Obviously when you are talking about the #1 and #2 teams in the NFC, playing at Giants Stadium late in the season with homefield advantage on the line, there are a number of different directions you could go in reviewing it. In Giants team history, they were the #1 seed in the playoffs just 2 other times prior to this...1986 and 2000. That 1986 Giants team faced somewhat of a similar scenario in Week 14 in Washington, when the 11-2 Giants faced off at RFK against the 11-2 Redskins. The winner of that game was in the drivers seat for the NFC East and would have been equaled by the 11-2 Chicago Bears, with tie breakers on the line. The Giants would win that game, 24-14, sweeping Washington set the stage for the Giants to finish at 14-2, and beat out the Bears for the #1 seed due to the fact that the Giants had only 1 loss to an NFC Team (Dallas in the season opener), and Chicago lost twice to the NFC (Rams and Vikings).
The 2000 team, at 12-4 under Jim Fassel, got hot late. At 7-4, that team lost to the Detroit Lions, 31-21, and dropped 2 straight. That brought on the Jim Fassel "pushing my chips in the middle of the table" declaration that the Giants were going to the playoffs. the Giants ripped off 5 straight wins to finish at 12-4 and the #1 seed, on their way to a Super Bowl loss to the Ravens.
But rather than focus on the winner take all part of the matchup, I wanted to focus on something which is more of a lost art in the NFL, player development. In the NFL, teams used to have a 5 year plan to turn things around. But that was in the days before free agency and salary caps. Due to that, you were able to see dynasties such as the Steelers and Cowboys in the 1970s and 49ers in the 1980s. Teams were able to take their time in developing players. It was not at all uncommon to see teams keep talented players on the bench for years at a time before bringing them on the field. Jeff Hostetler was drafted as a QB out of West Virginia in 1984. He had to volunteer to play WR and blocked a punt in 1986. He finally got in a game in 1988, for one half vs. the Saints before he was benched. He started a game at Phoenix and won in 1989 when Phil Simms was hurt. And when he went on to help win Super Bowl XXV, Hostetler was in his 7th year. You couldn’t get away with that today. Starters have maybe 3 or so years to show they can do it, or else they get replaced. With a salary cap in place, teams simply can’t stand by and wait anymore for someone to develop.
But over the years in the NFL, teams have tried all different ways to develop young players. Cynics (or realists), recognize that the NCAA, for all intents and purposes serves as a minor leagues for the NFL. It should come as no surprise that NFL teams have a close relationship with the big programs. And you see it as NFL scouts know full well the types of players that a Nick Saban Alabama and an Urban Meyer Ohio State will produce. It should also come as no shock that many of the NFL best prospects, particularly QBs, will favor going to a team which will run a “Pro Style” offense. Years ago, college teams were running the wishbone offense. Now they favor a spread offense, similar to what you see in the NFL. There is simply too much money. Too much for the NCAA, too much for the NFL, and too much for the college players who have pro potential.
But what about the guys who are not blue chip prospects from Ohio State or Alabama? Once guys come out of college, the NFL didn’t really have a D-League like they do in the NBA, or a minor league system like in the NHL or in MLB. So the NFL, being the NFL, decided to mix an opportunity for player development with marketing and brand expansion. That gave birth to the World League (Hello Scottish Claymores and London Monarchs) and eventually to what was called NFL Europe in the 1990s through the 2000s. Of course, the NFL’s real main goal with this plan was to look to open up a new market. The NHL already was an international sport. But the NBA opened eyes as they expanded and found big time players from Europe (ie Dirk Nowitzki) and then into China (Yao Ming). The NFL, with it’s brand of “American Football” wanted to push to get that foothold as well. It started with NFL Europe, moved to discussions to host games in London, and has landed on NFL International Series of game played in Wembley Stadium (the first one being the Giants vs. the Dolphins in 2007).
Once the real purpose of what the NFL wanted out of the Rhein Fire was made clear, they were back to the issue of how to develop these players who were not quite ready for prime time, but had skills to work with. So enter the Practice Squad. In the 1940s, Paul Brown in Cleveland created a “taxi squad” of players he scouted but didn’t make the active roster, but he wanted to keep around the team for practice and eventually to groom to make the team and didn’t want to lose them to another franchise. Essentially it was as dirty as it sounded. Brown worked out a deal with a Cleveland taxi cab company to add these guys as employees, though they’d never work for the company and would filter the money to the players through the cab company. In return, the Browns would promote the Taxi cab company. Needless to say, somewhere Jerry Jones is strangling puppies in anger that something like this is banned today and Paul Brown got away with it. The NFL would change the rules and adopt this taxi squad or practice squad to be part of a roster, but in addition to the main 53. In 2016, there are now 10 members of a practice squad, made up of rookies and first or 2nd year players (depending on time on the active roster) for eligibility. These players would practice with the team but not dress on Sundays, unless signed to the active roster. Practice squad players can be signed to other teams, so long as they go to the active roster. And they can be cut and new players signed at any time. Over the years several big name players have had a chance to work their way up and turn into Pro Bowl caliber players. Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Rod Smith, Arian Foster, Jason Peters, James Harrison, Danny Amendola, and Danny Woodhead were all former practice squad players who would end up having solid NFL careers.
Now, what on Earth does this have to do with the Giants/Panthers tilt? One of the big stars in this game to help the Giants win was a former practice squad player, who the Giants stuck with and would reap the benefits...running back Derrick Ward. Ward had come out of Fresno State and then moved on to Ottowa University and was picked in the 7th round of the 2004 draft by the Jets. That Jets team had 2 very good running backs, the ageless Curtis Martin, who at age 31 would put up a 1697 yard season and 12 TDs. They also had a good young backup in LaMont Jordan at age 26. With no room on the roster, the Jets tried to stash Ward on the practice squad. The Giants would jump at the chance and signed him off the squad an on to the main roster in 2004. Ward would return a kickoff for 92 yards and a TD against the Redskins, which saved the Giants from a 31-0 shutout. Else, from 2004-2006, Ward was generally a special team player, with the carries going to Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs. In 2007 Tiki had retired and burned his bridge with the Giants. Jerry Reese traded for former 1000 yard back Rueben Droughns for depth. Ahmad Bradshaw was a talented rookie taken in the 7th round due to character concerns. Jacobs, who was a short yardage back in 2006, would assume the lead dog role and would end up rushing for 1009 yards. Droughns would also get some carries along the way. But out from the depths would come Ward, who was asked to do more after Jacobs injured his knee in the Dallas season opener. Ward was immediately productive, rushing for over 80 yards in the first four games. And then the injury bug hit, with ankle and groin issues costing him 4 games. In the Giants comeback win at Chicago, Ward was putting up a career day, with 154 yards on 24 carries. He was the Giants leading rusher with 602 yards at that point in the season. But Ward would not finish the game, and would end up breaking his leg, costing him the rest of the season and missed out on the Super Bowl run. By 2008, the Giants were ready to defend their title, and they looked and realized they had 3 top quality running backs on their roster, Jacobs, Ward, and Bradshaw. Years prior, with Tiki and rookie Ron Dayne, the Giants called their backfield “Thunder and Lightning”. Well, this time, the Giants had a new nickname for the 3 headed monster, “Earth” (Jacobs), “Wind” (Ward), and “Fire” (Bradshaw). This combination, along with a stout offensive line, made the Giants the #1 rushing offense in the NFL in 2008. Going into this game against the Panthers, the Giants had rushed for over 100 yards 10 times in the first 14 games, including over 200 yards 5 times. At one point, the Giants were at 11-1 and were looking like clear favorites to repeat at champions. And then Plaxico shot himself. Now, Plaxico was not at his normal productivity. He was already suspended by Tom Coughlin once during the season. Scouts were noting he was a step slow. And his numbers were not that great, 35 catches, 454 yards and 4 TDs in 10 games. Amani Toomer, at age 34 had also shown signs of hitting the wall, as he put up a 48 catch, 580 yard season. Steve Smith was on the rise, but was considered to be a “possession” receiver, with 57 catches for 574 yards. The big new comer was their return man, Dominik Hixon, pressed into service after Plax shot himself and the Giants hoped he could help the WRs. But before the shooting, Plax was still a threat. A mismatch at his size that teams had to respect. When he was gone, the rest of the receivers didn’t pick up the slack. The Giants would drop 2 straight games to Philly and Dallas, rush for under 100 yards and offensively only scored 13 points (the Giants defense got a safety and the special teams returned a blocked FG for a TD). The Giants were watching their season start to slip away as the Panthers, winners of 7 of their last 8 games, and with a matching 11-3 record came to Giants Stadium. The winner would get home field advantage and make their Week 16 game moot. Carolina had a dominant running game of their own, with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as a one/two punch. On a Sunday Night National TV game, in December when it was a snowy mix earlier in the day and with temperatures dropping and the wind picking up as the night went along, it was time to see which rushing offense was going to take control. And it would turn out that a former practice squad player would play the game of his life.
The Game Highlights
The Panthers were kicking off as the story going into the game was the temperature was right around 32 degrees at kickoff, but a weather pattern was coming in that should reach the Stadium by the 2nd half which would drop the temperature almost 20 degrees and the winds would become a factor. Rhys Lloyd, the kickoff specialist from England came on to kick one into the wind and it was taken at the 4 yard line by Ahmad Bradshaw who powered it to the 25 yard line where he was taken down by several Panthers. First down, Eli Manning would come out and fake to Brandon Jacobs and would hit Dominik Hixon on the right side at the 30, and he would evade one tackle and dive out to the 34, touched down by Thomas Davis Jr. 2nd and 1, Eli would give to Jacobs up the gut and plowed ahead for a 3 yard gain and a first down, hit down by Darwin Walker. First down, Eli would change the play, give to Jacobs running to his right, but was met by Jon Beason at the 40. 2nd and 8, a delayed draw to Jacobs running to his right, but was met by Tyler Brayton at the 42.
3rd and 6, Eli in the gun, would step up through a sack attempt by Charles Johnson, and fire a deep shot down the field to Hixon, who got behind 2 Panthers and hauled it in at the 20 and was taken down at the 18 by Chris Gamble. After a 40 yard gain, it was first and 10, and Jacobs took the carry on the right side and was hit down by Brayton after a 1 yard gain. 2nd and 9, Jacobs took the carry up the middle, bounced off about 4 different tackles and until he was finally halted by Julius Peppers and Davis. 3rd and 6, Eli in the gun, would dump it off to Derrick Ward, but he dropped it and would have been short anyway. On would come 44 year old John Carney for a 32 yard attempt and the veteran who was named to the Pro Bowl, thanks to a great hold by fellow veteran Pro Bowler Jeff Feagles, was able to bang it through for a 3-0 Giants lead.
Carney’s kickoff was very short, taken by former Giant Mark Jones at the 12 yard line and he would head up the middle but was met by Zak DeOssie and slung down at the 23. First down, Jake Delhomme would give to DeAngelo Williams, who took the ball to the left side, broke a tackle attempt by Justin Tuck and got into the secondary where he was met by Michael Johnson and Corey Webster at the 30. 2nd and 3, Delhomme had plenty of time and dumped it off to Williams, who dropped the pass. 3rd and 3, Delhomme would swing the pass out to Steve Smith at the 26 on what was essentially a backwards lateral, and Smith would head up the field, break a tackle attempt by Johnson at the 32, and keep his footing and accelerate up all the way to the Giants 47 yard line, knocked out of bounds by Kenny Phillips. 1st and 10, Delhomme gave the ball to Williams up the middle, but was hit down after a 1 yard gain by Fred Robbins. 2nd and 9, Delhomme back, with a little pressure from a blitz that was picked up, was able to step up and throw a deep pass to Smith who was wide open at the 17 yard line and he would get ridden out of bounds at the 11 yard line by James Butler. 1st and 10, Delhomme gave the ball to Williams trying to run left, but was run down by Webster and dropped for a 2 yard loss. However, the Panthers weren’t going to stop giving the ball to Williams
The Giants might have stopped him the previous play, but this time Williams got the ball on a little delayed draw and found a hole up the middle and just popped it untouched right into the end zone on a 13 yard TD run as Fred Robbins was just pushed out of the way and no one else could find Williams. So John Kasay put through the extra point to make the score 7-3 on Williams 15th rushing TD on the season with 6:16 to go in the first quarter.
Lloyd’s kickoff was taken by Bradshaw at the goal line and he would get tripped up at the 26 yard line. First down, Eli would give to Jacobs up the middle, who looked like he might have a lane, but was taken down by Davis after a 4 yard gain. 2nd and 6, Eli back, with time, found Steve Smith at the 40, and was thrown down by Davis and Beason for a first down. Jacobs took the carry, cut to his right, ran over Davis at the 42, kept chugging and powered his way to the 50 yard line, with 3 Panthers on him, and just got enough for the first down. As the Giants set up for another play, Carolina took a time out. Jacobs got the ball again, running to his right and took 2 Panthers for a ride out to the 46 yard line, gaining 4 yards when nothing was there to start. Eli was back and threw a comebacker to Smith at the 38 yard line, who dove and snagged it for a first down. Jacobs took the next carry up the gut for a 2 yard gain, hit down by Damien Lewis. 2nd and 8, a fake to Jacobs, Eli looked deep and came back to Jacobs, who caught it and got his legs cut out by Davis at the 31. 3rd and 3, Eli in the gun would pitch to Ward on a toss to the right and he would find a lane and charge out to the 22 yard line, hit down by Chris Gamble, but good enough for yet another first down. 1st and 10, Ward took the carry up the middle and ran into traffic and was taken down at the 19 by Beason. 2nd and 7, Ward with the carry running to his right, would pick up speed and take it to the 15, hit down by Beason again on the final play of the first quarter. 3rd and 2, Eli in the gun, would set up and hit Smith on a quick drop and curl at the 10, and get banged down by Peppers at the 7 yard line. First and goal, Eli in the gun gave the ball to Jacobs, who took it up the middle and plowed his way to the 2 yard line where he was tripped up. But if at first you don’t succeed
Jacobs was just a monster, taking the carry up the middle, took on 2 Panthers at the goal line and looked to get it in, but on his second effort, just pushed his way into the end zone to clearly score. After the play Beason got into it with Richie Seubert, and ended up going backwards on the ground, and somehow a flag wasn’t thrown. But it showed the type of nastiness and toughness that the Giants offensive line had back in those days. A 13 play, 74 yard drive over 7:38 hammed that point home and Carney’s extra point made the score 10-7 with 13:38 to go in the half.
Carney’s kickoff would be a bouncer up the middle of the field and was picked up by one of the blockers, TE Jeff King at the 22 and he would scramble his way out to the 35 yard line, tackled by Ahmad Bradshaw. First down for the Panthers and Delhomme started with a handoff to the rookie first round pick Jonathan Stewart, who was met at the line of scrimmage by Fred Robbins and Antonio Pierce. 2nd and 10, Delomme gave to Stewart on a draw to the right, where he was tackled by Cofield and Pierce for a 3 yard gain. 3rd and 7, a play fake to Stewart held up the rush for a moment and gave Delhomme time to check back off to Stewart who was wide open at the 40, and he would turn up the field and take the ball all the way to the Giants’ 48 yard line, hit down by Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas. First down, another play fake and this time Delhomme had pressure coming right at him and he backed up and threw an out pass to King in the flat at the 48 yard line, Danny Clark missed an open field tackle and King took the ball to the 38 yard line and was forced out by Pierce and James Butler, but good for another first down. A draw to Stewart up the gut would work like a charm as there was a huge hole for him to gallop through and he would take the ball to the 31, wrapped up by Butler and as he was going to the ground, Johnson hit him around the head and Stewart stayed on the turf. As Stewart was helped off, Williams came back in and he would take a pitch to the right and with the Giants covering it well, he would bounce all the way back to his left. As he headed to his left, one of the contain men, Cofield, was on the ground holding his knee in pain, and Williams simply went around him, past Ross, and accelerated to the 14 yard line and out of bounds with Corey Webster in pursuit. First down, Williams again got the ball running to his left, but this time Mathias Kiwaunka was waiting and took him down after a 1 yard gain. 2nd and 9, Delhomme would throw over Smith’s back shoulder at the 5 yard line and he would snag it and head out of bounds at the 4 yard line, with Kevin Dockery in coverage. First and goal at the 4, a draw to Williams running to his right, and he would get nailed by Thomas on a run blitz for a loss of 1. 2nd and goal at the 5, the Panthers would stay on the ground.
Just a combination of power, quickness, leverage and speed on this TD by Williams, as he took the handoff running inside left tackle, he would actually get hit at the 2 by Butler and Jay Alford, but his momentum took him into the end zone for a TD to cap off a 10 play, 66 yard TD drive in 5:26. Kasay’s extra point was good to make the score 14-10 with 8:12 to go in the first half.
Lloyd’s kickoff would be a low line drive which would bounce it’s way through the end zone for a touchback. Eli would start off with a pass in the direction of Amani Toomer, but the ball skipped on the ground and was incomplete. 2nd and 10, a handoff to Ward up the middle first looked to be shut down at the line of scrimmage, but he would bounce off the back of Chris Snee, and then find the edge and head up the field all the way to the 29 yard line, tackled by Lucas. 3rd and 1, with only Madison Hedgecock in the backfield, the Giants gave the ball to the fullback and the 260 pounder would power his way up the middle where he was met by Beason and friends near the first down. It was Hedgecock’s first carry as a Giant as his role was as a blocking back. Well, with Jacobs, Ward, and Bradshaw to choose from, why Coughlin gave it to Hedgecock by himself had the predictable result of him being short of the first down. On came Jeff Feagles, he would send it to Jones at the 30, and he would be taken down by Zak DeOssie at the 35.
First down Carolina and all hell would break loose
Delhomme would start with a play action fake to Williams, which held up the rush and allowed the QB to set up in the pocket, Just as Cofield started to apply some pressure, Delhomme heaved a deep shot down the field towards Mushin Muhammad, who had beaten Ross badly in coverage. However, the pass hung up and Ross was able to recover and be in position for what looked to be an easy pick of this floater at about the 27 yard line. But it went through his hand and into Muhammad’s at the 26. The WR would then turn up the field and get all the way down to the 5 yard line, stopped on a nice tackle by Butler and Pierce coming back to help and it was good for a 60 yard gain. First and goal at the 5, Delhomme dropped back and first looked at Steve Smith, who was well covered to the left, so he came back to the right and threw an out pass towards Muhammad, and for a moment the ball hung there again, but it was hauled in at the 4, and was ridden down by Thomas. 2nd and goal at the 4, the Panthers would make sure they went to Smith
Steve Smith was an amazing WR for Carolina. An undersized guy, but was tough as hell and as competitive as any player in the NFL. In this case he would catch a flare from Delhomme at the 6 yard line, with Muhammad in front to block and he got around Johnson, absorbed a hit by Webster and looked to be down, but he was able to actually launch himself forward and into the end zone for a TD. On the replay however, it looked like his knee did hit the ground, so Coughlin ran out and tossed the red flag. The refs would rule that Smith was down and placed the ball at the ½ yard line. 3rd and goal all that would happen is the Giants delayed the inevitable
The NFL’s leading TD maker, Williams would get the ball on a quick count, and chug inside left guard, leave his feet and dive into the end zone, over Justin Tuck, his third on the day in the first half. So now the score would officially be 21-10 as Kasay put through the extra point with 4:45 to go in the half and a stunned/angry Giants crowd started with some slight boos.
Lloyd would come on again to kickoff, and it would be taken by Bradshaw at the goal line and he would force his way to the 27 yard line. First and 10 and now down 11 points in a winner take all game, Eli would give to Jacobs running to his left, and he would head around the edge to the 30 yard line, tackled by Chris Harris. 2nd and 7, Eli would fake the handoff to Jacobs and step up and away from Peppers and sling a pass to Kevin Boss who was wide open at the 45 yard line. Boss would get thrown out of bounds by Harris right at the 45. First down, Eli another fake, and would look to hit Hixon on an in route at the Panthers’ 35 yard line, and there looked to be contact from Gamble and pass interference, but no flag was thrown as the ball fell incomplete. 2nd and 10, with the play clock running down, Eli gave us a clear “Omaha” and snapped the ball, but Davis came around McKenzie and sacked Eli back at the 38 yard line. 3rd and 16, Eli in the gun, would dump off a screen to Ward on the left side at the 34, but it was read perfectly by Lucas, who nailed Ward as soon as he caught it. The boos now got louder at Giants Stadium as Feagles came back out to punt on 4th and 22. Feagles punt went to Jones at the 21 yard line on a fair catch with 2:06 to go in the half.
So the Panthers were now looking to put a stranglehold on the game and had the Giants on their heels. First and 10, Delhomme would throw a pass down the line to Smith, this time to the right side, but the Giants were ready and Smith was engulfed by Pierce at the 19 yard line for a loss which brought the clock to the 2 minute warning. 2nd and 12, Delhomme would audible to a run, and gave to Williams running to his right, but got hit for no gain by Cofield and Johnson. The Giants would take a timeout with 1:55 to go. 3rd and 12, Delhomme got extremely lucky as he tried to throw a quick slant to the left in the direction of Smith, but it was read by Thomas who had his hands on it at the 25 and it would have been a walk in TD had he held on. On came Jason Baker to punt, and he would sent it towards RW McQuarters, but Bradshaw who was back as an upman to block, tried to field it at the 38, and he would drop the ball, but had time to pick it up and he took it to the 45 yard line with 1:39 to go.
Eli with good field position would be in the shotgun, but not to throw
Eli would give to Ward out of the shotgun on a little draw and Ward would follow Snee who was pulling to block. Ward would cut inside the block up the middle and burst past the Panthers’ DL, around a missed tackle at the 40 and took off all the way down to the 21 yard line and forced out of bounds by Davis with 1:30. 1st and 10, and the Giants would run the same play to Ward out of the shotgun, and he would take it to the 17 yard line, stopped by Harris. 2nd and 6, Eli in the gun, with plenty of time, tried to throw it over the middle towards Boss, who had it tip off his hands and into a crowd of Giants and Panthers, and was lucky it wasn’t intercepted. 3rd and 6, Eli in the gun and tried to sneak a pass in towards Mario Manningham over the middle and he was actually triple covered. As luck would have it, the ball was tipped near the line by Peppers, which made it wobble and ruin what would have been an easy INT for Beason. John Carney would come on to convert a 35 yard field goal to make the score 21-13 with :50 to go in the half.
Carney’s kickoff would go to Jones at the 11 yard line and he would squirt out to the 36 yard line, taken down by Bryan Kehl. Delhomme give the ball to Williams running to his left, but was met by Johnson, Webster and Kiwanuka at the line of scrimmage and let the clock run. John Fox, a defensive coach at heart, decided that he wanted to play it safe and get out at the half with the 21-13 lead.
At the start of the 2nd half, the temperature continued to drop and the winds got a little stronger. Carney’s kickoff would go to Jones at the 8 yard line and Jones took it up the middle and had a lane and took the ball up to the 33, tackled by Thomas. Carolina started with a handoff to Williams, who ran to the left, broke a tackle and got the ball out to the 38, tripped up by Clark and Pierce. 2nd and 5, a fake to the fullback and then a pitch to Williams on a sprint to the right and initially it looked like it was going to work as Williams got the corner and was into open field. However Johnson came flying up from his safety spot and took out Williams’ legs at the 44 and kept him from having a huge gain, but still good enough for a first down. Stewart back in the game, even though he had a “head injury” (ie- concussion) and he would also take the ball inside to the right, found a lane and got to the Giants’ 49, hit down by Clark. 2nd and 4, Delhomme would fake the handoff, have time initially, but as he got a late rush and was hit by Robbins, he floated a pass towards Stewart, who was well covered by Chase Blackburn and the ball fell incomplete. 3rd and 4, the Giants fans would rise up and make a bunch of noise, and the defense responded, with an all out blitz that forced a quick pass from Delhomme which went over the head of Muhammad and was nearly picked,and should have been, by Dockery. Baker came on to punt it away and he would send a high punt that was fair caught at the 10 by McQuarters.
First down, and Eli would give to Jacobs running to the right side for a 3 yard gain, hit down by Beason. 2nd and 7, a deep toss to Jacobs to the left, and he hesitated early, as a run blitz backed him up, but he would cut back inside and pick his way to the 15, tripped by Diggs. 3rd and 5, Eli in the gun, would drop back, and try to hit Hixon on an out pattern, but the ball sailed out of bounds and incomplete on the back shoulder attempt. The crowd was looking for another flag on Lucas, but none came, so it was a 3 and out, Feagles back on to punt it away, standing at the goal line, and his kick was a poor effort, a shank that bounced at the 42 yard line and rolled forward to the 48 yard line, a 33 yard kick.
Panthers first down, gave to Stewart up the middle and he would gain 2 yards, hit down by Renaldo Wynn. 2nd and 8, Stewart again up the middle, found some space for a moment, but was hit by Pierce and Clark at the 43 and driven backwards. 3rd and 5, Delhomme was back to throw, and got nailed by Alford as he threw in the direction of Muhammad and the pass was broken up by Webster. Muhammad was looking for a flag that was not to come. So Carolina would respond with their own 3 and out on offense, Baker’s punt was a line drive, fair caught at the 16 by McQuarters with 9:35 to go in the 3rd quarter.
Eli would start off with a fake to Jacobs and roll to his right and throw a short pass to Boss at the 16, and the TE would get the ball to the 20, hit down by Davis. 2nd and 6, Jacobs would take the carry up the middle, cut to the right and get stood up by Lewis after a 1 yard gain. 3rd and 5, Eli in the gun, and he would take too much time, and the first penalty of the game would get called against the Giants. Now 3rd and 10, Eli again in the gun, with all day to throw, he would find Boss coming out late and crossing over the middle at the 19 yard line. Boss would take the ball up the field, and dive forward to the 27 yard line, getting upended by Lucas and landing on his head, but good for a first down. Boss would come out of the game looking a little shaky (and in hindsight his career would end early due to concussions). First down, Jacobs took the carry and picked his way to the 32 yard line, ridden down by Beason. 2nd and 5, Eli would change the play at the line and threw a quick slant to Hixon at the 40 and he would take it out to the 41 yard line, dropped by Gamble, but good for another first down. Eli would again change the play and gave to Jacobs running to his left and powered to the 44 yard line, bouncing off several Panthers along the way, before Peppers took him down. 2nd and 7, with Ward in the game, would stay on the ground
Jacobs softened the Panthers up and Ward took advantage, running to his left, he cut inside a David Diehl block on Peppers, ran out of an arm tackle, and accelerated all the way to the Panthers’ 33 yard line, tripped up by Marshall. Eli would drop back to throw, fake a pass to the left, and then come all the way back to the other side to Amani Toomer, who was open at the 21, good for another first down as he was pushed out of bounds by Gamble. The drive kept rolling, and Eli would again drop back, and this time he would dump off to Hedgecock who was open on a checkdown at the 19 yard line, and the fullback would rumble down to the 8 yard line, spun down by Gamble. First and goal, Eli in the gun, would hand off inside to Jacobs up the middle and he would bull his way all the way down to the 2 yard line, taken down by Davis. 2nd and goal, Jacobs took the ball around right end, and as he held up, Harris smacked Jacobs up high and took the big running back down, something rarely seen. On 3rd and goal, the Giants would go to the air
With the Panthers having to respect the Giants running game out of the shotgun, Eli had plenty of time to sit back in the pocket, survey the field and drill a pass in to Boss who had gotten open in the end zone for an easy TD catch. Coughlin didn’t give a 2 point conversion much thought and sent out Carney to make the score 21-20 and cap off a 12 play, 84 yard drive, which took 8:36, and left the clock at :59 remaining in the 3rd quarter.
Carney’s kickoff would go to Jones on a line drive at the 10 and he would follow his wedge all the way out to the 37, hit down by Blackburn. So Carolina started in good field position began their drive with a play fake and Delhomme threw a deep shot towards Smith, but the ball was off course and incomplete. 2nd and 10, the ball was given to Williams, running to his left and out to the 43, hit down by Pierce and Blackburn. 3rd and 4, Delhomme took the snap and got off a quick pass as the Giants came on a blitz and it was caught by Muhammad and he was taken down by Webster at the 50, but it was good for a first down and the final play of the 3rd quarter. To start the 4th quarter, the Panthers gave it to Williams on a delay, but Pierce came on a run blitz and hit in him the backfield for a 1 yard loss. 2nd and 11, Williams again got the ball up the middle, and he was hit down by Justin Tuck after a 2 yard gain. 3rd and 9, Delhomme would take the snap, have plenty of time to throw a strike to Dwayne Jarrett at the 32 yard line and the former 2nd rounder rolled forward to the 30 yard line, touched down by Pierce. The Panthers would make the Giants pay for allowing that conversion
Now we are getting into crazy territory, Williams took the handoff on a draw up the middle and he would cut back to the right, turn the corner and cut back to his left, a missed tackle by Clark, past the overpursuit by Butler, stiff armed Pierce at the 20, and then out run Johnson and Blackburn to the end zone and score his 4th TD of the day, a 30 yarder. Casey’s extra point was good to make the score 28-20 with 12:50 to go in the game.
Lloyd would kick off to Bradshaw at the 5 yard line, and he would take it out to the 23 yard line. Eli would drop back and get smothered by Brayton for a sack at the 14, as he burst past McKenzie who was expecting help inside. 2nd and 19, Eli gave to Jacobs on an inside handoff from the gun, and he would cut back to the left, and again the Giants got good yardage, plowing out to the 30, finally taken down by Beason. 3rd and 3, the Giants would let Ward bust loose again
Ward would take the pitch back out of the shotgun running to his left, follow the pulling guard Suebert who took out an onrushing defender, and Ward would get the edge and cut up the field, breaking a tackle and then into the open, going all the way down to the 33 yard line, before Charles Godfrey shoved him out of bounds, good for a 37 yard gain and would put Ward over 100 yards for the game. Jacobs would get the carry, run to his right, bounce off a tackle attempt by Beason at the 32, and then put his shoulders down and plug forward to the 31. 2nd and 7, with the playclock going down, Eli would call a timeout, the Giants first of the half. Now on 2nd down, Eli would drop back, and dump off to Jacobs at the 28, and for a moment it looked like he had the ball as he was hit by Diggs and fumbled, but the refs called it incomplete. 3rd and 7, Eli in the gun, and he had no chance as Peppers got around Diehl and erased Manning for a big sack back to the 39 yard line, and the Giants were lucky the ball didn’t come loose. So that erased a scoring chance and brought Feagles on to punt on a 4th and 15.
Feagles needed to put the ball in the coffin corner and he did so nearly perfectly, having it bounce at the 5 yard line. Thomas came running over as the ball bounced high in the air to bat it out of bounds at the one yard line, before the ball or Thomas went into the end zone. A huge play to change field position with 9:21 to go in the game.
The crowd now in full throat with the Panthers pinned. The gave the ball to Williams up the middle and he was engulfed by Robbins and the pile went down at the 3 yard line. 2nd and 8, again Williams got the ball, and he slipped for a moment, and was nailed by Cofield for no gain. 3rd and 8, the Panthers played it safe, gave to Williams, who ran to his right, and was hit down by Pierce at the 5 yard line. So Baker had just enough yardage at the back of the end zone to punt and nearly had it blocked as the ball went to McQuarters at the Giants’ 46 yard line. McQuarters got the ball out to the Panthers’ 44 yard line where he was shoved out of bounds with 7:09 to play.
The Giants started off going the wrong way, with a false start called on Diehl. 1st and 15, Eli dropped back, had time and threw to Hixon on an out at the 45 yard line. Hixon would turn up the field and get the ball all the way to the 36 yard line, and nailed out of bounds by Davis setting up a 2nd and 2. Eli would give to Ward, tried to run to his right, but was strung out by the Panthers and he was dropped for a 1 yard loss by Beason. 3rd and 3, Eli would pump fake, and then throw to his old reliable, Toomer at the 31 on a comebacker, and the veteran WR would spin off Gamble, get away from Beason and head up the sidelines until he was banged out of bounds at the 22 yard line. First down, a pitch to Ward running to his right, would get hit down at the 20 by Diggs. 2nd and 8, Eli went in the gun again, and again gave to Ward, this time up the gut, and he took it to the 17, hit by Brayton. 3rd and 5, with the clock under 4:30, Eli back in the gun, threw over the middle to Boss, who hauled it in at the 13, and he would take the ball all the way down to the 5 yard line, stopped by Lucas, as Boss got up limping. First and goal, Eli tried to to over the back shoulder toward Hixon who got tangled up with Lucas and the ball was batted away. However a flag was thrown for pass interference, amazingly Carolina’s first pass interference call all season and set up a first and goal at the 1. With Jacobs in the game, it wasn’t hard to see what was going to happen next
Jacobs used his 267 pound frame to power into the end zone and through the Panthers defense, plowing over DTs 6 yards deep in the end zone. Obviously, with 3:21 to go in the game, the Giants had to go for a 2 point conversion. Normally what Coughlin and Gilbride prefered was to spread the field and give to the running back on a draw. And with the way the Giants were running, you could see it happening here. But the Giants were 0-2 in 2008 on the 2 point conversion and this was the most important of the season. The Giants decided to go to the air, and Eli in the gun, would fake to Jacobs to draw in the defense and then hit Hixon on a slant in the end zone for a huge 2 pointer to tie the game at 28-28, as he beat Lucas in coverage.
Carney would kickoff to Jones, who fielded it at the 10, and he got off a nice return to the 38 yard line, hit down by Thomas. Needing just a field goal, the Panthers began with a playfake to Stewart, sat in the pocket and checked back down to Stewart at the 40 yard line. He would spin off a tackle attempt by Pierce at the 42 and make his way to the Giants’ 49 yard line, hit from behind by Kiwi. First down, a draw up the gut to Stewart was good for just 1 yard, hit by Clark. 2nd and 9, the Panthers took the clock down to the 2 minute warning. Delhomme would drop back and fire a dart to Smith over the middle at the 37, but it was broken up by a diving Webster. 3rd and 9 with 1:54 to go, and the crowd roaring, Delhomme would drop back, hit Muhammad on a slant at the 40 and the big WR would turn his body and fall forward to the 37, tackled by Webster and good for a huge first down. The Panthers, with all 3 timeouts, let the clock run, and looked to be a disaster at first, as Delhomme dropped the snap, and just got the ball to Williams running up the middle, but the running back quickly cut to the left and made it all the way to the 32, hit down by Butler for a would be first down. However, a penalty on Smith for a hold on the outside made it 1st and 13 at the 40. Tuck, playing hurt and sick with the flu went down after the play, and by rule the Giants had to take their 2nd timeout with 1:11 to go. Delhomme would give to Williams again on a draw, this time running to his right, and he cut back over the middle, where he was met at the 40 by Johnson and Wynn for no gain. The Giants would call their final timeout with 1:03 to go. 2nd and 13, the Panthers went with the Wildcat formation, and Williams playing at QB, took the snap and ran to his right, behind 2 pulling linemen, found a hole, lept over the pile and got to the 33, where he was shoved out of bounds by Butler with :54 to go. 3rd and 6, the ball went to Williams, who tried to run to his left and was nailed at the 32 by Tuck. Unable to stop the clock, the Giants had to watch as the Panthers took the clock down to :09 left in the game and took a time out.
Before the kick, NBC showed a highlight of Kasay hitting a 55 yarder in this direction in pre-game warmups. However, as they also noted, that was at 7:30 PM, it was now past 11:00 PM and the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up. In this direction (kicking opposite my seats in the other end zone), he had the wind at his back. But in old Giants Stadium, the winds would swirl. And we would see it on Kasay’s kick, which started off looking good, as hit was heading down the middle, and then it started to flutter and in the last about 5-10 yards, it shifted wide to the left as the crosswind got a hold of the kick and pushed it out. The replay would also show that Kasay did a bit of a move forward and should have been a false start. With :04 left, the Giants would take a knee and send the game to OT.
Back in 2008, the rules in OT were still that the first team that scores win. So a field goal on the first possession was good enough to win the game. The Panthers would call heads on the coin toss, and it landed tails, so the Giants got the ball first. Lloyd’s kickoff would go to Bradshaw about 6 yards into the end zone and he took a knee for a touchback. First and 10 at the 20, Ward would take the carry running to his left, and got out to the 26 yard line, tackled by Peppers and Diggs. 2nd and 4, Eli would audible again and check off to a quick slant to Hixon, which was a little high and off his hands, and luckily wasn’t picked. On 3rd and 4, out of the shotgun, Eli tried to hit Toomer on a quick out pass to the right, as the Panthers came on a blitz. Toomer was open, but this pass was also a little high, and bounced off Toomer’s hands, and this time came dangerously close to being picked off by Gamble. The Giants dodged a bullet and on came Feagles to punt, sent it out to Jones at the 25 yard line, and the former Giant ran across field to the right, just got past a DJ Ware tackle attempt and was brought down by Thomas at the 38.
Carolina had the ball with 13:54 to go in OT. First down a straight ahead run by Stewart got out to the 43, hit down by Clark. 2nd and 5, Stewart again up the gut, this time just 2 yards, hit by Tuck and Robbins. 3rd and 3, with the crowd screaming, Delhomme dropped back with a blitz coming and tried a quick pass towards Muhammad and it was nearly picked off by Dockery. So Carolina responded with a 3 and out and Baker came on to punt and McQuarters made it an adventure
Talk about a near nightmare. Baker’s punt was more of a low floater, that forced McQuarters to race up to fair catch it at the 19 yard line. But in windy Giants Stadium, nothing is easy. McQuarters had the ball bounce off his arms and head back towards the goal line, and was in a race for the ball with Richard Marshall and the crowd yelling in terror. McQuarters was able to get possession at the 14 and in a big pile up, the refs gave the ball to the Giants.
The Giants had and fans had a chance to exhale for a moment. And that’s all they had, because Ward made them stand up and cheer
Ward took the carry and followed a lead by Suebert in the hole on Beason and burst though the middle and it was a foot race at that point, with Lucas finally catching up to Ward and pushed him out of bounds at the Panthers’ 36, and nearly got him to fumble, but it was good for a 51 yard gain. Jacobs would take the next carry and he powered his way to the 33 yard line up the gut, stopped by Johnson. 2nd and 7, Eli would try to hit Hixon and they would get crossed up as Hixon came in, and Eli threw out, so the ball was incomplete. That set up a huge 3rd and 7, and the Giants went to their favorite play of the day
Over and over again, the Giants were in a passing down, in the shotgun and handed off to a running back. In this case, and this game, it was a money play with Ward back there. And it would happen again here, as Ward took the draw, followed Suebert and Boss, ran to the right, and again found a lane and took off all the way out to the 19, stopped by Godfrey before it got even worse for Carolina. But it was good for another first down and got closer for Carney to kick into the wind. Carolina took a timeout to catch their breath as the Giants were marching on them. On first down, Ward got the ball and kept his career game going, this time running to the right, he turned the corner, took off up the field and dove towards the goal line, getting pushed out at the 2 yard line by Davis, and put Ward over 200 yards on the day (215 to be exact). As great as Ward was, it was time to go to the hammer.
This was just pure power here from Jacobs. He was actually stopped at about the 3 yard line. But as they teach all running backs, keep your legs pumping. And when you weight about 270 like Jacobs does, that can have a big effect, and it did here as he kept chugging, fell off the back of Suebert, and lunged forward and into the end zone, with an assist from Shaun O’Hara and Kevin Boothe shoving him, to win the game for the Giants as the crowd went nuts. The win locked up home field advantage through the playoffs for the defending World Champions in a 34-28 back and forth OT thriller.
Interesting tidbits/ Post Mortem
- The Giants would have 2 guys go over 1000 yards rushing in the same season with Jacobs and Ward, and they became the 5th in NFL history to do so. Prior to their feat in 2008, the following duos were able to turn the trick
- 1972- Miami Dolphins: Larry Csonka (1117 yards) and Mercury Morris (1000) * in 14 game season
- 1976- Pittsburgh Steelers: Franco Harris (1128 yards) and Rocky Bleier (1036 yards) * in 14 game season
- 1985- Cleveland Browns: Kevin Mack (1104 yards) and Ernest Byner (1002 yards)
- 2006- Atlanta Falcons- Warrick Dunn (1140 yards) and Michael Vick (1039 yards). In the process, Vick became the first QB to rush for 1000 yards in NFL history.
- There has only been one other pair of teammates to do it since, and they were featured in this game. In 2009, for the Carolina Panthers, Jonathan Stewart went for 1133 yards and DeAngelo Williams went for 1117 yards.
- The 2008 Giants team was a rushing machine. They were the #1 ranked rushing offense in the NFL. They would rush for 200 or more yards in a game 6 times. And if you count going over 100 yards rushing in a game as part of that, including the playoffs, they did it 13 times in 17 games. In comparison to their Super Bowl teams
- 1986- Over 200 yards: 4 times, over 100 yards: 15 times in 19 games
- 1990- Over 200 yards: 1 time, over 100 yards: 16 times in 19 games
- 2000- Over 200 yards: 2 times, over 100 yards: 12 times in 19 games
- 2007- Over 200 yards: 1 time, over 100 yards: 12 times in 20 games
- 2011- Over 200 yards: 0 times, over 100 yards: 10 times in 20 games.
- And in the most recent 2015 season: Over 200 yards: 1 time, Over 100 yards:4 times. Yikes.
- Giants had over 300 yards rushing, most since 1959 when they rushed for 351 yards in a 45-14 win at Yankee Stadium over the Washington Redskins. Frank Gifford led the team with 159 yards, including a 79 yard TD.
- Madison Hedgecock had his first carry as a Giant in nearly 2 years, and he didn’t get the first down on the no gain run. It was his only carry as a Giant. He only had 2 other carries in his career, both with the Rams, and he gained 2 yards.
- Brandon Jacobs' 3 TDs in the game were a career high in a single game
- John Fox was the head coach for the Panthers in this game. Fox was the Giants defensive coordinator from 1997-2001. Fox beat the Giants the first 2 times they met up. In 2003, in Jim Fassel's final game as head coach. And in 2005, in Tom Coughlin's first playoff game as NYG Head Coach, in an embarrassing 23-0 shutout of the Giants at the Meadowlands.
- After this loss, Fox was involved in another couple of Giants milestones. In 2009, Fox's Panthers destroyed the Giants in their final game at Giants Stadium, 41-9. The Panthers would also open the new Meadowlands Stadium (before it was known as MetLife), and lost that game 31-18.
- The wheels would come off for the 2010 Panthers, they would finish at 2-14 and Fox would be fired. In 2011, Fox would land in Denver, and squeezed an 8-8 season out of the Broncos, with Tim Tebow at QB, and made the playoffs and actually beat the Steelers at home before getting blown out in New England, 45-10.
- Fox would then go on a run in Denver with Peyton Manning at QB. In 2012, he would go 13-3 and get the #1 seed, before an OT loss in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. In 2013, Fox would again beat the Giants and lead his team to another 13-3 season, and this time make the Super Bowl...only to get destroyed 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks in...MetLife Stadium.
- Fox's run in Denver would end after the 2014 season, this time going 12-4, but with a broken down Manning at the helm, lost to the Indianapolis Colts in Denver and Fox would be fired.
- Fox has since landed in Chicago, where he is trying to rebuild the Bears and in 2015 had a rough go at it, going 6-10.
- DeAngelo Williams would rush for 4 TDs in the game and get 18 on the season. That number is tied with Adrian Peterson, who also rushed for 18 TDs in 2009 as the highest since 2008. The highest all time was when LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for an amazing 28 TDs in 2006.
- And no one knew it at the time, but this was the final Giants game the great John Madden would broadcast. Madden, who always spoke about players not showboating or making themselves bigger than the game, had mentioned in the past that when it was his time to go, he didn't want a bunch of fan fare, he would just walk away. And sure enough, after the 2008 season, that's exactly what he did. Madden's post coaching career was amazing. Quickly skyrocking to the #1 analyst role in the broadcast booth with former Giant Pat Summerall, the Madden/Summerall broadcast team was far in a way the best that there ever was, and no broadcasters today can hold a candle to what they did when they were at their best. If Madden was at your game, then that meant it was the best game of the week. When CBS lost their NFL contract after the 1993 season, Madden and Summerall went over to FOX, where they continued their work together, until the FOX higher ups decided it was time to get younger and promoted Joe Buck and Troy Aikman as their new #1 team. Summerall would retire, but Madden would press on, going over to ABC with Monday Night football. However, when it became clear that Monday Night Football was no longer the premiere show it used to be, Madden would go to NBC for the more lucrative Sunday Night football, and the ability to flex games to be sure that a prime matchup was on TV. Madden still stays in the public consciousness with this Madden NFL video game on EA Sports. And he still weighs in on NFL matters on call in shows from the Bay Area. But it would have been nice if Giants fans in the stadium that night, myself included, knew it was Madden's last game so he could have had a proper send off.