Wednesday, June 25, 2014

1996 Giants vs Cowboys

Week 13

The Setup
When you get what you want in your search for self, and the world makes you King for a day.
Go to the mirror and look at yourself, and see what that guy has to say.
It isn't your father, mother, or wife upon whose judgement you must pass.
Because the fellow whose verdict counts most in your life is the fellow staring back in the glass
-- The Man In the Mirror 
Ummm...is this a Giants blog or a beatnik poetry reading?  Well, football has many methods of motivation.  Some coaches give firey speeches.  Some coaches give a quiet, but thoughtful and stern speech.  Some go bananas and throw things off walls.  Some say nothing at all and let the players and team leaders handle it.  In this case, it was Dan Reeves playing the role of Poet Laureate.  And it was this peom that Reeves left on the chairs of every player in the lockeroom leading up their home game against the defending World Champion Dallas Cowboys, who were still in their dynasty mode led by Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin.

Why is Dan Reeves turning to deep introspective literature before a big rivalry matchup?  Well, go back to 1996, and nothing else really worked up until that point.  The 1996 Giants team looked rudderless.  By this time, the bloom was long off the rose for Reeves.  He was in the 4th year of a 5 year contract with the team.  After winning records in 1993 (winning Coach of the Year) and 1994, the Giants crashed and burned in 1995.  In the first game of the season, with a festive crowd on hand for a Monday Night against Dallas, with Phil Simms jersey retirement cerimony at halftime, it was all set up for the Giants to establish themselves as challenge to the Cowboys dominance of the NFC East.  The Giants would give up a 60 yard TD run to Emmitt in the first quarter, be down 21-0 at the half on their way to a 35-0 beat down as Smith ran for 4 TDs on the day.  The Giants never recovered after that, going 5-11 in 1995.  Losing tends to magnify the problems, and the rifts over player control was showing between Reeves and George Young.  Reeves didn't like the style the Giants organization had, which was defned by Young in 1979 when he joined the team.  In the Young structure, it's very simple: Owners own, GMs GM, Coaches coach, Players play.  The GM picks the players and the coach is responsible for coaching them.  Reeves knew this when he took the job in 1993 after the Giants missed out on their first two choices (Coughlin and Wannstedt).  He said he'd be willing to accept that, and perhaps he thought his first 2 seasons would offer him more power, but it never came.

Entering 1996, pretty much everyone knew Reeves would be fired.  The Giants organization was not willing to pay a guy 2 years salary to sit around and do nothing.  So Reeves coached.  And the Giants and their fans were miserable as a result of this lame duck status.  The fans had grown tired of Dave Brown at QB, who after some flashes in 1994, didn't make anyone forget about Phil Simms or Jeff Hostetler.  Going into this game against the Cowboys, the Giants were 4-7, came off a loss at Arizona which put them in last place in the NFC East.  By this time, the fans just wanted the season to be over and clean house.

On the other side of the field however, were the Cowboys, winners of 3 of the last 4 Super Bowls.  What stung most during the Giants decline from power in the 1980s to also-rans in the 1990s was that the Cowboys had turned into a Dynasty.  Dallas owned the NFC East and were the dominant force in the entire NFL.  From 1991- 1995, the Cowboys accomplished the following:

  • 5 straight playoff appearances, including winning 13 games once, 12 games 3 times, and 11 games once (which was good enough for a Wild Card in 1991)
  • 4 straight NFC East Titles
  • 3 Super Bowl championships (and lost an NFC Title Game at San Francisco in 1994)

However, by 1996, though the Cowboys were get again defending champions, some cracks began to finally show in their armor.  To start with, they were led by Barry Switzer, who took over for Jimmy Johnson after an ego clash with Jerry Jones proved too much for them both to handle.  Switzer was a big time college coach (similar to Johnson) and while he did in fact win with Dallas, he really did so with Johnson's team.  Ray Handley coul have coached the early/mid 1990s Cowboys team and won a Super Bowl.  Switzer, on his own, was kind of a clown, and a loud mouth, and out of touch.  In other words, perfect for the Cowboys.

Beyond Switzer's questionable leadership, was the real issue...Dallas was getting old.  Aikman, Irvin and Daryl Johnston all turned 30 years old in 1996.  Emmitt was 27, but the milage was piling up.  Charles Haley was 32.  Deion was 29.  Aikman's security blanket TE Jay Novachek retired before the season.  But the biggest culprit might have been on their massive offensive line, a staple during Dallas' dominant run.  Mark Tuinei was 36.  Nate Newton was 35.  Ray Donaldson was 38.

Despite their age issues and perceived problems, the Cowboys had looked like they finally righted their ship after a very poor start to the season.  They began the year at 1-3.  After a 4 game winning streak had brought them to 5-3, they dropped a home game to the Eagles and looked like a very mediocre 5-4 team.  Shocking when you consider this was a team that would routinely go 12-4.

Following the Eagles loss, the Cowboys started to fall back on their championship pedigree.  They faced their two biggest threats in the NFC in successive weeks.  Dallas would beat the 49ers in an OT game by the score of 20-17, and then take on the young, upstart Brett Favre and the Packers at Texas Stadium on a Monday Night and handled them 21-6.  They were sitting at 7-4 and looked like a team that was ready to kick it into gear.

After facing the last place Giants, the Cowboys were looking at a Thanksgiving game against their hated rival, the Redskins, who were sporting an 8-3 record at the time, so were a real threat to the Cowboys conference crown.

The Cowboys had pasted the Giants in their previous meeting, a Week 2 beat down that was not even as close as the 27-0 score indicated.  The Giants "offense" managed 7 first downs the entire game and 105 yards in total offense. Deion Sanders would score his first TD as an offensive player for the 'Boys and it was 21-0 at halftime.  You get the drift.

So here were the Giants.  With little to play for behind a coach that was on his way out the door, with not much at his disposal to motivate the team beyond poetry.  The Cowboys, facing several playoff teams in a row and then more to come after this game knew what everyone was saying.  This is a trap game.  Don't let down.  Don't come out flat.  The Giants only playing the role of spoiler.  Everyone figured the Cowboys would simply pulverize the Giants and continue their march for another championship with their aging core.  As ESPN's Chris Berman is fond of saying "That....is why they play the game."
The Game Highlights


The game would start with the Cowboys Chris Boniol kicking off, where it was fielded by Conrad Hamilton at the 5 yard line, and was able to get a good return, all the way out to the 32 yard line.  On came Dave Brown, going up against the NFL's #1 ranked defense.  The Giants would begin with a draw to Rodney Hampton, going over left end, and was able to make a nice 7 yard gain, all the way out to the 39 before he was taken down by Chad Hennings and Randall Godfrey.  Hampton would get the ball on the next play, and would shrug off a hit in the backfield by Leon Lett, but was able to push the pocket for 2 yards, setting up a 3rd and 1.  Reeves would decide to stick with the ground game, and a 3rd straight Hampton carry behind Ron Stone would get him to the 42 yard line, and a first down.  With a new set of downs, Brown would play action fake to Charles Way, and with plenty of time to throw, Brown tried to connect with Lawrence Dawsey, and the ball fell incomplete.  However, George Teague, beaten by Dawsey on the play, decided to pull down the former Buccaneer WR and the Giants got 5 yards and a first down on the penalty.  At the 47, Brown took a short drop and tried to connect with Chris Calloway on a deep fade, but with Deion Sanders blanketing him, he wasn't close to open and the ball fell incomplete, as Brown was knocked down behind the play.  On 2nd and 10, a draw to Hampton, again running left, was only able to gain about 3 yards to midfield, stopped by LB Fred Strickland.  On 3rd and 7, Brown was able to draw Jim Schwantz offsides with a hard count, making it a more managable 3rd and 2 at the 45.  Brown had some pressure right up the gut and showed happy feet and hurried the pass, which was tipped and nearly picked off by Strickland, as he tried to sneak a pass in to Howard Cross.  Mike Horan came on to punt to Deion, and got off a spectacular kick, right in front of the goal line, where it bounced up and Hamilton ran over and knocked it back to the 2 yard line where it was downed.


Troy Aikman would lead his team out, in the shadow of his own goal posts.  On first down, Emmitt Smith took a carry and dove into the middle of the line, but was stopped after just 1 yard by Keith Hamilton and Robert Harris.  On 2nd and 9, a playaction fake to Emmitt and a dump off pass to Daryl "Moose" Johnston got the ball out to the 7 yard line, before he as dropped by Corey Widmer.  On 3rd and 5, Aikman would have plenty of time to throw, and hit Kelvin Martin for a 6 yard gain and a first down to the 14 yard line, where Jesse Armstead would take him down.  On first down, Emmitt would find a hole around the right end and burst through for a 5 yard gain, stopped by Armstead and Tito Wooten.  On 2nd and 5, Emmitt would take another draw, find another lane, and take it to the 25 for a first down, where Jason Sehorn made the stop.  Aikman's pass on the next play was an underthrown incompletion to Williams on a comeback route.  Now 2nd and 10, Emmitt would gain 4 yards around left end, beating Marcus Buckley to the corner and get shoved out by Sehorn.  Now with a 3rd and 6 at the 28 yard line, Aikman would find a wide open Kevin Williams over the middle for another first down, where he was dropped by Armstead.  On first down, Emmitt would get drilled by Harris and Chad Bratzke, however, an offsides on Harris would wipe out the nice play, making it 1st and 5 at the 40.


The Cowboys decided to take a deep shot, and this time Aikman was able to rainbow a long pass down the field to Irvin on the right sidelines for a big 38 yard gain, beating Phillippi Sparks on the play and took it out of bounds at the 22 yard line.  Dallas would stay to the air, with Aikman dumping off to Johnston for just 2 yards, before he was drilled by Widmer.  On 2nd and 8, Emmitt took the handoff and was caught for no gain by Armstead and Bratzke.  Now 3rd and 8, Aikman again had time to throw, dumped the ball off to Johnston over the middle and he was able to get 7 yards, but was stopped by Armstead and Wooten just short of the first down.  Boniol who kicked 7 field goals the previous week against the Packers, was able to easily convert the 31 yard kick, his 20th straight field goal, and gave Dallas a 3-0 lead on a long, time consuming drive.

With 4:30 to go in the first quarter, Boniol kicked it off to Hamilton at the 9 yard line and it was returned out to the 29 before he was surrounded and engulfed by the Dallas special teams unit.  The Giants offense would begin with a play action to Hampton and a pass out to an open Cross in the flat, and he took it up the field for an 11 yard gain and a first down before Godfrey shoved him out.  Hampton would pick up 3 yards, getting tripped up by Kevin Smith, who came up from his corner spot in run support.  On 2nd and 7, another play action pass resulted in yet another completion to Cross and the resulting 7 yard gain was good for another first down.  On first down, Hampton would get stopped by Tony Tolbert after a 3 yard gain.  Brown would try to hit Hampton in the flat on 2nd down, however he was drilled in the face on a nasty hit by Kevin Smith (that would have been an easy penalty) and the ball fell incomplete, but a hold on Scott Gragg set the Giants back to a 2nd and 17.


One play after avoiding a penalty that would have resulted in a fine for himself, Smith was able to make an impact.  With time to throw, Brown rifled a pass, I guess in the general direction of Dawsey, but it was overthrown and picked off by Smith at the 28.  His momentum took him up the field, but he changed course and was able to return it down the sidelines and out of bounds near midfield, good for a 17 yard return and stopped the clock with 1:47 to go in the first quarter.

After the turnover, the Cowboys got the ball at the 48 yard line and looked to extend their lead.  Emmitt started off with a carry but was quickly brought down by Armstead and Bratzke.  On 2nd and 9, Aikman would pass over the middle to Irvin for a 10 yard gain and a first down, taken down by Wooten at the 41.  Bringing in Herschel, playing at fullback, the Cowboys seemed confused with the playcall and Aikman called a timeout with :26 to go in the first quarter.  Coming out of the timeout, perhaps Switzer should have come up with a better play.


For the first time in the game, Aikman actually had some pressure on him, this time in the form of Keith Hamilton right in his face, and knocked him down after the throw was away.  Aikman attempted to lob a deep pass down the left sidelines, and again it was a shot towards Irvin.  However, unlike the previous time when he was throwing against Sparks, this time Irvin was matched up with the physically bigger corner in Sehorn.  Sehorn would adjust to the pass and pick it off at the 14 yard line, get up and run it back to the 32 yard line.

The Giants had dodged a bullet and their offense took the field.  This time Tyrone Wheatley was in the game for Hampton, and began with a run up the gut for 5 yards to end the First Quarter.  The Giants would start the 2nd quarter at the 38 yard line, and on a 2nd and 5, Wheatley took the handoff, and again picked his way up the middle before he was tackled by Broderick Thomas.  Reeves kept to the ground, handing off again to Wheatley on 3rd and 1, and he followed a Stone block for a nice burst out to the 50 yard line, before he was tackled by Smith.  Sticking with what worked, a 4th consecutive carry by Wheatley, again behind Stone, gained another 6 yards before Godfrey stopped him down field.  If it worked 4 times, why not 5, so yet another carry by Wheatley on 2nd and 4, went up the middle for a 3 yard gain, stopped by Thomas.  On 3rd and 1, the Giants got a break on a head's up play by their WR


Reeves must have thought Wheatley was Hampton, and gave him the ball a 6th consecutive carry, who took the draw play in the backfield and made a few moves up the field for a first down.  As he was going to the ground, the ball was stripped out by Strickland and it popped loose.  Calloway, near the pile, grabbed the ball and stood there for a second with it.  When he realized there was no whistle, he started to run and gained a few more yards before he was tackled by the Cowboys at the 32 yard line.  If Calloway had actually known right away it was a fumble, he might have been able to get past Woodson and maybe even score.

Regardless, it was a first down, and Reeves decided to actually try something other than a Wheatley run, this time a play action pass.  Brown would have time to throw, and tried to signal to backup TE Brian Saxton to go deep, but Brown would scramble around and try to avoid the Cowboys rush, and as only Dave Brown could do, slipped trying to fling the ball forward and the referee said he was contacted and resulted in a 5 yard sack.  Now 2nd and 15, Brown would drill a pass in to Kevin Alexander at the 28 yard line, setting up a 3rd and 6.  Brown would try to sling a quick slant in to Dawsey, who was actually open, but the ball was thrown a little low, and Dawsey didn't lay out for it, and the ball fell incomplete.  Brad Daluiso would show his experience with the Giants Stadium winds, and hooked a 45 yarder inside the right upright to tie the game at 3-3.

Dalusio came on to kickoff in front of a new reborn Giants crowd that was suddenly in the game.  For the past few years, the Giants would usually be 2 or 3 touchdowns behind at this stage in the game against the Cowboys.  Charlie Williams took the kick at the goal line and got it out to the 21, where he was run out of bounds.  On first down, Emmitt would get drilled on a run blitz by Armstead for no gain, who used his speed to catch the future Hall of Famer and take him down.  On 2nd and 10, it was another running play to Smith, and again Armstead broke through the line to tackle him for no gain.  3rd and 10, Aikman would be forced to dunk the ball off to Moose, and was only able to gain 3 yards before he was taken down by Randolph and the three and out brought on punter James Jett, who booted the ball to Arthur Marshall at the 38 and he picked his way all the way up to the 48 yard line before he was stopped by Johnston.

Reeves started his next drive as he did most of the his previous one, with a handoff to Wheatley, this time running left behind Greg Bishop, and gained 5 yards before Woodson took him down at the 48.  With the Cowboys now forced to respect the Giants run, Brown went back to pass and fired a strike to Calloway who was wide open over the middle.  He got past Strickland before he was slung down and out of bounds by Deion at the 34.  On the play, Calloway would tweak his knee and had to come out, but he was able to get that crucial first down.  The Giants again went to Wheatley, but this time Lett blew the play up in the backfield and Godfrey finished it off for a 1 yard loss.  2nd and 11, Brown went back to throw and connect with Gary Downs out of the backfield for a nice diving catch good for 6 yards.  Now 3rd and a long 5, Brown was back with some time to throw, but he gave up on finding a receiver and put his head down and scrambled...right into Hennings.  He did manage to gain about a yard to the 29 yard line.  On came Dalusio, this time from 46 yards out, and again he would use the wind to draw the ball back inside the right upright and give the Giants a stunning 6-3 lead.

With a concerned looking Switzer on the sidelines, Daluiso kicked off to Herschel, who took the ball at the goal line and was caught from behind by Rodney Young at the 18 yard line.  With the crowd in full throat, Aikman started with an out pass to Irvin, but the ball fell short and was incomplete.  On 2nd and 10, Emmitt tried to pick his way around right end, but the defensive line surrounded him and Campbell came up from his safety spot to tackle him after a 3 yard gain.  Now 3rd and 7, Aikman would hit Williams on a slant at the 29, good for a first down in front of Conrad Hamilton.  With a new set of downs, Aikman had time to throw against the Giants' blitz, which was easily picked up, and hit Irvin for a 16 yard gain, stopped by Strahan who had dropped in zone coverage.  At the 46, Aikman had time to throw and slung an underneath pass to Johnston for a big 24 yard gain, as Moose avoided the attempted tackle by Campbell and was finally dragged down by Buckley and Wooten at the 31.  Dallas would call a time out with 2:31 to go in the half to reset for a play.  Coming off a timeout, Aikman would have time, but only was able to dump the ball off to Emmitt over the middle, who weaved his way for a short 2 yard gain.  However, and illegal use of hands by Erik Williams on Strahan, pushing them out of field goal range (a penalty that Williams must have lead the league in year after year).  With the Cowboys pushed back, the Giants' defense would make a huge play.


Aikman, again with plenty of time to throw, went to Irvin on a crossing pattern.  Just as he was bringing the ball in to his body and took 2 steps, Widmer was able to just knock the ball free.  Wooten would scoop up the ball at the Cowboys 45 yard line and easily out run the pursuing Cowboys offensive lineman, as Dick Stockton gave one his patented lifeless calls on a big play happening in front of him.  Behind the play, Nate Newton was busy fighting with Armstead, but no flags were thrown on the play.  If this play were to happen today, it probably could have gone either way, but might well have been overturned.  You could question if Irvin ever made a "football move" with the ball and they could have called it incomplete.  But with no replay in 1996, the call on the field was the only one that mattered, and Daluiso's extra point gave the Giants a stunning 13-3 lead with the 2 minute warning at 1:53.

with the fans now delierous with a 10 point lead, Daluiso kicked off to Herschel, who fielded it halfway in the end zone and took a knee for a touchback.  Starting at the 20, Aikman began with what looked like a busted screen pass to Emmitt, but the running back was able to juke a few defenders and cut up the field, where he was tackled after a 10 yard gain by Conrad Hamilton, but he did not get out of bounds.  Aikman would throw to an open Kelvin Martin over the middle, but the WR dropped the ball and what would have been an easy first down, but he did stop the clock with 1:25.  On 2nd and 10, Aikman again dumped it off to Emmitt, but he was corralled by Sparks at the 33 yard line and the clock was down under 1 minute.  Facing a 3rd down, Aikman tried another quick pass over the middle and Armstead read the play and ran over to bat it away, and very nearly intercept it for what would have been an easy pick 6.  Jett came back out to punt the ball away.  The ball went to the 20, and despite the fact that there was not a Cowboy within 10 yards of him, Marshall called for a fair catch and the Giants had the ball with :49 to go in the half.

To the surprise of no one who has watched Dan Reeves coach a game without John Elway, he would play it safe.  Calling for two draw plays to Hampton up the gut to run out the clock and send the teams in the lockerroom at halftime with the Giants holding a 13-3 lead.

The Giants would celebrate the 1986 Super Bowl Champions at Halftime, their 10 year anniversary, with LT being featured.  After that, plus a lead going into the third quarter and it was party time in Giants Stadium.  Daluiso would start with a kickoff to Walker, who let the ball bounce away, but it went out of bounds, and the resulting penalty put the ball at the 40 yard line.  Dallas would take the good field position and immediately screw it up.  Aikman went back to pass and was tripped up by Moose who was coming up to help in pass protection, and fell down, where he was covered up by Robert Harris for an 8 yard "sack".  Now 2nd and 18, Aikman again had to dump off a safety pass in the flat to Smith, who would gain just 4 yards before Armstead tracked him down.  3rd and 14, Aikman again had time to throw, but the deep coverage was again solid, so the ball was dumped in the flat to Johnston, who was gang tackled by 5 Giants after just a short gain and Jett had to come back on and punt again.  Jett would get off a high kick that went to the 25, and Marshall would again play it safe and fair catch the ball.

Dave Brown would lead the troops out for their first drive of the second half, and he began with a play action fake to Hampton and hit Calloway on a comeback route for a 9 yard gain to the 35 yard line.  A plunge by Hampton over the middle where he was tackled by Hennings, but got enough to convert the first down.  Reeves would again keep the ball on the ground, a draw to Hampton which was stacked up by the Cowboys, but a hold on Lance Smith sent the Giants back to a 1st and 20.  With such long yardage, the Giants decided to throw, and Brown was under seige by the Cowboys DL, and he scrambled around before Lett took him down after just a 1 yard gain.  2nd and 19, Brown again was back to pass, and again scrambled around and was able to actually hit Calloway for what would have been a first down....but...a hold on Scott "Lurch" Gragg, who essentially tackled Tony Tolbert, brought it back and made the situation 2nd and 29.  Reeves pretty much conceded the possession at this point.  A draw to Hampton for 3 yards and then a dump off to Wheatley (who tipped it in the air and it was nearly picked off) ended that drive, mercifully  for the Giants without a turnover.  Mike Horan would come on and his directional kick was fair caught by Martin at the Cowboys' 34 yard line, and Dallas averted diaster as his own man nearly ran into him and could have caused a fumble.

With 9:13 to go in the 3rd quarter, after the teams exchanged punts, Dallas began with a handoff to Emmitt, who was only able to gain 1 yard, getting stuffed by Armstead and Bratzke.  On 2nd and 9, with Herschel in at WR, Aikman was under pressure from Harris and would roll away from the pass rush and hit Williams for an 8 yard gain, where he stepped out of bounds.  On 3rd and 1, Deion Sanders came out on offense, but Aikman hit Smith on a quick swing pass for a good gain and a first down to the Dallas 49 yard line, pushed out of bounds by Percy Ellsworth.  Deion might well have been a decoy on this play, but he wasn't on the next one


Sanders, counted on as a WR for much of 1996, beat Sparks on a deep post to haul in the pass at the Giants' 20 yard line.  Sparks would come over his back and strip it from behind, where Wooten knocked it forward.  His fellow safety, Jesse Campbell came over late to pick up the fumble at the 4 yard line, where Irvin would finally take him down.  But the end result was the Cowboys 3rd turnover of the day.

The good news, the Giants had the ball.  The bad news, they were deep in their own end to start out on offense.  Hampton would begin with a handoff right up the middle and fell forward for a 3 yard gain out to the 7.  Another draw to Hampton would go for no gain, as he tripped on the feet of Brian Williams.  Facing a 3rd and 7, and with a rush right in his face, Brown with a near submarine type motion, whip the ball to Dawsey for a 10 yard gain and a first down, tackled by Smith at the 17.  Hampton would again pound the ball to the 20, taken down by Strickland.  On 2nd and 7, yet another Hampton run, this time to the left, went for another pair and set the stage for a 3rd and 5 at the 22.  Brown, again showing textbook happy feet in the pocket, took the ball down and spun his way forward for just a 1 yard gain, however, to be fair he had no one open down the field.  Horan would come back and get off a poor effort, a line drive punt taken by Martin at the 38, who evaded Hamilton and accelerated to the Giants 41 yard line before he was taken down by Rodney Young and Sehorn with 3:33 to go in the 3rd quarter.

With good field position to work with again, you started to worry that Dallas would snap out of their funk.  The drive started well, Aikman hit Irvin on a comeback route for a 9 yard gain, tackled by Armstead and Sehorn.  On 2nd and 1, a usual gimme play for Dallas years ago, Emmitt would get strung out by Bratzke ended up dropping him for a 3 yard loss, and in the process ripped his shoe off.  Dallas kept moving backwards, as a false start on TE Derek Ware made it now 3rd and 9.  Showing some frustration, Aikman would try to squeeze a pass in to Kevin Williams, but Randolph's dive knocked the ball away and brought on Jett to punt.  Jett's kick looked like a masterpiece, bouncing at the 2 and high up in the air at the goal line.  Two Cowboys jumped up and knocked it back at the half yard line, where it was covered up by Jim Schwantz.....however, as it had gone for the Cowboys all day, his elbow touched the goal line, thus making it a touchback.

At the 20, Brown began by sending Calloway in motion and a play action fake to Hampton let Cross get open in the flat,and the big TE pushed his way for a 6 yard gain.  A 2nd and 4 sweep to Wheatley was doomed, as the faster Dallas defense easily strung it out and took him down for a 1 yard loss, with Smith leading the way.  On 3rd and 5, Brown was again under heavy pressure, and tried to hit Gary Downs in the flat, but the ball was a worm burner and fell incomplete.  With Horan on to punt, and he'd lose 5 yards thanks a false start on Brian Kozlowski, would get off a short kick and it was fair caught by Martin at the 50 yard line, a sub par 30 yard effort.

As was the theme, the Cowboys were again in great field position, and started with a handoff to Sherman Williams, who burst through a hole cleared by Larry Allen and gained 7 yards, tackled by Wooten and Sehorn to end the 3rd quarter.  Moose began the 4th with a quick hitter carry up the gut to gain the necessary 3 yards and was stopped by Widmer, but not before he got a first down.  Aikman would try a deep pass intended for Irvin, but he was hit by Harris and Hamilton and had the ball float incomplete, though Irvin was well covered by Sehorn anyway.  Aikman would again go for Irvin, and this time complete a comebacker to him, but his momentem took him out of bounds, just short of a first down.  On 3rd and 1, again the ball went to Moose, and again he made good, gaining 2 yards and moved the chains.  On first down, and finally with some momentum, Aikman had time to throw and tried to hit Irvin, who had just broken free on a post pattern, beating Sehorn, but the ball was out of his reach as Campbell got over late.  On 2nd and 10, the Cowboys tried a little trickery, an end around to Deion, who had his angle around the corner blocked off by Bratzke, forcing him up the field and into the waiting Ellsworth for just a 3 yard gain.  3rd and 7 at the 25, Aikman again had plenty of time to throw, but again the Giants took away everything deep, leaving only Sherman Williams underneath, and he was stopped just short of the first by Armstead and Randolph.  Boniol would trot on to convert the 27 yard field goal and cut the lead to 13-6 with 11:43 to play in the game.

Boniol's kickoff was a short one, taken by Wheatley at the 20.  This time it was special teams coach (and Dan Reeves son in law) Joe DeCamillis' turn to go to his bag of tricks.  Wheatley handed off to Conrad Hamilton on an end around for a nice gain out to the 35 yard line before he was forced out of bounds by Roger Harper.  During the change in direction of the end around, Herschel got his hands up on the facemask of a Giants player to tag on 5 more yards, putting the ball at the 40.  The Giants would start out with a nice pass from Brown to Calloway, who beat Deion on a comebacker and the ball was taken all the way out to the Dallas 40 and a first down.  Wheatley would plow his way up the middle, stopped by Hennings after a 3 yard gain to the 37.  On 2nd and 7, after a play action fake bought Brown some extra time, he hit Calloway on a crossing pattern, beating the Cowboys other corner, Kevin Smith, and another first down at the 29.  Wheatley, flashing power he rarely showed with the Giants, would pick a hole in the middle and trucked Myles and Woodson for an 8 yard gain to the 22.  Wheatley kept up the momentum, following a great block by Stone, pushed his way up to the 15 yard line and another first down.  Reeves continued to feed the former Michigan Wolverine, but this time, his run behind left tackle Greg Bishop didn't go as far, as Woodson came up in run support to take him down after a 2 yard gain.  A 4th straight carry by Wheatley, this time behind Lance Smith, went for a good gain out to the 10 yard line.  Smith would give 5 yards back on the next play, a false start pushed the Giants to the 15 yard line, making it 3rd and 9.  This is a play that you would think would go to a shifty WR like a Calloway to find and opening and get you those 9+ yards needed to move the chains.


Nope, how about a swing pass to a 250 pound second year fullback Charles Way.  Way would actually catch the pass at the 16 yard line, well short of the first down.  Way would spin off two would be Dallas tacklers, and then put his head down and power just enough over Harper for the first down, as the crowd roared when the ref noted his forward progress was just enough for a new set of downs.  With the clock now running under 6:30, and a first and goal at the 5, Reeves began with a draw to Wheatley, but Lett made his way into the backfield and broke the play up for no gain.  Switzer would call his first time out with 6:07 to go.  Coming out of the time out, the Giants would hit Dallas with a back breaker


Fans remember fondly Simms to Bavaro.  Perhaps even Eli to Cruz now.  Well, this play gives you Dave Brown to Brian Kozlowski.  A playaction fake to Wheatley would draw in the linebackers, and Kozlowski, the backup TE behind veteran Howard Cross, would sneak his way all alone into the end zone for an easy TD, as Brown celebrated with his teammates on the sidelines.  Replays would show that Kozlowski got open because Woodson would slip trying to change direction and fall down, leaving him essentially uncovered.  Regardless, the extra point made the score a stunning 20-6 with 6:01 to go in the game.

Daluiso's kickoff was a line drive (his days as a booming kickoff man were starting to wane by this time), and was taken by Herschel at the 10 yard line, and brought it back to the 33 where he was met by a hoarde of Giants.  The Cowboys would come out with Emmitt on the bench, and Williams in the backfield.  On their first play, Aikman would dump it off to Williams, avoided DT Coleman Rudolph, who had dropped back into coverage, and chugged forward to the 45 for a first down, where he was finally dropped by Armstead.  Now in a hurry up offense, Aikman hustled the team back up to the line and dropped back to throw, however Harris barged into the backfield and hit Aikman, forcing a bad pass that fell incomplete in the direction of Williams.  On 2nd and 10, Aikman was again hit, this time on a blitz by Armstead, and his deep shot towards Deion was batted away by Randolph.  Now 3rd and 10, it was time for yet another Dallas mistake


In line with how the Giants have been playing defense all day, they took away all of Aikman's deep options and forced him to dump it off to his back.  This time it was to his fullback Johnston, who made the catch at the 48 yard line, well short of the first down, and he had to try to maneuver his way up the field.  Johnston's legs would get cut out by Randolph, and as he went in the air, Sehorn would pop him, forcing the ball loose.  Armstead would frantically scramble over to recover the fumble before it went out of bounds at the Giants' 47 yard line with 5:06 to go in the game.  It was the Cowboys' 4th turnover of the night.

Brown led the Giants' offense back on to the field, and started with a run up the gut by Wheatley for what would have been a 5 yard gain, however a crackback block on Dawsey cost the team 15 yards.  On 1st and 25, Wheatley began with a run around right end, and nearly broke a good gain, but Woodson held on to his ankles and he tackled him after just a 3 yard gain.  Switzer would call his 2nd time out with 4:41 to go.  On 2nd and 22, another run up the middle by Wheatley for just a yard as he was met by Strickland and Hennings and their final time out was called with 4:35 remaining.  Not surprisingly, Reeves kept it conservative on 3rd and very long, a pitch to Wheatley and about a yard gain.  But with Dallas unable to stop the clock, Horan would stand next to the ref, waiting for the play clock to get all the way down to 1 before calling a time out with 3:50 to go.  Horan's punt was a high kick sent to Kelvin Martin at the 22 yard line, and he returned it ot the 26 where he was spilled by Scott Galyon.

Aikman, down 2 TDs, no time outs and 3:38 to go in the game.  The Cowboys would come out with 4 wides and would start with a crossing pass to Kevin Williams, who would get nailed by Armstead and Hamilton at the 30, and the clock kept moving.  Moving quickly, Aikman would connect with Deion for a first down at the 45, stopped by Wooten.  Another quick pass, this time a pitch to Williams in the flat, and he would go out of bounds at the 50 and stop the clock with 2:51 to go.  On 2nd and 4, Aikman would dunk to Sherman Williams, playing against a prevent defense, and he would sprint up to the 40, stopped by Wooten and Armstead, and another first down, however the clock kept moving.  A false start on Dallas would set them back 5 yards with 2:25 remaining.  The Giants would put a bow on the game on the next play


By this stage, Aikman had to take deep chances, even when nothing was really there, maybe hoping for a pass interference or miracle catch.  He got neither, as this pass to Deion in triple coverage was picked off by Percy Ellsworth, who was playing like a centerfielder in baseball.  Ellsworth would snag it at the 7 yard line, break Deion's tackle attempt, and run it out of bounds at the 34 yard line.  The rookie's interception was the Cowboys 5th turnover of the game, and gave the Giants possession with 2:11 to go.

In clear shut down mode, Reeves began with a run to Wheatley for a 2 yard gain that took the Giants to the 2 minute warning.  After the 2 minute time out, 2 more carries by Wheatley would come close to a first down, but fell just short.  However, the damage was done as the clock wound down to :25 to go in the game as Horan called a time out and the cameras caught pictures of stunned Cowboys players on their sidelines, looking on in disbelief at how they could stumble in such a big spot against a team they should have beaten.  Horan would eventually punt the ball away, and it would fall at the 22 yard line with no returner back as Dallas went all out for the block.

With :18 to go in the game, the Cowboys offense came out, but rather than risk a hit on one of their stars, or a 6th turnover, Barry Switzer made one of his smartest coaching decisions, just take a knee and get out of there accepting their whipping, in a stunning and satisfying 20-6 Giants' win in an otherwise lost season.

Post Mortem/ Interesting Tidbits


  • Other than the Dan Reeves poem, one of the items that made this game memorable was a quote from a person who did not play in the game.  In this case it was the owner, Wellington Mara.  Mara, one of the venerable owners in the sport, and a man who never had a controversial thing to say in the media, particularly against a fellow owner, had said this after the game when asked about the Cowboys and their owner Jerry Jones
"It's nice to see arrogance humbled.  I enjoyed it very much." 

  • Wellington's son, and current owner John Mara, is known to be much more outspoken than his dad.  But at the time in 1996, Wellington had just about enough of Jones.  If you are fan of today's  NFL and particularly a fan in Green Bay, Indianapolis, Seattle, Kansas City, etc (ie- smaller markets) and have enjoyed the parity of the NFL that has allowed your teams to be in the Super Bowl hunt, they all owe a debt of gratitude to Mara.  Why?  Because in the NFL's infancy, Mara, with the biggest market at his disposal, decided that it was more important for the expansion of the game to share revenue with the other owners and TV revenue as well, allowing for a better overall product on the field rather than building a powerhouse in New York (think the Yankees in baseball).  He could easily have just kept it for himself and bought all the best players every year, but didn't.  Jones, a beneficiary of this decision, didn't play by the same rules.  He cut his own deals outside the league just for the Cowboys.   Essentially flying in the face of what Mara had stood for, and rubbed it in with his Cowboys' dynasty.  It wasn't hard to see why Mara enjoyed knocking them down a peg.
  • Brian Kozlowski's TD was the first of his NFL career.
  • Tito Wooten's TD was not he first of his career.  That one came in Week 2 in an OT loss in Kansas City.  On that play, the Chiefs QB, Steve Bono, fumbled on a 3rd and goal and the ball popped up in the air where it was grabbed by DT Keith Hamilton.  The Hammer would rumble 87 yards with the ball, and was running out of gas as he headed towards the goal line and was caught at the 1 yard line by TE Keith Cash and fumbled the ball himself.  Wooten, following the journey down the field, was there to fall on the ball for the TD that would tie the game 10-10.
  • Wooten would score one more TD in his career, that would come in 1997, and that would also come against the Cowboys.  In that game, Wooten would pick off a Troy Aikman pass and race it back 61 yards for a TD which would put the Giants up 13-9.  This would end up being a significant game in it's own right.  The Giants would hold on to eventually win 20-17, and Danny Kanell would replace an injured Dave Brown at QB.  Brown would not start another game for the Giants in his career.
  • Percy Ellsworth's INT was his 3rd of the season.  Not bad for a rookie who was actually an undrafted free agent as a safety.  For comparison sake, among the more renown safties on the Giants in the past 30 years, here was their interception output in their rookie seasons
    •  Terry Kinard: 3 INTs
    • Adrian White: 0 INTs
    • Myron Guyton: 2 INTs
    • Greg Jackson: 2 INTs
    • Shaun Williams: 2 INTs
    • Gibril Wilson: 3 INTs
  • Sehorn's INT was the 2nd of his career.  His first game in a Week 2 loss to the Redskins by the score of 31-10.
  • Arthur Marshall returned 1 punt in this game for 10 yards.  It was his first punt return on the season, and unfortunately for him and Giants fans, he is identified with one of the worst personnel decisions in NFL history.  Dan Reeves wanted to replace the production (and similar playing style) of Mark Jackson for the Giants.  Jackson, who played for Reeves in Denver from 1986-1992, and after a decent season in 1993 with the Giants, Jackson was phased out during the 1994 season and was released during the season.  Meanwhile, in the 1994 offseason, Reeves decided to engineer a trade for Marshall, who he coached in Denver in his rookie year of 1992.  Marshall looked like he was a promising WR, a shifty guy with speed, and at age 25 coming off a 28 catch season in 1993, had an ability to return punts.  So Reeves made the call to acquire Marshall and decided to let Ed McCaffrey leave as a free agent, who would go on to sign with the 49ers.  Marshall would play 3 years in NY and catch 33 passes before he retired after the 1996 season.  McCaffrey would go on and after a season in the shadows in 1994 with the Niners (but he got a ring), would play 9 more seasons in Denver, catch 462 passes and 6200 yards and 46 TDs, plus make a Pro Bowl at age 30 and win 2 more championships in 1997 and 1998. 
  • Emmitt Smith was a Giants' killer in his career with the Cowboys.  He would face the Giants 25 times in his Hall of Fame career (going 14-11 against them) and he would average 81.1 yards per game in his career (which, somewhat surprisingly, was his lowest average among the NFC East opponents.  He averaged 101.7 yards a game against Washington).  He scored 21 TDs against the Giants and rushed for over 100 yards in a game 8 times.  In fact, from 1992-1995, Smith rushed for over 100 yards against the Giants in 6 straight games, with his coup de grace coming in Week 16 in the 16-13 OT win by Dallas, rushing for 168 yards and another 61 receiving.  However, in this game, Emmitt would get 11 carries for 18 yards and find himself on the bench late in the game.  It was his 2nd lowest output vs. the Giants in his career, only "surpassed" in 1990, in his first game against the Giants in Week 2, when the Cowboys were outclassed 28-7 at Dallas and he had 6 carries for 11 yards.
  • Somewhat lost or forgotten in a Hall of Fame career, you might not realize that Deion was actually a pretty consistent 2 way player for the Cowboys in 1996.  Many times we've seen a player who is really good on offense or defense go in for a play or two on the other side of the ball.  For instance, Keyshawn Johnson used to come in at safety during Hail Mary attempts to outjump the opposition and help play defense.  Randy Moss and Calvin Johnson have done the same in their careers.  Several times we've seen a defensive lineman come in at a fullback position to help block on the goal line, and sometimes actually get the ball (William "the Refridgerator" Perry the most glaring example with the Bears).  of course, the Belichick Patriots used to always use players on both sides either in specific situations (ie- Mike Vrabel, a linebacker coming in at TE on the goal line, and he had 10 TDs receiving in his career), and he used others to help out due to injury, such as Troy Brown moving from WR over to safety (Brown actually picked off 3 passes for the Pats in 2004, tied for 2nd on the team).  Even the Giants in the mid 1980s would put linebackers or DEs at TE to help out by the goal line when injuries hit (George Martin and Andy Headen as an example).  LT played at TE during a scab game against Buffalo in 1987 as well.  But Deion was someone who spoke up right away that he wanted to play offense as well as defense.  And, keeping in mind, he also played baseball, first for the Yankees and then for the Atlanta Braves (including playing in an NFL game on a Sunday afternoon and then the World Series later that same day).  Deion would play WR, but was mainly just a threat on the outside, add some speed and force the defense to cover him, but wasn't really a factor.  In 1996 however, due to some injuries on the Cowboys WR core, Deion got his shot to play more regularly on offense and he responded with a career high 36 catches for 475 yards and 1 TD.  Of course, in this game, he also had a huge fumble that cost the Cowboys dearly.  Still, to put those numbers in perspective, as a part time WR and full time dominant cornerback, the Giants' leading pass catchers were starting WRs Chris Calloway and Thomas Lewis, both with 53 catches.  The next best, fullback Charles Way with 32 catches.  Deion would have been the #3 guy on the Giants in 1996.
  • The Cowboys 6 points scored would tie a season low for them in 1996, matching their output in the season opening loss at Chicago to the Bears by the score of 22-6 on a Monday Night.
  • That Dallas was held without a TD in the game was a big deal.  If you consider that the Dallas rebirth as a power began with a 7-9 season in 1990 up and through this 1996 season, this was only the 2nd time the Giants had been able to keep them out of the end zone.  The Giants beat the Cowboys 22-9 in 1991 at Giants Stadium.
  • The 6 points that the Cowboys were held to were the fewest in a matchup against the Giants since Week 15 of the 1989 season, when the Giants shut out the Cowboys, 15-0, thanks to a goal line stand in the 4th quarter, which finished with a 4th down stop on a Paul Palmer sweep by Carl Banks.
  • Keeping with the theme, the 6 points is also the fewest points scored by the Cowboys against the Giants since 1996.  Twice they were held to just 7 points
    • 1997: 20-7 @ Dallas
    • 2002- 37-7 @ Giants Stadium
  • The win was just the Giants' 2nd against the Cowboys since they started their championship dynasty in 1992.  In many of those games, the Cowboys outright demolished the Giants
    • 1992 @ Dallas on Thanksgiving Day: 30-3
    • 1993 @ Dallas: 31-9
    • 1994 @ Dallas: 38-10
    • 1995 @ Giants Stadium: 35-0 (season opener which ruined the Simms jersey retirement ceremony and the beat down was so bad, the Giants never recovered and finished with a 5-11 record)
  • Even in their first meeting in 1992, the Cowboys were up 34-0 on the Giants in the 3rd quarter before a furious comeback got the score to 34-28 and it looked like the Giants would end up winning the game.... but it didn't happen
  • The Giants only other win in this span came in the season finale of 1994.  To be fair, Dallas had nothing to gain in this game.  They were 12-3 and locked in as the #2 seed behind the 49ers.  The Giants meanwhile, had a crazy season in 1994.  Started 3-0, lost 7 straight, and then won their next 5 games leading up to this one.  The Giants needed a win to get to 9-7 and a Green Bay loss at Tampa Bay to drop them to 8-8 would give the Giants a Wild Card berth.  Barry Switzer might have been crazy, perhaps borderline insane, but he wasn't stupid.  Playing a fired up Giants team on the road, in a cold and windy Giants Stadium with nothing to play for, Switzer decided to start his stars (Aikman, Irvin, Novachek, etc.)  However, he never dressed Emmitt.  Switzer also pulled his starters after halftime, putting in Rodney Peete at QB, making Blair Thomas the feature back, and playing it safe.  Dallas was actually tied at 10-10 with the Giants until Peete was sacked by Armstead and the ball popped loose and rolled out the back of the end zone for a safety.  The Giants would go on to win 15-10, in a game that Dallas didn't care about.  However, the Bucs could not help the Giants out on this Christmas Eve, and the Packers would claim the last playoff spot.
  • As for this game in 1996, the Giants didn't do much to pick up the emotion and momentum from this win. It put them at 5-7, still on the periphery of a playoff race.  And they went out and put up a stinker in Philly the next week, losing 24-0, getting sacked 5 times and generating 121 yards in total offense and turning the ball over 4 times.  Playing in a driving rain and 50 mph wind gusts, Brown was horrible: 3-11, 31 yards and 2 INTs. He would get benched for Kanell, who didn't do much better, 4-13, 47 yards.  In all, the Giants had a net of 31 yards passing.  It was the 2nd time they were shut out in 1996.



Sunday, April 13, 2014

2000 Giants vs Jaguars

Week 16

The Setup

Since the Giants moved to the Meadowlands in 1976 they have made the playoffs 15 times in the span of those 38 years.  They had several memorable win and in scenarios in their final game of the regular season at Giants Stadium.  In some cases it was simply to make the playoffs (2002 against the Eagles).  In some cases it was win and hope for help to make the playoffs (1981 vs Cowboys).  In some cases it was for the NFC East Title (1989 vs. the Raiders).  In some cases it was a division title or out of the playoffs (2011 vs. the Cowboys).

And in other cases, it was playing at home to win the final game for all the marbles of home field advantage in the playoffs.  I am not an engineer to describe structures and wind tunnel effects, nor am I smart enough to give scientific explanations of cold weather and wind gusts.  However, from my own personal experience in going to games at the old Giants Stadium since 1987, sitting in the end zone where the winds would famously swirl into the offense's face (ie- "Into the Wind'), it used to be damn near impossible to see teams score in the end zone by my seats throwing the ball after late November.  It was just too cold and windy.  In MetLife, with my seats in the same size end zone, the winds are not nearly as strong in the new stadium as old Giants' Stadium.  So cold come late November and December?  Yes.  Windy?  Not so much.  And not anything like it used to be in the old stadium.  There is no longer a dead zone in my end zone to score.  So in MetLife, the aspect of homefield advantage thanks to the elements is somewhat lost.  In the Giants Stadium days, particularly the Parcells' teams, were build on defense and a running game.  Getting teams to go to Giants Stadium during the cold winter months was a huge boon.  They simply were not prepared to deal with the swirling winds.  From the kicking game to the passing game, all bets were off.

As it turned out, since 1976, the Giants hosted 4 games in which if the Giants had won the game, they would get home field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs

- 1986:  Giants vs Packers-  The Giants needed to win this game to stay ahead of the Bears.  The Giants went in to Week 16, tied with the Bears at 13-2.  A win by the Giants vs. the Packers would put them at 14-2, but because they only had 1 loss vs. the NFC (they lost the season opener to Dallas and then lost on the road at Seattle) would win the tiebreaker vs. the Bears, who had 2 losses in the NFC (against the Rams and Vikings).  The Giants would go up 24-0 against the 4-11 Packers, only to see them storm back to make the score 24-17 at halftime.  Parcells would famously go into the defensive meeting, grab a garbage can and dump it on the players in the front row, like Jim Burt, call them all trash, throw the can off the wall and leave.  The Giants would end up winning 55-24, clinch homefield and steamroll to winning Super Bowl XXI

- 1993:  Giants vs. Cowboys- Unlike 1986, this game was a battle of NFL titans.  The Packers were playing out the string.  In this game, the Cowboys had just as much on the line as the Giants.  Both teams went in at 11-4.  To the winner would go all the spoils.  Not only the NFC East crown, but homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.  The Cowboys, defending Super Bowl Champions, jumped ahead of the Giants 13-0 at halftime.  But the Giants would right the ship, and fight their way back, tying the game at 13-13.  However, this game was known for 2 things.  Emmitt Smith's career defining performance playing with an injured shoulder and accounting for 221 total yards and the Cowboys only TD on the day.  And Dan Reeves going conservative late in the game when the Giants had the Dallas on the ropes and playing for the tie rather than going for the win in regulation.  The Cowboys would go on and win in OT, 16-13.  That would pave the way to them repeating as champions.  Meanwhile the Giants would beat a mediocre Vikings team in the Wild Card and then get destroyed in San Francisco, 44-3, in Simms and LT's final game.

- 2008: Giants vs. Panthers- For a stretch in 2008, the Giants were the best team in the NFL.  Coming off a Super Bowl win that many detractors felt was lucky (getting in as a Wild Card, Tyree's catch in the Super Bowl, etc.), the Giants put on a show to start that season.  They began 11-1 in 2008.  They were the NFL's best rushing team, getting 200 or more yards rushing  five times in their first 10 games.  They would beat both eventual Super Bowl teams (Pittsburgh and Arizona) on the road.  Their lone loss came to a Browns team that played out of their minds on a Monday Night when the Giants looked distracted.  For the first 75% of the season, this Giants team was in line to go down as perhaps the best in the past 30 years.  Better than the 1986 team, which is the current benchmark.  They were dominant on offense and defense.  And then....Plaxico shot himself.  While the Giants would win their first game without him, a ho-hum 23-7 victory against an inept Redskins team in Washington, the impact would reverberate the next 2 games.  Without the physical threat the Plaxico provided at WR (he was having a subpar season to the point, 35 catches, 454 yards, and 4 TDs), the Giants didn't have much else to work with.  Toomer was 34 years old and near the end.  Steve Smith was not much more than a possession guy.  Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss were non factors.  That left Dominik Hixon, having a Pro Bowl quality season as a returner, to take over essentially as the #1 guy.  Hixon was a good, young WR, but he wasn't ready for this.  The strain of trying to repeat with all the pressure that entails, and the sudden media hoard after Plaxico's shooting (which would end his season and Giants' career), the Giants just ran out of gas.  They would lose at home to the Eagles, 20-14 in a game that wasn't even that close, and would sleep walk to a 20-8 beating at Dallas.  Suddenly, what looked like a season where the Giants would run away and hide, they found themselves toe to toe with the Carolina Panthers at 11-3, playing at Giants Stadium.  Because they were facing each other in Week 15, the Week 16 game meant nothing since the winner would claim the head to head tie breaker.  In a slugfest, the Panthers would jump ahead 21-10, thanks to 3 DeAngelo Williams first half TDs.  The Giants would come back in the 2nd half, thanks to a Kevin Boss TD and a Brandon Jacobs TD (with a 2 point conversion from Hixon) to tie the score at 28-28.  With the game going to OT, Derrick Ward would rip off a huge run, giving him 215 yards rushing on the day and was capped off with Jacobs' 3rd TD to win the game.  In all the Giants would rush for 301 yards.  At 12-3, the Giants clinched homefield for the playoffs....but would bow out in the 2nd round, a tough loss to the Eagles by the score of 23-11.  The NFL Network has a great show called "Missing Rings", about teams that were good enough to win a championship but fell short.  The 2008 Giants was the best Giants team not to win a championship in the past 30 years (IMO).

The fourth game with that much on the line came on a very cold Saturday afternoon, as the 2000 Giants team, left for dead after back to back blowout losses at home to the Rams and Lions, would turn it around on the heels of the Jim Fassel garuntee.  The Giants would reel off 4 straight wins to bring their record to 11-4.  In beating Dallas on Sunday Night to get to 11 wins, the Giants would clinch the NFC East title, as they had already swept the Eagles, thus giving them the tie breaker.  Meanwhile the Minnesota Vikings, at one time 11-2, was in a free fall.  They lost to the Rams and Packers in back to back games, putting them also at 11-4.  However, with all 4 losses coming to NFC opponents (the Giants lost 3, one loss was to the Titans in the AFC), the Giants had the tie breaker.  A Giants win, and they go to 12-4, and clinch homefield advantage through the playoffs.

On the other side of the field, the Tom Coughlin led Jacksonville Jaguars.  For Coughlin, it was a rough season that many people did not see coming.  After leaving Boston College after the 1993 season (in which I was a sophomore at The Heights), Coughlin spent the entire 1994 season preparing the Jags organization from the bottom up.  There were no games played in 1994, but Coughlin was getting his game plan together.  After a 4-12 inaugeral season, Coughlin turned Jacksonville into winners.  They went 9-7 in 1996, made the playoffs and went on to win at Buffalo and knock off the #1 seed Broncos in Denver.  They would lose to the Patriots in the AFC Championship but they served noticed.  The team would continue to improve record wise, going 11-5 in 1997 and 1998, and had the best record in the AFC in 1999, going 14-2...with their only losses (including in the playoffs) to the Tennessee Titans, who would go to the Super Bowl that year.  The Jaguars had big names all over on offense:  Mark Brunell, Fred Taylor, Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardell, and Tony Boselli.  On defense they had big play makers like Tony Brackens and Kevin Hardy.  But things never clicked in 2000 for Jacksonville.  After starting 2-1 to begin the season, the wheels came off.  They would lose 6 of their next 7 games (their only win was in OT at Dallas), which put them at 4-7 and seemingly buried behind Baltimore and Tennessee.  However, true to Coughlin teams, they didn't quit.  The Jags would rally to win their next 4 games to even their record at 7-7.  However, the hill was too high to climb, the Jags would lose 17-14 at the 3-11 Bengals to drop them to 7-8 and outside the playoff picture for the first time in 4 years.  Playing for essentially nothing except pride, the Jaguars had nothing to lose against a Giants team with everything to gain.

The Game Highlights


The game coverage on CBS would get started with a quick sideline interview with Tom Coughlin, who noted how much he loved Giants' Stadium and it was place that was special to him with many great memories.  Needless to say, we would find out some 4 years later that Coughlin would be able to make new memories in Giants Stadium.  The game itself would start off with the Jags winning the coin toss and chose to receive.  The Giants designated kickoff man Jaret Holmes came on too boot it away.  In the cold weather, Holmes kickoff was pretty short, being taken at the 11 yard line by Alvis Whitted, who took the ball out to the 25 yard line before being dropped by Bashir Levingston.  The Jags offense, filled with Pro Bowl players, took the field and began with a Brunell pass to McCardell on a curl route at the 31 yard line, where he was tackled by middle linebacker Mike Barrow.  On 2nd and 4, Brunell would audible at the line of scrimmage and changed to a quick pass which was batted down.  On 3rd and 4, Brunell just got away from a blitzing Jesse Armstead, who was at his legs, and dumped the ball off to Fred Taylor.  Taylor got up a head of steam and ran forward out to the 40 yard line before being stopped by Shaun Williams, but it was still good for a first down.  Brunell would stay in the air, hitting Whitted for a good 9 yard gain before being thrown out of bounds by former Jaguar, Dave Thomas.  On 2nd and 1, the Jags would decide to try the running game for the first time.


Not such a good idea.  Taylor, who was chirping all week about the Giants defense and how they can be run against, took the handoff and evaded Michael Strahan at first, for what would have been a 5 yard loss.  However, as he spun around, Armstead came over to strip the ball and in the scrum kicked it backwards out to the 38 yard line, where it initially looked like Boselli or Brunell fell on the ball.  However, Boselli missed the recovery, ended up blocking off Brunell from getting it, and it was secured by Williams, who came out of the pack with the ball.

The Giants would look to be in great shape, starting at the Jacksonville 38 yard line.  They would start the drive with a draw play to Tiki Barber, who chugged straight ahead for a 2 yard gain out to the 36 yard line.  On 2nd down, Kerry Collins would go back to throw, however Luke Pettitgout whiffed on his blocking attempt on Renaldo Wynn, and Wynn crashed in for the sack all the way back to the 45 yard line.  With Collins in the gun, he tried to hit the speedy Ron Dixon on a quick slant, however Fernando Bryant broke the play up and the Giants would squander their prime field position.  Brad Maynard came on to punt the ball away to Reggie Barlow, who fair caught the ball at the 17 yard line.

Jacksonville's 2nd possession started with a handoff to Taylor, who was met in the backfield by Strahan for a 2 yard loss.  On 2nd and long, Brunell dropped back, with time to throw, threw a dart to McCardell, but the ball would bounce off his hands on a diving attempt.  Now 3rd and 12, Brunell would be in the shotgun, and after some initial good pass protection, the pocket began to collapse and Brunell was forced to run up towards the line.  As he began to scramble, he decided to eat the ball and slid down in front of Keith Hamilton and Cornelius Griffin for a short sack.  With that 3 and out, Tiki was back awaiting Bryan Barker's punt.  Barker would field a high snap, which threw off his timing and he looked to panic a bit with the Giants rush getting close, and shanked the ball out of bounds at the Jags' 37 yard line, much to the disgust of Coughlin (a familiar site for Giants fans when a punter doesn't do his job).

The Giants began with a playaction fake to Tiki, but the Jags defense was not fooled and the only open man was fullback Greg Comella, who caught a dump off pass over the middle for a short gain to the 35 before he slipped down.  An inside handoff to Tiki was stuffed after 1 yard by Greg Walker.  The Giants offense would keep up the 3 and out string, this time on 3rd and 6, with Pete Mitchell in motion, the Giants couldn't handle a corner blitz, which forced Collins to run back and get sacked by DE Joel Schmenge for a big loss.  Maynard came on to punt, and on a shorter kick than planned, Barlow ran up to fair catch it at the 19.  In the process however, Barlow would get nailed by his own man trying to block, and was able to hold on to the ball, but went down with what looked like a head injury, quite possibly a concussion.

The next drive for Jax began with a run play to Taylor, who was again met by the Giants defense in the backfield.  This time it was Cedric Jones who shoved the line back and Barrow came in to finish him off for no gain.  On 2nd and 10, Brunell bought time with a rollout to his left and hit McCardell deep downfield for a 33 yard gain, however the play was wiped out on an ineligible man downfield penalty as offensive lineman Brad Meester thought Brunell was going to dump off a screen pass and headed up field.  That set the down and distance to 2nd and 15, and an inside draw to Taylor out of the gun was good for only a 3 yard gain, with Armstead coming in to clean up.  On 3rd and 12, we saw one of the signature hits of Shaun Williams career


Brunell had time in the pocket and would connect with Jimmy Smith in stride for what would have been a first down and a good gain.  However Williams, starting to play more like a first round pick, came over and blew up Smith with a huge hit and knocked the ball free.  The Giants celebrated the big hit and Smith was on the ground, pretty clearly a concussion.  A play like this today would bring a penalty and a big fine.  Back in 2000?  It got put on promotional videos.  Barker came back on to punt, and this time it was a better effort, fair caught by Tiki at the Giants' 42 yard line.

The Giants began with a handoff to Barber around right end to the 47, a good gain of 5 yards, stopped by Smeenge.  2nd and 5, Barber again ran the ball, but as Glenn Parker was pulling, he was pushed back by a blitzing Jaguar, forcing Barber to give ground and was tackled for a 4 yard loss.  3rd and 9, with 4 WRs in the game, Collins hit Toomer on a quick slant, and was given what looked to be a great spot by the ref the Giants were given probably a gift first down.  On the next play however, Collins suffered a brain cramp.


One play after getting the first down, the Giants had what looked to be a textbook flea flicker set up.  A handoff to Barber, who took a couple of steps towards the line, and turned and threw it back to Collins.  Toomer got behind his man by a good 15 yards and was wide open.  However, Collins decided to throw the ball down the middle to a decently covered Ike Hilliard (blanketed by comparison to Toomer) and the ball fell incomplete.  One side note, in 2002, Collins would correct this mistake and hit Toomer on an 82 yard TD on a similar flea flicker to start the 2nd half in Indianapolis.

After that blown opportunity, Barber took a draw up the gut for a 4 yard gain.  3rd and 6, the Jaguars' Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers dialed up another blitz, which was again woefully picked up by the confused Giants, and Collins was forced to throw the ball off his back foot towards Mitchell, but the ball fell incomplete.  However, the Giants got lucky, as a roughing the passer call on Aaron Beasley for a late hit on Collins gave the Giants 15 yards and a first down.  Now at the 28 yard line, Collins was looking for an open receiver and tried to hit Comella out of the backfield on a wheel route (which would work a few weeks later in the NFC Championship game vs. Minnesota), but the ball fell incomplete.  On the play, Coughlin thought that it was intentional grounding and went nuts on the sidelines (doing his patented arms up in the air and yelling routine), but he couldn't get the call.  Ron Dayne would gain 2 yards to get the ball to the 26 yard line.  On 3rd and 8, Collins avoided a Tony Brackens pass rush, and hit Barber out of the backfield.  Tiki was able to cut up the field and just get across the first down marker out to the 18 yard line.  With a new set of downs, Dayne would come on and only gain a yard, bouncing off the back of his offensive line and then falling to the ground (pretty much the staple move of his Giants' career).  2nd and 9, Collins would get his arm hit on the throw, but Toomer made a great adjustment to make a diving catch down to the 2 yard line.  First and goal at the 2, Dayne, seemingly running in molasses, slowly took the ball and was dropped for a loss.  On 2nd and goal at the 3, Dayne came out and Tiki came in


That's how you are supposed to do the job.  Unlike Dayne, who tiptoed his way, Tiki took the ball and followed Parker, and looked for a crease and ran throught it and into the end zone for a TD.  Tiki would flip the ball in the stands to his wife (now ex-wife).  It was Tiki's 3rd straight game with a TD and Daluiso came on to hit the extra point and make the score 7-0 with :45 to go in the first quarter.

Holmes came back out to kickoff, and this time it was a short squib that was tracked down by Whitted at the 12 and was brought back to the 26 yard line where he was dropped by Thabidi Davis.  Taylor began with a run around the left end and took the ball out to the 31 yard line, tackled by Hamilton, and a time out was called with :23 to go in the first quarter, as the Giants wanted to force the Jags to run another play against the wind.  On 2nd down, Taylor got the ball out to the 32 and was stopped by Armstead.  However, as the players got into a fight after the play, the Giants didn't call a time out and had the clock run out, so I guess so much for the strategy of the wind.  Few coaches do a good job with clock management, but Fassel was worse than most.  On 3rd and 2, after holding Taylor to -2 yards on 6 carries in the first quarter, Brunell came out in the gun, and with time to throw, hit former Jets first round pick Kyle Brady to the 44 yard line for a first down. With the wind at his back, Brunell stayed in the air,  and tried to hit fullback Daimon Shelton on a wheel route, but it was well covered by Jason Sehorn and the ball sailed out of bounds.  A false start on Brandon Stai set the Jags back to 2nd and 15, where John Fox dialed up his own blitz, but it was picked up by Jags and Brunell tried a deep shot to Whitted, and though he did get open, the ball sailed in the wind and fell incomplete.  3rd and 15, Brunell again had time to throw and connected with a diving McCardell on a pass over the middle for 17 yards and a big first down to the Giants' 44, where he was hit down by Sam Garnes.  On the next play, Taylor would back up his mouth


Taylor took the handoff up the middle and bounced off the back of Armstead, who completely lost him and the Giants defense did not close in to take away his cutback.  Taylor took a step to his right, and with no contain, took off down the right sideline, out running the angle that Sehorn had on him for a 44 yard TD much to the disgust and boos of the home fans.  Mike Hollis came on to hit the extra point and tie the game at 7-7 with 13:23 to go in the first half.

Hollis' kickoff was taken by Dixon at the 15 yard line and was able to only get it to the 26, where he was popped by future Giant Danny Clark.  On first down, a playaction fake did not hold up the Jags pass rush, and forced Collins to barely get the ball away at the feet of Comella.  On the play, the Jaguars lost corner Fernando Bryant to an ankle injury.  A 2nd down handoff went to Tiki up the middle, for a short 2 yard gain, stopped by Smeenge.  On 3rd and 8, again with pressure right up the middle on Collins, he was able to still get the pass off to Toomer over the middle for a big 21 yard gain, as he beat Jason Kraft on the play (who subbed in for the injured Bryant).  With a new set of downs, Collins tried to hit Tiki in the flat, but a blitzing Mark Logan forced a rushed throw which was batted backwards.  On 2nd down, after a playaction fake to Dayne, Collins dumped it off to H-Back Dan Campbell for 3 yards.  3rd and 7, Collins had time to throw, but his pass intended for Hilliard was broken up by Aaron Beasley.  Maynard would end up shanking his punt, but he got a lucky roll and it was eventually downed by the Giants at the 13 yard line.

The Jacksonville offense came back on the field and their draw play to Taylor was snuffed out by Barrow, who made the stop for a 1 yard loss.  Brunell would hit Brady on a quick throw out to the 21 yard line, where he was tackled by Garnes.  The Jags would be unable to convert on 3rd and 2, with Brunell's pass on an in route for McCardell was broken up by Emmanuel McDaniel.  Barker's line drive punt was taken by Barber at the 27 and got a good return out across mid field, however a hold on the Giants brought the ball all the way back to their own 18 yard line.

The Giants would start off with a delay to Tiki, who looked like he was strung out at first, but was able to get around left end and popped forward for a 5 yard gain.  On 2nd and 5, Dayne did his usual...ran into the back of his offensive line and fell down for no gain, which was met with a predictable chorus of boos from the home crowd.  On 3rd and a long 4, Collins would connect with Toomer on an out pattern to the 32 yard line for an easy first down and he fell out of bounds.  The Giants first down play would be a failure, as a playaction to Dayne and reverse screen to Comella was read by Logan who tackled the fullback for a 5 yard loss.  2nd and 15, a pitch to Barber around right end made it to the 33 yard line where he was hit down by Hardy.  On 3rd and 9, again the Gaints offensive line had problems with the pass rush, and Collins was under pressure and ended up over throwing a wide open Hilliard on a crossing route.  Maynard's punt was a high one and looked to be a fair catch by Barlow at the 33, but he passed up on it and tried to catch the coverage team napping, however Shaun Williams was not fooled and downed him immediately.

With 6:10 to go in the half, the Jags began with a pass to McCardell on a come back route to the 42 yard line, beating his former teammate Thomas on the play.  2nd and 1, Taylor was swallowed up by Strahan for only a half a yard gain.  Now 3rd and inches, the Jags would try the interior Giants line again, and again the Giants defense held.  Christian Peter shoved the line backwards into Taylor who was engulfed by the rest of the defensive line for a loss.  Coughlin saw all he had to see and brought on Barker to punt and play a field position game.  Tiki would fair catch the ball at the 11 yard line, even though there was no one within 15 yards of him, and the look of frustration on Tiki's face after the play showed that he knew he screwed up.

With 4:34 to go, the Giants got the ball back and started with a swing pass to Tiki, who made a man miss and got the ball out to the 16 yard line where he was stopped by Hardy.  2nd and 5, with Barber at a single back, took the handoff and gained 2 yards, tackled again by Hardy.  Faced with a 3rd and 4, Collins threw to Hilliard in the middle of the Jacksonville zone for a 13 yard gain out to the 32 yard line, tackled (again) by Hardy.  The Giants would continue to move the ball, a playaction to Tiki held up the linebackers and Collins hit a wide open Comella over the middle, who turned up the sidelines and powered his way to the Jags' 46 yard line and a big 22 yard gain, tackled by Logan and took the clock down to the 2 minute warning.  The Giants offense stayed on the attack, a pitch to Tiki to the right was good for 16 more yards as he followed a big block by Ron Stone and carried a few defenders along the way.  Barber would only gain 2 yards on the next play as he slipped on the frozen turf.  Collins would be pressured on a blitz by Logan and force an incompletion, setting up a 3rd and 8.  Collins pass was in the direction of Hilliard, however it was read perfectly by Rennay Steward, who had a pick 6 if he held on to the ball...but he dropped it.  With :39 to go in the half, in the cold and wind, Fassel called a time out to think over a 4th and 8 from the 29 yard line.  Considering the conditions, Fassel and Sean Payton decided to go for it and pass up the 44 yard field goal.  Collins was in the gun and again the Capers' defense blitzed.  Collins would hit Hilliard on the hot read, but it was good for only 5 yards and he was dropped by Brackens in coverage on a zone blitz and turned the ball over on downs.

Now with only :31 to go in the half, Coughlin decided to be aggressive, as he is wont to do and something we have seen in his Giants time as well.  Brunell started with a dunk off pass to Brady, who was open with no one within 15 yards of him, but he dropped it.  On 2nd down, a blitz by Barrow up the middle forced Brunell to dump the ball off to Taylor and the ball fluttered and fell to the ground.  Now 3rd and 10, with :19 to go, Brunell in the gun handed off on a shotgun draw to Taylor, and he fell forward to the 30 yard line, stopped by Jones.  Fassel would call a timeout with :11 to go in the half.  The Giants went for the punt block and when it didn't happen, Tiki simply ran away from the ball and it was downed by the Jags special teams at the 16 yard line as the clock ran out, ending a very competitive half with the score 7-7.

The Giants would get the ball to start the 2nd half and Hollis' squib kick was picked up by Dixon at the 15 yard line and he ran it back to the 33 yard line.  The Giants first play from scrimmage turned out to be a disaster


Collins attempted a quick pass to Hilliard who was stading right at the 33 yard line.  However, the Giants veteran offensive tackle Lomas Brown did not cut the legs out from under Brackens, which would have forced him to get his hands down.  As a result, Brackens was able to bat the ball and then secure it off Brown's helmet.  Collins was able to get over to tackle Brackens at the 24 yard line in front of a silent crowd who was just returning to their seats after halftime.

The Jags started with a pitch to Taylor, who looked to be stopped for a loss by Sehorn and Williams, but thanks to a couple of moves and a stiff arm got the ball out to the 20.  Taylor's next carry was good for only 2 yards, stopped by Jones and Armstead.  On 3rd and 5 at the 18, Brunell's pass intended for Barlow was tipped at the line by Griffin and fell incomplete.  Hollis came on and nailed a 36 yarder right down the middle and gave Jacksonville the lead 10-7.

Hollis' kickoff was taken by Dixon at the 8 yard line and he made  his way up to the 31 yard line, again stopped by Danny Clark, who also started a fight as well after the play.  Collins started off with a draw to Tiki, who cut his way around left end and up the field for a 9 yard gain before going out of bounds.  On 2nd and 1, Dayne was able to actually push the pile and get a first down to the 43.  On first down, Collins would miss an open Tiki out of the backfield for an incompletion and the Giants would follow that up with a draw to Tiki up the gut for a 4 yard gain, where he was taken down by Brant Boyer.  Facing a 3rd and 6 at the 46, Collins had no chance as Dusty Ziegler missed a blitzing Hardy and was sacked back at the 40 yard line.  Maynard got off a high but short kick, with the punt nearly blocked, and a fair catch was called and taken at the 30 yard line.

Jacksonville looked to extend their lead and began with a play action fake to Taylor, however Brunell was hit by Jones on his pass attempt, which made the ball flutter away from McCardell.  Brunell would go back to McCardell on the next play, who was wide open in the soft zone and bulled over McDaniel for a first down at the 40.  The Jags backup running back Anthony Johnson got the handoff and burst through a hole and ran 19 yards out to the 41 yard line where he was finally tracked down by Williams.  The Jaguars kept on the move, Brunell read the blitz and hit McCardell on a hot read and his diving catch was made at the 37, where he was touched down by Sehorn.  You could feel the tension in the crowd with the Jaguars march, but the defense finally stiffened, as Strahan tackled Johnson after a short gain.  Now 3rd and 5, Brunell was again in the shotgun, and just got the snap off before a delay of game, and initially had time to throw, but good coverage downfield eventually allowed the pass rush to get to him and forced him to throw the ball away.  Coughlin again decided to pass on a long field goal or even going for it and decided to play field position.  Barker's punt was perfection, a high punt that rolled past Tiki and died at the 1 yard line.  The Giants looked to be in big trouble.

In the shadow of their own goal post, the Giants offense started with a dive by Tiki up the middle for 2 yards, stopped by Wynn.  On 2nd and 8, a perfect play action fake to Dayne held up the rush and Collins had time to uncork a long throw in the direction of Hilliard who had gotten behind the defense.  However, Collins' pass hung up and Beasley made up ground and jumped for the ball, nearly snagging it for an INT, but the ball came loose as he hit the ground.  Now 3rd and 8, with Collins in his own end zone, and Smeenge bearing down on him, was able to hit Toomer up the sidelines for a huge first down on a great one handed catch at the 30.  with breathing room, Tiki took a pitch around right end and he slid down on a hit by Willie Slaughter after just a 1 yard gain.  On 2nd and 9, Collins would again go to Toomer, this time on a quick slant, and the WR kept chugging, taking Hardy for a ride out to the 46 yard line and another big first down.  Collins would stay in the air, a play action to Dayne and dump off to Comella for a 2 yard gain to the 48, tackled by Slaughter.  On 2nd down, it was another short pass, this time to Tiki took the ball to midfield, stopped by Beasley.  Working with a 3rd and 6, Dom Capers again sent the blitz, but Collins had enough time to hit a wide open Pete Mitchell over the middle and the former Jaguar caught it at the 40 and took the ball to the 33 yard line.  The crowd was getting excited as Tiki took the handoff for a good 5 yard gain to the 28, stopped by Hardy.  On 2nd and 5, Parker was again nailed as he tried to pull, this time by Slaughter, who was knocked into Tiki for a 1 yard loss.  Now 3rd and 6, another blitz by Hardy up the middle and again he was missed by Ziegler, which forced a quick pass out towards Barber and fell incomplete.


Fassel, with his team going into the wind and looking at a 46 yard field goal, decided it was too far and was going to go for it.  The Jags again blitzed, but this time it was picked up by Parker and Tiki, giving Collins time to throw.  Collins would hit Hilliard right in the hands and behind the defense, for what looked like a sure first down inside the 10 yard line, but Hilliard dropped the ball and turned it over on downs.  However, on the bright side, the Giants were able to change field position.

The Jaguars took over with the ball at their own 29, and Brunell began with a quick pass to Whitted, who got the ball out to the 36 yard line where he was tackled by Garnes.  Meanwhile, the cameras would cut to Fred Taylor, who was headed to the locker room with a hip injury.  On 2nd and 3, a handoff to Johnson was met in the backfield by Strahan and finished off by Barrow for no gain.  3rd and 4, Brunell was back in the shotgun, and hit McCardell right at the sticks for a first down at the 40 yard line on the final play of the 3rd quarter, with the Giants trailing in a game that they had everything to gain and homefield advantage at stake.  With the change of quarter, the Jags now were going into the wind.  Brunell began with a pass in the flat, intended for Rich Griffin, but the ball sailed out of bounds.  On 2nd and 10, Brunell handed off to Johnson out of the gun and ran to his left, but Jones shoved Boselli into the backfield and messed up the blocking assignments, allowing Griffen to make the hit for a 2 yard loss.  with the crowd yelling on 3rd and 12, Brunell threw underneath to McCardell, well short of a first down, but it didn't matter as the ball was knocked away by McDaniel (who got away with a hold on the play).  Barker's punt was taken by Tiki at the 15 and returned to the 25 yard line where he went out of bounds.

On first down, with Campbell in motion, Collins rolled out and right into a blitz by Hardy, who forced a quick pass that floated out of bounds.  The Giants needed something, and Toomer would provide it


On 2nd and 10, a play action fake to Dayne bought Collins some time, and he threw a frozen rope to Toomer on a crossing pattern, who snagged it in stride and stiff armed Beasley and was able to get the ball all the way down to the Jacksonville 33 yard line for huge first down and put Amani over the 1000 yards mark in receiving for the season.  Barber would get hit for no gain on a draw, thanks to a perfectly timed run blitz.  On 2nd and 10, Collins tried to hit Comella up the sidelines, but the coverage was tight and the ball went out of bounds.  On 3rd and 10 at the 34, another blitz by the Jaguars was picked up by the Giants, and Collins was able to hit Hilliard, who went up to snag the ball at the 15 yard line and ran it all the way down to the 5 yard line before he was stopped.  On first and goal, Tiki would get stuffed on a handoff up the gut for no gain.  The Giants would finally cash in on the next play


On a slow developing play, with Tiki coming out of the backfield, Collins rolled to his right, being chased by Brackens and as he was running out of space by the sidelines, he was able to sling a pass across his body to Hilliard, who found a small opening just across the goal line for a huge TD.  The Daluiso extra point made the score 14-10 with 11:11 to go in the game and capped off a 75 yard drive.

The crowd, frozen and frustrated most of the day, were now into the game again.  Holmes kickoff was booted down to the 5 yard line and taken by Hiller out to the 27, where he was tripped up.  Brunell would start off with an audible and looked to hit Whitted down the sidelines, but he would drop the ball and it fell incomplete.  On 2nd and 10, the Giants blitzed and forced a hot read pass in the direction of Whitted, however the WR slipped down on the turf and the ball sailed over his head.  With the crowd screaming on 3rd and 10, Brunell would get time and hit Barlow in stride, who had beat Thomas in coverage, and Barlow would turn up the field and take the ball across midfield to the Giants' 45 yard line before getting shoved out of bounds by Thomas and Sehorn.  The Jags would try the ground attack, but Johnson would get strung out wide by Williams and tackled for no gain, with help from Griffen and Barrow.  After holding up against the run, the Giants defense would get a break


Brunell had time to throw, and threw a pass that was slightly high and hit off the hands of Brady.  Executing a perfect tip drill, linebacker Ryan Phillips, who was known more as a pass rushing coming out of Idaho, snatched the errant pass and chugged his way back to the 48 yard line before he was tackled.

Following the turnover, Tiki ran around right end for a good 7 yards before he was slammed down by Beasley at the 45.  On 2nd and 3, Dayne took the handoff and (surprise) was stopped for no gain by Wynn and Hardy.  Tiki came back on the field on 3rd and 3, and was able to slip out of the backfield and be hit in stride by Collins, and took the ball out to the 26 yard line and was forced out of bounds and another first down.  A draw to Tiki would be good for 3 yards, and keep the clock running with under 7 minutes to go in the game.  Trying to eat more clock, Tiki ran it again, but this time was hit for no gain by Logan.  On a big 3rd and 7, Collins was again under heavy pressure on a blitz by Hardy, and he just got outside the tackle box and threw the ball away, avoiding a sack and an intentional grounding penalty, despite Coughlin's yelling at the refs in protest.  On would come the veteran Daluiso for a 39 yarder to try to give the Giants a 7 point lead.


You can actually hear the audible groan of the crowd on what should have been a critical field goal.  Daluiso's kick fluttered off to the left and the huge miss kept the score at 14-10 with 5:55 to go in the game.

with renewed life, and the ball at the 30, Brunell started with a screen pass to Johnson, and he was finally caught from behind by Griffen after an 8 yard gain.  Brunell would convert the 2nd and 2 by rifling a pass to Whitted at midfield for a first down, where he was stopped by Thomas.  Staying in the air, Brunell had no one to throw to and the Giants pass rush finally got to him and he was sacked by Jones for a short 3 yard loss.  Brunell's 2nd and 13 pass would be good for 8 yards to McCardell out to the 45, as the ball just barely went between the hands of Keith Hamilton at the line.  On a crucial 3rd down play, Jimmy Smith would come back out on the field (no concussion protocols in 2000), Brunell tried to stick a pass in to McCardell, but the ball sailed on him and fell incomplete.  With 3:29 to go in the game, Coughlin decided he had to go for it, and with Brunell in the gun, he again tried to force a pass in to McCardell, but Griffen was able to jump up and knock the ball down, forcing a turn over on downs.

The Giants offense took the field at the 45 with 3:24 to go in the game.  Tiki began with a sweep around left end, but was caught from behind by Logan and was pulled to the ground.  During the tackle, Tiki's right ankle and foot got caught up under Logan and Tiki stayed down in pain as the trainers ran on the field.  With the crowd chanting his name, Tiki would get up and jog off, much to the relief of the fans and especially Fassel.  With a 2nd and 9, and Dayne in the game, everyone figured the Giants would play it safe and look to milk the clock.


So much for that.  Even with Phil Simms' commentary to not take chances, Sean Payton would call for a play action fake to Dayne and then a deep shot down the field.  Toomer, who looked covered, came back to the ball at the 15, Bryant would slip down on the frozen field, and Toomer would run it the rest of the way for what should have been a back breaking 54 yard TD.  After the extra point, the Giants had a 21-10 lead, Collins "rode the horse" in celebration, and with 3:05 to go in the game, everything was party time in Giants Stadium.

Holmes came back out to kickoff again, and this time he got it down to the 8 yard line, where Williams would get a nice run back, taking it all the way to the 38 yard line before being pushed out by Shaun Williams.  With 2:53 remaining, and an 11 point lead and freezing temperatures, you would think that a Florida team would fold their tents and go home.  Brunell would begin with what looked like a street play.  Starting out in the shotgun, he would roll out to buy time, and with Strahan bearing down on him, he'd fire off a deep pass towards McCardell, who was double covered by Garnes and Pete Monty.  However McCardell would time his jump perfectly and snag the ball at the 11 yard line for a massive gain, while the Giants defenders stood flat footed.  Brunell would go back to McCardell on the next play, down to the 5 yard line and brought the game to the 2 minute warning.


Well, that didn't take long.  Brunell would fire a pass to Brady in the end zone, who was actually covered on his outside shoulder by Garnes, but the big TE would snag the ball for a quieting TD. The Jags decided to go for 2, and in the gun, Brunell would again connect with Brady, to suddenly make the score 21-18 and the crowd and the Giants, celebratory a few minutes earlier, were suddenly nervous with a 3 point lead and 1:56 to go.

Needless to say, with the amount of time left, an onside kick was coming and everyone knew it.  The Giants readied for it with their "hands team".  We expected a high bounce kick into a pile of players fighting for the ball.  We got something very different.


You have to give credit to the Giants special teams coaches.  If you watch the play, the Giants' front line team actually ran up at the Jaguars defenders to create a pile and bottle them in.  The ball bounced harmlessly towards Sehorn who picked it up and ran it in for an easy 38 yard TD, as there was no one in position to tackle him.  What is more amazing, the Giants' special teams coach at the time, Larry MacDuff, was vilified by Giants fans over the years.  Meanwhile, Coughlin's special teams coach in Jacksonville was Frank Ganz, regarded as one of the best special teams coaches of all time.  MacDuff's crew stunned the Jags to balloon the score back up to 28-18.

Holmes would come back out and squib one down the field to Whitted, who picked it up at the 28 and got the ball all the way out to the 48, where he was stopped by a gaggle of defenders.  with 1:42 to go in the game, and down 10 points, Brunell would start with a pass to McCardell out to the 45 yard line, stopped by McDaniel.  In a hurry up, Brunell would get the ball out to Sheldon who took it to the 30 and was stopped by Garnes.  Brunell kept throwing, this time to Brady at the 22 where he was tackled by Barrow.  Coughlin would not call a time out and the clock was running with under 40 seconds to go.  Brunell would find himself under pressure from Strahan and Hamilton and would toss the ball into the end zone to avoid a sack and stop the clock with :32 to go.  On 3rd and 3, Brunell would again look to McCardell, who hauled it in for a first down at the 13 yard line and Coughlin would call is 2nd timeout with :24 to go in the game.


Showing no quit that was very much reflective of their head coach, the Jaguars kept pressing, this time Brunell would throw a dart that went through Sehorn's hands and Whitted snagged it in the back of the end zone for yet another 4th quarter TD, and after the extra point by Hollis, the score was now 28-25 with :19 to go...and another onside kick to come.

So what would be in store for this onside kick?  Again the Jaguars would shift, and again the Giants front line would rush up to meet them.  This time the ball would bounce over the pile and Sehorn would jump up and snatch it out of the air and cover it up as the Jags players made their way through.  With :18 to go in the game, Fassel got the gatorade and after one victory formation kneel down, in a wild finish, the Giants would get the W with a final score of 28-25, and would get them homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

Interesting Tidbits/ Post Mortem

  • Jason Sehorn's 38 yard return of an onside kick for a TD was ironic in that he wanted to return kickoffs to help the team and add some more explosiveness back in 1998. Sehorn was looking at guys like Darrell Green and Deion Sanders, who in addition to being top notch corners, would also help on punt and kick returns.  As fate would have it, Sehorn would blow out his ACL on his first return in the pre-season against the Jets.  That ended up ultimately derailing what was turning out to be a Pro Bowl career.
  • Sehorn's 38 yard return for a TD was very short, but not the shortest one in NFL history.  The answer to that trivia question is 17 yards, done by Dan Edwards in 1949 as a member of the New York Yankees against the Chicago Hornets at Soldier Field.  So how the hell could a return be that short?  Was it an onside kick gone awry after a bunch of personal fouls that set them back?  Nope, apparently what happened was a variation of a Cal-Stanford lateral type play.  The Yankees returner took a kickoff at the 2 and ran it 81 yards to the 17 yard line, where he lateraled it over to Edwards, who ran it in the remainder of the way.  The way the stats track that is that Edwards got credit for a 17 yard return, not a 98 yard return.  Kind of strange this hasn't happened since then.  Particularly shocking the Eagles didn't do it to the Giants at one point, since they find every insane way to score against them. 
  • As for other funky scores on kickoffs for the Giants, they actually recovered 2 kickoffs in the end zone for TDs in the 1980s
    • In the 1981 Wild Card game at Philly, on the ensuing kickoff after a John Mistler TD to put the Giants up 13-0, the Eagles return man muffed the kickoff and it rolled into the end zone and appeared to be heading out of bounds.  Before it could get out of bounds, Mark Haynes ran over and recovered it just across the goal line to make the score 20-0 in the first quarter and spurred the Giants on to a 27-21 win that knocked the defending NFC champions out of the playoffs
    • In 1984 the Giants played a Week 5 game at Los Angeles against the Rams.  On a kickoff that went into the end zone, the Rams return man just let the ball bounce and sit there, not realizing that it was a live ball and not a touchback similar to a punt.  A head's up Phil McConkey raced over and fell on the ball for a TD to put the Giants up 6-0 (the Sheik missed the extra point).  However, that pretty much was the highlight of the day for the Giants, as they got blown out 33-12 in a game that was better known for the fact that the Rams scored 3 safties against the Giants that day.  The Giants would get the last laugh in 1984, beating the Rams in LA in the Wild Card round by the score of 16-13.
  • Also in the 1980s, the Giants got a score while covering a kickoff which was actually a blown call by the refs.  In a Week 3 game at Dallas in 1988, Raul Allegre's opening kickoff was muffed by the Cowboys return man Darryl Clack at about the 5 yard line and the ball went into the end zone.  In a moment of confusion, Clack picked up the ball and didn't take a knee, but started to run with it, and he was tackled by Mark Collins for a safety.  For some reason, Dallas didn't go bonkers, even with Tom Landry at coach at the time, and the call stood.  The proper call should have been a touchback, regardless if Clack was tackled or took a knee,  So the refs screwed up and it hurt the Cowboys all the more because the score was the difference in a 12-10 Giants win.
  • Jaret Holmes came over from the Bears and functioned as the Giants kick off man towards the end of the 2000 season.  What made that ironic was the man who he essentially replaced on kickoffs was Brad Daluiso, who made it into the NFL because of his ability to boot kicks through the end zone for touchbacks.  Daluiso's sole job on the Bills and then Broncos was to come on as the kickoff specialist and the guy to come out for an end of half or end of game despiration 50+ yarder.  He lead the league in touchbacks with the Broncos and matched that in 1993 when he joined the Giants.  He helped the Giants win a big game against the Cardinals, when he booted a late 54 yarder into the wind.  Eventually, going into 1994, regular kicker David Treadwell started slumping and Daluiso took over the regular kicking duties and became consistent enough to keep it.  However, age and a torn ACL back in 1999 in trying to tackle Deion Sanders to prevent a kick return TD would sap much of his leg strength, thus opening the need for a guy like Jaret Holmes.  Daluiso and Holmes were both off the Giants team by 2001.  Replaced by legendary former Saint and Falcon Morten Andersen (at age 41 at the time) and kickoff specialist Owen Pochman.  Daluiso would move on to the Raiders, who needed a kicker for their season finale against the Jets (with a playoff berth on the line for the Jets).  Daluiso would go 1 for 2 in extra points and 3 for 4 on field goals...enough to give the Jets the margin needed for a 24-22 win.  The teams would actually meet again, one week later in the Wild Card round, again in Oakland.  This time, regular kicker Sebastian Janikowski was back and he would be a perfect 3 for 3 in extra points and 3 for 3 in field goals, and the Raiders would hold off the Jets to win 38-24.  Daluiso would retire after this season for good. 
  • Ryan Phillips INT was the 3rd of his career and his final one as a member of the Giants.  He had one more interception in his final NFL season in 2001 as a member of the Colts.  Phillips would pick off a pass from Denver's Brian Griese at the RCA Dome.  It actually would turn out to be his final game, a 29-10 win to bring the Colts record to 6-10 and Phillips was out of the NFL in 2002.
  • This was a season ending game on a Saturday.  For many years, towards the end of the season, with both the Giants and Jets sharing the same stadium, they would schedule home games for both of them on the same weekend in the 2nd to last or last game of the year, and many of those times, the Giants would play a Saturday finale.  In fact, since 1981, the Giants have played the following games on a Saturday at home in Week 15 or Week 16.
    • 1981- Giants 16 - Dallas 13 (OT) - Week 16
    • 1984: Giants 3 - Saints 10  (week 16)
    • 1985: Giants 28 - Steelers 10 (week 16)
    • 1986: Giants 55 - Packers 24 (week 16)
    • 1987: Giants 20 - Packers 10 (week 15)
    • 1989: Giants 15 - Cowboys 0 (week 15)
    • 1991: Giants 24 - Oilers 20 (week 16)
    • 1992: Giants 35 - Chiefs 21 (week 15) - Ray Handley's final win
    • 1994: Giants 15 - Cowboys 10 (week 16)
    • 1995: Giants 17 - Chargers 27 (week 16)- infamous snowball game
    • 1996: Giants 22 - Patriots 23 (week 16) - Reeves final game/ Giants blew 22-0 lead
    • 1997: Giants 30 - Redskins 10 (Week 15)- Giants clinch NFC East
    • 2002: Giants 10 - Eagles 7 (OT)  (week 16)- win put the Giants in the playoffs
    • 2007: Giants 35 - Pats 38 (week 16)- Pats go to 16-0
  • In 2005, the Giants would play in 3 straight Saturday games in a row.  The reason for that was Christmas fell on a Sunday in 2005 and they didn't want to schedule all the games on Christmas Day, so the schedule was adjusted accordingly
    • Giants 27 - Chiefs 17 (Week 14)
    • Giants 20 - Redskins 35 (week 15)
    • Giants 30 - Raiders 21 (Week 16)- which clinched the NFC East for the Giants.
  • The Giants played road Saturday games in:
    • 1983: Giants 22 - Redskins 31 (week 16)
    • 2006 Giants 34 - Redskins 28 (week 16)- Giants clinch Wild Card and save TC’s job
    • 2011 Giants 29 - Jets 14 (Week 15)- Again, christmas eve
  • The Giants also had a few Saturday games that came before Week 15:
    • 1990: Giants 13 - Bills 17 (Week 14)- The Giants first Saturday game played before Week 15.  This was the game when Simms got hurt and was done for the season, opening the stage for Jeff Hostetler's heroics.
    • 2004:  Giants 30 - Steelers 33 (week 14)
  • One oddball came in 2001:  Giants 17 - Cardinals 13 (Week 13)-  This should have been a Week 14 matchup, similar to the Bills game in 1990.  However, after the 9/11 attacks, the NFL postponed the Week 2 matchups to the end of the season and pushed the playoffs and Super Bowl back 1 week.  The Giants 2001 season ended with a loss to the Pakcers, but their playoff chances disappeared in Philly 1 week prior, when the Lambuth Special fell just short on the hook and ladder to Ron Dixon.  The most memorable part in the Packers finale was that Strahan was .5 sack away from tying Mark Gastineau's single season sack record of 22 sacks.  Strahan was held quiet all day by the Packers' OL.  However, late in the game, with the game in hand, Brett Favre decided to surprise his teammates and essentially ran a naked rollout right at Strahan, and fell down, giving Strahan an easy sack and the record.  While Strahan got his name in the record books, the controversial way it happened, wiht Favre serving himself up to his friend, was actually held against Strahan for years by the media and opposing fans.
  • The Giants would finish with 12 wins, their highest total since they won 13 games in 1990, Bill Parcells' final season as head coach for the Giants and was topped off with their 20-19 win over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV
  • The 12 wins were the most in Fassel's career in a single season.  Since 1981, here are the coaches who had at least 12 wins in a season during their coaching tenure for the Giants
    • Parcells (3 Times)
      • 1986: 14 wins (won Super Bowl XXI)
      • 1989: 12 wins (lost in 2nd round of playoffs to the LA Rams- "The Flipper" game)
      • 1990: 13 wins (won Super Bowl XXV)
    • Handley- 0 times (high was 8 in 1991)
    • Reeves- 0 times (high was 11 in 1993)
    • Fassel- (1 Time)
      • 2000: 12 wins (lost Super Bowl XXXV)
    • Coughlin- (1 Time)
      • 2008: 12 wins (lost in 2nd round of playoffs to the Eagles)
  • The Giants only played the Jaguars one other time before this game, and that was in Week 2 of the 1997 season.  Coming off his opening win as head coach, Jim Fassel led his troops down to Jacksonville to take on a Jags team that seemed like they were walking wounded.  The Giants had previously faced the Jaguars in the 2nd week of the preseason, and in that game Armstead hit Brunell on the knee and knocked their Pro Bowl QB out for the first 2 weeks of the regular season.  Brunell's back up, Rob Johnson, led the Jags to a win against the Ravens, however he hurt his ankle.  That meant that 3rd string QB, Steve Matthews, signed just 2 weeks prior to the game after he was let go by Kansas City, was thrown into the mix.  Keeping with the Giants streak of struggling against backup (or 3rd string QBs) in the 1980s and 1990s, Matthews had a strong game, going 23-35 for 252 yards.  The Jags defense shut the Giants offense completely down and 2 Natrone Means TDs put a 40-13 beat down on New York, handing Fassel his first loss as a professional coach.
  • The final Fassel vs. Coughlin matchup (as head coaches), occured in 2002, when the 3-4 Giants faced the 3-4 Jaguars at Giants Stadium.  This game became important for a different reason however.  The Giants offense, held to 10 or fewer points in 4 of the previous 5 games, looked sluggish.  So Fassel made the decision to strip then offensive coordinator Sean Payton of his play calling duties and take them on himself.  The Giants would respond with a 24-17 win and began to right their ship and eventually finished 10-6 and a playoff berth. Payton would leave the Giants after the season and join Bill Parcells' staff in Dallas as QB coach and assistant head coach.  Payton would see his star on the rise again with the Cowboys, coaxing productive seasons out of Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, and Drew Bledsoe.  he also helped a then unknown young free agent QB from East Illinois named Tony Romo develop behind the scenes.  Payton would take over as head coach in New Orleans in 2006, and take a team that went 3-13 during a season ravaged by Hurricane Katrnia and turn them into a 10-6 team, winning the NFC South, beating the Eagles at the Superdome before falling to the Bears in the NFC Championship Game.  For these efforts, Payton would win Coach of the Year in 2006 and would lead them to their only Super Bowl title in 2009.  Meanwhile in 2006, Romo would take over at QB after Bledsoe was benched against the Giants and would take a 3-3 Dallas team and go 6-4 as a starter and earn them a spot in the playoffs as a Wild Card.  Romo would get a Pro Bowl selection and end up playing a playoff game in Seattle.  In what would turn out to be a harbinger of what Romo's career would end up becoming, he had the big accolades and stats, and with the game on the line, as the holder for what would have been a chip shot field goal, a 19 yarder from Martin Gramatica (shorter than an extra point) to beat the Seahawks 23-21....Romo would bobble the long snap.  With the kick ruined, Romo tried to recover and sprint around the end to go for the first down, and even possibly a TD.  However, he was tackled on a shoe string stop by Jordan Babineaux and the Cowboys lost 21-20 in what would turn out to be Parcells' final game as a head coach. 
  • As for Fassel, who demoted Payton and set of this chain of events?  He was fired by the Giants after the 2003 season (technically he resigned first and finished coaching out the rest of the season) and would join his friend Brian Billick's staff in Baltimore as their offensive coordinator from 2004-2006.  Fassel would wear out his welcome there, reported he spent his time there trying to interview for other head coaching spots, specifically Stanford, which was where Fassel was once a QB coach with John Elway under his wing.  Fassel was passed over in favor of Jim Harbaugh.  Since that time, Fassel has not gotten a sniff in the NFL.  He was a candidate in Washington, but lost out to Jim Zorn.  Since then, Fassel has been the head coach of the Las Vegas Locomotives in the UFL, winning 2 Championships, beating the vaunted Florida Tuskers both times, until the league folded midway through the 2012 season.
  • Fassel and Coughlin would match up one more time, and that would occur in the 2004 season.  Coughlin, in his first year as the Giants head coach, and the man he replaced (Fassel) was in his first season as the Ravens head coach.  Coughlin started out at 4-1, led by former Rams MVP Kurt Warner at QB.  However, the wheels started to come off and the Giants would lose 3 of their next 4 games to go 5-4.  With Warner starting to struggle (and getting sacked tons of times), the Giants made an organizational decision to make a switch at QB from Warner to the #1 overall pick, Eli Manning.  Though many veterans on the team weren't happy (Strahan for one) that the team seemed to be giving up on the season, the Giants felt that realistically it was more important for the long term growth of the team to get Eli in the games and Warner was regressing.  Unfortunately, Eli's growing pains were apparent.  He would lose his first 6 starts at QB.  The lowest coming in Baltimore, when he would put up a horrific stat line- 4-18, 27 yards, 2 INTs...good for a 0.0 rating.  The Giants would fall behind 37-7, their lone score coming on an Osi Umenyiora 50 yard fumble return for a TD.  Coughlin would mercifully bench Eli to bring back on Warner to finish the game up (and lead the Giants to a garbage time TD) to make the score 37-14.  Meanwhile, the Ravens and Fassel were having a grand old time.  Ravens QB Kyle Boller went 18-34, 219 yards and 4 TDs.  Chester Taylor gashed the Giants for 104 yards on the ground as the Ravens rolled up 353 yards on the Giants, compared to 196 for Big Blue (most coming in garbage time).  Needless to say, it felt as if Fassel and Billick wanted to rub it in on Coughlin and Eli that day.  
  • Tony Brackens' INT was his only one in 2000
  • Fred Taylor's 44 yard TD run was the longest run allowed by the Giants' defense in 2000