Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giants End Losing Streak

The New York Giants won a game they had to win as Eli Manning had a career day at home—something he seldom does. That’s the short version. Manning threw for 384 yards and three touchdowns (two to Kevin Boss) and their young receivers put on a show in front of the home crowd. Mario Manningham, Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks combined for 15 receptions and 275 yards. That’s a passing attack, and it doesn’t even include the Big Boss Man’s five for 76 yards. So why was this game in overtime? One reason was the Giants’ inability to run the ball against Atlanta. Twenty-six carries for a measly 88 yards? Really? Against an Atlanta team ranked 24th in the league against the run? Against an Atlanta team which yielded 185 yards to Carolina on 34 totes (5.4 ypc) a week ago? The passing game bailed them out in this game…but will that passing game be as effective in the weeks ahead? I’m a bit skeptical considering the Giants will play half of their remaining games in potential bad weather locations in prime time. Cold, windy, not fun…that’s how’d I’d describe at Denver, Philly at home and at Washington for night games.

This Giants team is going nowhere if they aren’t able to run the ball…and we know they can. They’ve done it as recently as the Philadelphia loss. But the inconsistency of Manning is now matched by a similar lack of reliability in the rushing attack. Woe is the team who cannot perform with consistency on offense. Defensively, everyone knew what was coming in the fourth quarter, didn’t we? The Giants went up 31-17 when the adult film-named Madison Hedgecock hauled in a three-yard Manning pass…but the end was not near. In typical Giants fashion, the defense let the opposition right back into the game, giving up a touchdown on the ensuing Falcons’ drive. It can be argued that the home team’s D played a solid first half…what cannot be argued is this: In the second half, the Falcons had the ball four times and scored four times. That’s not a playoff defense and it’s certainly not what Giant fans expected against a Michael Turner-less Atlanta team which was forced to come from behind. Good—not even great—defenses tend to tee off on the opposition once their offense has established a lead. Not the Giants. They let Matt Ryan throw all over them and allowed Turner’s understudy—the immortal Jason Snelling—to find the end zone twice.

I cannot tell you how relieved I was to see Atlanta kick that extra point to tie the score instead of going for two. Mike Smith should have rolled the dice. I know, I know—after the Bill Belichick call on fourth down, no one wants to get into another debate, but think about it. The Falcons’ defense couldn’t stop Manning. The Giants defense had given up four scores on four second-half possessions. The Big Blue D was melting. The Atlanta D was a no-show. Why not try to end the game there? Instead, Smith’s defenseless Birds lost the coin flip and the game was over right there. Coaches are afraid of risk taking, even when it makes sense…even when their gut tells them to do it. There’s no way Smith had any confidence in his defense at that point, but (unlike Belichick) he feared the second-guessers. As a result, he played it safe and his team will now have to rely on others to make the playoffs. The Giants won the game, and at this point in the season, that’s all that really matters. But the red flags still exist. With a short week and a Thanksgiving game against a reeling Denver team coming up, followed by home games against Dallas and Philly, their season will be determined over the next three games. In my mind, if they go 3-0 or even 2-1 they’ll make the playoffs. Anything less and they’ll be watching the post-season with the rest of us, wondering what happened to their 5-0 start.