Jobu breaks down the Giants’ season, and the path they took to end up in Super Bowl XLVII.
With all due respect to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, this post is not about them. If you want to know what I think of the Patriots run to the Super Bowl, wait until Friday, when i’ll be posting my Playoff Picks: Super Bowl Edition. No, friends. This post is about the New York Football Giants, and their improbable run to the biggest game in sports. This season has put me, and all Giants fans, through a gauntlet of emotions that now has a chance to deliver the ultimate payoff, a world championship.
The First Half
The Giants stumbled out of the gates, losing a terribly played game to the Washington Redskins, and we all thought to ourselves… really, Giants? How can this be our year when we come out flat against one of the worst teams in the league? After that, however, the Giants went on a three game winning streak that had us feeling good again. They slapped the Rams and Eagles around, before Eli’s first fourth quarter comeback win of the season in week four, in a 31-27 win against the Cardinals. Eli and the Giants seemed to be on a roll until they somehow got thumped by the Seahawks at home in week 5… was this team really that good after all? I know I wasn’t sure anymore.
The Giants then beat the Bills and Dolphins in fairly unimpressive fashion. The wins felt good, and they were exciting (Eli drove the Giants to a game winning field goal against the bills with 1:32 to go, and a game winning TD with 5:58 to go in the 4th against the Dolphins), but they didn’t leave us, as fans, feeling all that great about the team. They played sloppy defense, made mistakes, and Eli seemingly couldn’t get anything going all game, at least until the fourth quarter. The Giants were now 6-2, but about to enter the toughest part of their schedule. It was definitely an uneasy time for fans.
Week 9: Feeling Fine
The first real test for the Giants came in their week nine matchup against none other than the New England Patriots, a team the Giants hadn’t faced in a meaningful game since ending Brady and Co.’s attempt at the perfect season in 2007/2008. This game was eerily similar to that Super Bowl too. The game was very much a back-and-forth contest. No one scored in a very ugly first half. The Giants scored the first 10 points of the game in the third quarter, on a Lawrence Tynes field goal and a 10-yard touchdown run by Brandon Jacobs. The Patriots then put up 10 of their own points, on a field goal by Stephen Gostkowski and a 5-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Hernandez off of a bad end zone interception thrown by Eli. After another Gostkowski field goal and a touchdown pass from Eli to Mario Manningham, the Giants led 17-13 with 3:03 to go in the game.
Suddenly, Super Bowl XLII happened all over again. Brady got the ball and marched down the field in a minute and a half, delighting the Gillette Stadium crowd with a 14-yard touchdown pass to soon-to-be-sensation Rob Gronkowski with just 1:36 to go. You’ll remember Brady connecting with Randy Moss with 2:XX to go in Super Bowl XLII, seemingly making history by sealing their perfect season. This is when it got really Eerie. Eli got the ball back and began his march towards the Patriots end zone. Along the way, he completed a ridiculous long pass on third down to an unheralded receiver wearing number 85. In Super Bowl XLII, it was David Tyree leaping in the air and catching Manning’s heave against his helmet, before falling backwards and somehow hanging on for the first down. This time it was Giants tight end Jake Ballard making a leaping, over the shoulder grab for 28-yards and a key first down. What was going on here?
Ballard’s play kept the drive alive and set up the eventual game winning touchdown. With 15 seconds to go in the game, Eli connected with Ballard again, this time on a 1-yard TD pass that, once again, snatched victory from Tom Brady in the closing seconds. The Giants were now 6-2, and had used Eli’s fourth fourth quarter comeback in five games to get there. It was shaky, but pretty exciting to watch.
Second Half Swoon
As good as beating the Patriots made us fans feel about this team, the next four weeks would bring us crashing back to reality, and hard. Week ten meant a trip to San Francisco and a bit of a heart-breaking loss. For a while it seemed that Eli and the Giants would pull off another fourth quarter comeback (after giving up 14 points in a 59 second span earlier in the quarter), but they fell just short, despite two fourth down completions on their last drive. The game ended on another fourth down pass attempt, this one in the red zone, which was batted down at the line by Justin Smith.
I don’t really even want to talk about what happened in week eleven against the Eagles. Philadelphia was 3-7 coming into the game, and Michael Vick was out with an injury. You’d think the Giants were poised to have a bounce-back game and a big home win, right? Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and D.J. Ware were held to 29 yards rushing combined, and the Giants were embarrassed 17-10.
Week twelve sent the Giants to play at the Super Dome, where they were trounced by Breesus is My Homeboy and the New Orleans Saints 49-24. I wasn’t too upset with the loss, because no one managed to win a game in New Orleans this year, and at least the Saints hadn’t scored 62 points like they did against the Colts. Either way, the Giants were now 6-5, and fading fast.
Week thirteen brought the undefeated Green Bay Packers to New York, and another loss. This loss felt a little different though. The Giants put up 35 points, and Eli managed to score a touch down and a two-point conversion to tie the game with 58 seconds left in regulation, before the defense completely imploded. They let Rodgers march down the field on three plays to set up a game-winning 31-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. The Giants may have dropped to 6-6, but that was the first time this season started feeling like 2007 (we all remember when the undefeated Patriots barely beat the Giants in week 16, right?). Were things about to take a turn for the better?
Finally, A Win!
Desperately needing a win, the Giants headed to Dallas week fourteen for the first of two matchups with the Cowboys in the last four weeks of the season. This game was an absolute shootout, with Eli and Tony Romo both putting up points like two quarterbacks trying to clinch the division should. Romo threw for 321 yards and 4 touchdowns, while Manning threw for exactly 400 yards and two scores However, Eli’s best work came, as if you didn’t know, in the fourth quarter.
After Romo hit Dez Bryant for a 50-yard touchdown, the Giants found themselves down twelve points with just 5:36 left on the clock. Thats when Eli went to work. In just 2:27, Manning and the Giants marched 80 yards down the field and scored on an 8-yard catch by Jake Ballard. The G-Men were within five points, but would need a quick three-and-out if they were going to be able to win this game. Not only did the D successfully hold the cowboys, but it took them only a 1:02 to do it.
After a terrible punt by Mat McBriar, Eli and the Giants ended up at the Giants 42 yard line with 2:12 to go in the game. Ballard came up huge, catching two passes for 36 yards on the drive, and a couple of huge penalties on the Cowboys set up Brandon Jacobs to score on a 1-yard run to put the Giants up by one. D.J. Ware then ran in the 2-point conversion, and the gave the ball back to the Cowboys with just 51 seconds left on the clock.
To my chagrin (and Tom Coughlin’s I’m sure) the Giants defense again softened up in the last minute, and let the Cowboys get into field goal range with just enough time left to kick a field goal for the tie. Rookie kicker Dan Bailey nailed the 47-yarder, but it came back because the Giants had called time out. That’s when Jason Pierre-Paul became a Giant. JPP got a hand on Bailey’s second attempt, sending it fluttering towards the front of the end zone, and the Giants were in first place again.
Here We Go Again, and the Rise from the Ashes
Those pesky, pesky Redskins came to town in week fifteen, and the Giants, once again, found themselves on the losing end of Rex Grossman’s arm. I mean come on! Rex Grossman! and the Redskins! Really?? Our lamenting went on that way for the rest of the week. It was not a good time to be a Giants fan.
Every new week, however, brings a new challenge, and week sixteen sent the Giants “on the road” to MetLife Stadium to play the Jets. Rex Ryan ran his mouth for a while, the Jets covered up all of the Giants’ Super Bowl trophies that adorn the hallways of the stadium the two teams share, and the Giants came out and kicked the crap out of the “home team” 29-14. The highlight of the night was the 99-yard catch and run by Victor Cruz (tying a record for longest reception in NFL history), who caught three passes for 164 yards on an abysmal day for Eli (9-27, 225 yards). Cruz also broke the single-season Giants receiving record in the game, passing Amani “It’s Not A” Toomer, who had set the record with 1,343 yards in 2002 (Cruz would end the season with 1,536 yards). Fat Rex and the Jets were all but eliminated from the playoffs, and the Giants just had to beat the Cowboys at home to clinch the division.
The second, and final, meeting between the Giants and the Cowboys wasn’t nearly as exciting as their clash in week fifteen. The Giants were up 21-0 at the half, and the Cowboys pulled to 21-14 before Manning threw a 14-yard touchdown to Hakeem Nicks with 5:45 to go that pretty much sealed the deal. Overall, Manning had 346 yards and 3 scores, while Victor Cruz shocked everyone in the house by catching 6 passes for 178 more yards, including a 74-yarder in the first quarter. The Giants were 9-7, and they were division champs.
Playoffs? Are You Kidding Me?
That’s right, fans. The Giants, who languished at 7-7 after their second loss of the season to the Washington Redskins, were now 9-7 and in the playoffs. Amazing, right? First up on the playoff schedule were the Atlanta Falcons, who finished the season 10-6, taking home one of the wild cards. Despite the fact that the Falcons had the better record, the Giants got home field for this matchup because of their divisional win. Things did not start out as anybody would have liked, as the Falcons sacked Eli Manning in the end zone just 1:16 into the game. The safety put the Falcons up 2-0. Unfortunately for them, those would be the only points they would score all game. The Giants defense terrorized the Falcons, holding the great Michael Turner to 41 yards (he couldn’t even convert a key 3rd and 1 when the game was still in reach), and twice forcing key turnovers on downs by stopping Matt Ryan’s quarterback sneakery. Meanwhile, the Giants resurrected their running game, racking up a season-high 172 yards, and Hakeem Nicks notched 115 yards and 2 TDs, including a 72-yarder late in the third. The Falcons, once again, ducked out of the playoffs in the first round, and the Giants moved onto round two.
Don’t worry fans, we’re coming to the end, and congratulations to those of you who are big enough fans to have stuck around to read this whole post. If you did, the first non-staff person to re-tweet this post wins a free Jobu’s Rum sticker (note: I haven’t had these made yet, but I will send you one as soon as I do… then will be now soon, don’t worry).
For the second time in four years, the Giants went to Green Bay for a playoff game, and for the second time in those four years, the Giants sent the Packers home with their tails between their legs. The Packers played a sloppy game, but good teams take advantage of the opponent’s shortcomings, and the red hot Giants did just that. Packers receivers dropped six passes (they’d dropped only 20 all season), and the Packers lost three fumbles (they had lost six all season) and the Giants offense rumbled for 37 points and a huge win. I talked about this game at some length during last week’s conference championship picks post, so I won’t repeat myself here. I’ll just say that Hakeem Nicks had another monster game, catching 7 passes for 165 yards and two TDs (including a 37-yard momentum-shifting Hail Mary at the end of the first half). Eli ended up with 3 TDs overall, and 330 yards passing, and the Giants won 37-20. The win catapulted them into the NFC Championship game against the 49ers, which I broke down earlier this week in a post called “Super Bowl Bound!”
So there you have it, fans, that is how we have come to where we are now. The once 7-7 New York Giants not only made the playoffs, they made the Super Bowl, and they did it basically on the arm of Eli Manning (with a little help from Victor Cruz), an offensive line that finally gelled late, and a defense that got healthy at just the right time. Will Manning and the defense carry them past the Patriots next Sunday? Come to the blog next Friday, when I post my playoff picks (oh and Jerry Ballgame is going to post his predictions too… I wonder who we’ll each pick!
Manning image courtesy of: Ezra Shaw
Tuck image courtesy of: AP Photo/Bill Kostroun
Brady image courtesy of: Associated Press/Charles Krupa
Crosby image courtesy of: AP Photo/Julio Cortez
Dallas image courtesy of: AP Photo/Brandon Wade
Sanchez image courtesy of: P Photo/Bill Kostroun
Weatherford image courtesy of: David J. Phillip
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