Thursday, June 28, 2012

1997 Giants @ Redskins

Week 13

The Setup

This game was a match up between the top 2 teams in the NFC East.  In 1997, the Cowboys dynasty was finally showing signs of age and was cracking.  After starting 3-1, Barry Switzer's team was coming back to Earth and going into Week 13, had just been blown out in Green Bay 45-17 by the defending World Champ Pack which dropped them to 6-6.  So that meant that the ESPN Sunday Night game between Jim Fassel's Giants (who started 1-3, but behind Danny Kanell had saved their season and were 7-4 entering the game) and the Norv Turner Redskins (who also started 3-1, and were 6-5 going into Week 13) was for, essentially first place in the NFC East.  A Giants win would give them a 2 game lead, and doing it with a road win.  A Redskins win would put them in a tie with the Giants and give them a leg up by winning head to head.  Of course, no one ever thinks of a tie game in these scenarios, right?

Going into the game, the Giants were hot, winning 6 of their last 7 games and came off a win at Giants Stadium vs. the Cardinals, where the G-men blew a 10-0 lead and had to rely on a Kanell to Cross TD in the 4th quarter to break the tie and win it 19-10.  Meanwhile the Skins were coming off a loss at Dallas and blew a 14-6 lead in the 3rd quarter, before going down 17-14.

The Redskins, as was their MO, had loaded up on high priced free agent talent, players who made their names with other teams and were former Pro Bowlers.  Among the notable names on the 1997 Skins:  Henry Ellard (former Rams WR), Stanley Richard (former Chargers first round safety), Cris Dishman (former Oilers CB), Marvcus Patton (former Bills linebacker), Ken Harvey (former Cardinals OLB), Chris Zorich (former Bears DT), Chris Mims (former Chargers first round DL), Terry Allen (former Vikings RB). Former Rams DT Sean Gilbert was sitting out 1997 in a contract dispute. And 2 former Giants, safety Jesse Campbell and backup QB Jeff Hostetler.

Meanwhile the Giants were the NFL's youngest roster in 1997 and came into the season with 0 Pro Bowlers.  Their oldest player on offense was 30 year old TE Howard Cross.  The rest was led by 24 year old Kanell, 25 year old RBs in Charles Way and Ty Wheatley, 22 year old Tiki Barber.  And on defense was 27 year old Jessie Armstead, 26 year old Jason Sehorn, 26 year old Defensive lineman Keith Hamilton and Michael Strahan.  It was the beginning of a new core of young Giants for rookie head coach Jim Fassel.

For the first time, the Giants played at the Skins new park, then known as Jack Kent Cooke Stadium (now FedEx field).  A late November game, Giants at Redskins and first place on the line, in the 1980s and early 1990s, it was a familiar sight.  2 solid defenses, 2 flawed offenses, 2 Touchdowns, 2 bonehead plays by the Skins and 22 punts awaited a memorable game, in which no one would win or lose.

The Game Highlights
On a perfect, 49 degree, clear night in Raljon, Maryland, the Giants took the opening kickoff which Erric Pegram returned to the Giants 16 and ushered the Giants offense on to the field.  After a Kanell rollout run for 8 yards on the first play, Ty Wheatley popped a big 17 yard run, dragging tacklers to the 42 (yes, Wheatley actually did this and didn't get hurt).  The next play, the Giants continued to run on the 29th ranked rushing defense in the NFL, led by former Giants DC Mike Nolan, with fullback Charles Way plowing to the Skins 45.  Way would add yet another punishing run to the 37, which included a stiff arm on Stanley Richard with put him on the ground.  On 3rd and short, Wheatley was upended and Fassel decided to send out rookie 3rd round pick Brad Maynard to punt, it would be the first of very many.  Maynard hoped to pin them deep, but a poor punt gave the ball to the Skins at the 19.

Gus Frerotte led the Skins offense on to the field.  After a short run and an Ellard drop, Frerotte drilled a pass in to Michael Westbrook, and with a crushing block by Ellard on Percy Ellsworth, Westbrook took the ball to the 46 yard line.  Terry Allen was stuffed on 2 straight runs and an incompletion by Frerotte brought out the Skins punter, Pro Bowler Matt Turk, who promptly sailed one into the end zone for a touchback.

The Giants next drive featured a first down pass to WR Kevin Alexander and a decent run by Way, but once out to near the 40, Wheatley was again stuffed on 3rd and 1, losing yardage and again brought out Maynard with a punt to the Skins 26.

After a couple of passes to Ellard and Westbrook help move the chains, the Giants defense again clamped down on Allen, and a good tackle by Phillippi Sparks on Allen prevented a decent gain, which brought Turk out his punt back to the Giants.  This time, the Giants offense goes backwards.  Kanell botches a screen pass, which results in a 12 yard loss thanks to an intentional grounding penalty and a 2nd and 22 set up.  Things get worse as Kanell is sacked by Ken Harvey, who bull rushed Roman Oben right into Kanell and dropped them both at the 3 yard line.  Maynard had to punt from his own end zone, and manages to get it out to the Giants 41 yard line.

With great field position, the Giants defense has to hold the line.  A first down Allen run was snuffed out by Robert Harris and Corey Widmer.  And then John Fox's aggressive playcalling helped out

Sparks'  sack helped to push the Skins out of long FG range.  However, on 3rd and 15, the Skins drive was saved by a hands to the face penalty on Conrad Hamilton for an automatic first down.  After holding the Skins to short yardage on the next two plays, Conrad Hamliton was called for another penalty and another first down (which earned him a ripping by Fassel on the sidelines).  The Giants defense though, would overcome this as well

 The DL was overwhemling the Redskins offensive line.  For a long stretch in the 1970s and 1980s, linebackers were the impact group on the Giants (as you would expect in a 3-4).  However, once the Giants switched to a 4-3 under Reeves, it was the defensive line which has produced a number or havoc wreaking players and in 1997, while not quite at the 2007/2011 level, they were a strong group.  The defense held and forced a Matt Turk punt down to the 16.

The Giants and Skins both then had matching 3 and out drives, with Matt Turk's punt pinning the Giants at their own 1 yard line.  A Charles Way 7 yard run and then a delayed shotgun draw to Tiki moved the chains.  Two more passes to Barber got the ball out to the 34, where the drive stalled and set up a 3rd and long

It's never a good sign to see your QB get up with huge hunk of the field in his helmet, but this one wasn't Kanell's fault.  Tiki and Oben screwed up the blocking assignments, and Tiki ended up picking Oben, which gave a clear path to the QB for Harvey, the former Cardinal LB and a 4 time Pro Bowler essentially had a free run and got the sack and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Washington at the 27.  The Skins started with a dump off to FB Mark Logan and then hit a wide open TE James Jenkins for 20 yards down to the 3 yard line.  Jenkins was left wide open thanks to a failed zone blitz which left Bernard Holsey trying to cover out in space, with expected results.  Terry Allen was stuffed by Robert Harris and Keith Hamilton on consecutive plays, which set up 3rd and 1, and then came, what is simply known as The Headbutt to the Wall.

A play action fake and Frerotte ended up rolling back to the 12 yard line, where he was chased by Holsey.  After avoiding him, Frerotte took off to the corner and just beat Jason Sehorn to the pylon.  Gus was psyched.  The crowd was psyched.  He spiked the ball.  He then headbutted the wall.  The wall, know...a wall, didn't move.  But Frerotte did, backwards quickly.  Frerotte stayed in as holder on the extra point, but gingerly took his helmet off as the doctors looked at him on the sidelines.  7-0 Skins in the lead.

The Giants tried to response (though, how could you match that?)  Pegram had a good return out to the 35.  But Kanell then tried on his Benny Hill/Keystone cops thing and ran around backwards, until he was caught and sacked at the 19 by Chris Zorich.  2nd and 29.  More boneheaded plays as Tiki Barber inexplicably runs out of bounds, to save the Skins a time out and bring on Maynard for a punt to the 35.

Frerotte would come back on the field with 1:42 to play and a chance to get more.  After an initial first down pass to the 40, Frerotte lobs 3 lollipops for incompletions and gave the Giants a chance to get a score.  Alas, another 3 and out for the Giants and another Maynard punt to the 20.  Norv Turner decided to rest the punter's legs for the remainder of the half and just took a merciful knee to end it at 7-0 Skins.

At the start of the 2nd half, the Skins were getting the ball.  Warming up on the sidelines was a familiar #15, but in an unfamiliar uniform.  It was learned the Frerotte was going for x-rays at halftime, so entering the game was Super Bowl XXV championship QB Jeff Hostetler, our old buddy.  Hoss got the ball at the 17 and a quick screen to Allen was again snuffed out by Corey Widmer for a 4 yard loss.  Hoss though regrouped and hit Westbrook and Asher for first downs.  After Allen was yet again nailed, this time by Armstead, the defense was able to get that needed turnover

Rookie safety Sam Garnes jumped in to deflect the pass, and Sparks put the tip drill into practice and picked it off at the Giants' 45.  Charles Way starts off with three straight power runs down to the Redskins' 33.  The Giants then avoid near disaster as Wheatley fumbled the ball, and Richard blew an easy recovery, trying to run with the ball and kicked it out of bounds.  The Skins would pay the price, Way converted the 3rd down on a quick pass and a dive.  Kanell then got aggressive and took a deep shot to Calloway, but the Giants got a the benefit of a questionable pass interference on 37 year old Darrell Green to put the ball on the 6.  A Charles Way run put it at the 4 yard line, and then the Giants would finally cash in.

Calloway was always a good possession receiver.  He was miscast as a #1 guy on the Giants, but that was mainly due to a number of other personnel decision failures (Thomas Lewis as bust first round pick, releasing Ed McCaffrey who would blossom into a Pro Bowler in Denver, Mike Sherrard getting too old, etc.)  Calloway really should have been a #3 or even #4 on a good team.  In this case, he walked the tightrope and got the job done in the end zone.  Tie score 7-7 with 6:58 to go in the 3rd quarter.

On the Skins next possession, the defense continued to go after Hoss.  Armstead knocked a pass down at the line and Allen was stopped on a short gain by Holsey.  After a 3rd down conversion to Westbrook, Hoss felt the wrath of the DL again

You know that your pass rush is at the top of it's game when all 4 DL end up in a pile by the QB.  The Skins offensive line was simply over matched.  Turk comes on again, punts to the 35.

The Giants start off well, a pass to Tiki to the 45 and another run by Way down to the Skins 45.  After a short Tiki run, I have to add this in here

This is video evidence of Jamal Duff making a play.  Back in 1995, Jamal Duff was one of those diamonds in the rough, physical specimens.  Duff was a 6th rounder out of San Diego State, a raw pass rushing talent who looked to have the tools to be a big part of the young Giants defensive front along with Strahan, Hamilton, Harris, Bratzke.  At 6'7", 285, he had speed and strength and collected 4 sacks as a rookie in 1995.  It seemed like he was going to be a star in the making.  However, a foot injury shelved him for the 1996 season and the Giants released him before the 1997 season.  I was crushed when they did this and thought that George Young would rue the day that he did this.  Well, Duff hooked on with the Redskins and I was even more enraged.  As it turned out, Duff lasted 2 seasons in Washington, and then spent the 1999 camp with the Bears (was cut) and 2000 camp with the Raiders (was cut) and then landed with the LA Xtreme of the XFL in 2001.  He was out of pro football after that and became an actor, where he was "best" (I guess best) known as Me'Shell Jones in the Ben Stiller comedy Dodgeball.  Bottom line, when you fall in love with an unproven player, and the coaches make a decision to release them, maybe accept that they know more than you do as a fan.  For every Ed McCaffrey who was a legit mistake, there are hundreds of Jamal Duffs or Anthony Mixes who are not.

Anyway,  Duff's sack and forced fumble was recovered by Greg Bishop, and effectively killed the drive, resulting in yet another Maynard punt, this time fair caught by Mitchell at the 9.

Terry Allen, though slowed down in 1997, was a good NFL running back.  And he finally got going on this drive.  A 6 yard run and then later breaking a 29 yarder around left end (stiff arming Marcus Buckley off of him) had the Skins on the move.  At near mid field, Strahan registered his 12th sack of the season and set the Redskins back.  Though a nice 3rd down pass from Hoss to Chris Thomas to the 34 got the Skins in FG range.  As the drive stopped at the 27 and brought on Scott Blanton for a 43 yarder, which was hooked to the left and kept the game at 7-7.

The Giants promptly went 3 and out, and a TD saving tackle on a Mitchell punt return by future XFL'er Brandon Sanders put the Skins at their 36.  A tackle in the backfield by Buckley and 2 incompletions brought out Turk again.  This time the Giants are able to mount a bit of a drive.  An 11 yard run by Way to the 46 got them started.  However, the Giants just missed a huge opportunity when Way dropped a 3rd and 1 swing pass for what would have been a big gain.  Enter....Brad Maynard, and a beauty punt to the Skins 4 yard line.

Hoss gets them out of the shadow of their own goal posts, with a 20 yard slant to Westbrook (and a weak body bump tackle attempt by Sehorn).  A couple of more passes to Westbrook and Ellard got the ball to the 45.  On 3rd and 10, the defense again clamped down

Harris' sack with 3:03 left in the game forced yet another Turk punt, which was fielded by Toomer at the 6 and he was dropped without gaining a yard.  A Wheatley 15 yard run was negated by a Calloway holding call, and Kanell bearly avoids an intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety penalty, just throwing one out of reach of Way as he was under duress.  The refs then helped the Giants out, this time with yet another pass interference on Green covering Calloway, for a first down at the 22.  But, 3 more plays and a punt to Mitchell gave the Skins the ball at the 34.

With just over a minute to play, the Skins had a chance to win it, but Hoss ended up going 3 and out (thanks to pressure applied by Holsey).  The Giants got the ball back after a Turk punt down to the 17 with :52 to play.  After a passes to Tiki and Pegram, Kanell hit Calloway up near the 50 yard line.  Fassel called a time out with :08 to play.  A quick pass to Pegram set up a Daluiso 64 yard FG attempt (a record at that time) with :01 to go.  After the Skins called time out to ice Daluiso, Fassel changed his mind and went for the Hail Mary.  Kanell was hit as he threw, and it was caught by Toomer at the 17, but he was easily stopped and time expired.  Overtime.

The Redskins won the toss and a return by Mitchell to the 38 had them looking good.  After 2 plays that went no where, the Giants defense again made a huge play

Jason Sehorn made the play, and tried to get more on the lateral to Tito Wooten, who promptly booted it out of bounds.  But the Giants had the momentum and the ball.  Unfortunately, they didn't have Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and a championship offense.  They had the 1997 incarnation, and 3 plays and out, including yet another Ken Harvey sack brought on Maynard.

Hoss got the Skins moving, a pass to Asher to the 50.  A pass to Ellard inside the 40, and then Hoss decided to make Giants fans happy again

Hoss' QB scramble and then ill fated pass got him drilled by Strahan and Hamilton, and Harris fell on the ball with 10:37 to go.  So they had barely played 5 minutes in OT, the Skins had 2 turnovers.

The Giants offense, ever consistent, went 3 and out again...and surrendered a 4th sack to Ken Harvey.  Maynard booms the ball into the end zone for a touchback.  Hoss went to the air, hitting Westbrook to the 36 and Ellard to the 50.  Robert Harris then stuffed Allen on one play and knocked the ball down at the line on the next.  Hoss hits Westbrook again to near the 40 and is inches short of a first.  Norv Turner decides to challenge the Giants defensive front, a group he couldn't run on for 4 quarters.  Bad move

The DL was in the backfield almost immediately. So the Skins had 2 turnovers and now a turnover on downs.  Against everyone's better judgement, the Giants offense came back out on the field.  But Kanell was able to finally make a play, hitting Toomer at the Skins 45 yard line, and then to Aaron Pierce at the 37.  The Giants would go no further, so Fassel decided to try a 54 yarder...and then craziness ensues

Daluiso badly hooked his game winning attempt, the Redskins then promptly get picked as Sparks got his second INT of the game.  So in OT that's now 3 turnovers and a turnover on downs by the Redskins offense.  Wheatley then springs a big run down to the 37, just stepping out of bounds when it looked like he could have broken it for a TD.  However, 2 more incompletions by Kanell so Daluiso came back out for yet another 54 yard attempt with 2:20 to go

You can't make this up.  Daluiso goes ahead with the kick and gets blocked, but Marvcus Patton inexplicably called a timeout negating the play.  Fassel gets cold feet now, instead of going for the win, he decides to bring out Maynard to pin them deep and let his defense try to score, I guess.  But it was a touchback and the Skins got it at the 20 with 2:12 to go.

Hoss is able to hit Ellard to the 41 and then to Brian Mitchell to midfield.  Hoss is able to scramble down to the 38, and with no time outs to work with, the Skins spike the ball with :48 seconds to play.  They are now in business and in control for a FG to win it.  And then Michael Westbrook took it all away

A close call on a sideline catch by Westbrook is called out of bounds by the refs.  Westbrook goes crazy, throws his helmet off while on the field of play, which is a 15 yard penalty in 1997.  So many things going on here:
- The rule was put in place thanks in large part to the 1990s Dynasty Cowboys, as Emmitt and Irvin enjoyed pulling their helmets off to mug for the cameras.  So a penalty created by Dallas, killed the Redskins.
-  I love Strahan's reaction, running over and pointing at Westbrook, as if the ref 2 feet away doesn't see it or know it's a penalty
-  Close behind was Norv screaming at Westbrook to "put on your helmet!!"  And then the disgust as he walked away
-  The disgust in Joe Theismann's voice for Westbrook's actions.  Once a Redskin, always a Redskin
-  Patton and Harvey yelling at Westbrook on the sidelines afterwords.

Now it's 3rd and 25 at the 46, out of field goal range, no time outs.  The Skins are able to move it a little bit and Hoss hits Ellard down to near the 38 and with no time outs, the Skins rush Blanton out on to the field....

Blanton's attempt is not even close.  With :02 to go, Kanell's heave is picked off and ends the game with a 7-7 tie.  The Giants ended up with the better end of the tie, getting it on the road and keeping first place.  For the Skins, it was one of the most brutal ties you can imagine, and if ever a tie felt like a loss, it was this game for Washington.

Interesting Tidbits/ the Post Mortem
  • You would be hard pressed to find a more brutal OT showing than the Giants and Redskins put on in this game.  The Skins had 3 turnovers, a turnover on downs, a missed field goal, and a stupid personal foul which knocked them out of field goal range.  Meanwhile the Giants missed a field goal, and had another blocked but was saved by a Skins time out.  
  • The last tie game the Giants played was in 1983, Parcells' first season, a Week 8 20-20 tie at Giants Stadium in one of the worst Monday Night Games in memory.  The Cardinals kicker, Neil O'Donoghue missed 3 FGs with a chance to win (a pre-cursor to Jay Feeley's performance in Seattle in 2006).  Giants QB Jeff Rutledge and Cardinals QB Neil Lomax combined for 5 INTs and 0 TDs.  There were 9 sacks in the game (Giants giving up 6).  The teams combined for 20 penalties and nearly 200 yards.  Awful.
  • Since this game the Giants have played in 16 overtime games, including the post-season.  In all they've posted a 12-4 record.  The closest they came to a tie since the Redskins game was in 2003 vs. the Jets. A Will Allen blocked FG helped keep the game alive and Brett Conway kicked a 29 yarder to win.  That game would even the Giants record at would be the last game Jim Fassel would win, as the Giants went in the tank the rest of the way, going 0-8 and costing Fassel his job.
  • Strahan had 2 sacks in the game to give him 13 on the season.  That was the most by a Giant since LT had 15 in 1989.  Strahan would finish with 14 sacks and his first Pro Bowl selection in 1997.
  • Phillippi Sparks' 2 INT game was not the only time he did it, nor was it his first.  Sparks had 2 interceptions in a game 5 times in his career.  He actually did it twice in 1997, in this Redskins game and then 1 week later in a home loss to the Bucs
  • However, Sparks' sack was the only one in his 9 year career.
  • Brad Maynard had a career game with the Giants.  Still active going into the 2012 season (with the Browns now), Maynard had 13 punts for 537 yards, numbers he has not exceeded in a single game since.
  • Maynard was also known for being a high draft pick for a punter.  Coming out of Ball State, the Giants spent a 3rd round pick on him, by far the highest they spent on a punter.  In recent years, only Ray Guy (23rd overall by the Raiders) and Todd Sauerbrun (2nd rounder, 56th overall by the Bears) were higher picks.  The Giants did not draft a punter again until they took Matt Dodge in the 7th round in 2010.  I don't really recall how that ended up, I blacked out during the 2010 home game to the Eagles and woke up seeing Steve Weatherford cursing happily as he was running off the field in SF in the NFC Title game in celebration.
  • The defense clamped down on Terry Allen.  Allen, who was known for his comeback story of returning with torn ACLs in both knees, had a monsterous 1996 season: 1353 yards and 21 TDs.  In this game however, he was held to 64 yards on 27 carries.  Take away his 29 yard run, and he's at 26 carries for 35 yards, 1.3 yards per carry.  Wow.
  • This wasn't Michael Westbrook's first brush with controversy.  At the start of camp, Westbrook got in an arguement with teammate Stephen Davis, and sucker punched Davis who was sitting down.  Davis ended up with a facial fracture and Westbrook got a $50,000 fine.
  • Ken Harvey came into the game with 1 sack on the season.  He got 4 in the game.  Harvey was a long time Giant killer.  In 1990, Harvey was part of a sack on Phil Simms, which knocked him out of the game and set the stage for Hostetler's 4th quarter comeback in a 20-19 win.  In all, Harvey registered 12 sacks vs. the Giants in his career with the Cardinals and Skins.
  • This was not Hostetler's first time playing the Giants after he left the team in 1993.  Hoss was the Raiders' QB in 1995, and he led the Raiders to a 17-13 come back win at Giants Stadium.
  • Lastly, you have to feel for Gus Frerotte.  The average NFL career is about 3 years.  Frerotte played 15 years in the NFL.  He went to the Pro Bowl in 1996.  Made 2 starts in the Playoffs (0-2).  He threw for 21, 291 yards and 114 TDs.  However, all people remember him for was headbutting a wall after scoring a TD in a National TV game to knock himself out for the second half in a 7-7 tie.  

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