable at some point in the near future. Complicated? So are the Giants. But it turns out the relief was coming pretty damn soon. After a few completions by Romo, the exclamation point was firmly placed on this win by Justin Tuck. After whiffing on a sack, Tuck turned on a dime and crushed Romo with the fury of God's own thunder. Fumble. Recovered by Kiwanuka. Kneel downs. NFC East Champions.
What a win for the Giants. Yes, they were helped out by the inability of the Dallas Cowboys to recover a fumble. And yes, the team as a whole took a power nap during the third quarter. But in the absolute definition of a must win game, the Giants played their best game. Their defensive line abused the quarterback. Their secondary did enough to not lose. Eli Manning was terrific. The receivers caught passes. They even ran the ball well...at times. This was a total team victory that I think Giant fans should be proud of. 9-7 may not be impressive, but who honestly thought that at the end of this season we'd be talking about the New York Giants as the NFC East Champions? No one. If you say you did, you're lying. No one saw this coming. It may have been an unpleasantly bumpy road, but the Giants have arrived at their destination looking as good as they have all season. Big Blue played their first complete game on Sunday and finished the regular season finally looking like the team they hinted that they could be, like a team that could maybe...maybe, make a run.
Grades: Offensive Line, Pass Blocking - B: They gave up some pressure and two sacks, but for the most part they kept the pocket clear for Eli,
Run Blocking - D: I can only think of one run that I can really say was expertly blocked by this offensive line. Brandon Jacobs was stuffed on two different X and one runs. Come on gentlemen, help a brother out.
Running Backs - C: Bradshaw had a good game, but the running game was not nearly as effective as it should have been. I mean seriously, 380 pound (Hyperbole?) running back Brandon Jacobs was stopped on two different X and one runs. You've got to run tougher than that.
Wide Receivers - A-: There was only one drop that I can remember. Cruz, Nicks and Hynoski - What a legend - made huge plays in this game. Well done.
Eli Manning - B+: He didn't look great on the first two drives of the game, nor was he dynamic during the Giants' NyQuil filled third quarter. But when the game was on the line, when the world was falling apart at the seams, Manning rose up and lead his team to victory. He made several truly impressive plays, avoiding pressure and making huge throws. This was an elite-type game for Manning. You really can't say enough about the Giants QB.
Special Teams - C-: Meh. Muffed a punt. Gave up a big return. Had some decent returns. Meh.
Defensive Line - A: Their consistent pressure on Romo, including six sacks, went a long way in terms of winning this game for the Giants. It was important for this unit to show that they could replicate the performance they gave last week. They did. In fact, they bested it. Excellent game.
Line Backers - A: Name something they did wrong?
Defensive Backs - B: They gave up a lot of yardage in the second half, but they intercepted Romo and refused to be the reason why their team lost today. All in all, given the receiving corps they were facing, this was an excellent effort from the secondary.
Next week the Giants will host the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs. Check back here mid week for my preview of the game. Go Giants!