Posts Tagged ‘2011 Giants’

Giants 21, Patriots 17

As the ball soared in front of me and the clock ticked down to zero, I had no idea what was going to happen but my hopes were high. Moments later, DeSean Jackson waltzed into the end zone effectively ending the 2010 Giants season and putting the finishing touches on a 21-point comeback in the last 10 minutes of the game.

The 2011 Giants came into the season with as little momentum as it seemed possible. Their big signing was center David Baas. Two important pieces in the offense, Kevin Boss and Steve Smith, had left via free agency and the Giants made little effort to re-sign them. Osi Umenyiora was unhappy and looked like he might get traded or sit out. The offensive line was reshuffled with unproven youngsters after Shaun O’Hara and Rich Seubert were cut. Half the secondary was in the ICU.

Something wonderful happened in the weeks since then, as the Giants emerged as Champions and the most memorable New York sports team in recent history. It certainly wasn’t easy. Critics counted them out. I’m even ashamed to say that I counted them out when the Cowboys took what seemed like an insurmountable 12-point lead in the final minutes of their game in Dallas. But these Giants learned to persevere and more importantly finish, and nowhere was this more evident than at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.

The Giants played well during Super Bowl XLVI, but surprisingly had a tough time finishing after jumping out to a 9-0 lead. Penalties led to a few aborted drives and pretty soon the Pats had a 10-9 halftime lead. I was not a happy camper watching Madonna as New England efficiently went down the field to end the half and were preparing to receive the ball after M.I.A. was done expressing herself.

Then, the Patriots went down the field again and the Giants continued to stall. It felt like we should have been up going into the final quarter instead of down 2. All of a sudden, the magic was back. Welker and the rest of the Pats’ receivers forgot how to catch, Eli became the best quarterback in the NFL, and the defense shut down Brady’s last desperation drive.

***

It was an unbelievable team effort, and that’s what I’m going to remember most about the 2011 Giants. There were so many contributors and each one was selfless in the way they played for the greater good of the team.

You have to start at the top with Eli Manning. His stellar regular season went under-the-radar but that was fine by him. He threw for the sixth most passing yards in NFL history in 2011. Does anybody even know this? I can honestly say that I am supremely confident whenever Eli throws the ball, which is incredible because as little as five years ago he was as wild as Rick Vaughn. Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey used to have to consistently bail out his errant throws. Now, he’s as precise as an atomic clock. It’s a testament to his work ethic and preparation that he was able to accomplish this. I always said that if Eli was able to get his completion percentage over 60%, he’d be a superstar. This year, it was 61% and 65% when it mattered most in the playoffs.

Despite all the heroics in the Super Bowl, I’d say that Eli’s signature game of the 2011 season was actually the NFC Championship against the 49ers. He didn’t have the prettiest stats, but he got up every time he got hit. That means a lot. He proved his toughness and didn’t let the continued hits affect his game. A lesser QB would have wilted. Eli threw a touchdown on third-and-15 when his team was on the ropes.

Then, there’s the whole “elite” deal, which was about as overblown as DJ Pauly D’s hair. When everyone made a big stink about it, Eli didn’t say a word. He went out on the field and proved that he was elite. That’s how a man handles his business. Is he better than Rodgers and Brees? I don’t know, but he’s damn close. Does it matter? In the final six do-or-die games, Eli threw 13 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. It may have been the greatest run ever. Who cares if he had a clunker against the Redskins?

If I had to go down the field to win a game, I’d want Eli Manning on my team and not one of the other top QB’s (many of whom have subtlety choked in the past few playoffs).  That pass to Manningham to start the final drive was more accurate than a cruise missile. And really, is there a more likable athlete than Eli? He’s so low key and secretly funny. Even if he wasn’t a two-time Super Bowl MVP, I’d want to be buddies with him.

The Hydra of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul was perhaps the greatest catalyst for the Giants’ resurgence after their 7-7 start. Tuck finally accepted that his nagging injuries weren’t going to go away and played through them. Osi also played with various ailments, including a bruised ego, but nonetheless put up great numbers and many a quarterback into the ground. And of course, JPP emerged as one of the premier defenders in the league. Did I mention that he’s still learning how to play football? When the Hydra was together and healthy, opposing offenses were stifled and the Giants’ linebackers and secondary, which were both at less than full strength, had the little extra help that they needed.

Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz proved to be an unstoppable tandem. You can cover one, but just know the other is going to run roughshod. Cruz may have got the most attention and deservedly so for coming out of nowhere to become a star, but Nicks is a monster too and was saddled with some injuries throughout the season. Mario Manningham has been known to make a catch or two every once in a while as well. More importantly, did he complain when his role was reduced after Cruz emerged? Nope. Now a free agent, Manningham is going to make some money.

Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs did not have a good season, both on and off the field. Bradshaw struggled with another broken foot while big Jacobs had a tough time getting fewer carries, and the running game was ranked last in the NFL, shocking for a team that had prided itself for many years on being able to run the ball. They picked it up a bit in the playoffs, and had their one great game of the season in the Super Bowl. Plus, Bradshaw is now responsible for one of the biggest plays in Giants history. If David Tyree had the Helmet Catch, he has the Butt Touchdown. D.J. Ware wasn’t half-bad in Bradshaw’s stead, either.

There’s too many other heroes to count, and probably many that we’ll never know the full extent of their actions. Jake Ballard had Kevin Boss’s big shoes to fill and did so admirably. His sliding catch to beat the Patriots in the regular season was incredible. Michael Boley stepped up as a leader and would not allow the linebackers to fall apart after they were hit hard by injury. Mathias Kiwanuka came back from a serious neck problem to become a force again. Chase Blackburn was ready to become a substitute teacher and ended up plugging a massive hole in the defense with a great interception in the Super Bowl. Greg Jones, Jacquian Williams, and Mark Herzlich were rookies thrust into big situations and they responded. Williams may have had the biggest play of the season with the strip of Kyle Williams.

Kevin Boothe came off the bench and toughened up the offensive line after it struggled to start the season. Henry Hynoski was consistent and reliable at fullback. Mitch Petrus filled in as needed as offensive linemen got banged up but never compromised the integrity of the line. Antrel Rolle sure as hell talked a lot, but he backed it up. Aaron Ross came through after a rough start to take Terrell Thomas’s spot. Chris Snee was his usual self at right guard. I don’t think I heard his name once throughout the season and that’s the best compliment an offensive lineman can get. Dave Tollefson kept the pressure on even as various members of the Hydra went down. Corey Webster was great all year and pretty much the only sure thing in the Giants’ defense.

Lest we forget special teams, Devin Thomas had not one, but two big fumble recoveries in San Fran and became a special teams stalwart after he was stripped of his kick return duties.  Lawrence Tynes hit big kick after big kick in tight spots. Steve Weatherford proved to be a really good punter and even better at keeping the team loose. Weatherford’s hold and Tynes’s kick in the rain in San Francisco was another unheralded achievement in a season full of them. Without any of these players, the Giants don’t win the World Title. They all had a hand in it. Some little, some big, but they all mattered.

Coach Coughlin once again knew which cards to play at the right time. After the debacle of 2010, the Giants were a fragile group. His overarching message of finishing was just what the team needed to hear. It’s no surprise that the team had eight fourth quarter comebacks. Even when times were tough, he never panicked and his faith paid off. After being maligned much of the season, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride (née Killdrive) and defensive coordinator Perry Fewell also finally came through. I was critical of Gilbride most of all, but he called his best game of the season in the Super Bowl.

Last but certainly not least, General Manager Jerry Reese did a masterful job assembling the pieces of the team. He knew which players he needed back (Bradshaw) and which he didn’t (Boss and Smith). He didn’t go out and overspend on a marquee free agent. He didn’t overreach for Plaxico, a move that may have affected the chemistry of the team. His drafting paid off, and even his small moves, like signing rookie free agent Herzlich and bringing back Blackburn, worked out. Quiet by nature, Reese uncharacteristically declared the Giants a playoff team before the season started. He was right and although he doesn’t like accepting too much credit, he deserves perhaps the most of all.

***

The haters are coming out and saying that the Giants were lucky. Welker dropped that pass. The Pats couldn’t recover either fumble. Kyle Williams shouldn’t have let the ball touch his leg. The fact of the matter is this: any team that wins the Super Bowl is going to be lucky. The Giants were pretty evenly matched with the other top teams in the league. When that happens, sometimes luck is the deciding factor. However, the Giants didn’t make many mistakes and when they did, they covered them up. Could be lucky, could be preparedness. All I know is that the Giants were very unlucky with injuries and somehow managed to win it all. I don’t hear anybody talking about that.

I’m not a football historian but this has to go down as one of the wildest seasons in NFL history. It seemed like every game came down to the wire. Some ended well, some didn’t. I was miserable most of the season. I felt like the team wasn’t playing up to its potential. Whenever it seemed to hit a turning point in the season, the next game was a disaster. The term “second-half swoon” kept being thrown around and made me cringe. But as the season was coming to a close, the Giants finally remembered what their coach had instilled in them.

Like Coach Coughlin said, it’s all about finishing. From the amazing two-touchdown comeback against the Cardinals, to two game-winning drives in New England, to JPP’s blocked field goal in Big D, to overtime against the Niners, and eventually Eli’s 88-yard drive to win the World Title, that’s what they did. At any point, something could have gone wrong. A ball fumbled, a pass dropped. The Giants wouldn’t be Champions, just like they let DeSean run wild in ’10, failed to show up at the Giants Stadium finale against the Panthers in ’09, and let Plaxico distract them from repeating in ’08. However, the lesson of the past was now firmly understood in the present and the Giants would not be denied.

With that 88-yard touchdown drive, the Giants had achieved greatness, 88 football weeks after they had the last time. Their legacy will not be that they were a lucky football team, much like that ’07 team will no longer be viewed that way. The New York Giants, led by their elite quarterback, are a great football team that deserves all the accolades they’ve achieved and will achieve.

As the ball soared in front of me and the clock ticked down to zero, I had no idea what was going to happen but my hopes were high. Somehow, though, I just felt that this year was going to be different.

NEW YORK FOOTBALL GIANTS
2011 WORLD CHAMPIONS

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“See that look in their eyes, Rock? You gotta get that look back.”

Back in 2008, I imagined the Giants’ season as Rocky III. It was based mainly on the fact that they stunned what seemed like an impossible opponent the year before. 2007 was Rocky II. Makes sense. In 2009, they would surely beat the Moscow Bolsheviks and their notorious quarterback Ivan Drago.

None of the parallels really hit, though. The team started 11-1, running roughshod over the NFL. Weren’t they supposed to get overconfident and lose their swagger, only to find that hunger and emerge on top? Wait a minute…

Then Plaxico shot himself. It was the Mickey dying moment. He was such a core part of the team, they couldn’t survive without him. The Giants stumbled through the 2009 and 2010 seasons, halfheartedly making an attempt to reclaim the Title. Other teams like the Saints and the Packers wanted it more.

Eventually, something changed. Whether it was the renewed commitment amid the fallout from the DeSean Jackson game or simply the re-stocking of the wide receiver corps with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, the Giants look stronger than ever and ready to take on anyone that will get in their way for a second Championship. It wasn’t easy and by no means complete. But the players on this team have that look in their eyes, from the young guys to the veterans. Now all they have to do is finish.

WEEK 86 – Rewriting History

Posted: January 22, 2012 by Keith Stone in NFL
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It was the same end of the field that Matt Bryant prepared to make a kick to keep the Giants’ Title hopes alive in 2002.

As Lawrence Tynes lined up for the field goal to send the Giants to the Super Bowl, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  When the snap was low, it seemed to be happening all over again. But then, Steve Weatherford was able to get the ball down, Tynes booted the ball right down the pipes, and the Giants had exorcised the demons and were heading to Indianapolis.

Looking back, it was a great game. Old-school defensive struggles are the best. I said earlier that one of the keys of the game would be to hold onto the ball. The Giants did. The 49ers did not. I’m not going to pretend that the Giants didn’t luck out, but then again I’d rather be lucky than good. Kyle Williams has to get away from the ball when it’s bouncing on the ground. That was a horrible play. It shouldn’t have happened. The 49ers had all the momentum at that point, but the Giants cashed in when it mattered. If that second fumble doesn’t happen, I’m not so sure the game doesn’t go into double overtime the way both defenses were playing. Those are the breaks.

There were a lot of heroes, which is how Championship teams play. Eli took a complete pounding. It looked like he was hit by a bus driven by an elephant. He deserves all the credit in the world for standing in there and making smart decisions. Sure, the Niners botched a couple of potential interceptions and fumbled once but he was being hit HARD. Victor Cruz was spectacular also. He made so many great catches in big spots. Him and Nicks are going to kill teams no matter what. Then there’s Mario Manningham who only had one catch but it was spectacular and redemption for when he dropped the game-tying touchdown the last time in San Fran. Devin Thomas recognizing that first fumble and picking up the ball was huge, not to mention his second fumble recovery. Jacquian Williams forcing that second fumble was a great hustle play. Finally, Steve Weatherford getting that snap down may have been the biggest play of the game.

And so Weatherford did get the ball down and the Patriots are next. Some people might say that history is repeating itself. The Giants have gone through an NFC South team, then the #1 seed, then an underrated yet dangerous #2 seed, and now the Pats. They won the NFC in overtime on the road both times. The beat the Packers both times. Heck, the games have been played at the same times. But simply believing that history is going to repeat itself isn’t enough to win the Lombardi Trophy. Lawrence Tynes proved that history can change and Trey Junkin can sleep easy.

WEEK 85 – Hail Eli

Posted: January 15, 2012 by Keith Stone in NFL
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Giants 37, Packers 20

THE CHAMP IS DEAD! What an amazing victory by the Giants. They thoroughly controlled play in every aspect of the game, and should have won by even more if the refs weren’t so disgraceful. From Nicks on that amazing hail mary from nowhere to Cruz on the second onsides kick to Osi stripping Rodgers when it looked like the Pack was about to score, the Giants seized control and never let Green Bay have it back. People might say that the Packers looked out of it. It’s true that Rodgers’s timing was off but that’s because the Hydra was in his face all day. And if the Packers don’t want to hold onto the ball, hell, Chase Blackburn will take it. The QB scrambles by Rodgers hurt but they were never for more than 15 yards and the Pack just couldn’t put it together for the important plays. Those are the plays that Champions make.

It’s not time to celebrate yet. The 49ers are a great team. They beat the Saints. While the Giants are a more balanced team, it’s not going to be a cake walk. However, you have to think that with Eli and the boys firing on all cylinders and their health and confidence at a high for the season, they’re not going to allow the 49ers defense to shut them down. It’s going to be an intense game for the Halas Trophy.

WEEK 84 – Cold As Ice

Posted: January 8, 2012 by Keith Stone in NFL
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Giants 24, Falcons 2

For a while there it looked like it was going to be like a pissing contest between Chaz Bono and John Wayne Bobbitt. The Giants’ running game was non-existent and the Falcons were getting pressure nearly every time Eli stepped back. And then came the fourth-and-1. I understand why the Falcons went for it, but in a game like that, you don’t want to give the other team any momentum at all. Plus you figure it’s probably going to be low scoring. Why not take the points, especially after failing in a similar situation in a big spot against the Saints earlier in the season? Well, the Giants made the big play, and it was like the key in the ignition to the Divisional Round. Let’s face it: if the Falcons converted it, the Giants might be sitting at home right now. These playoff games can sometimes hinge on one or two big plays. The Giants just wanted it more.

The Giants looked great in the second half. It was by far their best sustained football of the year. I don’t know if the Falcons were overwhelmed or just wanted to go home, but I loved it. When the Giants are firing on all cylinders, they are so hard to beat. Jacobs was finally ripping off big plays. All the receivers were making plays. Cruz is covered? Oh yeah, we have another 1,000-yard guy who can take it to the house and dance. Roddy White and Julio Jones couldn’t get anything done. They can make all the 6-yard catches they want. And of course, the Hydra. That is the main reason for the defense’s success. When you have Tuck, Osi, and JPP coming at you, there’s not much time to figure out where to throw it. Once the Giants established a lead and the Falcons became more reliant on their passing game, it was all over. It’s going to be different next week, but with the team as healthy as they’ve been, you’d be an idiot to say they don’t have a shot.

WEEK 83 – Finishing

Posted: January 2, 2012 by Keith Stone in NFL
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Giants 31, Cowboys 14

With a three-touchdown lead, the Giants’ let their heated rival came down the field and score. Then, it happened again. With one stop, the Giants would be NFC East Champs. But they couldn’t. The 38-31 collapse last year to the Eagles was a crushing blow to the players, fans, and entire franchise. All season, the Giants have been preaching a mantra of finishing the game. Don’t let your opponent back in it. It was an up-and-down year. Unpredictable.  Sometimes the Giants looked like they had learned their lesson, other times it seemed like they were barely paying attention. After a 6-2 start, finishing would be more important than ever. That brought us to last night.

With a three-touchdown lead, the Giants’ let their heated rival came down the field and score. Then, it happened again. With one stop, the Giants would be NFC East Champs. They finally got that stop. The entire team played at another level last night. It’s hard to single out a single player, but let’s try. You have to start with Victor Cruz who got the salsa party started. More importantly, it was his huge third down catch when the Giants were on the ropes that gave them breathing room. Michael Boley was huge flying over the line of scrimmage to stop Tony Romo on fourth-and-1 in the red zone. Osi Umenyiora played valiantly through pain and had a big impact on the game with two sacks. Don’t forget about the other two heads on the Hydra, Justin Tuck and JPP. Romo was under pressure all night and the Cowboys’ running game never got going. David Baas provided his best protection all year in the middle of the offensive line. Even guys like Bear Pascoe and Devin Thomas played important roles in the victory. It was the most complete game of the season and solidifies the fact that the Giants are the best team in the NFC East and deserve to be in the playoffs.

Every year, it happens. A team gets hot right before the playoffs and makes a run at the Super Bowl. The Giants are as healthy as they’ve been all season and have the momentum of beating the Jets and Cowboys. I wouldn’t bet against them. Let’s see how they finish.