Sunday, April 13, 2014

2000 Giants vs Jaguars

Week 16

The Setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Game Highlights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting Tidbits/ Post Mortem

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

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

1997 Giants @ Lions

Week 8

The Setup

Anyone who knows or understands football, from the front office, players, media, and fans, it is generally acknowledged that the QB position is the most important on the field.  Back in 1986, I found an old interview with George Young, the former GM of the Giants who was brokered to the team from the Colts front office via the efforts of then Commissioner Pete Rozelle.  The Giants were a franchise in disrepair because of ownership and family in fighting between Wellington and Tim Mara.  A flagship franchise, the NFL realized to help the league grow, they needed a strong NY team and a strong Giants team.  So Young came on to turn the team around.  When asked how he was able to build a championship contender, Young said the following (paraphrasing)

"You need to start with the passer.  Every good team needs a quarterback.  Once you get your quarterback, you need to find someone to rush the passer"

So Young brought in Phil Simms in the first round in 1979 and two years later drafted Lawrence Taylor, thus fulfilling his foundation for the team to build around.

So it's one thing to know you need a QB, but the question is, how do you get one?  Generally speaking, QBs in the NFL lose their job if they are injured, if they aren't playing well, or if there is a young (highly paid) gun behind them.  The worst thing for a franchise is to rest your hopes on a QB who doesn't pan out and you can set your team back years in development.

If you go back 20 or so years ago, it was said that if the most important player on your team was your QB, the second most important was the backup QB.  In the 1980s alone, it wasn't at all surprising to see backup QBs, who were starting- if not Pro Bowl caliber players, riding the bench for 3 or 4 years before getting a chance.  Phil Simms and Jeff Hostetler being a prime example.  Steve Young sat behind Joe Montana for 4 years while in his prime.  Even on lesser scales, Tommy Kramer and Wade Wilson in Minnesota.  The Cowboys spent first round picks on Troy Aikman and Steve Walsh in the same year (Walsh as a supplimental pick).

However, over the years since then, several changes to the game made this no longer an option.  In tandem, the salary cap and free agency.  A backup QB was no longer going to sit behind a starter if they felt they were starting quality.  They wanted to get paid.  So they were not going to wait 4 years to get a chance.  That then led to the next impact- the salary cap.  It no longer was feasible to pay 2 QBs to be on the roster at the same time, so it became a near impossibility to carry 2 QBs in their prime on the same roster.

Another huge change happened in the NFL, changes to the rules that made passing the ball easier.  Again, 20 years ago and before that, the general sense was that the speed and toughness of the NFL made it a near impossibility for a rookie QB to come in and do well.  They would have the usual "growing pains" and the preference for a young QB would be to carry a clipboard for a year or 2 before gaining playing time.  Rookie QBs who excel, such as Dan Marino were by far the exception rather than the rule.  But as it became tougher to stash QBs on the roster, the NFL decided to do more to protect the QB.  Nothing is worse than watching a game with bad QB play.  The NFL, cognizant on how their product looks on TV, knew that bigger ratings, more money is tied to better QB play.  So the league set out to protect the QB more and more each year.  Allowing them more opportunities to throw the ball away to avoid a sack, penalizing hits at or near the head (even if it's a brush foul), no hitting the QB near the knees.  Less chance of injury, more chance of the better QBs staying on the field.  The next step was to limit what the defense could do against the passing game.  No more hitting or jostling receivers after the first 5 yards, more flags thrown for defensive pass interference on deep balls down the field.  Hard hits on receivers given penalties for hitting a defenseless receiver.  Granted, many of these fouls were in response to the concussion crisis in the NFL, but it still helped the offense.

The impact of all this in the past 5-10 years?  More rookie and 2nd year QBs not only starting, but putting up huge numbers never thought possible 20 years ago.  Andrew Luck, RG III, Russell Wilson, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, etc.  You still have your young QBs struggle (Mark Sanchez front and center), but the learning curve is no longer so steep.

So what does this have to do with this game?  Well, the Giants had been looking for their replacement since Phil Simms was waived and then retired after the 1993 season.  Dan Reeves had been grooming former first round pick Dave Brown for the job and he beat out an 8th rounder in Kent Graham.  Brown would take over as QB from the 1994-1996 seasons, the remainder of Reeves' tenure but he never endeared himself to the fans because, frankly, he wasn't that good.  When your QB doesn't play well, he becomes a lightning rod.  When that QB is in NY, multiply it by 1000.  Enter 1997, new coach Jim Fassel, a QB guru is in charge.  Many felt this was going to be Brown's last chance to succeed in NY.  Brown would be challenged by a 2nd year QB, Danny Kanell.  Kanell had made his name at a power house in Florida State.  First backing up Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward and then taking over at QB going 19-3-1 in his Junior and Senior seasons with the Seminoles and was taken in the 4th round by the Giants.

Brown would win the starter job out of camp and began well for Fassel, winning his first game as head coach over the Eagles 31-17 with Brown going a ho-hum 13-27, 193 and 1 TD/0 INT. But after that, the Giants and Brown would lose their next 3 games to fall to 1-3.  Brown would lead the Giants to a 14-9 win over the Saints, but the offense never got going.  The next week, at home against Dallas, the Giants would trail 6-0 and Brown would get injured.  Kanell came off the bench and helped lead the Giants to a come back win, despite the less than eye popping numbers (10-17,101 yards, 0 TD/0 INT).  The fans were excited.  It was always great to beat Dallas and the fans had tired of Dave Brown.  The next week, the Giants offense would score 27 points at Arizona, their most points since the opener and again, Kanell put up numbers that weren't that exciting (13-28, 198 yards, 1 TD/1 INT).  But it didn't matter.  The hype was building.  The Giants were now 4-3.  Kanell was 3-0 (2-0 as a starter).  He was looked at as a winner.  He was looked at as a guy who had "it", that indefinable characteristic of a player who just found a way to win despite the fact that the numbers never showed that he should be all that effective.

So the Giants entered this game with momentum, with their new QB and hopes that the Giants had been able to finally find their successor to Phil Simms some 4 years later.  The Lions, a dangerous home team filled with offensive talent were in the Giants way and looked like a threat to ruin the suddenly resurgent team.

The Game Highlights

The Giants would start off with Brad Daluiso kicking off.  By 1997, Daluiso was no longer a sure thing as a touchback machine as he was in Buffalo, Denver, and his early Giants days.  This time his kick reached the 3 yard line where it was fielded by return man Glynn Milburn and was taken out to the 25, where he was stopped by Kevin Alexander.  The Lions explosive offense took the field, with Scott Mitchell at QB, and some of the finest offensive weapons in the NFL, including Barry Sanders at RB and Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton at WR.  Mitchell took a deep shot down the field on first down, looking for Moore, but he was well covered by Phillippi Sparks and the pass sailed out of bounds.  A 2nd down draw to Sanders was well read by the defense, and he was tackled for a loss by Scott Galyon and Tito Wooten.  Now 3rd and 14, Mitchell went back to throw, however a huge inside push by DT Robert Harris swallowed up the Lions QB for a sack, with Galyon also crashing in as well on a blitz.  Punter John Jett booted the ball to Amani Toomer at the 45 and was tackled up at the 48 yard line.  However, a block in the back on Thomas Randolph sent the Giants back to their own 32 yard line.

Danny Kanell took to the field for the first time, as the Silverdome crowd picked up the noise level to help their defense.  Kanell started with a slant to Chris Calloway, who snagged the ball and weaved his way up the field for a nice gain out to the Detroit 47 yard line and a first down.  Michigan native Tyrone Wheatley, playing back in his home state for the first time since his celebrated career with the University of Michigan Wolverines in college, took the handoff up the middle and was only able to gain 1 yard as Luther Elliss closed down on him.  On 2nd and 9, fullback Charles Way gained about 3 yards on a plunge up the gut.  Now 3rd and 6 at the 44, Kanell in the shotgun tried to hit Alexander on a similar slant play that worked with Calloway, however the ball was thrown too high and went incomplete.  Rookie punter Brad Maynard came on, and after a false start on Galyon, his punt was fair caught by Milburn at the 15 yard line.

Mitchell started his second drive by over throwing Sanders in the flat for an incompletion.  A draw to Sanders on 2nd and 10 was met by a blitzing Wooten, who combined with Corey Widmer to stop him for a 1 yard loss.  A false start on Larry Thorpe, who was lined up against Michael Strahan, made it 3rd and 16, and the Lions would fall short of getting the first, as Mithcell hit Morton to the 20.  Jett's punt was fielded by Toomer at the 37 and he had a short return to the 40 yard line, where he was run out of bounds.

The Giants second offensive series began with a pitch to Wheatley, who followed a block around Scott Gragg and was taken out of bounds for a 2 yard gain.  Kanell missed an open Aaron Pierce in the middle of the zone, as Pierce stumbled and fell, and fortunately the ball fell incomplete.  The Giants would convert on 3rd and 8, as former Steeler RB Erric Pegram came out of the backfield and made the catch in the flat, lowered his shoulder and ran over a Lions defender and kept his balance to make it to the Lions' 45 yard line and a first down.  Way would only gain a yard on first down, stopped again by Elliss.  Now 2nd and 9, the audience would be treated to a completely wacky play

Kanell, again looking for Pierce up the seam as he did a few plays previous when Pierce fell down, overthrew the big TE and the pass was picked off by Detroit safety Van Malone.  As he was trying to run up the field with the ball, he was grabbed by Calloway, who tried to strip the ball from him as he was going to the ground.  Former Bear safety Mark Carrier, coming over to help block, actually helped jar the ball loose before he hit the ground.  Charles Way, coming down field to assist on the tackle, actually fell on the loose ball to regain possesion for the Giants.  Meanwhile, behind the play, Lions DE Kerwin Waldroup apparently lost his mind and went after Kanell as if he kicked his dog.  Rather than just block the QB, Waldroup literally tackled Kanell and laid on top of him, giving Head Referee Jerry Austin an opporunity to throw one of the easiest unnecessary roughness calls in history, though still below the all time high water (or low water) mark when Charles "Too Mean" Martin on the Packers body slammed the Bears Jim McMahon to the ground after an INT and ended his season with an injured shoulder.  Still, the net/net of all this craziness, the Giants got the ball at the 8 yard line and the Lions crowd was in full throat, booing the refs....though not sure why, they should have booed their own team for that keystone cops display.  On first down, Wheatley took a draw and followed good blocks by Greg Bishop and Roman Oben to pound it down to the 5 yard line.  Wheatley would follow up with another run and would be just tripped up as it looked like he was going to score, this time falling at the 2.  On 3rd and goal, the Giants would cash in

The play action fake by Kanell was hardly Boomer Esiason-esque, as it didn't do much to fool the Lions pass rush, which got in his face and would knock him to the ground.  However, Kanell was able to sling a pass to the goal line where Howard Cross was standing and he fell into the end zone for the first score of the game, and with Daluiso's extra point, gave the Giants a 7-0 lead.

Daluiso had a vintage kickoff, going all the way to the back of the end zone for a touchback.  The Lions offense took to the field, after looking sluggish on their first 2 drives.  Sanders began with a draw up the gut for 4 yards, where he was met by Harris and Widmer.  On 2nd and 6, on another draw play, Sanders showed why he was such a great player.  He took the ball and swept around right end, followed a nice block by Vardell on Sparks, which gave Sanders a lane, and from there he burst up the sidelines, stiff armed Wooten who had an angle on him, and was finally forced out of bounds by Sehorn at the Giants' 39 yard line.  A first down blitz by Sehorn was read by Mitchell, who got the pass off to Moore for an 8 yard gain, where he was pushed out of bounds by Wooten.  Mitchell was forced to call a time out on 2nd and 2, with 5:23 to go in the quarter as he couldn't get the call in time from the sidelines.  Mitchell would hand off to Vardell out of the time out, and the fullback took the ball to the 27 for a first down, where he was stopped by Wooten.  The Lions would run another draw to Sanders, but this time Miller read the play and shot in to tackle him for a short loss.  On 2nd and 11, the Lions would shoot themselves in the foot.

They always say it's the little things or the details that can kill a football team.  In this case, a tremendous drive was derailed when Mitchell messed up the most basic of football plays, the QB/Center exchange, as he dropped the snap from Pro Bowl center Kevin Glover, who was pointing to set the block assignments, and Mitchell lost his concentration and bobbled the snap.  The ball would get kicked around and be recovered by Harris at the 30 yard line.

Kanell began the next series with an overthrow of Alexander for an incompletion.  On 2nd and 10, a screen to Wheatley seemed to be set up at first, but the blocking took too long to develop and former Giant Corey Raymond came through to cut Wheatley down after just a 3 yard gain.  On 3rd and 7, with Kanell in the shotgun, he would hit Way over the middle and Way would square his shoulders up the field and despite the hit from Stephen Boyd, fall forward for a first down at the 41.  Wheatley would gain just 1 yard on a pitch to his left, getting tripped up by Carrier coming up in run support.  Wheatley would get the ball again on 2nd down, taking the carry up the middle and follow his offensive line's surge to the 44.  On 3rd and 6, Kanell was pressured by Elliss, who just got the pass off in the direction of Pegram, but fell incomplete.  Maynard's punt would be fair caught by Milburn at the 22.

The Lions, back on the field after the turnover began with a run by Sanders, who was strung out by the Giants and would get tackled by Sam Garnes for no gain.  On 2nd down, Mitchell had time and hit a wide open Moore over the middle, who settled down in the zone and took the ball up field to the 38 yard line, where he was knocked down by Wooten and brought the first quarter to a close.  To start the 2nd quarter, Mitchell faked a handoff to Sanders and rolled out to his right and was able to hit Morton for a good gain to the Giants 48, where he was pushed out of bounds by Sehorn.  The Lions would then burn their 2nd time out as Mitchell couldn't get the play in from the offensive coordinator in time.  Mitchell would come back ou in the shotgun, but moved back up under center and handed off to Sanders on a draw that was taken to the 45 yard line, where he was stopped by Jesse Armstead and Keith Hamilton.  Sanders actually appeared to fumble on the play and was recovered by the Giants, but the refs did not see it that way and Detroit kept the ball.  Mitchell would rush a throw to Vardell that fell incomplete, setting up a 3rd and 6.  A perfect fade route to Morton, who beat Sehorn on the play, was taken in at the sidelines, barely in bounds at the 24 yard line as Morton got a knee in bounds.  On first down, another play action fake to Sanders drew the Giants defense and Mitchell overthrew the 16 year veteran, and former Buffalo Bill TE Pete Metzelaars.  Now 2nd and 10, Mitchell would rifle one in to Moore on a slant route at the 14, and he would take the ball down to the Giants' 8 yard line, where he would get cut down by Sparks.  First and goal started with a handoff to Sanders, who stutter stepped to the 5 yard line, where he was dropped by Strahan.  Vardell took the 2nd down handoff to the 3 yard line, stopped by Harris.  On 3rd down, Bobby Ross would take Sanders out of the game and bring in 4 WRs with Vardell at RB.  Mitchell would take the snap, and looking like some old Archie Manning highlights, running around in circles as Keith Hamilton bore down on him and missed him twice actually on free runs at would-be sacks.  Mitchell would finally throw to Tommie Boyd in the back of the end zone, but Boyd had his right foot out of bounds, so no catch and no TD.  The replay by FOX showed that the play actually took 14.5 seconds from start to finish.  Amazing and the Giants were lucky that no one got open on what would turn out to be a sandlot play.  Kicker Jason Hanson came on to easily convert a 22 yard FG and make the score 7-3 wiht 11:03 to go in the 2nd quarter.

Hanson's kickoff went to Pegram at the goal line and he took it out to the 17 yard line.  Kanell began with a pitch to Pegram, who ran left for a 3 yard gain, stopped by Pro Bowl DE Robert Porcher.  On 2nd and 7, a draw to Way only went for 1 yard to the 21.  On 3rd and 6, Kanell was again under pressure, and as he was nearly sacked, threw a side arm sling toward Pegram that fell at his feet.  A three and out, and Maynard good off a good kick, down to the 30 yard line.  Milburn took the ball up to the 41 where he was drilled by Brandon Sanders.

With good field position to work with, Mitchell began with a play action pass, and as he was about to be sacked by Hamilton and Strahan, was able to dump the ball off to Vardell for a 6 yard gain.  A draw to Sanders, who made his usual assortment of moves cutting to his left and then up field for a first down into Giants territory at the 45, where he was knocked down by Randolph.  After a false start on the Lions Kevin Aikman, Mitchell was under pressure again by the Giants and tried to hit Morton on a slant.  On the play, Sehorn got there a tad too early, and pass interference was called at the 44 yard line and a first down.  The next play it looked like Sanders was about to break a big gain as he got a head of steam, but Widmer was just able to get his leg and knock him down after a 6 yard gain.  Sanders kept up the pressure, making a bunch of moves in the backfield, juking around several Giants, before he was finally caught way downfield by Strahan (who was blocked all the way down the field) to the 22 yard line.  A quick hitter to fullback Cory Schlesinger went for 2 yards up the gut. The next play, the Lions stayed with Schlesinger, hitting him out of the backfield on a pass and he powered the ball to the 8 yard line.  On first and goal, Barry Sanders showed why he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Unreal.  Sanders was an amazing running back.  He would make so many moves before even getting to the line of scrimmage.  In this case, at the 8 yard line, Sanders was going towards the middle, met up with Wooten, bounced off of him, back up, and sprinted to his right, and burst into the end zone.  He was the best.  After the extra point, the score was 10-7, Detroit now had the lead.

Hanson's kickoff was taken by Pegram at the 2, and his run back wasn't much to behold, falling down on his own at the 15 and crawling to the 20.  Kanell would start off with a pass to Cross over the middle for a 5 yard gain, where he was stopped by Boyd.  A false start by Ron Stone negated the gain, setting the Giants back to a 2nd and 10, where Wheatley would take the carry around left end and pick his way to the 25 yard line.  On 3rd and 5, with Kanell in the gun, he had just enough time to hit Calloway, who beat CB Robert Bailey on an out and up move, for a big gain to the Lions' 37 yard line and a first down.  An incomplete pass to Wheatley, followed up by a pitch to Wheatley for a loss, as Reggie Brown got into the backfield and cut him down at his knees at the 42.  Now 3rd and 14, with 3 WRs, Kanell again was under pressure, this time on a blitz by Boyd, and he dumped the ball to no one, drawing an easy intentional grounding penalty and yet another big loss, this time near midfield with 1:57 go in the half, and officially the 2 minute warning.  Maynard would come on to boot a ball that went over Milburn's head and into the end zone for a touchback.  On the play, the Lions' special teamer Harry Colon, in trying to set up a block, got nailed by Brandon Sanders and was knocked unconscious, and was down on the field for a long time, needing medical attention, and was taken off on a stretcher.

With 1:47 to go in the half, the Lions began with a draw to Sanders, to tried to bounce to his left, but Strahan came darting over to tackle him for a loss.  Fassel would call a time out to stop the clock at 1:36.  On 2nd down, Mitchell went back to throw and was chased across the field by Strahan and ended up sliding down for a sack, but stayed in bounds, which forced a second Giants' time out, this time with 1:22 to go.  3rd and 11 at the 19, Mitchell looked for Boyd in the flat, but the ball slipped out of his hands and fell incomplete, stopping the clock and saving the Giants a timeout.  Jett's punt was fielded by Toomer at the 37 and he took it back to the 49 with 1:07 remaining in the half.

The Giants wanted to get some points before halftime.  Kanell, in the gun, called an audible and tried to hit David Patten on an out pattern, but the ball fluttered and went out of bounds.  On 2nd and 10, Kanell would throw a dart towards Alexander, but the ball was a little behind him and was knocked out of his hands.  On 3rd and 10, out of the shotgun, Kanell dumped the ball off to Pegram, doing his best Meggett impersonation, made the catch and weaved his way just enough for a first down.  Kanell would call the Giants final time out with :44 to go at the 41 yard line.  On first down, with a blitz coming, Kanell dumped off a screen to Pegram, who not only lost 2 yards, but failed to get out of bounds.  A double whammy.  With the clock running, Kanell hit Calloway over the middle to the 35 yard line, but again he was unable to get out of bounds.  Kanell lined the team up to spike the ball with :07 left in the half and brought Daluiso out for a 52 yard attempt.  Daluiso, still with a strong leg, crushed the kick, easily sailing through from 52 yards out, and would have been good from well beyond that.  With :02 to go in the half, the Giants went for the squib kick to finish off the 2nd quarter and go in with a 10-10 tie.

The Giants would get the ball to start the 2nd half, and Hanson's kickoff was fielded by Pegram at the 3 yard line and was returned to the 22.  However, an illegal block on Cross set the Giants back to the 10 yard line.  On first down, Way took the handoff, and on a slow developing play, suddenly powered his way up the field to the 25 yard line and was driven out of bounds and actually ran over one of the Giants team doctors, Dr. Levy, who bounced right back up and was ok.  Another false start on Stone set the Giants back to the 20, where Way would gain 3 yards to set up a 2nd and 12.  Kanell would hit Patten for 5 yards where he was knocked out of bounds by Raymond.  Now 3rd and 7 at the 28, Kanell had 4 WRs on the field and in the gun, was under pressure and this time the Lions rush got to him and he would be sacked by Porcher at the 17 yard line.  A false start on Galyon sent Maynard back further, and he would narrowly avoid a block and got it out to the 35 yard line, where Milburn would return the ball out to the 49 yard line, where he would be tackled by Marcus Buckley.  However, the Giants would be helped out by an unneccessary roughness call on Van Malone that sent the Lions all the way back to the 21 yard line.

In the Lions first drive of the second half, they would begin with a Sanders handoff running to his left, but he was downed by Chad Bratzke for a 2 yard loss as he tried to back up to run forward, as was his running style.  2nd and 12, Mitchell was under pressure and connected with Sanders in the flat, who slipped and got back up and took the ball to the 30 where he was tackled by Widmer.  With it now 3rd and 2, the Lions tried a run up the middle by Vardell, however he was met in the hole by Harris, Widmer, and Hamilton and stopped short of the first down.  Jett came on to punt to Toomer, who took it at the 13 yard line and weaved his way to the 32.  However, a 15 yard face mask penalty on the Lions Scott Kowalkowski, who pulled an onrushing Wooten down, forced a re-kick.  That would turn out to be a very costly penalty.

With Jett now back by the goal line, he couldn't match his good effort on the previous punt, this time it was a line drive to Toomer taken at the Giants' 47 yard line.  Generally speaking, low line drive punts are usually bad news for coverage teams as the returner is able to get up a head of steam quicker to run with the ball.  Further exasperating the problem for the Lions, their coverage team was gassed because they just had to cover a punt the play before that was wiped out due to the penalty.  That recipe for disaster for Detroit came to fruition.  Toomer got a running start, fielded the punt and got a head of steam moving forward, made a few Lions miss, and after 2 different stiff arms, found himself in the end zone for a 17-10 Giants lead as the Lions faithful began to rain down the boos on to the field.

Daluiso again muscled up and booted the ball about 4 yards deep into the end zone.  However Milburn came flying up out of the end zone, busted through the wedge (which was not outlawed in 1997), and was finally taken down on a touchdown saving tackle by Patten at the 32.  Mitchell began with a handoff to Sanders, who started up towards the middle, but was stopped in ihs tracks and knocked backwards by the Hammer for no gain.  On 2nd and 10, Giants defensive coordinator John Fox called a blitz and the defense engulfed Mitchell, but the 6'6" QB got the pass off to Morton at the 43, and was able to cut it up field to the Giants' 46 yard line, where he would be tackled by Sparks, but still good enough for a first down.  Sanders would gain 2 on the next play, taken down at his ankles by Sparks, who came flying in on run support.  Mitchell's 2nd down throw was nearly picked off by a diving Armstead, who cut in front of a pass intended for Moore and knocked the ball down.  Now 3rd and 8, the Giants were drawn offsides, giving Mitchell a free play and he was able to hit Moore for a first down to the 32 yard line.  The Lions would stay in the air, a play action to Sanders held the linebackers and allowed the ancient Metzellaars to get behind the defense for a 10 yard gain, where he was smacked hard by Garnes at the 21.  A Sanders run would get to the 17 before he was stopped by Widmer and Harris.  On 2nd and 7, a sack by Strahan was wiped out due to a defensive hold on corner Conrad Hamilton.  Now 1st and 10 at the 13, Sanders took the ball to the 9 yard line, where he was met by a host of Giants, including Miller, Hamilton and Armstead.  Again on 2nd and 7, a play fake to Sanders, Mitchell rolled out and was under pressure from Chad Bratzke and Hamilton, and he would fling the ball towards Morton in the back of the end zone, however he would catch it out of bounds.  On 3rd and 7, Mitchell had time to throw and tried to hit Vardell down the sidelines, but it was defensed by Conrad Hamilton who batted the ball in the air and just out of Vardell's reach.  Hanson came on to hit the chip shot 28 yard FG and make the score 17-13 Giants with 4:12 to go in the 3rd quarter.

Hanson would kick off to the back of the end zone for a touchback.  Now at the 20, Kanell would start with a playaction fake to Wheatley, and then a pass to Wheatley who got lost in the coverage and would have been a big gain, but the pass floated away and fell incomplete.  A draw to Wheatley would gain 2 yards where he would get swallowed up by the Detroit defensive line.  On 3rd and 8, despite getting hit in the head by the Lions on a blitz, got off a bullet to Toomer, who grabbed the ball for a big first down out to the 38 yard line.  With a new set of downs, Way took a handoff and powered his way up the middle for 3 yards.  2nd and 7, another handoff to Way, and this time the big fullback made a few little cuts as he was moving with the ball, cut up the middle of the field and chugged to the Lions' 43 yard line for a big gain, where he was taken down by George Jaimison.  The Giants kept feeding the ball to Way, as he broke tackles, turned the corner and next thing you know, he's got a 7 yard gain to the 37 yard line.  Way got a breather, but the Giants stayed on the ground, Wheatley this time would follow a block by Stone for a first down to the 32 yard line.  Wheatley got the call on the next play as well, but this time was only able to gain 2 yards running behind Scott Gragg, which was the final play of the 3rd quarter.  The Giants would start the 4th quarter with another handoff to Way, who bounced off about 5 tackles but was stopped at the 29 yard line.  In the shotgun on 3rd and 7, Kanell was under a heavy rush and threw a deep pass towards Toomer, who was hit by Bryant Westbrook, and probably should have been a pass interference call, but the rookie was not called and knocked the ball away.  Daluiso came on to kick a 47 yarder, that just snuck inside the right upright to make the score 20-13.

The kickoff went 5 yards deep into the end zone, but Milburn still brought it out and was able to just get it across the 20 yard line where he was dropped by veteran Robert Massey.  On this drive, the Giants defense would stiffen, forcing a 3 and out after a 6 yard pass to Moore, a loss by Sanders, and then a quick pass out to Moore, who took his eyes off the ball with Sehorn bearing down on him and dropped it.  Jett's punt was taken by Toomer at the 20, nearly fumbled, and he fell out of bounds at the 27.

The Giants looked to start off well, a quick hitter to Way up the middle and the big man burst through a hole, took Raymond for about a 10 yard ride and got the ball to the Lions' 45 yard line and a 28 yard gain.  Another carry by Way was good for 4 yards to the 39 yard line.  The drive would stall from there on out, a big 6 yard loss on a carry by Wheatley, as Gragg was beaten badly on an inside move from Porcher and a dunk pass to Way, which was dropped, brought on Maynard, who aimed for the corner, but Brandon Sanders just missed downing the ball and it went into the end zone for a touchback.

The Giants defense had hit it's stride, coming on to force yet another 3 and out from the high powered Detroit offense.  This time stopping 2 handoffs to Sanders and then Mitchell missing a deep seam pass to Morton.  As the ball sailed on Mitchell, Morton was drilled by Tito Wooten coming over in coverage.  If that play had happened in today's football, it would have brought a 15 yard penalty, no question.  But this was 1997, and CTE wasn't on the forefront of the news or medical and legal world, so there was no foul.  Jett's punt would be fair caught by Toomer at the 30.

8:55 remained in the game and the Giants started with a pitch to Way around left end for a 3 yard gain, where he was stopped by Reggie Brown, who was injured on the play.  Way would get stood up for no gain on the next play, stacked up by Porcher and Raymond.  A delay of game on Kanell set the Giants back to 3rd and 11, where a screen was set up for Pegram, and nearly worked, as he weaved his way through the Lions defense until Jaimison tackled him just short of a first down.  Maynard came on and dropped the long snap to him, and was able to get off a good punt down to the 15 yard line.  However, because of dropped snap, the Giants coverage unit's timing was off, and not surprisingly a Giant was flagged for an ineligible man down field, the honors falling to Marcus Buckley.  Maynard's follow up punt was fair caught by Milburn at the 25 yard line, giving the Lions a +10 yard advantage in field position.

With 6:06 to go in the game, the Lions would get off to a rough start on their drive.  Robert Harris beat his man and came in to nail Mitchell for a sack, and the Detroit QB was lucky to not fumble on the hit.  On 2nd and 15, Mitchell's pass to Morton was on the mark, but a hit on him by Widmer and Sehorn forced him to drop the ball.  The Lions seemed to be in trouble, now with a 3rd and long, Mitchell was under pressure by Bratzke, and got off a pass that seemed to sail high, but the 6'4" Moore went up and grabbed it for a first down at the 41.  The Lions would stay to the air, with another pass to Moore, however Miller and Sehorn would combine again to knock the ball loose.  On 2nd and 10, Mitchell dumped the ball off to Vardell, who ran it out of bounds at the 46 yard line, with 4:48 to go.  The Lions would give up that 5 yard gain due to a false start on Jeff Hartings thus setting up yet another 3rd and long.  Again, Mitchell would respond, hitting Vardell on a perfect seam pass, all the way out to the Giants' 31 as the fullback beat Armstead in coverage.  With a new set of downs, the Sanders took the next carry to the 26 yard line, where he was corralled by Hamilton and Sparks.  Sanders would be hit for no gain by Garnes, setting up another 3rd down for the Lions, but this time a more managable 3rd and 4.  Mitchell would go to his security blanket, Moore, who went over the middle, settled down in the zone, and got the first down at the 17 where he was tackled by Wooten.  Sanders would gain just a yard on the next play.  Now 2nd and 9, Mitchell slung the ball to Sanders in the flat, who used his usual array of moves and cut up the field, finally tackled by Sehorn at the 4 yard line, bringing the game to the 2 minute warning.  Coming off the time out, and first and goal, the Lions didn't waste any time

A play action fake to Sanders, understandably, got the attention of pretty much the entire Giants defense.  Mitchell would roll out to his left, and hit an open Morton in the end zone for an easy TD, with Wooten trailing in pursuit and Miller not in his proper area in coverage.  Hanson's extra point would tie the game with 1:55 to go in regulation.

Hanson's kickoff was fielded for a touchback in the end zone by Pegram.  Every Giant fan had the same question, would Fassel go for the win, starting with the ball at their own 20, but only needing a FG and with Daluiso having a good game with some long kicks.  Out of the shotgun, Kanell started with an inside handoff to Pegram, who got off a good gain, out to the 31 yard line.  Kanell would get to the line and dry a dump off to Pegram in the flat, however he was bottled up for a short loss.  Though both teams had 3 time outs remaining, neither called one.  On 2nd and 11, Kanell in the gun threw a bullet to Calloway for a 9 yard gain to the 39 yard line, which resulted in Fassel using his first time out with :46 to go.  On 3rd and 2, Kanell would pitch back to Wheatley, who sprinted to his left, but was met by Boyd for no gain.  Bobby Ross would then call his first time out with :39 to go.  With Maynard on to punt, he got off an amazing kick, a high booming drive that hit at the Detroit 2 yard line and bounced backwards towards the 5 yard line, where it was downed by Widmer.  Trapped that deep in their own end, Bobby Ross was left with no choice but to play for OT.  Mitchell took the snap and a quick knee (there was no Greg Schianos around back then to try to dive and force a fumble) and both teams prepared for OT.

FOX would flash a graphic that to that point in 1997, the home team was 5-0 in OT games.  Calloway would come out to call the coin toss, and his call of tails would be huge, giving the Giants a chance with the ball first and keeping the high powered Lions offense off the field.  Remember, back in 1997, it was still first team to score wins the game (including field goals)

Hanson's kickoff was taken by Pegram at the 2 yard line and he ran it back to the 18.  Kanell would start with a pass to Cross over the middle and he would plow his way up the field to the 26 yard line.  On 2nd and 2, Kanell would audible to a run, and handoff to Way, who hammered around right end, for a good gain to the 32 yard line and a first down.  Just when you would think the Giants would go for the methodical drive, they would shock the fans in the Silverdome, as well as fans watching at home, on the next play

Kanell would fake a handoff to Way, and on a perfect throw, hit Calloway on a deep shot near midfield.  Corey Raymond, burned in coverage, tried to grab Calloway to keep him from catching the ball, and drew a penalty.  However, he was not able to break up the play, and Calloway sprinted the rest of the 50 yards towards the end zone, erasing Westbrook's angle and side stepping across the goal line for a game winning 68 yard TD.  As the officials came to sort it out, Roman Oben would let his teammates know for sure that the penalty was on Raymond and the Giants came pouring on to the field in celebration.

As exciting as this play was, there was one part that was always kind of sad about it, and that was Summerall's call.  First, he confuses Chris Calloway with Charles Way, not sure how he could miss a small WR compared to a fullback who had at least 70 pounds on him.  I guess you can say that the #80 and #30 kind of look the same from some angles, but would a fullback really be split out and sprinting up the sidelines?  He also got mixed up that there didn't need to be an extra point after a TD to end an OT game.  That only happens at the end of regulation.  Madden had to correct him on the air.  I loved Summerall, at the top of his game, he was the best, bar none.  But by 1997, Summerall, at the time 67 years old, had battled health problems related to alcoholism, had lost a great deal off his fastball.  It's always a shame to see the great ones as they were on the downswing of their careers.

As for the game itself, the win would put the Giants at 5-3, all alone at the top of the NFC East, ahead of the favorites in Washington and Dallas.  No one saw this coming at the start of the season, and it was the first time the Giants were in sole possession of first place since 12/20/1993.

Interesting Tidbits/ Post Mortem

  • This was Jim Fassel's first OT game as a head coach
  • Kanell's 220 yards were a season high passing for him.  
  • This was also Kanell's first OT game in his career.  He would play one other OT game in 1997, the famed 7-7 tie in Washington.  The only other time he played in an OT game came in 1999, as a member of the Atlanta Falcons, where he came off the bench to replace Tony Graziani in a 19-13 loss at the Georgia Dome to the Baltimore Ravens, thus giving him a career OT record of 1-1-1.
  • Calloway had a career game, putting up 145 yards, by far his best single game production.  He had only 3 100 yard games in his career.  This Lions game, and 108 yards in a loss at Washington in 1996 and 100 yards in a loss at KC in 1995.
  • Calloway's 68 yard TD doubled as the longest TD catch, and longest catch of any kind, in his career.
  • Calloway's TD would be the only OT game winner he scored among his 30 career touchdowns
  • Keeping in the Calloway theme, he might well have been the best Plan B signing during that phase of free agency's life span.  The Giants signed a handful of Plan B free agents, and had 2 of the best of them, in Calloway, who they signed from the Steelers, and Reyna Thompson, who would turn in a Pro Bowl special teamer, from the Dolphins.  While Thompson had the adulation, Calloway had a very solid Giants career.  In all, he played 7 seasons with the Giants, catching 334 passes for 4710 yards and 27 TDs.  At a time in the mid 1990s, when the Giants were still trying to get some type of production out of their WRs, Calloway produced 4 straight seasons of 50 or more catches, with a high of 62 catches in 1998 (the highest since Lionel Manuel caught 65 in 1988), and he led the Giants in receiving in each of those 4 seasons.
  • For the record, the Giants Plan B signings from 1989-1992:
    • 1989: Reyna Thompson- CB/ST (Dolphins), Mark Duckens- DE (Redskins), Greg Cox- S/LB (49ers)
    • 1990: Bob Mrosko- TE (Oilers), Howard Feggins- DB (Patriots), Randy Thornton- LB (Broncos)
    • 1991: James Milling- WR (Falcons), Thom Kaumeyer- S (Seahawks)
    • 1992: Chris Calloway- WR (Steelers), Greg Amsler- FB (Cardinals), Jeff Carlson- QB (Buccaneers), Millard Hamilton- WR (Pats), Ed Reynolds- LB (Pats)
  • Toomer's 53 yard punt return for a TD was the 3rd and final one of his career.  He scored 2 punt return TDs as a rookie in 1996 (wearing #89), scoring on an 87 yard TD at home against the Bills in a 23-20 OT loss, and then a 65 yard return vs. the Eagles in a home loss, 19-10.  By 1998, as Toomer got more involved in the offense, he started to phase off of punt returns, giving the job to Tiki Barber.  Toomer only returned 1 punt in 1999 and 8 in 2001, and that was it.
  • Toomer's 3 career punt return TDs were the most since Dave Meggett had 6 TDs on punt returns between 1989-1994.  Meggett would only return one other punt for a TD after 1994, and it happened to be in the season finale at Giants Stadium, when he returned a Mike Horan punt for a 60 yard TD to help the Pats erase a 22-0 deficit in a 23-22 win.
  • While the Giants got 9 TDs out of Meggett and Toomer, since 1998, there was not as much production out of the Giants returns.  In fact, in the past 15 years, the Giants only have had 3 punt returns for TDs: Tiki Barber (1999), Chad Morton (2005), Dominik Hixon (2009)
  • Howard Cross, who caught a TD in this game, was the last remaining player on the active roster who was drafted by Parcells.  The only other player to play for Parcells with the Giants was Rodney Hampton, but Hampton was out with knee problems, and didn't get into a game until Week 16 against the Redskins.
  • Brad Maynard, the rookie punter, was a 3rd round draft pick.  Since 1980, the Giants have had 3 Pro Bowl punters (Dave Jennings, Sean Landeta, and Jeff Feagles).  And all the punters they had were free agent signings....except for one.  Matt Dodge, drafted in the 7th round out of East Carolina in 2010.  Dodge was a big, strong punter who had some anxiety issues and the Giants tried to work with him to replace the veteran Feagles, who retired after the 2009 season.  Dodge was inconsistent, posting a decent gross average of 44.8 yards per punt.  However, what Dodge will be forever identified with, as the Giants 2010 meltdown against the Eagles.  The Giants would blow a 31-10 lead in the 4th quarter and with the game tied at 31-31, Dodge came on to punt the ball away with the dangerous DeSean Jackson back for the Eagles.  Tom Coughlin instructed Dodge to punt the ball away from Jackson, however, he launched a line drive right at him, and Jackson made a few Giants miss, cut up the field and score on a 65 yard return as time expired in a devestating loss.  Coughlin came on and screamed at Dodge for the screw up.  By the next offseason, the Giants signed Steve Weatherford from the Jets, who beat out Dodge in the preseason to take the punting job.  Dodge never played again in the NFL.
  • Robert Harris had a 2 sack game, the first time he had done that in his career and would end up being a career high in a single game, matched on other time in 1998, in a 34-7 win vs the Cardinals.  Harris was a very underrated signing by George Young, who took a long time to grasp free agency and the salary cap, but was able to get the job done in his final season as GM in 1997.  Harris began his career in Minnesota as a member of the Vikings, but was stuck behind 2 Pro Bowl DTs in Henry Thomas and John Randle.  With the salary cap in place, and with those two in place, the Vikings were not in a position to give a decent money contract to Harris, who the Giants signed before the 1995 season at age 26.  After two seasons in which he got more playing time, he finally burst on the scene in 1997, finishing with a career high 10 sacks.  This idea of signing younger players, rather than bigger names, was a boon for the Giants, who did a similar thing with Ron Stone.  Stone, a guard with the Cowboys, was blocked (literally) by a Hall of Famer in Larry Allen and a Pro Bowler in Nate Newton.  Coming off a championship in 1995, with plenty of stars to pay, the Cowboys had to let the 25 year old go and couldn't match an offer from the Giants.  Stone would go on to become a starter for 6 seasons and made the Pro Bowl in 2000 and 2001.
  • The Lions in this game had the best RB in the NFL (Barry Sanders), and in 1997, argueably the best WR in Herman Moore.  Sanders' exploits need no embellishng.  He was that great on his own.  In 1997, Sanders had his best season in his Hall of Fame career.  At age 29, Sanders would lead the NFL with 2053 yards and 11 TDs.  After his first 2 games, Sanders would rush for only 33 yards against Atlanta in the opener, and then 20 yards against the Bucs.  He would not be held under 100 yards a game the rest of the season, ripping off 14 straight 100 yard games.  The Giants "held" Sanders to 105 yards, tied for his lowest output the rest of the way.
  • Sanders didn't have the best career against the Giants, and this would be the final time he would ever face them.  In his 5 games against the Giants, he would end up with a record of 1-4.  In all, he gained over 100 yards in just 2 of those games, and it was his best game effort, 146 yards in 1994, that helped the Lions to a 28-25 OT win at the Meadowlands.  In that game, Sanders looked to have a breakaway 66 yard TD run in the 4th quarter, but he was caught from behind on the 4 yard line by cornerback Thomas Randolph to momentarily halt a TD.  Moore would catch a 1 yard TD pass to cap off that drive.  Still, the Giants held Sanders to 84.8 yards rushing per game, under his amazing career average of 99.8 yards per game.
  • Sanders' WR partner in crime, Herman Moore, had set an NFL record with 123 catches in 1995, for 1686 yards and 14 TDs.  At 6'4", 210 pounds, Moore was a mismatch for smaller defensive backs by 1997, the 28 year old was on his way to his 3rd straight 100+ catch season.  Moore would again lead the NFL in 1997 with 104 catches, and would put up 1293 yards and 8 TDs in being named to his 4th Pro Bowl.  Against the Giants in this game, Moore was held to good, but not great, numbers.  7 catches, 88 yards and 0 TDs.
  • Moore was actually a member of the Giants for a very short time.  As age and injuries sapped his his productivity in Detroit, he was out of football after the 2001 season.  With the Giants suffering a slew of injuries in the 2002 season, losing Ike Hilliard and Tim Carter for the year, they reached out to Moore and he signed at midseason and actually got on the field for one game, in a loss at the expansion Houston Texans.  Moore would be released and retire for good after that game, as the Giants essentially put the full onus on Amani Toomer, Tiki Barber, and Jeremy Shockey to carry the offensive load.
  • For a non-rival really and outside the Giants division, the Giants have had a strange connection with the Lions over the years.  This wasn't the Giants first OT game that they would play against the Lions at Detroit.  They won a 13-10 OT game in the Silverdome back in 1988, when Paul McFadden, the barefooted kicker, booted a 33 yarder to win the game.  In 2013, the Giants would end up ruining the Lions playoff chances.  With the Giants already eliminated from the post season, they would tie the Lions late in the game on a Will Hill 38 yard interception return for a TD on a deflected pass and then go ahead and win on a 45 yard Josh Brown FG.  The Lions were handed a golden opportunity because they needed the Packers and Bears to both lose to set up a win and in the following week.  The Packers would lose in the snow at Green Bay vs. the Steelers and the Bears would get killed by the Eagles.  But the loss to the Giants would ultimately be the final straw and cost coach Jim Schwartz his job.
  • Back to 1988, there was a weird quirk in the schedule in that the Giants actually played the Lions twice that season, and twice in 3 weeks.  By virture of their 6-9 and last place finish in strike/scab season, the Giants were "rewarded" with a last place schedule in 1988.  Back then, before expansion and the evened out divisions/conferences, there wasn't the same setup where you would play an entire out of conference schedule.  Instead, you got the lower seeded teams in each division/conference to play.  So in 1988, the Giants got the Lions twice (who finished tied for last with Tampa Bay at 4-11 in 1987), Atlanta (last at 3-12 in 1987), the Rams (6-9 and 4th place in 1987), Kansas City (4-11 and last place in 1987), and as fate would have it, the Jets, who finished in last at 6-9 in 1987.  The Giants finished the 1987 season against the Jets and beat them 20-7, which put them a game behind the Bills.  If the Giants had lost that game, they would have matched up with Buffalo in 1988, instead of the Jets.  As fate would have it, the Giants would finish the 1988 season against the Jets, and Gang Green would end up ruining the Giants season, with Al Toon catching a late TD in a 27-21 win that would knock the Giants out of the playoffs.
  • The Giants also had a memorable game against the Lions in 1982, when they played them on Thanksgiving Day.  The Giants were 0-3 at this point, and the season was already marred by the strike, were deadlocked in a 6-6 tie in the Silverdome going into the 4th Quarter.  With the Lions knocking on the door, and looking to punch it in for the go ahead score, LT stepped in front of a Gary Danielson pass and took off up the sidelines, racing for a 97 yard TD that gave the Giants a 13-6 win, their first of the season.
  • This 1997 matchup would be the final time the Giants would play the Lions in the Silverdome.  They wouldn't visit Detroit again until 2007, when in Week 11, the Giants would beat the Lions in their first visit to Ford Field, winning by the score of 16-10.  It would be the Lions first home loss of that season.
  • The Giants and Lions actually played a memorable game in 2000.  It wasn't so much the game itself, but what happened after it.  The Giants were riding high at 7-2 and were going in to face the 7-2 St. Louis Rams at Giants Stadium, with Trent Green at QB for the injured Kurt Warner.  The Giants wanted to establish themselves among the elite, and they ended up getting pounded.  They were down 28-7 at halftime and would lose the game convincingly by the score of 38-24, with Green torching the Giants for 272 yards and 4 TDs.  Looking to regroup the next week, the Giants would play the 6-4 Lions in the Meadowlands.  It would turn out to be another horror show, the Giants would be down 21-0 at the half and were down 28-7 in the 3rd quarter, before some garbage time scores made it a more respectable 31-21 loss.  The fans and media were all over Fassel, thinking the inconsistent play by the Giants under this coach was going to see the team completely collapse.  Now at 7-4, in a tie with the Eagles and Redskins, not only was a division title in doubt, but if the Giants would even make the playoffs as a Wild Card.  In his Wednesday standard press conference, Jim Fassel decided to go all Joe Namath on everyone: ''This is a horse race, and we're coming around the far turn and I see the finish line. ''This is a poker game. I'm shoving my chips to the middle of the table. I'm raising the ante.''''This team is going to the playoffs. This team's going to the playoffs. I'm going to define where we're going. I'm not afraid to say one thing: we're going to the playoffs.''  The media loved this story.  Fassel, who looked more like a professor than a football coach, essentially put the target on himself and looked to motivate his team after 2 straight blowout losses.  At the time it happened, personally I always thought his proclamation was not as ballsy as it was made out to be.  First of all, if the Giants didn't make the playoffs after a 7-2 start, Fassel was probably getting fired anyway.  He had regressed since his initial campaign in 1997, going 10-5-1 and winning the NFC East.  A brutual collapse against Minnesota in the Wild Card ruined an exciting season.  The Giants would regress the next two seasons, going 8-8 and then 7-9.  A collapse like this in 2000, and 3 straight non-playoff seasons, he is probably shown the door.  Another factor, they were playing the Arizona Cardinals the next week, led by former Giants' QB Dave Brown.  The Cards, in last place at 3-8 and coming off 2 straight blowouts themselves, looked like they had packed it in for the year.  He wasn't exactly making this statement going up against an elite team.  As it would turn out, the Giants would jump ahead of the Cards and would hold a 21-0 lead in the 3rd quarter before winning going away 31-7.  To give Fassel some credit, the Giants would not lose another game the rest of the regular season, winning their final 5 games, and finishing at 12-4, clinching home field advantage through the NFC Playoffs.  The Giants would beat Philly and Minnesota to reach the Super Bowl.  And then I saw Ron Dixon return a kickoff ofr a TD, a BS holding penalty on Keith Hamilton that wiped out a Jesse Armstead pick 6...and I don't remember much else about their matchup with Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV.
  • The Giants had another turning point game against the Lions in 2004, and this time, rather than rally the troops, it started a downward spiral.  In Coughlin's first season at head coach, the Giants ripped off 4 straight wins after an opening day loss to the Eagles, and stood at 4-1 behind Kurt Warner.  After a bye week, the Giants faced the 3-2 Lions at Giants Stadium.  Perhaps it was the rust, but the Giants fell to the Lions by the score of 28-13 to snap the win streak.  After a win at Minnesota the following week, the wheels would come off the for the 2004 season.  Losses to the Bears and Cardinals had the Giants record at 5-4 and the Giants organization decided the Warner had taken them as far as he was going to go, and it was time to turn the season over to their #1 overall pick, Eli Manning.  Eli would take over as the starting QB against the Atlanta Falcons and would lose by the score of 14-10 at the Meadowlands.  Manning would remain at QB ever since, though he would lose 6 straight games before beating Dallas in his final start of the season, his first pro win, 28-24 when he audibled to a run play to Tiki Barber late in the game for the go ahead score.
  • In 2010, the Giants played the Detroit Lions, in the Meadowlands and won by the score of 28-20, a game that had some meaning to me personally as it was the first time I took my older son to a game (that wasn't pre-season).  The Giants would play a Week 14 game in Detroit...but against the Vikings.  In what was supposed to be a matchup on Sunday, December 12, the Giants were en route to Minneapolis when a heavy blizzard forced them to land in Kansas City.  The snow was so bad, it piled up on the inflatable roof of the Metrodome and literally weighed it down to the point that the structure was compromised and dumped tons of snow on the turf. Clearly, the Metrodome was not a safe place to play, so the NFL postponed the game until Monday Night, and sent both teams to Detroit to play.  In a surreal setting, the Vikings were playing a home game in Detroit, in front of an announced crowd of 45,900 fans, most of whom were Lions fans who were rooting against the Vikings...with Vikings logos on the field, to play what was a 2nd Monday Night game.  The Giants would win a snoozefest, 21-3 to go to 9-4.  The game was historic for another reason, Brett Favre would see his consecutive start steak snapped, following a nasty injury the previous week against Buffalo.  Unfortunately for the Giants, their season would unravel the next week, in their loss to the Eagles on the DeSean Jackson 65 yard punt return TD.
  • That game in 2010 wasn't the first time the Giants played a road game against a team on their schedule when they didn't actually play them on their home field.  This happened in 2005 as well.  In Week 2 of the NFL Season, the Giants were supposed to play the Saints in their home opener at the Superdome.  However, when Hurricane Katrina slammed into Louisiana, thousands of New Orleans residents were were not able to evacuate as the storm approached, had to hunker down in the Superdome, and the damage both outside and inside the Dome made it unplayable.  The Saints, who played their season opener on the road in Carolina, actually won the game 23-20, and didn't have a place to go after that.  So the NFL, in coordination with the Giants, decided to move their game to Monday Night and actually play the game at Giants Stadium, even though the Saints were the "home team".  The Giants and the NFL took the proceeds from the game and appropriated them to relief effort charities for New Orleans.  They put a Saints logo in the end zone to try to make it seem more like a home game.  However, with a clearly partisan Giants' crowd, made up of 68,031 fans.  Back in 2005, before PSLs, it was tough to get to a Giants game as there were never seats available.  So many fans, mostly younger ones, jumped at the opportunity to see the Giants play.  The Saints wore their home jerseys, but as QB Aaron Brooks would correctly point out after the game "Try not to patronize us the next time, traveling to New York, saying we are playing a home game"  The Giants won easily, 27-10 to move to 2-0 in a season they would finish at 11-5 and win the NFC East.  The Saints, understandably had their season go down the toilet, finishing at 3-13 and playing games in the Alamo Dome and then at LSU.  Come 2006, the Saints would hire Sean Payton as Head Coach, and sign Drew Brees as their QB and turn thier franchise around.