Friday, April 27, 2018

2004 Giants vs Cowboys

The Setup

Week 16

Eli Manning is an amazing athlete when you look at his “aw shucks” yokel demeanor and it’s a combination being a both a doofus on the field with some of the dumbest plays you’ve ever seen in a game situation, and yet as an assassin in some of the biggest pressure games when the lights are the brightest.  Say what you will about Eli Manning, but there are numbers that he has put up that should make you take notice and put him in the Hall of Fame conversation.   First of all, Eli owns pretty much every passing record in the history of the New York Football Giants, a tradition going back to 1925. 
  • #1 in TD passes (339 vs. Simms at 199)
  • #1 in yards (51,682 vs. Simms at 33,462)
  • #1 in wins (111 vs. Simms at 95)
  • #1 in yards per game (239.3 vs Kerry Collins at 237.7)

Of course, there is the other side of the coin, and Eli owns some of the not so good records as well for the Giants
  • #1 in INTs (228 vs. Charlie Conerly at 167)
  • #1 in losses (103 vs Simms at 64)

Ok, I can hear the argument, the NY Giants franchise has not been a passing team in its history.  The Giants are a team that has been built on defense.  Most offensive players tended to be running backs (Joe Morris, Rodney Hampton, Tiki Barber, Alex Webster, Brandon Jacobs, etc).  The Giants won the 1990 Super Bowl when Dave Meggett led the team with 39 catches (seriously).  Fine...but in NFL history, here is how Eli ranks

  • #8 in TDs and is only 3 behind Fran Tarkenton to move into #7.  He’s moved past Hall of Famers such as John Elway, Warren Moon, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, and Dan Fouts.  (his brother Peyton is #1 with 539)
  • #6 in passing yards.  A shade under 10,000 away from Dan Marino at #5.  And again, he’s passed Hall of Famers listed above, plus Tarkenton.

And, to be expected, he’s up there in the bad categories too

  • #15 in INTs, tied with Drew Brees.  And is only 5 behind Moon.  A 15 INT season would move him into 12th place, leapfrogging Hall of Famers Fouts and Bobby Layne.

The point of all of this?  Eli’s name is scattered throughout the Giants and NFL record books.  And winning 2 Super Bowls with 2 Super Bowl MVPs is hard to look past.  

But Eli has always been a guy who attracts attention and conversation, even when, at the end of the day, he’s a pretty boring guy.  An upstanding citizen known for his charitable work, winning Co-NFL Man of the Year honors with Larry Fitzgerald and not engaging in social media (there is no Eli Manning twitter account).  Yet, Manning has been a lightning rod in large part thanks to his last name and comparisons to his legendary brother.  It has been said of his father Archie, that the only difference between Archie and Roger Staubach was that Archie got drafted by the awful Saints and Roger got to go to the powerhouse Cowboys.   Eli’s manipulation of the draft in 2004 to get himself traded to the Giants and away from the Chargers drew much of the same scorn as when Elway did the same thing in 1983 to stay away from the Baltimore Colts.

The 2017 season was one of the worst for Giants fans to endure.  Going 3-13, the worst record since Bill Parcells’ opening 3-12-1 year in 1983.  A record number of losses for the franchise.  A buffoon at coach in Ben McAdoo, who somehow made Ray Handley look like a competent head coach.  For all the disasters that 2017 brought, nothing brought shame to the franchise quite like what happened to Eli.  

Going into the 2017 season, many thought (including yours truly) that the Giants were going to be a Super Bowl contender.  Coming off an 11-5 season and a playoff berth, with a strong defensive unit, the Giants were a few offensive weapons short to pair with Odell Beckham and set the Giants up.  So they went and got Brandon Marshall.  They drafted Evan Engram.  We were excited.  But they ignored 2 things.  Their offensive line and their offensive scheme.  In both cases, McAdoo seemed to throw some blame on Eli for not dealing well without a clean pocket.  Basically ignoring the fact that Erick Flowers at left tackle was awful.  Bobby Hart, proclaimed himself to be the best right tackle in the NFL, was a journeyman 7th rounder.  Well, the season unraveled almost immediately.  An 0-5 start and losing their entire WR corps in Week 5, including Beckham, Marshall, and Dwayne Harris for the season in the Charger game killed the year before Columbus Day.  But soldiering on was Eli, with no weapons outside a hampered Sterling Shepard and Engram.  Things came to a head when McAdoo, instead of bringing in rookie QB Davis Webb, thought it was wise to give snaps to Geno Smith.  McAdoo offered to let Eli start to keep his streak going and then pull him for Geno.  Eli saw through the BS and said if Geno is going to play, then start him.  Eli’s iron man starting streak of 210 straight games came to an end, the 2nd longest of all time.  McAdoo was convinced Geno was the better QB in his system.  He blamed Eli for it’s failings.  Geno started and lost that game in Oakland to the Raiders.  The next day, McAdoo and Jerry Reese lost their jobs.  Eli was reinstated at QB.  When Dave Gettleman came back as GM, he lauded Eli, saying he can still play and still has the same arm strength.  His will was tested with a slew of QB prospects in the 2018 draft.  With the Browns taking Baker Mayfield, the Giants were staring Sam Darnold in the face.  The man who came into the 2017 college football season as the presumptive #1 overall pick.  “Suck for Sam” was the motto for teams tanking.  But Gettleman didn’t bite and took RB Saquon Barkley out of Penn State.  

That Eli has had to earn everything the hard way, even after nearly 15 years should make it clear that he had to do it the hard way at the start of his career.  After the whole drama with the Chargers that caused an NBA like swap of Manning for Philip Rivers, the Giants decided to take it easy on Eli and not subject him right away to the pressures of the NFL.  With new coach Tom Coughlin taking over, the Giants tried to first keep Kerry Collins around as Eli’s mentor.  Collins was not keen on the idea and asked for his release.  So the Giants signed former League and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner to take over at QB.  Warner, due to injury and some sloppy play, lost his job in St. Louis to Marc Bulger.  So Warner needed a job.  The Giants wanted a veteran QB to show Eli the ropes and they made a deal.  

At the start, things were really rosy for Warner.  The Giants started out 5-2 and it looked like Eli’s time might not come in 2004.  But a loss to Chicago after blowing a 14-0 lead, in which Warner held on to the ball much too long and took 7 sacks and threw 2 INTs in a 28-21 loss.  The next week, the Giants lost again, this time at Arizona, and again Warner held the ball too long, taking 6 sacks and saw the Giants blow a 14-3 lead thanks to 2 Emmitt Smith TDs (yes, he went to the Cardinals at the end of his career) and the Giants lost 17-14.

Sitting at 5-4, still in the playoff picture, Coughlin made an unpopular move.  He benched Warner for Eli.  Many veterans, Michael Strahan in particular, hated the move because he felt it showed the Giants were giving up on the season.  So right off the bat, Eli found himself having to prove what he could do, with a team that wasn’t necessarily behind him.

Eli’s first game was at Giants Stadium against the 7-2 Falcons, the Giants would fall behind 14-0, and Eli’s first TD pass (a 6 yarder to Jeremy Shockey in the 3rd quarter) to make the score 14-7.  A 4th quarter field goal by Steve Christie made the score 14-10, and there it would stay in a loss.  In all, Eli’s first game stats weren’t bad: 17-37, 162 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs considering he was going against one of the better teams in the NFL with a good defense.

After the Falcon game, it turned into a struggle for Eli and The Giants.  Standing at 5-5 and watching their season teeter on the brink, the organizational decision to let Eli learn on the job would cost them the chance to make the playoffs.  They would drop their next two games against NFC East rivals Philly and his first road game at Washington, both blowout losses.  That would give the Giants an overall losing streak of 5 games.  And then came Baltimore....

On December 12, 2004, the Giants would face the Baltimore Ravens for the first time since their blowout loss in Super Bowl XXXV.  It was also the first time that Jim Fassel went against the Giants since he left the team.  Fassel, fired after the 2003 season as the Giants crashed and burned with a 4-12 record, was hired by his friend Brian Billick as Offensive Coordinator.  The Ravens came into the game at 7-5, on the heels of back to back losses at the Pats and to the Bengals, wanted to right the ship.  Now, not only did they want to right the ship, Billick wanted to avenge his friend Gentleman Jim.  The Giants were in trouble right away on the road, falling behind 17-0, and were down 27-7 at halftime, their only score a 50 yard fumble return by Osi Umenyiora for a TD.  The carnage would continue in the 2nd half, as the score grew to 37-7 in the 3rd quarter.  Meanwhile, Eli got a baptism by fire from Mike Nolan's defense.  Eli's numbers were terrible: 4-18, 27 yards, 2 INTs, 2 sacks, 0 TDs.. good for a 0.0 passer rating.  And worst of all, he looked lost and in over his head.  People began to wonder if they drafted the "Little Brother", who was nothing like his famous father and MVP older brother Peyton.  Those thoughts were made louder when Eli was benched, mostly for his own good, midway through the 4th quarter for Kurt Warner to get in some garbage time throws and at least look like an NFL QB.  Meanwhile, Billick and Fassel continued to rub it in, having Kyle Boller air it out, en route to a 4 TD, 0 INT day in a 37-14 drubbing.

It was after this game, this rock bottom that we saw Eli start to show glimpses that he was not going to be a bust.  Working on a short week, the Giants played the powerhouse 12-1 Steelers at Giants Stadium on a Saturday afternoon.  The Steelers had their own first round rookie QB starting for them in Ben Roethlisberger.  Ben was the man who the Giants were going to take with their first round pick if they couldn't secure Eli.  For Ernie Accorsi, it had to be a bad time.  He made the trade for Eli and watched him crash and burn vs. the Ravens.  In came the Steelers machine with Ben leading the charge.  But on this day, Eli went toe to toe with Ben and the superior Steelers team.  In a back and forth game, the Giants would trail 20-14 at halftime.  In the 2nd half, Eli led comebacks twice to take the lead in the 3rd and 4th quarter, including a 30-26 lead mid way through the 4th quarter, until the Steelers took the lead for good at 33-30.  Eli this time would go 16-23, 182 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT and 0 sacks.  A passer rating of 103.9.  He outdueled Ben (18-28, 316 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 3 sacks, a passer rating 84.8).  And more importantly, Eli looked like he knew who to run an NFL offense, against a top defense, and rebounded from a performance which might have killed his career.

Eli continued to play well the next week at Cincinnati, and on the strength of 5 Steve Christie field goals, gave the Giants a 22-17 lead on the road midway through the 4th quarter.  However, a 4 yard TD pass to Chad Johnson from Jon Kitna with just :44 to go in the game took away Eli's first win in a 23-22 loss.  Again, Eli put up ok numbers, not great, going 19-37, 201 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT.  But he was gaining much needed experience.  

That would set up the Giants vs. the Cowboys.  A Sunday Night finale on ESPN, at a time before flex scheduling in a game which, to be honest, unless you were a Giants or Cowboys fan with their teams battling for last place, there wasn't much to watch here (perhaps Fantasy Football and/or gambling).  The Giants came in at 5-10, losers of 8 straight games and 9 of their last 10.  But they did have Eli trying to finish up strong.  Meanwhile, Dallas wasn't much better.  With Bill Parcells in his 2nd year in Big D, the Cowboys were at 6-9.  They also had nothing to play for when it came down to it.  But at least the Giants had a growth opportunity with Eli.  The Cowboys had 41 year old Vinny Testaverde at QB, and a gaggle of washed up big names like Keyshawn Johnson, Eddie George, and La'Roi Glover.  The Cowboys were going through the motions finishing up the season.  Eli was trying to go into 2005 and able to get his first win under his belt.  And as it would turn out, this game would tell us a great deal about the Giants next franchise QB.

The Game Highlights

Dallas would win the toss and the Giants’ Steve Christie would kickoff would go to Cooper on a line drive at the 7 yard line and he would make his way out to the 26 yard line, hit down by Mike Cloud.  Vinny Testaverde took the field with the Cowboys’ offense and started off with a run to Julius Jones, going to his right, making it out to the 29 yard line, tripped up by Carlos Emmons.  2nd and 7, Vinny would drop back, and throw in the flat to Darien Barnes, and the fullback dropped it.  

3rd and 7, with Keyshawn in motion, the Giants came on a blitz and the pocket collapsed around Vinny, with Dumaine Duckett coming up with the sack.  Duckett, a rookie, shoved the pocket into Vinny and dropped him back at the 23.  On would come Mat McBriar to punt, and he would send it to Ike Hilliard, who had to run backwards to the 18 yard line to field it, but with such a long punt, McBriar outkicked his coverage, giving Ike room to take it up the field to the 34 yard line.

On would come Eli Manning with his offensive unit, and start with a pitch to Tiki Barber, running to his left, and only gained 1 yard, hit down by Marcellus Wiley, but a 5 yard facemask against Dallas made the run look better and set up a 1st and 4.  Eli would play action fake to Tiki and tried to hit David Tyree on a comeback route, but the ball sailed over his head.  2nd and 4 at the 40, Eli audibled to a run to Tiki going to his left, and was hit down after a 3 yard gain by Dat Nguyen.  3rd and 1, with Ike in motion, the ball went to Tiki trying to run to his left, but the offensive line got no push, Tiki got no gain, and was stuffed by Dexter Coakley.  That brought on Jeff Feagles to punt and he sent a short/high punt that was fair caught by Frasier at the 23 yard line, not one of Feagles’ best efforts.

After a lackluster start by both offenses, Vinny began with a play action fake and a quick pass out in the flat to Jones at the 24 yard line, as Giants’ linebacker Nick Greisen was late to recognize and was slow in getting after Jones, allowing the Cowboys’ RB to turn up the field, out run a few slow Giants defenders and was eventually knocked out of bounds at the Giants’ 39 by Brent Alexander and Curry Burns.  First down, Jones got the carry and was met by Osi Umenyiora in the backfield at the 43 and was shoved backwards all the way to the Giants 45 yard line as the refs blew the whistles.  On 2nd and 13, Flozell Adams, who was lined up against Osi, and worried about his quickness, made things worse with a false start, that made it 2nd and 18, where Vinny set up a screen to Jones at the 48 yard line, where he was tracked down by Duckett at the Giants’ 48, for no gain.  That made it 3rd and 18, Vinny threw a quick pass to TE Jason Witten (yes he was around back then) at the 44 yard line and he made it to the 37, hit down by Emmons.  That made it 4th and 8, and Bill Parcells sent in the field goal unit for a 56 yard field goal.

Oh that tricky Bill Parcells!  Billy Cundiff was out of his range, and they rushed the unit out and did a direct snap out to Cundiff, who pooched a punt down the middle and with no return man there by the Giants to field it, had it roll all the way to the Giants 3 yard line, with Al Johnson, the long snapper doing the honors to down it with 8:33 to go in the first quarter.

Starting deep in their own end, the Giants began with a handoff to Tiki running to his left and he only gained 1 yard.  2nd and 9, Eli with a play action fake, and calmly while standing in his own end zone, hit TE Marcellus Rivers coming across the middle at the 10 yard line, where he was hit immediately by Roy Williams.  3rd and 3, with Hilliard in motion, Eli was swarmed under as the Cowboys came on a blitz that the offensive line didn’t pick up and he was sacked at the 3 by Wiley, who came in unblocked.  With Feagles in the end zone, he booted it to Lance Frazier at the Cowboys 48 yard line and he would return it up the middle to the 41, hit down by Reggie Torbor.

So coming off that 3 and out, the ‘Boys had great field position and Vinny handed to Jones, who was held up in the backfield by Alexander, but Jones deked him and what should have been a loss ended up being a gain out to the 37 yard line, hit down by Will Peterson.  2nd and 6, Jones again made a play

For the 2nd straight play, the Giants had Jones in the backfield, this time Fred Robbins had him at around the 43 yard line, but Jones got away and ran to his right, got past Osi and Peterson in pursuit and headed around the corner to the right, past Griesen’s bad angle, and was hit out of bounds by Burns at the 29 yard line, but good for a first down.  Vinny dropped back and tried to hit Witten in the zone, but had the ball knocked away by Will Allen at the 10.  2nd and 10, Jones again seemed to be stopped in the backfield, but got away from Duckett and headed to his left, getting out to the 23, hit down by Burns.  3rd and 4, Vinny tried to hit Keyshawn Johnson at the 19 yard line, but he was cut off of his route by Peterson, and Vinny threw it right to Allen, who as he did in most of his career, dropped the pick.  A bad decision by Vinny, but was bailed out by Allen’s hands.  So Cundiff came on to hit a 40 yarder down the middle, giving Dallas a 3-0 lead with 4:15 to go in the first quarter.

Cundiff would kickoff to Willie Ponder, and a short line drive was fielded at the 15, and he would only get to the 23, nailed by Ryan Fowler, hurting his knee in the process.  So Eli comes out down a field goal, and started this drive with a deep pass to Tyree who had beaten his man and almost connected all the way down to the Dallas 45 yard line, but it was knocked away, as the ball wobbled a bit thanks to a hit near Eli’s knees by the Dallas DT.  2nd and 10, Tiki ran to his left, and picked his way to the 27 yard line.  A flag on the play for a personal foul face mask on Dallas gave the Giants their biggest gain and a sarcastic cheer by the Giants fans, moving the ball out to the 42.  So with a first down, the ball went to Tiki, who waited for the blocking to develop up the middle and accelerated out to the 48 yard line where he was tripped up.  2nd and 4, Eli dropped back and hit Tyree at the Dallas 47 yard line, and he spun out to the 46, hit down by Frazier, good for another first down.  1st and 10, Eli again faked to Tiki, and tried to hit Vishante Shancoe in the flat, but the ball was into the turf.  2nd and 10, Eli back, with pressure in his face from Le’Roy Glover, and hit a diving Tyree at the sticks, good for a first down at the 35.  Tiki got the ball, running to his right, and was hit by Greg Ellis for no gain.  2nd and 10, Eli back on a short set, and again hit Tyree on a quick slant, drilling it in at the 30, and Tyree made his way to the 26, dragging some Cowboys just 1 yard short of a first down.  3rd and 1, Tiki took the carry, waited a moment to follow Jim Finn and ran to his left and turned the corner and went out of bounds at the 16 yard line.  Good for a first down on the final play of the first quarter.  First down, Eli in the gun and drilled another pass to Tyree, who was torching Frazier, and caught it at the 5 yard line, just inches from a first down.  So 2nd and inches, Tiki got the carry, waited a beat, and had a hole to the right and was about to score, but Williams just tripped him up, however, he made it to the 2, setting up first and goal.  On first down, a play action fake and tried to zip the ball to Tyree at the back of the end zone and the ball just went through his hands.  Eli and Tyree would connect on a similar play a few years later in Super Bowl 42.  But in 2004, incomplete.  2nd and goal, Tiki tried to cut up the middle, but was bottled up by Wiley and friends after a short gain.  3rd and goal, the Giants would cash in

Eli showing good vision and a strong arm, drilled the pass into the TE Shiancoe just over the goal line, away from the Cowboys’ linebacker and in front of the safety for a TD.  After a hold on Torbor, Christie’s extra point was good giving the Giants a 7-3 lead with 12:48 to go in the half.

Christie’s kickoff would go to Cooper on another short kick, out near the 20, and he took it down to the 38 yard line, hit down by Curtis DeLoatch.  First down for Dallas, and Vinny swung the pass out to Jones in the flat, where he made another move and got the ball out to the 42 yard line, tripped up by Carlos Emmons.  2nd and 6, Jones running to his left, following Larry Allen, made it to midfield, forced out by Peterson and Osi, but good for another first down.  Vinny would fake the handoff and rifled a pass to Quincy Morgan on a diving catch at the 40 and out of bounds, but good for another first down.  Parcells would go to his favorite flea flicker play, where they have a guy running deep, but also someone coming across the middle fairly deep, and that guy coming across is nearly always open (see the Super Bowl XXI flea flicker to Phil McConkey and he also did it in 1990 vs. the Dolphins throwing over the middle to Mark Ingram).  In this case, Jones got the handoff, flipped it back to Vinny, who hit Keyshawn wide open at the 22, where he slipped down and was hit by Burns, but good for yet another first down.  On the play, Keyshawn got hurt as Keyshawn’s legs got caught under him and turned his ankle and he had to be helped off the field.  On first down, the Cowboys got a little too cute with the gadget plays

Ok, now there has long been a debate about using trick plays in a game.  As the Giants head coach, Parcells was known to use a few when he saw an opportunity.  Otherwise, he was a fairly conservative play caller, knowing he had a great defense.  In the 1990 NFC Championship, not only did they run the fake punt to Gary Reasons, but they also had a halfback option pass by Dave Meggett, which would have been a TD, but Mo Carthon lost it in the sun and dropped it.  Tom Coughlin almost never ran a trick play throughout his entire tenure.  The Cowboys version of Bill Parcells went back to back trick plays.  Following a flea flicker with a reverse pass option with Jones giving to Patrick Crayton running to his right.  With a clear line of sight, Crayton tried to get the ball to Witten in the end zone.  Now, here is where the problem lies when you give the ball to a position player who might not have played QB since high school.  They want to throw the ball no matter what, even if the guy is covered.  Sometimes the safe play is the smart play.  Crayton threw a beautiful spiral...right to Burns at the goal line who returned it to the 12.  Now, more air on the ball might have been a TD.  But Crayton is a WR, not a QB.  And the pick ruined a great scoring chance by Dallas with 10:25 to go in the half.

Having dodged a bullet, the Giants began their next drive with a handoff to Tiki running to his left, and he cut back up the seam for a nice gain of 9, out to the 21 yard line, hit down by Williams.  2nd and 1, the ball went to Ron Dayne, playing at fullback, and plugged up the middle for 3 yards out to the 24 and good for a first down.  Eli went into the gun, he pump faked to his left, scrambled out to the right and threw a low pass towards Toomer which hit the ground.  2nd and 10, Eli back, with blitz coming he dropped backwards and dumped off to Tiki on a screen, but it was read by Coakley, who took him down at the 19 for a big loss.  3rd and 15, Eli back in the gun again, took the snap, rolled to his left and fired a pass to Ike Hilliard at the 26, and he was wrapped up immediately and ridden out of bounds, well short of a first down.  Feagles on to punt, sent one to Frasier short at the 32 yard line, and the Dallas returner took the ball to the 37, tackled by Derrick Ward (wearing #44).  

With 7:25 to go, Dallas began with a quick pass to Crayton at the 38 yard line, he made a move to get away from Alexander and took the ball out to the 50 yard line, hit down by Emmons but good for a first down.  The ball went to Jones, who was met in the backfield by Osi for a 2 yard loss.  2nd and 12, the Giants came on a blitz, and Vinny tossed a low pass to Morgan who made a diving catch at the 43 yard line and rolled out of bounds.  It actually looked like it hit the ground, but no replay happened and set up a 3rd and 3 and a run by Jones to his right, where he found a lane, and burst out to the 31, hit by Will Allen.  First down, Jones again, but this time he was met in the backfield up the middle by Duckett and Williams for a loss.  2nd and 13, a draw to Jones, who broke a tackle by Duckett near the line of scrimmage and took off to his left, getting all the way down to the 13 yard line, a first down, before DeLoatch got him at his ankles.  On first down, Vinny was tripped by his guard and fell down, for an easy cover by the Giants for a 4 yard loss.  2nd and 14, Vinny threw it in the flat by Polite at the 17 yard line, and he was hit down by Griesen at the 13.  3rd and 10, Vinny with all day, hit Morgan out at the 6 yard line, hit down by Peterson, short of a first down and the clock stopped with 1:58 officially at the 2 min warning.  With the timeout, Parcells decided to go for the field goal instead of trying for a TD, and he hit from 24 yards out to make the score an exciting 7-6 Giants lead with 1:54 to go.

The Cowboys kicked off to Ward at the 7 and he took the ball up the middle and out to the 27 where he was horsecollared (no call) with 1:46 remaining in the half.  Eli started with a draw to Tiki up the middle and he took it out to the 33.  On 2nd and 3, Eli threw a pass behind Tyree and nearly for a Pick 6, but the ball was dropped by Frazier.  3rd and 3, Eli in the shotgun, with a blitz coming on, Eli threw a deep shot down the middle in the direction of Toomer, but overthrown, stopping the clock with 1:18 left.  Feagles on to punt, sent one to Frazier at the 23, and he ran it to the 29, swallowed up by Reggie Torbor. 

On first down, Jones took the draw, ran to his right and got the ball out to the 35, forced out by Allen with 1:00.  2nd and 4, Vinny hit Witten in the flat at the 38 and was dragged down in bounds by Pederson at the 39, setting up a 3rd and 1.  On a quick count, the ball went to Jones running to his right, good for a first down at the 45, hit by Torbor and Parcells called a timeout with :34.  First and 10, the ball went to Witten at the 48, he moved around the tackle attempt by DeLoatch, stiff armed Pederson at the Giants’ 48 yard line, and muscled over 2 Giants to the 46 yard line, and the Cowboys called a timeout with :23.  On 2nd and 1, Vinny back, with pressure, and scrambling around, and Vinny chucked one up deep to towards Morgan and at the ball batted away by Peterson.  3rd and 1 with :13 the Giants needed to hold.   Jones had been running well all day, and this time on 3rd and short, he tried the middle of the defense, only to run into Fred Robbins and Osi at the 46 yard line to stuff the running back for a loss and keep Dallas from getting a first down and forcing them to take their final timeout.  

With :08 to go, maybe the Giants thought Vinny was going to try a Hail Mary, but that wasn’t what the plan was.  Vinny, in the gun, took the snap, had time to step up in the pocket and rifle a pass to Crayton at the 27 yard line, complete for a first down, and out of bounds with :02 to go.  A perfect play call for the situation, setting up a 45 yarder for Cundiff who converted after a bad snap.  An offside on the Giants was declined and Dallas took a 9-7 lead into the half.  

To start the 2nd half, Dallas would kick off Ward, who fielded a short kick at the 10, and ran it out to the 27 yard line, where he was taken down by what looked like a tackle up by his head, but no flag.  Eli would begin with a draw to Tiki up the middle for 3 yards out to the 30.  2nd and 7, Eli was back with plenty of time and hit Rivers over the middle at the 41 yard line and the tight end would bull his way out to the 43 for a first down, hit down by Coakley.  First down, Eli pitched back to Tiki running to his left, bounced it outside and around the corner and was knocked out of bounds at the Dallas 49 yard line, hit down by Williams.  2nd and 2, Dallas on the blitz, Eli faked the hand off, rolled to his right, and hit Hilliard out at the 43 for a first down.  A flag on the play for an illegal use of hands on Dallas was declined.  On first down, Eli dropped back, and stepped up in the pocket and rifled a pass in to Jamaar Taylor at the 33, and Taylor would run back across the field to the 28 yard line tackled by Williams on a would be horsecollar.  However, a hold on Jason Whittle brought it back to a first and 20 at the Giants’ 48.  Eli in the gun, hit Hilliard over the middle underneath the zone at the Dallas 49, and Ike got the ball out to the 45.  2nd and 13, a draw to Tiki, who cut back over the middle out to the 40.  On 3rd and 8, we would get a taste of a wacky Eli INT.

Eli would drop back and with a blitz coming, which was picked up well, Eli did a jump pass thing over the middle towards an open Tiki.  However, Tiki wasn’t looking as the ref got in the way and the ball bonked off his helmet and into the arms of Coakley, who also batted it up in the air and with guys from both teams converging on it, the Cowboys LB Dat Nguyen would charge in to grab it at the 29 yard line for a killer interception.  

With 10:24 to go in the 3rd, Jones took the carry to his right for a 2 yard gain, hit down by Griesen.  

2nd and 8, Vinny threw a dart at the sidelines towards Crayton who caught the ball at the 40 yard line and was initially ruled out of bounds.  However, another official came over and said that Will Allen pushed him out of bounds so they gave the catch to Dallas.  And time to give Joe Theismann some credit here.  Joe was a terrible announcer.  However, he made a good point, the rule should be changed because either you get 2 feet in or you don’t.  Leaving it up to the official’s judgement was a problem.  As it turned out, the NFL would change this rule in 2008 to do just that.  With Coughlin yelling to no avail, the Cowboys were given a first down.  Jones would sweep to his right and was hit down by Burns at the 45, good for a 5 yard gain.  2nd and 5, Jones again running to his right, around the corner for a 5 yard gain and a first down, hit down by Alexander.  Vinny dropped back, with a blitz coming up the middle, would hit Crayton at the Giants’ 42 yard line, and the WR would spin inside and break a tackle by Allen, and plow into Alexander and fall forward, coming within inches of a first down, as Emmons dove in late and nearly knocked the ball free.  2nd and inches, Jones took the carry up the cut, got to the 37 for a first down, hit by Kevin Lewis, but a hold on Dallas set them back to a 2nd and 11.  Vinny would drop back for a screen, with a blitz coming off the corner by Peterson, Vinny would lure him in and dump the ball off to Jones, who bobbled it at the 43 yard line, avoid the tackle by Griesen who looked lost again, turn up the sidelines and accelerate out to the Giants’ 45 yard line, pushed out by Emmons.  3rd and 4, Vinny on a 3 step drop drilled a pass into Crayton at the 37 yard line, hit immediately by Peterson, but turned inside to get to the 35 and another first down.  Jones got the carry, running right, and cut back up the middle, hit down by Osi and Greisen at the 32 for a 3 yard gain.  2nd and 7, Vinny would give to Jones on a draw, but this time was met by Griesen for no gain.  3rd and 7, with Witten in motion, Vinny dropped back, and got drilled on a blitz by Duckett, but he slung a pass into Witten at the 27 yard line and the tight end would bang forward to the 23, hit down by Allen but good for another first down.  With the clock ticking down, Vinny called a timeout and the Cowboys gave to Jones running to his left, turned the corner and got the ball to 18, hit by Osi and Peterson.  2nd and 3, Jones took a draw, found a huge hole up the middle and rumbled down to 5 yard line, hit by Allen but set up a first and goal, and putting Jones over 100 yards on the day.  First and goal, Jones got the ball, and this time he didn’t have any chance to dance as Robbins engulfed him and stopped him for no gain.  2nd and goal, Vinny hit Jones out in the flat as the Giants came on a blitz by Alexander.  The last time Vinny got a good gain out of Jones as Griesen missed the tackle.  This time Jones caught it at the 7 yard line and was hit immediately by Burns and thrown down.  3rd and goal at the 7 we would see a Giants killer in the making

On 3rd and goal, with Osi coming off the corner, Vinny set up and threw a dart into Witten, who had set up shop in the end zone, blocked off Will Allen like he was a rebounder in basketball, and caught the ball for a touchdown.  This would become a familiar sight for the Giants and their fans for the next 10+ years.  The extra point was barely good, but finished up a 15 play drive that took almost 10 minutes, and put the Cowboys up 16-7 with :45 to go in the 3rd quarter.

The Cowboys kick was a low knuckleball that fluttered out to the 12 yard line, fielded on a bounce by Willie Ponder and he burst out to the 38 yard line for a nice gain.  The Giants would look to get back into the game quickly.  

Eli would fake the handoff to Tiki and with time in the pocket, heave a deep pass to Taylor, who had gotten a step on the corner and was ready to haul in the long ball at the 19.  But he was pulled down by the Cowboys’ Frazier for an obvious pass interference.  Jamaar Taylor was one of those players who flashed and looked like he was going to be a big part of the Giants future.  Taylor caught several deep passes from Eli in his rookie season, but a knee injury would end his career early.  But for the purposes of the play, the ball was all the way down to the 19 yard line for a big first down.  The Giants would get another highlight on the next play

Needing 4 yards to break Rodney Hampton’s all time rushing record for the NY Giants, Tiki would run to his left, turn up the field and gain 4 yards, giving him the record that he still holds today to end the 3rd quarter.  With the ball at the 15, Eli would show some touch.

Eli put Tiki in motion out of the backfield running to the left, he would fake what looked to be a screen out to Tiki as Tyree looked to come up to block.  That would draw in the Cowboys defensive backs, and allowed Tyree to slip right past them as Eli pump faked to Tiki.  That allowed Tyree to essentially glide right behind the Cowboys defense for an easy TD, hauling in the touch pass from Eli and back into the end zone on the 15 yard TD pass.  Amazingly, it was the Giants first TD catch by a WR the entire 2004 season.  The extra point made the score 16-14 with 14:55 to go as Mike Patrick would say the prophetic words, “don’t worry about Eli, he’ll be just fine”.

The Giants would kickoff to the Cowboys’ Jacque Reed on a line drive where he fielded it at the 15, booted it around and was able to fall on it and give himself up at the 19 yard line.  On first down though, we saw a rising young star on the Giants defense make a play

2nd year defensive end Osi Umenyiora would show what he would do over the course of the rest of his career.  Be a speed rusher off the blind side, beating left tackles and swiping at a QB’s arm just as they went back to throw.  In this case, Osi essentially ran right around Flozell Adams (looking like Erick Flowers basically), who didn’t get a hand on him, and hacked the ball out of Vinny’s hands at the 12 yard line, with the ball going forward to the 20, where Torbor dove on the fumble to give the ball right back to the Giants.  

So the Giants offense was in good shape at the 20, and gave to Tiki up the gut, where he dove ahead to the 15 yard line for a 5 yard gain.  2nd and 5, Eli had a play fake to Tiki and rolled to his right, tried to it Shaincoe and had the ball knocked away by Dixon.  3rd and 5, Eli in the gun shouting out Omaha, actually got a false start on Pettitgout.  3rd and 10 now at the 21, with the clock running down, Eli had to call a time out.  Eli back in the gun again, slung a pass over the middle to Tyree who snagged it at the 9 yard line for a huge first down, where he was hit down by about 4 Cowboys.  First and goal at the 9, Tiki took the carry up the middle for 2 yards.  2nd and goal at the 7, Eli would hit Shiancoe over the middle at the 4 yard line, where he was taken down by Coakley at the 3.  On 3rd and goal, the Giants would cash in

Somewhere the Giants dropped this from their playbook, but it’s a nice play down at the goal line, that being a short inside screen inside the 5 yard line.  In this case it was a quick fake to Tiki and Eli looking out towards a TE going into the flat.  But Tiki would sell the fake and stop, waiting for his offensive lineman to get out in front, get a good block by Shaun O’Hara and take the ball over the goal line for a TD.  Christie’s extra point made the score 21-16 Giants with 11:51 to go in the game. 

Christie’s kickoff was again squibbed and was taken on a bounce at the 8 yard line by Reeves and he got the ball out to the 29, hit down by Derrick Ward.  Vinny would drop back, with pressure forcing him to scramble, threw high to Morgan where it bounced off his hands and incomplete.  2nd and 10, a pitch to Jones running to the right, where he cut back over the middle for a decent gain of 5 yards.  3rd and 5, Vinny had time and fired a pass over the middle towards Witten, but the ball was thrown too hard and went through his hands.  McBriar’s punt to HIlliard was taken at the 28 yard line and Ike took it back to the 36 yard line where he was slung down.
First down, Eli handed off to Tiki, trying to find room up the middle, but found nothing and was hit down for no gain.  2nd and 10, Eli would zip a pass out to Tyree at the 45 and bulled ahead to the 46, just a yard short of a first down.  3rd and 1, Tiki took the handoff but he was met in the backfield by Williams on a run blitz for no gain and forced a punt.  Feagles’ punt bounced at the 5, and nearly held up enough to get downed, but it went into the end zone for a touchback.

On first down, Jones took a draw but was met in the backfield for a 1 yard loss by Duckett.  2nd and 11, Vinny back against the blitz, was able to find Witten who was wide open on a slant at the 30 and the big TE rumbled out to the 42 yard line, hit down by Peterson but a big gain and a first down.  Vinny would drop back again, but the Giants coverage was good and he would get sacked by Torbor at the 36.  2nd and 15, Jones would gauge the Giants for a big gain on a delay up the gut and he took off out to the 50, where he was tripped up by Alexander.  3rd and 2, a fake by Vinny and he would scramble around long enough for Witten to uncover and make the catch at the 43, hit down by Peterson but got a first down.  First and 10, the all went to Jones running to his right and took it to the 40, hit down by Osi after a 3 yard gain.  2nd and 7, Vinny dropped back and found a somehow wide open Witten at the 35 and he would pick his way out to the 30, hit by Lewis and good for another first down.  And Jones would again kill the Giants with a big run

Jones was ripping off big gains all night.  And it was no different this time as he took a handoff going up the middle, got Torbor to commit inside and cut outside of him and turn on the jets past Will Allen who ran himself out of the play, get a block from his WR, and barrelled all the way down to the 6 where he was corralled by Peterson and Deloatch.  First and goal, Eddie George would come into the game and push ahead for 1 yard.  After enough of that, George came out for Jones on 2nd and goal with the clock running near 2 minutes.  Jones took the handoff running to his right and would pound over Griesen all the way down to the 1 yard line, with the 2 minute warning coming officially at 1:58.  On 3rd and goal, Jones barged over to the right side, but this time Greisen did a version of the Gary Reasons’ leap in Denver to engulf Jones short of the goal line and Dallas called a timeout with 1:52 to go in the game.  So it came down to a 4th and goal for Bill Parcells.  But this time he decided to run towards his beef.

The previous play was run to the right.  However, this time the call was for Jones to run to his left.  Behind mammoth left tackle Flozell “the Hotel” Adams and Hall of Famer Larry Allen.  The results were better as Jones found a lane to get into the end zone.  Up by 1 point, the Cowboys would go for 2 and it would work on a quick pass to Witten in the end zone giving Dallas a 24-21 lead with 1:49 to go.

The kickoff was a squib out to the wedge at the 30 where it was scooped by backup TE Marcellus Rivers.  Rivers would push his way up the field to the 34 where he was get nailed by Fowler and put the ball on the ground.  Both teams would dive into a big pile, with the game on the line.  But fortunately for the Giants somehow Rivers was able to cover it up and give Eli his chance.

So here it was 1:41 to go in the game, 1 time out, and down by 3.  Eli in the gun would get whacked in the face and dump it off to Tiki at the 35, and he would end up charging up the field and all the way out to the Cowboys’ 44 yard line.  However, a flag on the play would add an additional 15 yards on roughing the passer on Leonardo Carson thanks to the shot to Eli’s head.  That would put the ball all the way to the 28 with 1:31 to go.  Eli in the gun gave to Tiki on a draw up the middle and he spun down to the 18 yard line, hit by Williams.  With the clock running, Eli back would hit Rivers at the 13, and he would get to the 12, hit by Coakley with the clock running under 1 minute.  Eli in the gun again, gave to Tiki on 2nd and 5 and he was tripped up and fell down at the 11 yard line.  With the clock continuing to run on 3rd and 3, the Giants had a huge decision to make.  Do you take a time out?  Do you throw it?  Coughlin made his decision

In the gun, with the clock now under 25 second, Eli gave to Tiki up the middle, found a lane and burst all the way out to the 3 where he was wrapped up by Williams and friends with 16 seconds to go and a first and goal.  And what would happen next would go down in Giants history

If the 3rd and 3 call was Coughlin’s, this one was on Eli.  Eli looked at the defensive front, saw that they were playing for a pass, and switched to a run to Tiki.  A gutsy move because if he was stuffed, the clock is running and you might not get a chance to spike it.  Not only did it give the Giants the lead, it also broke Joe Morris’ single season rushing record for Tiki at 1518 yards.  Christie’s extra point made the score 28-24 Giants with 11 seconds to go in the game.  

The Giants kickoff was squibed up the field and was taken out to the 37 yard line with 5 seconds to go.  Vinny in the gun and scrambling around, tried to fire it deep, but got his arm slightly hit and under threw Witten down at the 30, where he had to dive and dropped the ball as the clock struck 0 and the Giants ended the 2004 season with a win and gave Eli his first victory of his career.

Post Mortem/ Interesting Tidbits

  • This was the first of Eli's current Giants record 111 career win
  • Eli was the first Giants rookie with 3 TD passes in a game since Phil Simms in 1979
  • This was Eli’s first Prime Time game on ESPN
  • This was Eli’s first 3 TD game of his career.  Going into the 2018 season, Eli has thrown for 3 or more TDs in a game 47 times, with a career best 6 TDs at New Orleans in a shootout 52-49 loss to the Saints in 2015 (Drew Brees threw 7 TDs in the game as well).  
  • David Tyree caught his first NFL TD in this game, a 15 yarder to help key the 4th quarter comeback.  Tyree would catch 3 more regular season TDs in his career. Of course, he became much better known for a pair of 4th quarter catches 3 years later, in Super Bowl XLII, including a TD to give the Giants the lead, and a little known catch on the game winning drive in which the use of his helmet got a bit of attention.
  • Tyree’s 7 catches were a career high.  And his 71 yards were the 3rd best of his career, behind 106 yards in a loss at Philly in 2003, and 72 yards in a loss at Seattle in 2006.
  • Visanthe Shiancoe’s TD was his first of the season and his final TD of his Giants career.  In call he caught 3 TDs as a member of the Giants, and mainly played in the shadow of Shockey at TE.  Shiancoe would leave the Giants and sign with the Vikings and enjoyed a career year in 2009, catching 56 passes for 566 yards and 11 TDs as Minnesota made the NFC Championship game, ultimately blowing it at New Orleans on Brett Favre’s pick.  Shiancoe would play 4 more years, wrapping up his career with stops in New England in 2012 and the Titans in 2013.
  • Tiki’s TD was his 13th and final one of the 2004 season.  His 13 TDs was a career high, besting the 11 he scored in 2002.  
  • This was Ron Dayne’s final game in a Giants uniform.  The former Heisman Trophy winner out of Wisconsin never lived up to his potential with the Giants.  Initially in 2000, there was some hope. Dayne teamed with Tiki to form “Thunder and Lightning”. Dayne rushed for 770 yards and 5 TDs and was a good power component to Tiki’s slashing style.  But in reality, you would have thought Dayne was a power back. He was built like a bowling ball, at 5’10” and 250 pounds. You would have thought he was hammering back who punished defenders. But that was never his game.  He ran as though he was closer to Tiki’s size. He didn’t push piles, getting the derisive moniker “No Gain Dayne”. As Tiki took over as the feature back, Dayne’s production declined year after year: 690 yards, 428 yards, and in 2004 a mere 179 yards.  In this game, Dayne would contribute 1 carry for 3 yards. The Giants would not renew his contract, and he went to Denver, known as a franchise that churned out 1000 yard backs like it was nothing (Reuben Droughns, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, etc). And he got 270 yards.  Dayne would finish his career with the Texans, playing his final 2 seasons in the NFL, and he finished the 2007 season with career highs of 773 yards and 6 TDs and retired at age 29.
  • Going into this game, the speculation from ESPN and others was that this game would be the final NFL game for Vinny Testaverde.  Vinny, now 41 years old, had started 15 games for the Cowboys in his second stint under Bill Parcells, his first was with the Jets in his career best season of 1998 when he threw for 29 TDs with only 7 INTs, good for a 101.6 QB rating and led the Jets to the AFC Championship game in Denver.  But it would turn out that this wasn’t Vinny’s last hurrah. Vinny would go back to the Jets in 2005, and ended up starting 4 games for them in Herm Edwards final season as head coach in a 4-12 trainwreck as 5 different QBs got playing time (Vinny, Chad Pennington, Brooks Bollinger, Jay Fiedler, and Kliff Kingsbury).  Even that wasn’t enough to force Vinny into retirement. He spend the 2006 season as Tom Brady’s backup in New England (his 2nd stint with Bill Belichick after their shared time in Cleveland), and then finally, at the age of 44, he retired after spending the 2007 season with the Carolina Panthers, starting 6 games for them (going 2-4).  All in all, Vinny went from the #1 pick in the 1987 draft to Tampa Bay coming off a Heisman Trophy win at the University of Miami, and had a 21 year career. Not too shabby.
  • It was, however, the final game for a different Heisman Trophy winner on the Cowboys, running back Eddie George.  George, who made his name at Ohio State and burst on to the scene in 1996 with the Houston Oilers (their last season in Houston), racking up 1368 yards and 8 TDs.  George would go on to rush for over 1000 yards in his first 5 years, including a career high 1509 yards on a league leading 403 attempts in 2000, which included 14 TDs.  George would dip to 939 yards in 2001, and rebound to rush for over 1000 in his final 2 seasons at Tennessee. At age 31, George went to Dallas, who love big names and what we saw was a power back who showed the wear and tear from the pounding he took game in and game out as the feature back for the Oilers/Titans.  George only started 8 games for Dallas in 2004, rushing for career lows of 432 yards and 4 TDs. In his final game against the Giants, he rushed 1 time for 2 yards. It has been said that skill position players fall off a cliff when they hit 30. There are a few notable exceptions to the rule (Jerry Rice, Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber).  But the majority fall closer to the Eddie George category. Going from decent production in 2003 (1031 yards) to subpar in 2004 to out of the league in 2005.
  • Ike Hilliard also played his final game in a Giants uniform, catching 3 passes for 22 yards.  The former first round pick out of Florida was a solid WR over the course of 8 years with the Giants.  Hilliard missed most of his rookie year of 1997 thanks to a hit by Chris Hudson of the Jaguars in Week 2 that injured his neck.  While Amani Toomer stepped up and took control of the #1 WR spot, Hilliard became a reliable #2 man, with his slippery moves to get open.  Hilliard was injured again in 2002, suffering a season ending shoulder injury. thanks to a typically dirty late hit by Brian Dawkins. Turning 29 with some significant injury issues and a frail frame, the Giants decided to move on from Ike after the 2004 season and went for a much more physical receiver in free agent Plaxico Burress.  Ike would go back to Florida and sign with the Tampa Bay Bucs and played 4 seasons there. He retired after the 2008 season and signed 1 day ceremonial contract with Giants.
  • Curry Burns’ INT was the only one in his 3 year NFL career as a journeyman who played with the Texans and Redskins, in addition to the Giants.
  • Little used DT Davern Williams registered .5 sack in this game, it was his only time he got to the QB in his career, which was limited to 3 games in 2004.
  • Similarly, DT Damane Duckett registered the only sack of his 3 year career.
  • The Giants finished the 2004 season at 6-10.  Pretty bad considering a 5-2 start getting torpedoed to help Eli learn his craft and doing so at a 1-8 clip to finish up the last 9 games.  Amazingly however, 6-10 was good for 2nd place in the brutal NFC East. The Eagles were the class of the division, going 13-3 and making the Super Bowl (and losing to the Patriots).  The Giants however, swept Dallas and split the season series with the Redskins. In all they finished 3-3 in the NFC East, which was better than Dallas or Washington. So they got 2nd place.  Hurray?
  • Giants had 17 players on IR in 2004.  Not good for Coughlin, particularly his unfortunate comment that injuries were a "cancer" and seemed to insinuate that players milked injury under Fassel.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

2008 Giants @ Steelers

Week 8

The Setup

Games are won and lost in so many ways in the NFL.  Most of the time it has to do with the major factors, ie:  Descrepancies in talent, descrepancies in coaching, and which team executes their game plan better and doesn't get hit with penalties/or turnovers.  In probably 90% of the games played between teams, those factors decide who gets the W and who gets the L.

Now, there are some other factors along the way that do come into play, namely injuries.  If the QB goes down during a game, more often than not, the backup QB has a difficult time running the team because they simply do not get the reps in practices, which impacts the entire offensive scheme.  Defenses will cheat up to shut down the run, forcing passes when it's likely obvious that the QB and receivers are not on the same page.  And this can be seen on most other positions on offense and defense, if a starter/impact player other than QB goes down, teams will go after their replacement to test them out, particularly if they are a cornerback and can be put on an island, so to speak.

While the NFL is a "next man up" mentality, sometimes, in some rare cases, there is no next man to go to.  And this falls in one specific area...specialists on special teams.  For the most part, cover men and blockers on special teams tend to be from the back end of the roster, backup WRs, DBs, LBs, etc.  If someone goes down in that group, they are usually pretty easy to replace.  You can swap in any number of other reserves to cover kicks, and even put in a starter if needed.  In the mid 1980s, Lawrence Taylor was a gunner on punts.  

But if you have ever been to a training camp practice or even any NFL game, you will notice that there are 3 positions who are always doing their own thing.  The kicker, punter, and long snapper.  In the summer at training camp, while the rest of the team is running through drills, these 3 guys are usually off on the side running their own drills.  Brad Wing would literally punt a ball high, almost straight up, in the air and stroll about 5 yards forward and catch it...and then do it again.  During the regular season, before the rest of the players come out of the lockerroom, there are always three guys who come out about 5 minutes before the rest...the kicker, punter, and long snapper.

So, what happens if something happens to one of those guys?  Rosters aren't meant to carry backups at those spots.  Years back, teams might carry 2 kickers...a regular kicker and a kickoff specialist.  The Giants did this with Dan Reeves in the mid 1990s when they had David Treadwell as the regular kicker, and Brad Daluiso as the kickoff specialist and Hail Mary 50 yard + deep shots.  Later Jim Fassel did the same with an old Morten Andersen as the main kicker and Owen Pochman as the kickoff specialist.  Well, as they moved around kickoffs and introduced the "k-ball", all in the name to reduce concussions, kickoffs have been on the rise in the NFL, thus eliminating a "kickoff specialist".  The obvious move, if a punter or kicker is hurt, is for whichever one is still healthy, they will fill in that role, even though they are 2 different skill sets, you use your foot, so get out there.  In the 2010 playoff game at Cincinnati, Steve Weatherford was the punter for the Jets.  Weatherford had an issue in the locker room before the game with his heart racing, reaching about 200 beats per minute, so much so that the Jets shut him down and used kicker Jay Feeley as the punter in that game.  In 2003, in a game against the Dolphins, the Giants' kicker, Matt Bryant, injured his hamstring making a 43 yard field goal right before the half, to bring the Giants closer to the Dolphins, trailing 13-10 at the half.  The Giants had to ask Feagles to take over kicking duties, and he would end up missing his only career attempt, a 29 yarder in an eventual Giants 23-10 loss.

So that leaves one guy, the long snapper.  The automatic assumption is that if the long snapper goes down, just put the regular center out there to do it.  But again, it's a totally different technique.  A regular center will use one hand to snap, either back to the QB directly behind him, or in the shotgun around 4 or so yards back.  However, on special teams, on a long snap in a field goal/extra point, the snapper will use hands, with his legs spread far apart (and usually interlocking with the guards next to him) and snap it 7 yards back to the holder who is waiting for it low to the ground in his kneeling position, which then signals to the kicker to begin his part.  Punts are an even more tricky ask.  The long snap needs to go 15 yards back to the punter and hit him in the hands, to keep the timing for the kick and coverage down the field.  This is not an easy thing and it's a specialized skill.  So much so that Zak DeOssie, drafted as a linebacker out of Brown University.  DeOssie never saw the field on defense, and has been exclusively a long snapper for his entire career, which began in 2007, and has included 2 Super Bowls and 2 Pro Bowls for his accurate abilities as a long snapper, and being one of the first men down in coverage.  Zak learned his trade from his father, Steve, a former Cowboy, Patriot, and Jets player, but he made his name with the Giants as a long snapper and linebacker.  Steve DeOssie was the one who snapped the ball back to Jeff Hostetler in the 1990 NFC Championship game on Matt Bahr's 5 field goals, including the game winning 41 yarder at the gun to put the Giants in Super Bowl XXV.

So we've established this is a tough skill to master.  And Giants fans are all too well aware of what happens when your long snapper fails at his basic job, thanks to Trey Junkin in the 2002 Wild Card playoff at San Francisco.  But in that case, Junkin was a long time long snapper, who came out of retirement to join the Giants as he tried to get an elusive Super Bowl ring.  What happens if your long snapper goes down during the game?  In listing the reasons for a team winning and losing, if it is a very even matchup across the board, sometimes it's the smallest detail that will factor in.  In setting up this 2008 matchup between the 5-1 Giants and the 5-1 Steelers.  The Giants were coming off their 2007 World Championship and were establishing themselves as the best team in the NFL.  The Steelers, boasting the top rated defense in the NFL, were playing at home, with their own Super Bowl QB in Ben Roethlisberger at the helm.  It was a matchup between 2 teams who would each finish the season at 12-4, and both would make the playoffs as a high seed (the Giants #1 and Steelers #2).  This matchup would prove to be between the 2007 and eventual 2008 Super Bowl champions.  But it wasn't decided by anyone named Manning or Roethlisberger or Tuck or Polomalu.  It was decided by an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina named Greg Warren and an ugly ACL injury that would decide the winner of the contest.

The Game Highlights

The Steelers would win the toss and deferred to the 2nd half, so the Giants would get the ball first.  Jeff Reed kicked off to Ahmad Bradshaw, who caught the ball about halfway deep in the end zone and took the touchback.  First down at the 20, Eli Manning would begin with a pitch to Brandon Jacobs running to his right, but he was met in the backfield by James Farrior at the 17 yard line for a 3 yard loss.  2nd and 13, Eli in the gun, and with a blitz by Barry Foote coming free, forced a quick pass over the middle to Derrick Ward at the 20 and he would lean to the 21 yard line, hit down by Deshea Townsend.  3rd and 9, Eli in the gun again, would drop back, with time and hit Steve Smith right by the sticks, but he fell down just short at the 29 yard line.  This was actually a bad job by Smith, who cut his route right at the first down marker and when he came back to catch the ball, he was short.  The rule of thumb is to go beyond the marker and come back to catch it, thus ensuring you get the first down.  So it was a 3 and out, Jeff Feagles would come on to punt the ball away and he sent it to Melwelde Moore, who caught it at the 29 and he evaded Kevin Dockery, made his way up the field to the 39 where he was hit down by Chase Blackburn and James Butler.

Now it was Ben Roethlisberger’s turn to take his team out on to the field, and Ben began with a short drop and tried to find an open man, but it was covered, and he held the ball a beat too long as the Giants pass rush engulfed him as he flipped the ball in the direction of Moore over the middle and it fell incomplete.  Meanwhile Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka put Ben on the turf.  2nd and 10, Ben in the gun, and with a little bit of time, threw the ball to TE Heath Miller over the middle at the 45, and he would get a pick block to stop pursuit and he would get around a weak tackle attempt at the 50 by Corey Webster and he took off up the field to the Giants’ 39 yard line, with his legs cut out by Michael Johnson, but good for a 22 yard gain.  First down, Moore took the handoff up the middle, got through the line and looked to break a big gain, but was brought down by Butler and Danny Clark after a 6 yard gain.  On 2nd and 4, the Giants wouldn’t be so lucky

The previous carry, it appeared Moore was going to break away for a TD.  This time a delay to Moore running to his right, and the running back broke a diving tackle attempt by Dockery at his legs near the line of scrimmage, Tuck was knocked to the ground by Miller, and with no linebacker help, the only man with one last chance with Johnson at safety, who didn’t have a good angle at the 20 and missed Moore, and his despiration dive at the 10 yard line wasn’t enough as Moore coasted into the end zone, for a big 32 yard TD and got the Yinzer crowd in a frenzy.  Reed’s extra point would make the score 7-0 with 11:15 to go in the first quarter.  

Reed’s kickoff would go to Bradshaw right at the goal line and he would get a good return, breaking a tackle at the 20 and making it out to the 36 yard line.  The Giants would start their 2nd drive, with Plaxico still on the sidelines thanks to a benching by Coughlin for missing treatments.  Eli would begin in the gun and he would find Dominik Hixon on a comeback route at the 43 yard line, and Hixon would spin inside and evade a couple of Steelers and he would take it to the Steelers 48 yard line, good for a first down.  Jacobs would take the carry running to his left and found a lane and plowed ahead for 5 yards, taken down by Casey Hampton.  2nd and 5, a fake draw to Jacobs, and Eli tried to hit Madison Hedgecock in the flat, but the fall back dropped the ball.  3rd and 5, Eli back in the gun, the Giants set up a quick screen to Ward, and it was executed perfectly as Ward stepped back to the 45, and with Kareem McKenzie and Chris Snee getting out in front, was able to find a big lane and cut inside and make it all the way out to the 24 yard line, hit down by Tyrone Carter.  First down, the ball went to Jacobs, who tried to run to his right, and cut back up the middle for no gain, taken down by Troy Polomalu.  2nd and 10, Jacobs again got the ball, and this time he just powered straight ahead for 6 yards, hit down by Hampton.  3rd and 4, Eli in the gun again, and this time he was able to find Smith on a quick pass over the middle from the slot, and he caught it on the run at the 19 yard line and darted his way to the 9 yard line, hit down by Townshend.  First and goal at the 9 a near disaster

As the Giants had the momentum, they tried a sweep to Jacobs running to his left.  However, as he tried to cut up the field, the ball came loose and Jacobs kicked it around by the 12 yard line.  For a moment it laid on the ground at the 13 yard line with 3 Steelers coming in on it, but McKenzie alertly fell on the ball to keep possession.  2nd and goal at the 13, Eli back and hit Kevin Boss over the middle at the 7 yard line, where it bounced off him and he recovered to haul it in with one hand at the at the 12 yard line, so a minimal gain.  3rd and goal, Eli in the gun and with a blitz coming, dumped the ball off to Ward at the 9 yard line and he would get dragged down by Farrior at the 8 yard line.  The brought up a 4th down and John Carney came on to nail a 26 yard field goal to make the score 7-3 with 4:39 to go in the first quarter.

Carney’s kickoff was short and went to one of the up men blockers, Kerry Davis at the 13 yard line and he would take it out to the 31 yard line, taken down by Zak DeOssie and Blackburn.  On first down, a hard count by Ben caught his own man with a false start called on Hines Ward.  So first and 15, Ben with a short drop, but everyone was covered, and the Giants pass rush was no where, so he moved around a bit and found Ward at the 40 yard line, where he was hit down by Danny Clark, 1 yard short of a first down.  2nd and 1, Moore took the handoff up the middle and he tried to jump ahead for a first down, and he barely got it, hit down by Bryan Kehl.  As it looked like the Steelers were moving, Ben made a mistake

Roethlisberger dropped back, and with a clean pocket fired a pass somewhat in the direction of Ward, who ran his route about 5 yards beyond where Ben threw the ball.  Waiting there was James Butler, who dove and picked off the pass at the Giants’ 49, and as he scrambled to his feet, had the ball squirt free and roll forward to the Steelers 42 yard line, which led to a pile up and Kehl missed the initial recovery, but Kiwanuka was able to get back and recover.

So the Giants now had the ball in Steeler territory, Eli in the gun, and with Pittsburgh in a blitz, saw the line pick up up and find Kevin Boss in the flat, wide open at the 40, the big TE was able to turn up the field, and spin down at the 27 yard line, taken down by Ryan Clark.  However, moments after the play Hixon decided to deck Farrior for a late hit and a 15 yard penalty, which put them back at the 42 yard line, so essentially no gain on the play.  First down, Eli dropped back and hit Amani Toomer on an out pattern, with the Steelers playing way off, and Toomer hauled it in at the 35, and dove forward to the 33 yard line, one yard short of a first.  2nd and 1, Jacobs took the ball and powered to his right, dragging Lamar Woodley for 5 yards out to the 26 yard line, and another first down. 1st and 10, with Boss in motion, the ball went to Jacobs on a delay, and he got a head of steam running to his left, and he ran over Clark at the 20, and kept moving forward to the 16 yard line.  2nd and 1, the ball went to Derrick Ward up the middle, where he got hit but fell forward, and the refs brought the sticks out to measure and had him about 6 inches short.  

With the clock running, the Giants went to (GASP!!) and Eli Manning QB sneak up the middle, and Eli was able to push forward out to the 15 yard line and a first down on the final play of the quarter.  So why highlight this?  Well, at some point apparently after 2008, Coughlin..and then Ben McAdoo, ditched the QB sneak in short yardage situations.  The explanation was that Eli wasn’t good at it, or perhaps would get hurt.  No matter what way you slice it, it’s been removed from the playbook.  That’s all well and good, except for the fact that no defense that plays the Giants bothers to worry about a QB sneak in short yardage and key on the RBs.  The combination of poor inline blocking, subpar RBs, and no threat of a key play in short yardage (QB sneak) makes it no surprise the Giants have been bad in short yardage for years.  Anyway, first down to start the 2nd quarter, and Eli gave to Jacobs on a run to the right, Jacobs was hit in the backfield by Brett Keisel, but Jacobs got away from him, and squared his shoulders and powered forward, again running over Clark at the 8 yard line and falling forward to the 3 yard line.  First and goal, the Giants bring on Mike Matthews as a 2nd TE, and Eli tried to hit Toomer over the middle on a play action, and the ball was tipped and nearly picked by Polomalu.  2nd and goal, Eli in the gun, with a blitz coming, tried to hit Hixon in the end zone, and missed a wide open Steve Smith, but Woodley lined up offsides, giving the Giants another yard and keeping it at 2nd and Goal.  Jacobs would try to plow over the middle, but the Steelers stacked it up for no gain.  The Giants would try to power it in again

Again in a power formation, the ball went to Jacobs, running to his right, but he would cut back over the middle and take a hit at the 3, but keep his momentum and fall forward, stretching the ball over the goal line for an apparent TD.  The tough call was his elbow was down just as he was reaching across the plane.  Back in 2008, the rule that all TDs get automatically reviewed wasn’t in place, so Mike Tomlin threw the flag to review.  The replays would show he was inches short.  The Giants would challenge a good defense on the road, and again would give to Jacobs to plow up the middle, and this time the Steelers defense held off the surge and stopped Jacobs short of the goal line, with Clark helping to pull him back.  This time Coughlin would challenge the ruling, but with no definitive angle to show Jacobs crossed the goalline, the play stood as called, no TD for the Giants with 13:06 to go in the 2nd quarter.  
The good news for the Steelers, they stopped the Giants from scoring.  The bad news, they had the ball inside their own 1 yard line.  On first down, Ben went with a play action pass and dumped it to Kerry Davis in the flat at the 3 yard line and he lurched backwards towards the 5 yard line, where he was hit down by Kehl, but got breathing room.  2nd and 6, Moore took the handoff up the middle, but he was met at the line by Justin Tuck and Fred Robbins for no gain.  3rd and 6, Ben in the gun, tried a quick slant to Limus Sweed at the 9, but he was well covered by Webster and the ball bounced off his hands and fell incomplete, despite Roethlisberger looking for a flag.  So one would come Berger to punt from his end zone.

Berger got of a dangerous punt, fairly short and right down the middle, which is usually a recipe for disaster for cover teams.  And in this case, it nearly cost the Steelers, Hixon fielded the ball at the Pittsburgh 47 yard line, waited a moment for a lane to appear and accelerated to his left and up the sidelines, where he was actually upended by the punter Berger at the 19 yard line, preventing what would have been a TD.  

Coughlin decided at this point that the Plaxico punishment was over and put him in the game.  First down, the ball went to Ward running to his right, and got the ball down to the 17, taken down by Farrior.  2nd and 8, Eli would audible to the gun, and just get the snap off and he tried to hit Smith on a curl at the 9, but the ball was a tad high and was dropped.  3rd and 8, Eli in the gun, and tried to set up a center screen, but the rush got through too fast and Eli had to hurry as James Harrison was coming in on him and the ball was thrown incomplete.  So great field position was wasted by the Giants and Carney would come on to knock through a 35 yarder, using the wind to his advantage to hook it in, to make the score 7-6 with 10:30 to go in the 2nd

Carney’s kickoff would go bounce off Naja Davenport’s hands at the 3 yard line and go into the end zone, where he trotted over to recover and take a knee for a touchback.  First down, the Steelers began with a run by Moore to his left for no gain, as he was knocked back by Clark filling the hole.  2nd and 10, Moore again got the ball running to his left, and this time found a lane and gained 4 yards, hit down by Kehl.  

3rd and 6, Ben was in the gun, and took a high snap and threw a pass up the sidelines towards Moore who came out on a wheel route and beat Antonio Pierce in coverage, had the ball in his hands at the 40, but he got bent backwards and was drilled by Kenny Phillips, knocking the ball loose, and also looked very concussionesque.  The Giants bench celebrated the good, and what looked like a clean but hard hit, but then a moment later the flag came flying as Coughlin was screaming at the officials that Phillips hit with his shoulder rather than helmet.  But in 2008, the NFL started to focus  more on head injuries, and the call stood as a hit on a defenseless receiver.  Interestingly, Troy Aikman, whose career was limited by concussions himself (go ahead and look up the stories about him in the locker room after the 1995 NFC Championship game vs. the 49ers), complained that the league was going too far in punishing defensive players for hits.  Either way, it was a first down at the 39, and Ben decided to air it out, and looked to hit Nate Washington deep down the field, and he was open behind 2 Giants at the 20, but the ball hung in the air and forced Washington to come back to try to high point the ball.  But by that time, Dockery and Butler had closed the gap and knocked it away.  2nd and 10, a draw to Gary Russell worked well for an 8 yard gain, hit down by Butler and Kehl.  Just as the Steelers looked to keep their drive alive, the Giants defense made another play

In this case, Ben dropped back, had time to throw and stepped up in the pocket where he threw a dart to Washington at the 38 yard line, and he was drilled by Butler and seemingly knocked cold, and the ball came free and was snagged by Kehl at the 39 yard line.  Kehl would collect himself, run across the field and up the sidelines where he was horsecollared by Russell at the Steelers 39 yard line.  The refs would flag Russell for the illegal tackle (and the Steelers for a rare offensive offsides), the Giants would get the ball at the 29 thanks to the personal foul.

So again the Giants offense was gift wrapped great field position and they would begin with a drop back by Eli and a dump off to Jacobs at the 29, where he would bounce off Farrior and it took 6 Steelers to finally drag him down at the 18 yard line for a 6 yard gain.  On 2nd and 4, they tried a sprint draw to Jacobs, who was caught from behind by Keisel for a loss of a yard.  3rd and 5, Eli in the gun, was able to get the ball to Ward over the middle at the 22 yard line, and he would turn up the field, taking on Polomalu and falling forward to the 15 yard line.  First down, with Boss in motion, the ball went to Jacobs running to his left, was only able to get a yard and was slung back by Farrior.  2nd and 9, Jacobs again got the ball running to his left, and cut back up the middle and looked to break it, but was tripped up by Farrior and he fell down at the 9 yard line.  3rd and 4, the Giants would call their 2nd time out to think it over and after the break Gilbride would send his unit back out there and put Eli in the gun.  Eli would throw to Plaxico who broke off his route at the 7 yard line and haul in the pass, but get decked immediately by Ike Taylor and setting up a 4th down.  Frustratingly, again the Giants would settle for a Carney field goal, and he would hit from 25 yards out to make the score 9-7 with 3:31 to go in the half.  

Carney’s kickoff went to Davenport at the 2 and he got to the 22 yard line, hit down by Droughns.  First down, Ben tried a 3 step drop, but nothing was open and as he tried to re-set, the pocket broke down around him and he was sacked by Tuck for a 6 yard loss.  2nd and 16, Ben in the gun, and with a blitz coming in on him, he was able to hit Miller in the seam at the 25 and he made his way up the field all the way to the 37 yard line, knocked down by Butler but good for a first down.  With the clock running and a no huddle offense, the ball went to Moore up the gut and he found a lane and took it to the 47, a yard short of the first down, hit down by Phillips and Butler at the 2 minute warning.  2nd and 1, Moore again found room up the middle and got down to the Giants 44 yard line, good for a first down and the Steelers took their first time out with 1:53 to go.  First down, with Ben in the gun, was able to hit Ward at the 39 and he was cut down by Ross at the 38, and Dockery got hurt on the play.  2nd and 4, and Dockery’s injury cost the Giants their final timeout with 1:37 to go as he would get carted off the field.  Ben in the gun, had a blitz come on him by Kiwanuka, forcing a quick pass to Moore at the 36 and he was hit down immediately by Phillips after a 1 yard gain.  With no timeouts and the clock running, the Giants defense would again step up

Ben was in the gun, and getting ready to get a first down and at least set up a field goal shot, but the Giants pass rush came in on him again, this time it was Kiwi coming in from right end (Osi’s normal spot but he was out for the season due to a knee injury vs. the Jets in the preseason) and he had a free run on Ben as the Steelers had to pick up a blitz and blasted him at the 45 and knocked him all the way back to the 48.  As a result of the sack, the Steelers just let the clock run and sent Berger in to punt, who got off a beauty, which bounced inside the 5 and was downed at the 2 with :07 to go.  On the play Berger actually hurt his hamstring and limped off.

The Giants set up and took a knee to run out the remainder of the clock and NY went in up 9-7 at halftime.

The Steelers would receive the 2nd half kickoff and Carney’s kickoff went to Davenport at the 2 and could only make it to the 18, where he was hit hard by Ahmad Bradshaw.  First down, Pittsburgh start with a run to Moore up the middle, which took a while to develop and he was tackled after a gain of 2 by Webster.  2nd and 8, Ben back, with time, hit Miller over the middle at the 27, and he would spin up to the 31, hit down by Pierce but good for a first down.  Moore again got the ball, and this time he was hit in the backfield by Tuck and Johnson for a 1 yard loss.  2nd and 11, Ben in the gun, and the Giants came in on an all out blitz, with a screen set up, the Steelers had a good call, but the ball was dropped by Moore.  3rd and 11, Ben in the shotgun again, took a high snap and had some time to throw initially, but good coverage down the field allowed the rush to get to him and he was dropped by Dave Tollefson for a sack back at the 22, the Giants 3rd of the game.  On would come Berger, punting with a bad hammy, and got the punt off, but struggled in pain, and the ball went to Hixon at the 36, and he was hit down at the 34 for a 2 yard loss. Meanwhile, during the punt, Johnson got a penalty for hitting a player out of bounds, and the ball went back to the 16 yard line.

The Giants offense took the field and started out with pass by Eli, who tried to hit Hedgecock in the flat, but the fullback dropped the ball.  2nd and 10, Jacobs got the carry running to his left, where he was wrapped up by about 5 Steelers for a 1 yard gain.  3rd and 9, Eli went back in the gun, and what would seem to be a give up call was a handoff to Ward, who picked his way around right end all the way to the 32 yard line, hit down by Clark and a first down.  However, as Ward was going up the field, they called Boss for a holding penalty and set the Giants back on a questionable call and made it 3rd and 14 at the 12.  This time Eli would throw a screen to the right to Ward, who caught it at the 6, and hurdled Farrior at the 18 and was brought down by Aaron Smith at the 21, short of a first down.  On would come Jeff Feagles to punt and he sent it to Moore at the 35 with a fair catch on a 45 yarder with no return with 10:10 to go in the 3rd.

The Steelers offense would come out with their 2nd drive and it didn’t take them long to make a play

Well, in the first half Washington burned the Giants defense and Ben underthrew him.  This time, on first down, a play action fake and slight rollout by Roethlisberger gave him time and he uncorked a deep shot to Washington who got behind the defense and caught it in the corner at the 25 where he had to hold up for the ball.  The safety Butler closed in on him and as Washington turned around, but completely screwed up the angle and thought Washington was staying inside.  As Webster futily pointed that he was going up the sidelines to get Butler to adjust, it was too late and Washington cruised into the end zone for a 65 yard TD bomb.  Reed’s extra point was good to make the score 14-9 with 10:00 remaining in the 3rd.

So how would the Giants answer?  Reed’s kickoff went to Bradshaw at the goalline and he would take it up to the 27 yard line.  NY would begin with an Eli pass and he tried to hit Plaxico on a comebacker, but the ball was dropped.  2nd and 10, a pitch back to Jacobs running to his left, and only gained about 2 yards, hit down by Taylor and Keisel.  3rd and 8, Eli back in the gun, had a lot of time and threw a perfect pass to Smith, who got behind the secondary (and somehow the refs missed a clear hold as Townsend grabbed his jersey) and had the ball hit him in the hands at the 50, but dropped it.  So it was a 3 and out, and on would come Feagles again, and this time he boomed another one to Moore, who fair caught it at the 22.

The Steelers who had a 1 play drive and a long TD the last time, began with a run to Moore going to his right, and was able to get 3, hit down by Clark.  2nd and 7, Ben back, and hit Sweed on a slant at the 30 and he broke a tackle and made it out to the 37, hit down by Pierce but good for first down.  Moore again got the call, tried to pick his way to the right and only gained 1, hit down by Kehl.  2nd and 9, Ben in the gun, and with a blitz coming in on him, hit the hot man in Ward at the 40, and he dragged Ross all the way out to the 48 yard line and a first down.  Moore got the ball, made a move in the backfield and cut back to his right to gain 5 yards, hit down by Clark at the Giants’ 47.  Moore took the carry again, running to his right and got close to a first down, hit down by Clark and Webster, as the teams scuffled after the play.  3rd and 1, Moore was able to find another lane, and broke through the line, as Ross missed a tackle and Moore took the ball out to the 36, hit down by Butler but yet another first down on this drive...however, an illegal formation messed it up as Hines Ward didn’t get to the line, so it went back to a 3rd and 6.  

The Giants defense was on their heels, the penalty saved them for the moment.  This time Ben would hit Sweed on a slant at the 43 yard line and he would drag Terrell Thomas out to the 38 yard line and a big first down which would have put the Steelers in great position to get another score...however, behind the play a late hit called on Pittsburgh, with offensive lineman Chris Kemoeatu decking Pierce near the pile and got a personal foul.  So they got the first down, but lost 15 yards and set the ball back to the Steelers’ 47 yard line.  The Steelers weren’t done self destructing

Clearly offensive coordinator Bruce Arians saw something with Washington and the deep shots, and called for it again, as Washington beat Webster, hauled the pass in stride at the 5 yard line and took it into the end zone for an apparent TD….but, a flag was thrown by the line of scrimmage and it was coming back on a holding penalty on the Steelers’ Willie Colon mugged Tuck on a good call because if Colon didn’t grab him, Tuck sacks Roethlisberger.  So 53 yard TD is negated and the Steelers are now 1st and 20 at their own 37, meanwhile Barry Cofield went down with an injury.  Ben tried to hit Miller in the seam near the first down marker, but Webster knocked it free.  2nd and 20, Ben in the gun, had pressure from Tuck and forced him to scramble and he made his way out to the 40 and he was hit hard by Thomas, Pierce, and Kiwi.  3rd and 17, Ben in the gun again, and with the pocket breaking down, again threw a deep shot to Washington up the middle and he lept for the ball, but had it broken up on a hit by Butler and the ball fell incomplete.  So the Steelers had a chance at a drive for a score, and then an actual score ruined by penalties and on came a gimpy Berger to punt.  

Berger did a great job to get off a high punt to Hixon at the 9 and he took the ball out to the 16 yard line.  Meanwhile while flags were all over the field, Greg Warren, the long snapper was down as well and holding his left knee.  A hold on the Giants’ Phillips set the Giants back to the 5 yard line.  Cameras would cut to Warren getting helped off the field as the Giants got the ball deep in their own end with 2:42 to go.  Further replays would show Warren try to walk off the field, but his unstable left knee completely gave out and he went down in a heap with a clearly serious knee injury.  This would become critical in the 4th quarter.

So the Giants got the ball, still only trailing by 4, and the drive started with a mess as Dave Diehl came out of his stance too soon for a false start and send the Giants back to the 3.  1st and 12, with the crowd into the game, Ward took the carry up the middle and out to the 6 yard line, hit down by Hampton.  2nd and 9, Eli tried a quick WR screen to Mario Manningham, back at the 3, but the rookie dropped the pass.  3rd and 9, Eli in the gun, with pressure at his feet, tried to throw a pass in the direction of Smith, but the ball went incomplete.  Another 3 and out, and another punt from Feagles, this time a high punt at the 50 taken by Moore, who got hit after just a 1 yard gain by Hixon and Thomas with 1:43 to go in the 3rd.

On came the Steelers offense, who had taken control of this game at this point, but penalties held them back.  Ben started with a handoff to Moore who bounced outside and got to the 44 and was pushed out of bounds by Clark.  2nd and 5, Moore again got the carry and took the ball out to the 39 and another first down, hit down by Butler.  With the clock running, Moore kept on the ground, and took the ball to the 36, hit out of bounds by Kehl.  On the final play of the 3rd quarter, Moore took the carry running to his right, but he was nailed by Tuck and Johnson for a loss.  On 3rd and 8 at the start of the 4th quarter, Ben was in the gun and with Tuck ready to rush, Colon was called for a big false start.  That would make it now 3rd and 13, Ben was in the gun again, and as the pocket broke down, Ben scrambled to his right, chased by Robbins and threw back across his body to Moore, who made a diving catch at the 32, covered up by Johnson.  On 4th and 4, the Steelers decided to go for the kill

The Steelers decided they wanted to get the first down and try to put the Giants away.  With Ben in the gun, he immediately got pressure, first from Kiwi and then Butler, and threw off his back foot over the middle, where it was picked by Webster at the 25, and he took it up to the 32, covered up by Ward.  So it was Roethlisberger’s 3rd INT of the game, and the Giants remained alive with 14:00 to go in the game.

So it was first down for the Giants at their own 32 yard line, and they started with a play action and Eli was under pressure and was hit just as he threw (using his left hand in this case) in the direction of Jacobs, who was blasted by Harrison at the 35 yard line before the ball got to him, for a 2 yard pass interference penalty and a first down.  So after one of Eli’s weird improvisational moves, the Giants got a first down.  Eli this time gave the ball to Ward on a delay up the middle and he picked his way to the 44 yard line, hit down by Clark, and good for another first down.  Again Ward got the ball up the middle, but was taken down after only a 1 yard gain, taken down by Hampton.  2nd and 9, a fake to Ward and Eli took a deep shot to Smith, who was open down the middle and had the ball in his hands at the 8 yard line, but he took a big shot from Clark, which knocked the ball loose and also hurt Clark on the play.  The Giants would need a spark

With Clark in the locker room due to the injury, Eli was in the gun on 3rd and 9 as the Giants offensive line picked up the Steelers blitz perfectly.  That left Boss open in the flat at the 48 yard line.  Boss would catch the ball, and spin inside a missed tackle by Farrior and turn up the field, dodging another tackle attempt and heading up the sidelines, shook of a push by Polomalu and was finally knocked out of bounds by Keisel at the Steelers’ 38 yard line for a huge first down.   Eli would swing the ball out to Plaxico who got to the 33, where he was taken down by Harrison.  On the play the Steelers’ Ike Taylor would get injured and had to come out of the game.  2nd and 5, with the Steelers down 2 DBs, they handed to Ward running to his right and he got out to the 29, hit by Farrior.  This set up a 3rd and 1, Pittsburgh came on a run blitz up the middle and stopped Jacobs for no gain, with Keisel doing the honors.  After a time out by NY, on 4th and 2, the Giants decided to go for it.

This was a trainwreck which ended up working out.  As Eli came to the line, coming off a timeout, you’d figure the Giants had their play set.  But Eli saw something and tried to audible to a different play, however, he was running out of time and tried to call another timeout.  In the NFL, you cannot take back to back timeouts, so the refs ignored Eli’s attempt and the Giants were nailed with a delay of game.  While Troy Aikman rightfully took shots at the Giants and Eli for screwing up, Coughlin decided that he didn’t want to try a field goal on 4th and 6 at the 35, and put Eli back in the gun.  With a blitz coming at him, the Giants picked it up perfectly and gave Eli plenty of time to find Toomer down the right sideline, and he beat his man in coverage and Eli dropped a perfect pass ahead of the safety coming over to Toomer at the 4 yard line and he hauled it in down to the 4, as Aikman chuckled on the 30 yard gain about how the Giants were able to get away with their mistake.  First and goal at the 4, the ball went to Ward, who had penetration in the backfield and tried to leap over a Steeler and got blasted by Keisel for a 2 yard loss back to the 6.  2nd and goal, Eli tried to hit Plaxico in the corner, but the ball sailed over his head, and could have called a pass interference on Taylor.  3rd and goal, Eli in the gun, tried to hit Boss in the flat at around the 3, but the ball was knocked away by William Gay, who almost had a chance to pick it off for a 97 yard pick 6.  On would come Carney to hit a 24 yarder and make the score 14-12 with 8:18 to go.

The Giants offense still could not produce a TD, and Carney would kickoff to Davenport on a short one out to the 11, and the return man took it out to the 29 yard line, hit down by DeOssie and friends.  So the Steelers offense would come back out and Ben would have Kiwi in his lap again, and as he was getting slung to the ground, he flipped the ball in the direction of Moore and it was nearly picked by Clark..if not a fumble, but the refs ruled it an incomplete pass, though they probably should have given an in the grasp sack to Kiwanuka.  2nd and 10, the Steelers tried a draw that got demolished by a Giants blitz as Phillips hit Moore for a 4 yard loss.  3rd and 14, with Ben in the gun, the pass rush would be a factor again.

Mathias Kiwanuka was an unsung Giant for many years.  As a first round pick coming out of Boston College, Kiwi kind of did everything for the Giants.  He played linebacker.  He played DE.  He rushed at DT.  In 2008, when Osi went down with an injury, Kiwi moved back to DE.  And in this game, the Steelers couldn’t block him.  He went right around Max Starks and barged in on Ben, grabbing him at the 17 and had the rest of the cavalry come in with Tuck and others to jump on the pile, and get Kiwi his 2nd sack of the game.  This would prove significant because of what would happen next.

Remember that knee injury to the Steelers’ long snapper in the 3rd quarter?  Well, when Greg Warren went down, the Steelers needed a long snapper.  So linebacker James Harrison decided he was going to try to take one for the team and help.  Well, Harrison might have meant well as a team player, but he did not help in the execution.  Harrison’s snap air mailed way over Mitch Berger’s head, who was already gimpy from a hamstring injury.  Berger chased the ball into the end zone and lucky for him, it went out the back of the end zone for a safety, rather than a would be TD, with 3 Giants bearing down on him.  The unlikely turn of events tied the score at 14-14 with 6:48 to go in the game.  But if not for Kiwi’s sack, the Steelers would not have given up the safety.  

On the free kick, Berger had to go out there with his bad hammy and sent the ball out to Bradshaw at the 30, and Ahmad took it out to the 47 yard line, giving the Giants great field position.  First down now in a tie game, the ball went to Ward, up the gut and he got the ball out to the 50, pushed back by Smith.  2nd and 7, Eli went back, with time, and scrambled around and tried to dump the pass to Ward on the run, but the ball sailed on him and fell incomplete.  3rd and 7, Eli went back in the gun and again came up clutch in the 4th quarter

This is Eli Manning at his finest.  On the road, against the #1 defense in the NFL and in a close game, he is clutch.  He will do stupid things, like calling back to back time outs.  But he will hit Toomer for 30 yards on 4th down.  And on 3rd and 7, he will stand in as the Steelers came on a blitz, which was picked up and he drilled a strike into Steve Smith who got open at the 37 and the 2nd year player took the ball down to the 25, for a huge 25 yard gain, hit down by Tyrone Carter.  First down, the ball went to Jacobs who found room on the left side and gained 8 yards.  2nd and 2, with the clock running, the ball went to Plaxico on a quick pass out at the 13, and the former Steeler, spun inside, stayed in bounds and got the ball to the 9 yard line, hit down by Taylor, but he kept the clock running.  First and goal at the 9, Eli gave to Ward, running to his left and he took the ball down to the 2 and nearly spun his way into the end zone, hit down by Farrior.  On 2nd and goal, the Giants would finally break through

A lot went on for this 2 yard TD.  First of all, OL Kevin Boothe came in to play TE, which made the Steelers prep for a run.  Furthering that thought was that Jacobs came in for Ward.  So the Steelers sold out for the run, and as Eli faked the ball to Jacobs, the Steelers linebackers were sucked into the line.  James Harrison came in on a blitz, and was picked up by Jacobs, and when I say picked up, make that erased.  Jacobs pretty clearly gave Harrison a concussion in stonewalling him, as the LB was wobbled on the play.  That allowed Kevin Boss to sneak behind them for an easy TD all alone in the end zone.  Boss’ TD and Carney’s extra point made the score 21-14 Giants with 3:07 to go in the game.  

Carney’s kickoff went to Davenport at the 8 yard line and he took the ball back out to the 30, hit by Droughns and DeOssie.  The Steelers needed a TD to tie and they came out 3:02 and 3 time outs.  Ben started off with a quick pass towards Washington in the flat, but the ball was short and fell incomplete.  2nd and 10, Ben dropped back and was drilled by Dave Tollefson just as he threw the ball and it again was short and incomplete.  3rd and 10, Ben in the gun, with Webster coming on a blitz, the ball was a hot route to Sweed, who caught it at the 35 and was hit down by Phillips at the 37, leaving him 4 yards short.  That set up a 4th and 4.

It was pretty clear at this point that the Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians realized that his unit couldn’t block the Giants.  So he called for a shotgun rollout pass by Ben running to his right and dump back to Hines Ward.  The problem was that the snap was not timed properly and  Ben was itchy with the trigger after so many hits (he was hit 14 times at this point) and threw it early to Ward, who was short of the first, but got nailed and dropped the ball thanks to hit by Webster.  The Giants took over with 2:08 to go in the game.

On first down at the 37, the ball went to Ward, who was hit behind the line by Smith for a 3 yard loss and the Steelers first time out with 2:05 to go.  Again the ball went to Ward, who stayed in bounds and got the ball to the 35, and the clock stopped at 1:58, going past the 2 minute warning.  On 3rd and 8, Eli again gave to Ward, who just dove over the middle, getting the Steelers to call their 2nd time out with 1:54 to go.  On 4th and 7, the Giants conservative plays brought on Feagles, who came on to put the Steelers at the 10 yard line, where Moore had a fair catch with 1:48 to go.

So the Steelers had one more chance at it.  Ben in the gun began with a Giants blitz in his face and a quick pass towards Sweed, however, the ball sailed incomplete.  2nd and 10, in the shotgun again, the pocket collapsed yet again, with Tollefson dragging Ben down as the tried to throw the ball and it was knocked down by Robbins.  On 3rd down, the Giants defense wasn’t done harrassing Roethlisberger

Ben was in the gun as the pocket set up momentarily for him.  But not for very long as Kiwi got around Starks again, and while Pierce was diving at Ben’s mid section, Kiwi came flying in from the backside to nail him and pop the ball loose.  The ball was picked up by Colon who took it to the 10, where he was cut down by Robbins.  However, since the Holy Roller, you can’t advance a fumble with anyone but the fumbler, so the ball went back to the spot of the fumble at the 5 yard line, and the Giants’ 5th sack.  On 4th and 15, it was time for Goodnight Irene.

Not much for Ben to do here.  He’s got 1:31 to go in the game.  He’s in the shotgun and the Giants pass rush has been relentless.  Predictably, Spags brought another blitz, and as the pocket began to deteriorate again, Ben just chucked the ball up the field as far as he could in the direction of Sweed, who had beat his man, but Phillips was playing safety and high pointed the ball at the 50 and picked it off falling backwards to the 47 with 1:24 to go and salt the game away.  It was Ben’s 4th pick of the game.  

All that was left was the victory formation and a few kneel downs by Eli to put the game away against a tough AFC opponent, on the road, and one who would win the Super Bowl in a few months, and put the Giants at 6-1 on the season.

Interesting Tidbits/ The Post Mortem

  • Mathias Kiwanuka registered 2.5 sacks of Ben Roethlesburger in the game.  It was the 2nd highest single game total in his career.  He had 3 sacks of Donovan McNabb in the Giants 16-3 Sunday Night win over the Eagles in 2007.  That was the night that Osi Umenyoria registered 6 sacks and the Giants totaled a team record 12.
  • Bryan Kehl's pick was the first and only one of his career.
  • Kenny Phillips, the Giants first round pick as a safety out of Miami, registered his first career NFL INT.  It was the only one of his rookie season.  Phillips would see his career derailed by a degenerative condition in his knee, his 2009 season was shut down after a 2 INT game in Dallas in the Cowboys first game at Jerruh world in Week 2.  Phillips would play with the Giants through the 2012 season, helping them win a Super Bowl in 2011 and was out of the league after the 2012 season.  He would have a brief comeback with the Saints in 2015 for 3 games and would retire after the season.
  • John Carney was signed before the 2008 season after an injury shelved playoff hero Lawrence Tynes for the season.  Carney, a long time kicker for the Chargers and the Saints, was pressed into duty after a season in which he split with the Jaguars and Chiefs.  At age 44, the Giants didn't expect much, but they ended up getting more than they could have possibly hoped for.  Carney would kick 4 field goals in the game, the most he had as a Giant and tied his effort against the Bengals a few weeks prior.  In all, Carney went 35 of 38 in Field Goals (good for a 92.1%) and hit all 38 extra points, to amass 143 points, which was a career high and bested his previous mark, when he led the NFL with 135 points in San Diego in 1994.  Carney would make the Pro Bowl in 1994, and he would make his 2nd Pro Bowl after 2008.
  • Carney however didn't have a happy ending.  Carney missed a 48 yard field goal with 3:22 to go in a meaningless final game at Minnesota, which set up the Vikings to hit a game winning 50 yarder from Ryan Longwell in a 20-19 loss.  While that game didn't matter as much, Carney would stuggle again in the playoffs against the Eagles.  Carney would hit on 3 short field goals, but he would miss 2 others, including a 46 yarder after the Tuck safety, which would have given the Giants an 8-7 lead, and a 47 yarder which would have given the Giants a 14-13 lead in the 3rd quarter.  
  • Tynes would return in 2009, and Carney would go back to the Saints and kick for the eventual Super Bowl champs for the first 11 games, before he was shelved and replaced by Garrett Hartley.  At age 46, Carney would return to the Saints and kick in 2 more games for them and would retire after the season and an impressive 23 year career.
  • Kevin Boss’ game winning TD was his 2nd TD catch of the season and started a stretch where he caught 1 TD in 4 of the next 5 games.  In all, Boss would catch 6 TDs in 2008, and it would turn out to be his career high.
  • James Butler’s INT was the first of the season and he would pick off 3 passes in 2008, a career high.
  • Plaxico Burress did not start as a disciplinary action from Tom Coughlin because he did not go to treatment for an injury on Friday.
  • Plaxico Burress started and finished his career with the Steelers.  In between he spent time with the Giants, Jets, and a stint in jail thanks to the nightclub accidental shooting incident which would occur a few weeks later.  This was the only time he faced the Steelers in his career.  He had a quiet day, catching 3 passes for 15 yards.
  • This was the Giants first visit to Heinz Field and it was only their 2nd trip to play at Pittsburgh since 1971.  Their previous game was a Monday Nighter at old Three Rivers Stadium in 1991, when the Ray Handley led Giants took a 20-0 lead against the Bubby Brister led Steelers.  Coach Chuck Noll would bench Brister in the 2nd half and bring on Neil O'Donnell at QB.  As was the Giants penchant against backup QBs, O'Donnell got hot and scored 20 unanswered points to tie the game at 20 in the 4th quarter.  Jeff Hostetler was then forced to lead a late drive which ended with former Steeler Matt Bahr hitting a 44 yard FG to win the game 23-20.
  • The Giants other game at Heinz Field was a 24-14 loss in 2016. The Giants fell behind 5-0 in the game, and were driving for a TD to take the lead, but an Eli Manning pick at the goal line and subsequent TD to Antonio Brown gave the Steelers an 11-0 lead and never looked back.
  • Long Snapper Greg Warren injured his knee, including a nasty buckling of it as he walked off the field, and Tomlin went with linebacker James Harrison, who fired the ball over Mitch Berger’s head for a tying safety.  Tomlin didn’t use his center or back up center in that spot and it would cost him the game.  The knee injury cost Warren his season and the Steelers would sign Jared Retkofsky to fill in the rest of the season, and ultimately win a Super Bowl ring.
  • Santonio Holmes was deactivated prior to the game because he was found with marijuana in his car on the Thursday before the game.
  • Steelers wore their throwback uniforms from the 1960s, including a yellow helmet and yellow pants and different black pattern on the jersey.
  • Steelers defense ranked #1 in the NFL entering the game.  
  • Roethlisberger was the Giants preference at QB in the 2004 draft if they couldn’t get Eli, but they picked Phillip Rivers because they felt San Diego wanted him.
  • Dick Stockton did game for FOX because Joe Buck was calling Game 4 of the 2008 World Series in Philadelphia between the Phillies and Tampa Bay Rays.