Monday, September 24, 2012

1990 Giants vs. Eagles

Week 1

The Setup

If you go back to the Giants championship core team from 1988 - 1990, that group had put up an impressive regular season record (35-13).  However, there were two teams which gave Parcells’ teams fits.  One was the John Robinson/Jim Everett Rams, who had blown out the Giants in 1988 (45-31 @ Giants Stadium) and in 1989 (31-10 @ LA) and had knocked the Giants out of the playoffs on Flipper’s OT touchdown catch.  The other was the Buddy Ryan/Randall Cunningham Philly Eagles.

What made it worse was that the Giants would find new and mindnumbing ways to lose to the Eagles during this time.  In 1988, the Giants infamously missed the playoffs when they blew a late lead to the Jets in the final game, when Al Toon caught a TD over Tom Flynn, and the Niners “laid down like dogs” on Sunday Night vs. the Rams.  So how did a 10 win team miss the playoffs?  Because the 1988 Eagles swept the Giants.  The first game in Philly was a Monday Night win by the Eagles, highlighted by Randall Cunningham, getting hit around his legs by Carl Banks, but somehow keeping his balance by holding himself up using the football, and just avoided Harry Carson before hitting Jimmie Giles for a TD.  When the Giants closed the score to 17-13 in the 4th Quarter, Randall hit Cris Carter for an 80 yard TD to put that game away.  In the second game, in the cold and rain of Giants Stadium, the Giants blew a 4th quarter lead, with Carter recovering a fumble in the end zone to tie the game at 17-17 late.  In in OT, LT blocked a Luis Zendejas FG, however it bounced right to Clyde Simmons who ran it in for a 15 yard TD return and a 23-17 Eagles win.  I happened to be at that game that day and the crowd was completely stunned, I can’t recall that ever happening before, or since, blocking a FG and seeing the kicking team pick it up and run it in to win a game.

In 1989, the Giants were ready for the Eagles.  The first game in Philly, the Giants went to their bag of tricks, with a Jeff Hostetler to Carl Banks pass for a TD on a fake FG to make it a 10-0 lead early which the Giants increased to a 16-7 4th quarter advantage. However, a Randall TD run and then a late drive resulting in an Anthony Toney 2 yard TD had the Eagles snatch a heartbreaking 21-19 win when the Giants were in control most of the day.  The second game at Giants Stadium was played in a typical cold and windy day (25+ mph winds).  The Giants were getting an emotional boost from LT playing on a broken ankle, which he broke on the Monday Night previous at San Francisco.  But the Eagles defense, which had given Simms and the Giants fits for years, jumped all over the Giants early.  Andre Waters took a fumble near the Giants goal line and ran it in from 3 yards out for a 7-0 lead, and then Clyde Simmons picked off a pass and ran it in for a 60 yard TD to go up 14-0.  The crowd was stunned and angry, but the Giants battled back, with Simms hitting Ingram on a 41 yard TD and the defense clamping down on the Eagles.  The Giants finally battled back to a 17-17 tie in the 3rd quarter.  The Giants defense had pinned the Eagles back near their own goal line and forced a punt, and then came the turning point of that game.  Instead of sending out Max Runager to punt with the wind at his back, the Eagles kept Randall in to punt.  Randall launched a rocket of a punt, which was misplayed by Dave Meggett and resulted in a 91 yard yard punt and changed the field position and complexion of the game.   Ultimately, 5 Eagles sacks and 5 Giants turnovers were too much as the Eagles got a TD from Byars and won the game 24-17 to sweep the series again.  Fortunately for the Giants, they righted themselves and won their last 3 games, and the Eagles lost a Monday Night game to the Saints, which gave the Giants the NFC East title.

So this was the backdrop for the 1990 opener.  The Giants had gone out and brought in more veterans to the defense in former Pro Bowlers Everson Walls from the Cowboys and Dave Duerson from the Bears.  They drafted Rodney Hampton to get some more youth at RB and a much needed offensive weapon.  The Giants and their fans had enough of the Eagles and had them in Giants Stadium to start the season with revenge on the Giants minds and a need to get the 1990 campaign off on the right foot.

The Game Highlights

The Giants and Eagles opened the season with a Sunday Night game in Giants Stadium.  A typical warm night with early September, with a little rain shower mixed in.  The Eagles won the toss and Fred Barnett returned a Raul Allegre kick off to the 13.  On the first play of the season, Randall got tripped up but got a throw off to Toney for a 3 yard gain.  Toney was stuffed on a run up the middle on the next play, which set up a 3rd and 5.  The Giants, who were concerned with Randalls’ ability to scramble and hurt them on 3rd downs, decided to rush with just 1 DL (Erik Howard) and Pepper and LT as stand up DEs.  Dave Duerson was used as a spy just shadowing Randall.  And the defensive alignment paid off early

Randall was flushed out of the pocket, and with Duerson closing on him, floated a pass to former Jet Mickey Shuler which was picked off by Everson Walls.  A few things about this play.  Shuler was in at TE because the Eagles regular TE was Pro Bowler Keith Jackson was holding out in a contract dispute. So Randall really didn’t have the familiarity with him as of yet, and in the meantime Everson Walls, who was brought in as a veteran corner and first thought to be a nickel back, but he outplayed Perry Williams in camp and claimed the starting job, made the play.  Walls was a great compliment at one corner compared with Mark Collins on the other side.  Collins was a physical corner, who could get up on run support and would lock down on receivers, however he wasn’t very good at picking the ball off.  Conversely, Walls was not a physical corner, but rather played with veteran saavy and was a ball hawk.

Walls INT set the Giants up at the Eagles 33.  Simms started with a dump off pass to Lewis Tillman for 1 yard.  The next play, Tillman took a sweep and ran around by Jumbo Elliott’s side to the 25.  With 3rd and inches, Parcells brought out the 3 TEs and OJ at running back, however he was stuffed by the Eagles.  Parcells decided to challenge his team and went for it on 4th down, passing on a medium range FG, and OJ got 2 yards and a first.  However, the momentum would not last, 2 Simms incompletions in the end zone to Odessa Turner and Simms missed a wide open Hampton in the flat.  Raul came on and calmly hit a 38 yard FG to make the score 3-0, so the Giants at the very least came away with points on the turnover.

Barnett would return the kickoff to the 27 and the Eagles would start out with a 3 yard run by Toney.  A holding penalty on Philly erased a near first down reception by Mike Quick, which was compounded by Toney getting stuffed on a draw by Erik Howard.  On 3rd and 16, Randall was under pressure by Pepper and dumped a pass off to Keith Byars, short of a first.  On came a young punter named Jeff Feagles, who’s kick was returned by Meggett to the 28.

The Giants started with a pitch to Tillman for 3 yards and then a pass to Howard Cross over the middle for 17 more.  Simms, known as a prototypical pocket passer, showed off his wheels (and strength) as he scrambled for 20 yards, and actually stiff armed Eagles first round pick, rookie corner Ben Smith to the ground.  With the ball at the Eagles 35, a dump off pass to Carthon gained 5 yards, but the drive would again stall as Tillman was stuffed for no gain and Simms again missed an open Hampton on 3rd down.  Allegre came on and drilled a 46 yard FG right down the middle to help the Giants build their lead to 6-0.

Barnett got the kickoff out to the 21, where he was hammered down by Tillman and Thompson.  And then the Giants and Eagles started playing turnover tag

Randall’s first pass was an ill fated throw to Quick, who was blanketed by Collins and the underthrown ball was picked off by the Giants’ CB.   However, the Giants good fortune wouldn’t last long.  The Eagles, as was their way, had owned the Giants in recent years thanks to their defense making big plays and getting turnovers.  Simms’ pass up the seam to Cross was overthrown and intercepted by Wes Hopkins who ran the ball back to the 43.  The Eagles had dodged a bullet.

On first down, Toney burst up the middle to near mid field.  Randall then hit Byars in the flat out to the 37 and a first down, and followed that up with a scramble of his own, as he broke containment and got it down to the 21.  LT stopped Toney for a short loss on first down, and after an incompletion and a penalty, the Eagles were forced to try for a field goal, which Roger Ruzek converted to cut the lead to 6-3.

Meggett returned the ball to the 23, and Rodney Hampton got his first NFL carry, which went for 3 yards and Hampton then caught a pass out to near the 30 yard line to end the First Quarter.  On 3rd and 3, Meggett was drilled by William Frizzell on a dump off pass, and that brought on Sean Landeta to kick it away to Sean Bellamy, who had a nice 21 yard return, getting the ball out to the Eagles 40.

On first down, Randall saw Myron Guyton coming over into the passing lane, so he held up on the pass and it slipped out of his hands for an incompletion.  After that, LT got involved

LT, who held out in  training camp in what was a contract dispute, and also likely involved the tactic that he’d rather just skip two-a-days in Madison, NJ, swooped in on Randall as the coverage held up.  It was 3rd and 22, but an encroachment on Howard gave the Eagles 5 more yards, and Randall drilled a pass into Shuler for 24 yards and a first down.  Randall again showed his elusiveness, avoiding a free rush by Banks, and connecting with Quick to the 34, and Toney would convert the first down on the next play.  On first down, LT would again make a play, with an assist by the refs

It’s not just today that the NFL has tried to protect the QB.  Back in the 1980s, in order to keep QBs from taking unnecessary hits, they instituted the “in the grasp” sack.  Essentially, the rule was that a defensive player had to have grasp and control of a QB.  Sounds straight forward enough, and while the rule would help a non-mobile QB like Simms or Marino, it would hurt the playmaking abilities of a more mobile QB like Randall, John Elway, or Steve Young.  And the implementation of it was subjective as well.  It was reasons such as this “sack” of Randall by LT, that the NFL ditched the in the grasp sack rule.  Which is was a good thing for the Giants in 2007.  If there was in the grasp back then, there would be no Eli ripping away from the Patriots, no helmet catch by Tyree, and probably no Super Bowl title for the Giants.

On 2nd and 15, Randall hit Byars to the 26 to make it 3rd and 6, and that combo hooked up again, for another first down, this time down to the 18.

It was then that new offensive coordinator Rich Kotite went to his bag of tricks

Keith Byars took the handoff and rolled to his right, which brought up Myron Guyton and allowed Anthony Toney to get behind the defense for an easy 18 yard TD.  The Eagles had stunned the crowd and grabbed a 10-6 lead.

The Giants tried to respond, Meggett returned the ball to the 24 yard line and Hampton would only get a 1 yard gain on first down.  Simms hit Carthon out of the backfield for a first down to the 43.  A short Hampton run and an incompletion to Cross set up a 3rd and long.  Simms actually had Meggett open and behind the defense, but the ball just went through Meggett’s hands, and prevented a 50+ yard TD strike.  Landeta’s punt was downed at the 23 yard line as the Eagles offense came back out.

This time, the Giants defense stiffened, and the Eagles running game was bottled up, resulting n a 3 and out and a Feagles punt to the 30.  The Giants offense though, thanks to a holding penalty on Jumbo, sputtered as well and they too went 3 and out and punted it back to Philly and the ball was muffed by Calvin Williams.  The ball actually bounced into the hands of Reyna Thompson, but he couldn’t control it and the ball went out of bounds, allowing the Eagles to retain possession at the 44.

The Eagles offense continued to struggle, as Randall missed a wide open Quick and Byars dropped a first down, and had to punt back to the Giants, who got the ball at the 12 with 1:55 to go in the half.

The Giants got lucky on first down.  Simms hit Tillman on a screen and a yard loss, but Tillman was hit by Byron Evans and actually fumbled the ball, which was recovered by Seth Joyner and run in for a TD.  The refs ruled, incorrectly, that Tillman was down by contact and the whistle had blown.  The Eagles should have been up 17-6, but the Giants kept the ball.  Tillman ran to the 18 on the next play and from there Simms was under pressure and missed Bavaro on a dump off.  Landeta punted the ball away to the 40 and the half was over, with the Eagles in the lead, 10-6.

The Giants would get the ball to start the 2nd half.  Meggett powered the ball out to the 30 and on first down Simms would be sacked by Eagles DT Mike Pitts for a short loss.  A Hampton draw play went for 5 yards and set up a 3rd down.  Simms would finally have time and was able to hit Turner for 18 yards out to the 47.  It was the Giants first reception by a WR and their first 3rd down conversion in the game.  Hampton would make a nice catch and a good move to juke away from an Eagle defender to get to the 35.  A Tillman sweep for 3 and an incompletion to Cross set up another 3rd down, though this time Simms drilled it in to Lionel Manuel coming over the middle for 19 yards down to the 12 yard line.  Simms first down pass to the end zone was intended for Turner, but was knocked down by Eagles safety Terry Hoage.  On second down though, the Giants would go to their rookie

Simms threw a flare out to Hampton, who caught it, and turned up field where he jumped/ran over CB Eric Allen and stretched the ball over the goal line for a TD and the Giants had retaken the lead, 13-10.

The Giants and the crowd were into the game.  Former Jet first round pick Roger Vick returned the ball out the 16, where he was dropped by Thompson.  Pepper and the rest of the Giants defense swarmed all over Drummond for a 1 yard gain.  Randall hit Toney out of the backfield to the 22 to set up a 3rd and 4.  Cunningham would again go to Shuler deep down field, but the ball was tipped by Perry Williams, and then batted by Shuler, and nearly picked off by Guyton before falling to the ground.  Feagles came on the field and the Giants lead would soon grow larger

Meggett fielded it at the 32, got a huge block by Duerson on former Giants draft pick Sammy Lilly, and with an escort of other blocks, such as the one provided by Walls, allowed Meggett to get to a one on one spot with Feagles.  Once Meggett got around him, it was a 68 yard TD and Giants Stadium was up for grabs.  20-10 Giants.

On the subsequent kickoff, Barnett was blasted by rookie LB Bobby Abrams at the 18.  Toney was gangtackled by 5 Giants and a 1 yard gain.  Randall was then forced to scramble as LT put pressure on him in the pocket and chased him down, forcing a fumble, but it bounced right back to Cunningham.  On 3rd and 7, Randall hit Williams for a first down to the 36, and then the Giants defense put the clamps down

Now this was Giants defense.  LT registering his 3rd sack of the night, Reyna Thompson flying in for the back-to-back sacks, and then on 3rd down, Guyton (who was a very underrated hitter) drilling Williams and forcing another Eagles punt as the Giants Stadium crowd gave their defense a well deserved Standing O.

Meggett fair caught the ball at the 37, however the Eagles defense also made a stand, forcing a 3 and out and a Giants punt, out to the Eagles 21.  Randall started out with a pass to Shuler to the 25.  Toney ripped off a nice run for a first down to the 34.  The Giants defense then locked down again, Johnie Cooks stuffed Toney for 1 yard, a Randall incompletion and a short gain by Drummond brought Feagles out and punted the ball back to the Giants 26 yard line.

Tillman started off with a 6 yard gain around the corner, and follow that with a burst up the middle to the 35 and a first down to end a very productive 3rd quarter for the Giants.  To start the 4th quarter, Tillman was nailed by Simmons for no gain.  Simms dumped the ball off to Carthon, who gained 7 yards, but a late hit out of bounds by Ben Smith tacked 15 more yards on and the Giants got it at the Eagles 41.  After a run for no gain by Tillman, the Giants decided to go up top

Simms was able to get just enough protection, as Reggie White was in his face when he released the ball, and hit a streaking Ingram for a TD.  Dave Meggett was actually running a post pattern of his own and was near the ball too, but he ended up tripping Eric Allen and Ingram went in untouched for a huge 27-10 lead.  The Giants fans wanted blood, and they were getting it so far.

Vick returned the kickoff to the 13 yard line and the Eagles needed 3 scores to get back in the game.  Randall started out by hitting Drummond to the 20 and Toney followed it up with a run to the 27 and a first down.  Cunningham avoided the rush and just got a yard as Pepper was bearing down on him, but passes to Shuler and Toney were good for another first down.  A scramble by Randall and another catch by Shuler had the ball on the 47.  The Eagles kept moving, thanks to a questionable pass interference on Banks and a Randall scramble out to the 22 yard line, where he actually fumbled from a hit from behind by LT and the ball was recovered by Duerson, however an offsides on Pepper kept the ball with Philly.  Another catch by Byers got the ball back to the 21 and 2 plays later a pass to Quick has the ball on the 2 yard line for first and goal.  On first down, Randall ran around the end and tried to leap past Pepper Johnson, but Pepper caught him in mid air and spun him around and slammed him to the ground for a great play, but an Eagles hold put them back at the 12.  Byars made another catch to the 4 yard line which set up a pass to Quick, who was interfered with by Duerson in the end zone and the ball was placed at the 1 yard line.  LT stuffed an sweep to Vick and knocked him out short of the goal line.  On 2nd down, the Eagles would finally break through

Randall jumped over/into the pile for a TD, and despite a delayed reaction by the refs and Cunningham coming out of the fracas and spike the ball, the TD was correctly given to the Eagles.  27-17 Giants in the lead.

Unfortunately for the Eagles, the drive took nearly 6 minutes, and they were forced to try an onside, which was recovered by the Giants rookie safety David Whitmore.  From this point, Parcells got very conservative.  Calling 3 straight short runs by Tillman, and forced the Eagles to use 2 time outs and a Landeta punt was nearly downed at the one by Ingram after Thompson batted it back in play, but it rolled into the end zone for a touchback.

With 4:03 to go, Randall’s pass was incomplete to Byars, as Duerson shadowed him and forced him to throw off balance.  Another incompletion set up a big gain to Drummond for a first down near midfield, however an illegal forward lateral to Williams brought the ball back, though they kept the first down.  Randall than evaded several sack attempts by LT and Pepper slipped out for a 5 yard run and a draw to Toney got another first down.  After a Byars drop, Randall hit Williams and Barnett and got the ball to the 30, with an extra 15 added to the play thanks to a personal foul for a headslap on the Eagles OT by LT.  With 2:46 to go, the Eagles had it on the 15 yard line.  An incompletion in the end zone to Shuler and then a near interception by Walls by the goal line set up a 3rd down.  The pass was completed to Byars, but he was short of the first.  With the Eagles needing 2 scores, Buddy Ryan opted for the FG first and Ruzek nailed a 29 yarder to make it 27-20 with 1:56 to go.

The Eagles set up for another onside kick, which was really just a pop up that was caught on a fair catch by Guyton, who was popped by former Giant Rickey Shaw.  After a mild fight, the refs sorted it out and called a penalty on Shaw, giving the ball to the Giants on the Eagles 43.  Parcells continued to stay conservative, slamming Tillman into the line 3 times and forcing the Eagles to use their final time out.  The Giants then took a delay of game and had Landeta on to punt the ball with :13 to go in the game.  The Eagles went for an all out block, no return man, and Landeta got it off and kicked it for a touchback.  With :04 to go in the game, the Eagles had only one shot at a miracle, but Randall’s Hail Mary was picked off by Greg Jackson and the Giants had gotten a hard fought 27-20 win to start the season off the right way, setting the stage for a season which would end with a championship in Super Bowl XXV.

Interesting Tidbits/ Post Mortem

  • Hampton’s TD catch was his first in the NFL.  It was one of 2 receiving TDs by Hampton in his rookie season.  He caught his second one, a 27 yarder vs. Dallas in Week 4.
  • Ingram’s 41 yard TD catch was his longest catch of the 1990 season.
  • Despite holding out of camp, LT registered 3 sacks vs. the Eagles.  LT hounded the Eagles QBs over his career, registering 25 sacks vs. Philly in his career.  The 3 sack game would be the 8th time that he had a multiple sack game against the Eagles.  In fact, his career high in sacks in a game (4) was done against Philly in 1986 (and also against Tampa Bay in 1984).  Interestingly enough though, this game would be the final game in which LT would register a sack vs. Philly.
  • Reyna Thompson, a Pro Bowl selection as a special teamer, registered the first sack of his NFL career in the game.  Thompson would only have one more sack in his career, in 1993 as a member of Parcells’ Patriots, when he got a sack in a loss to Seattle.
  • Phil Simms’ 20 yard run was his longest of the 1990 season.  It would prove to be the longest run that he would have for the remainder of his career.  His career long run though: 28 yards in a win vs. Washington in 1985.
  • Lewis Tillman was the starter in this game and “led” the Giants with 39 yards on 15 carries vs. a very tough Eagles defense.  Hampton was second with 6 carries.  Meanwhile OJ Anderson, coming off a 1000 yard season in 1989 was an afterthought, with 2 carries for 3 yards.  Hardly a workload for a guy who would go on to win the MVP in Super Bowl XXV a few months later.
  • Raul Allegre was the kicker for the Giants in this game.  Allegre would be the kicker for the first three games, until an injury forced him out and Matt Bahr, released by the Browns, took over as kicker in Week 4 vs. Dallas.  Bahr would keep the job until 1993, when he was let go by Dan Reeves in order to bring in David Treadwell, his former kicker in Denver.
  • Despite ending his holdout before the game, Leonard Marshall did not start the game for the Giants.  Parcells started John Washington instead, and Marshall played sparingly in some pass rush situations.
  • Meggett’s punt return TD was technically his second straight game in which he did so.  He returned a punt for a TD in the season finale vs. the Raiders in 1989.
  • Byars’ TD pass was the first of 4 he would throw in 1990.  In all, Byars threw 6 TD passes on the halfback option (he did also throw 1 INT).  It was not his first TD pass though, that had happened in his rookie year of 1986, when he threw a 55 yarder to Mike Quick in a win over the Rams, in what would be Buddy Ryan’s first win as coach of the Eagles.
  • This was also Rick Kotite’s first game as offensive coordinator for the Eagles.  Kotite would replace Ryan as head coach of the Eagles after the 1990 season, when Ryan had worn out his welcome after a third straight one and done playoff run.
  • The game was broadcast on TNT, and it was their first NFL regular season game shown on the network.  TNT would share Sunday Night games (and some Thursday Night as well) with ESPN, as TNT would broadcast games the first half of the season, and ESPN would broadcast the second half.  TNT would broadcast games up through 1997.
  • Lastly, since 1981, the Giants opened at home vs. the Eagles 6 times.  They lost to the defending NFC Champion Eagles  in 1981, but then went on to win 5 straight vs. the Eagles after that.  In 1997, Jim Fassel’s first game as head coach was vs. the Eagles, and the Giants won that game 31-17.  The only time since 1981 that the Giants and Eagles opened the season in Philly?  2004, in Tom Coughlin’s first game as head coach of the Giants.  The Giants lost that day 31-17.
One final note. Steve Sabol, President of NFL Films passed away on 9/18/2012 after battling brain cancer. Back when I was a young fan, learning about the NFL and began following the Giants in the 1980s, there was no internet around to gather information. WFAN was very much in its infancy and wasn't really a big football station (it still isn't, it's baseball mostly). So I was able to learn more and more about the game thanks to NFL Films, and HBO's Inside the NFL in particular. The camera work, the narration by Harry Kalas, the music. It all came together in a wonderful package and I wouldn't have been as interested in the game without it. So, with that in mind, in a small tribute, here was the highlights of this Giants/Eagles game from the tape I have from the 1990 season of HBO Inside the NFL.

Monday, August 27, 2012

1981 Giants v Cowboys

Week 16

The Setup

It has been said that the 1981 game between the Giants and Cowboys was the most significant game in Giants Stadium history.  Granted, the Giants did play 11 playoff games there, including 2 NFC Championships, as well as several other big games with the division title on the line (such as 2011 vs. Dallas).  But this 1981 game really signaled the re-birth of the Giants as a franchise.  They had been out of the playoffs for 18 years, and never really got a sniff of success, let alone the playoffs in the time that they moved to play in East Rutherford in 1976.  Look at the records since they moved to the new stadium: 3-11, 5-9, 6-10, 6-10, 4-12.

1981 was a big year for the Giants.  It was Year 3 of the George Young era, which coincided with Year 3 of the Ray Perkins era.  Their first two seasons saw little success, as noted above, a 10-22 record.  The Giants finally started to round into shape in their traditional way, defense.  There was talent to work with on the defensive side of the football, Harry Carson, Brian Kelley, Brad Van Pelt, and George Martin were in place.  Perkins brought back Bill Parcells to the Giants, taking him from New England where he was their LB coach, and promoted him to Defensive Coordinator.  Meanwhile, George Young had a fantastic 1981 draft, bringing in NT Bill Neill and LB Byron Hunt.  And probably the most important draft pick in Giants history (rivaled only by the Eli trade when you think of it), with the Giants were sitting at #2 in the draft order.  The New Orleans Saints decided to pick RB George Rogers with the #1 pick.  The Giants took LB Lawrence Taylor from North Carolina.  Suddenly the Giants had a defensive unit which was hard hitting and dangerous.

As also was the Giants tradition, the defense carried the offense.  Phil Simms hurt his shoulder in an OT loss to the Redskins in Week 11 and the QB duties were turned over to Scott Brunner, who was in his second year.  The Giants best player was a fullback, Rob Carpenter, who was acquired from the Houston Oilers earlier in the 1981 season.  The Giants were having a mediocre season, with a record of 5-6 after the Redskins loss.  But with Brunner at the helm, the Giants defense locked in, and the Giants went into Philly and beat the defending NFC Champs 20-10.  The Giants would win 3 of their next four games, including the Eagles game, with their only loss coming 17-10 at San Francisco to the eventual Super Bowl Champs.

That set up their showdown with Dallas.  The Tom Landry led Cowboys were still filled with big names in 1981, Randy White, Danny White, Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Drew Pearson, Tony Dorsett, among others.  They had just clinched their 6th straight NFC East title and were 12-3 entering the game.  In order to gain homefield advantage in the playoffs, the Cowboys needed to win and hope that the 49ers (who blew out Dallas 45-14 earlier in the season) would lose on the road to the hapless New Orleans Saints.

Meanwhile the Giants, now at 8-7, also needed help to get into the playoffs.  The Giants had to win this game and hope that the NY Jets, of all teams, would beat the Packers at Shea Stadium.  The Jets were motivated on their own, as a win would put them in the playoffs.  As the Giants game was on a Saturday, both the Giants and Cowboys wouldn't fully know their fate until the following day.

The Game Highlights

On a cold Saturday afternoon game, with the temperature 26 degrees, but the infamous Giants Stadium winds blowing at 20 mph and a wind chill of 13 degrees, the teams took the field.  The Giants decided to play with their road whites at home, noting that Dallas didn't play as well record wise in their blue uniforms.  The Giants would win the toss and decided to kick off and play with the wind at their back.  The opening kickoff was returned by Dallas to the 35, with the tackle being made by Pro Bowl rookie Lawrence Taylor, playing on kickoff coverage (think this wasn't a big game?).  Tony Dorsett was stuffed on his first two carries of the game and that set up a 3rd down passing situation.  Danny White, the Dallas QB, hadn't been sacked in the 2 previous games and was rarely touched, but on 3rd down, he was sacked by George Martin at the 10 yard line.  White, who also doubled as the Dallas punter, kicked it away to Leon Bright, who returned it to the 46.

The Giants meanwhile, started the game by hammering in with Carpenter, who ran 3 straight times and converted a 3rd and 1 to get the ball to the Dallas 42.  Scott Brunner then completed a pass to rookie TE Dave Young out to the 27.  Two short runs by Carpenter and Leon Perry set up a 3rd down conversion on a pass from Brunner to Earnest Gray to the 6 yard line.  With first and goal, the Giants again try 2 runs with Perry and Carpenter with little success.  Brunner then threw to Johnny Perkins, who was hit in the end zone by a Dallas defender and dropped the ball.  That brought out Joe Danelo, who joined the Giants in 1976 as their kicker and should have known the Giants Stadium winds as well as anyone in the NFL.

Yikes, that was a brutal shank on what should have been a chip shot.  Dallas had dodged a bullet.  They started out by trying to again establish the run.  Dorsett started with a 7 yard burst up the gut, but was stopped for a loss on the next play by Byron Hunt.  On 3rd down, the Giants defense yet again came in waves after Danny White, as White was pressured by Hunt first and then sacked by Martin, forcing yet another punt, which Leon Bright (eschewing a fair catch) returned to the Dallas 37.

On first down, Carpenter played the role of the fullback battering ram, plowing ahead up the middle, bouncing off several Dallas defenders to the 15 yard line.  The drive would stall as Randy White stonewalled Carpenter on the next play, and after an incompletion, Brunner's pass in the end zone to Gray was knocked away by Ron Fellows.  Out trotted Danelo again to make amends for his earlier miss with a 28 yard attempt.

Well, so much for that.  And Danelo even got a second chance after "Too Tall" had jumped offsides.  The Cowboys yet again dodge a bullet and the Giants were blowing their chances with the wind at their backs to take an early lead vs. the high powered Cowboys offense.

Dallas took the ball on the 20, a 3 yard run by Dorsett and a dropped pass by Tony Hill, set up a 3rd and 7 for White, who this time hit Ron Springs for a first down to the 31.  Dorsett would lose 5 on a tackle by Bill Courrier and Mark Haynes, but Dallas would get a first down on a draw up the middle by Springs.  The rest of the drive would sputter for the Cowboys, and after a Giants time out, would be forced to punt one last time into the wind, and the Giants would get the ball on the 12 yard line at the start of the 2nd quarter.

The Giants would go to the ground again, with runs by Carpenter and Perry, and then converted the 3rd down on a Brunner pass to Danny Pittman to the 23 yard line.  Brunner would fumble the snap, and he would recover, and 2 plays later would drill a pass in to Gray out to the 40.  Three more Carpenter runs got it past midfield and Brunner hit Young out to the 37, which was just short of a first down.  Carpenter was stopped short of a first, and rather than give Dallas any new life, Perkins chose to play field position with his defense and brought on Dave Jennings to punt, but Jennings just got the ball past the goalline for a touchback.

Dallas' first play was to go to the air, with White targeting his Pro Bowl TE Doug Cosbie, but LT knocked the ball away (and just missed an INT).  Dorsett was stuffed by Gary Jeter on 2nd down and a false start set Dallas back to 3rd and 14, and the Giants defense went to work again

Gary Jeter registered the Giants 3rd sack of the half vs. the Cowboys.  White, who was not used to being touched, let alone pressured, was under duress thanks to Parcells' defensive schemes.  White again had to punt from his end zone and Bright took it to the Dallas 41.  This time around, the Giants offense would not get very far, as Too Tall knocked down a pass and a dump off pass to Carpenter gained only a few yards, so Jennings came on to punt it back to Dallas, where it was downed at the 10 yard line.

The defenses really began to settle in at this point.  Dallas again failed to establish a running game, and a deep pass was dropped by Hill, setting up yet another White punt.  This time, Bright was drilled by a Dallas player before he could field the punt and had to be carted off.  The 15 yard penalty moved the ball to the Dallas 37 and the Giants seemed to be in business.  Ike Forte got the ball to the 30 and Carpenter powered ahead for more yards at the 2 minute warning.  Just as it seemed the Giants were going to get into scoring position, disaster struck again

The seldom used Forte, who carried the ball a grand total of 17 times on the season for the Giants, was hit by Dennis Thurman and fumbled the ball, where Dallas DT Harvey Martin fell on it at the 22 yard line.  Yet another blown opportunity by the Giants.

Dallas first play was nearly a gift back to the Giants, as Brian Kelley dropped a would be INT-TD.  A drop by Pearson and then a screen to Dorsett was just short of a first down and White prepared to punt.  A slight hesitation in his punt set up worked to White's advantage, who decided to pull it down and run with it for a first down.  With new life, the Cowboys drew a pass interference on Terry Jackson to get the ball to the 41 and a pass to Cosbie put the ball on the Giants 43.  A short pass to Springs got the Cowboys closer, and after a missed deep pass to Hill, Landry sent out Rafael Septien to attempt a 60 yard FG with the wind at his back.  The kick wasn't close and the Giants and Cowboys went into the half tied at 0-0.  Considering that Dallas had been held to 41 total yards, including 2 yards passing along with 3 sacks, the Cowboys were lucky not to be down 9-0, if not 21-0.

The Cowboys got the ball to start the 3rd quarter, and after a touchback, they quietly went 3 and out and punted back to the Giants.  The Giants would get the punt at the 43, though they didn't go much farther and were forced to kick it back to Dallas, where they fielded it on the 7....and promptly punted it back to the Giants who got it at their 37.

Both offenses were sputtering, both punters getting a work out.  Leon Perry got things going though, with a run out to the 45.  Carpenter followed up by getting it into Dallas territory.  Brunner hit Young again, this time down the seam to the 39.  The next play was one of the strangest flea flickers I have ever seen, Carpenter flipped the ball back to Brunner, who was hit on the pass and the ball fluttered to Perry just beyond the line of scrimmage, and he took the ball out to the 23 for a first down.  A Carpenter run got the ball to the 20, and the Giants would finally break through

Brunner to Mullady might not have been a big combination, but you wouldn't know it on a beautiful touch pass by Brunner into double coverage and a great catch by Mullady, who held on despite the hit and just got it across the plain of the goal line for a 20 yard TD.  Danelo barely got the extra point, and the Giants had gotten their 7-0 lead.

The ensuing kickoff went into the end zone for a touchback.  Giants Stadium was a madhouse as the fans were completely into the game, finally able to cheer with a lead.  Dorsett was stopped by Haynes for a short 2 yard gain.  Dallas though, filled with plenty of firepower, started to get moving.  White threw to TE Billy Joe DuPree for a first down to the 32.  After 2 short runs, White hit James Jones to the 43.  2 more short runs by Dallas set up their first real big play on offense, a 43 yard pass to Hill, who had burned Haynes and got the ball to the 11 yard line to end the 3rd quarter.  Two more Dorsett runs got it to the 4 yard line, and the Cowboys would finally answer the Giants score

White was under pressure by LT, and made a nice pass to the 6'6" Cosbie, who did a good job to stay in bounds and tie the score at 7-7.

The crowd was now anxious, and they'd be feeling worse as the Giants botched the return and Beasley Reece fell on it at the 1 yard line.  Carpenter ran it out to the 5 and a Dave Young drop set up a 3rd and 6 for the Giants.

Brunner flung it up down the field to rookie WR John Mistler, but it was picked off by Dallas' Michael Downs at the 43. As Pat Summerall would say, it was essentially as good as a punt, considering that Jennings would have to kick into the 20 mph wind.  Dallas went right to work, with White hitting DuPree to the 31 and then to Crosbie to the 17.  After a fumbled handoff, Dallas took two shots at the end zone, but the balls were knocked away, and that brought on Septien, who did what Danelo could not, and drilled a 37 yard FG to put the Cowboys up 10-7.

All the hopes and dreams were fizzling before the fans eyes.  Leon Bright would get them back into the game, with a big return out to the 45.  Carpenter followed that up with a catch for 8 more yards and then plowed forward for a first down conversion.  The drive would then falter, and a Too Tall sack would bring on Jennings for another punt, in which he buried Dallas at their own 5 yard line.

Dallas' first two runs by Dorsett and Springs were short gains in which LT made the tackles.  On 3rd down, White hit Jones for a conversion out to the 20.  Two more plays to Dorsett set up another 3rd down, which Dallas again converted on a pass to Pearson out near the 45 yard line and the Giants were forced to call at time out with 2:14 to go in the game.  The Giants were in big trouble, but for the first time in 18 years, the fates smiled on the Giants

Amazingly, in looking to run out the clock, the Pro Bowler Dorsett bobbled the pitch back to him and George Martin recovered at the 45.  A hold on first down made it 1st and 20 at the Giants 45.  The two minute warning and 2 incompletions made it 3rd and 20.  Brunner hit Mistler for 7 yards, which would set up a huge 4th down and 13.

In 1986, Phil Simms hit Bobby Johnson to convert a 4th and 17 in Minnesota which lead to Raul Allegre's game winning FG during the Giants championship season.  Well, lost in comparison to that was the Brunner to Mistler pass, who caught the ball and got it down to the 27 for a first down with 1:35 to go, one of the most underrated 4th down conversions in Giants history.  A run by Perry got the ball to the 20 and after another run by Carpenter and a failed deep throw to Gray, Danelo came back on to the field with :35 to go and 40 yards for the tie.

Danelo, who shanked 2 previous field goals and nearly blew an extra point, used the Giants Stadium winds and hooked in the pressure FG to tie the game at 10-10.  Dallas got the kickoff to the 27, and White went to work.  Hitting Hill and Dorsett and got the ball past mid field.  However, Dorsett was tackled in bounds by Carson, and in 1981, only 2 players were designated as being able to call a time out (unlike today) and they couldn't get the official's attention in time and the clock ran out, so the game went to OT.

In the OT, the Cowboys won the toss, but Landry chose to kick off and take the wind.  The Giants offense couldn't keep up the momentum from the end of game drive and went 3 and out, punting back to Dallas, who got the ball at the 45, however a penalty set them back to their own 40.

After an 8 yard run by Springs, Dorsett had his problems holding on the ball again

For the second time, Dorsett couldn't handle the pitch back and as he tried to fall on the ball, LT jumped on him and ripped it away and got up to run it past the 40.  A Carpenter run went for no gain, and on 2nd down, Brunner fooled everyone on a naked bootleg around left end for 23 yards down to the 17 yard line.  A short run by Perry and a dive to the middle by Carpenter set up Danelo for a game winning 33 yard FG.  It was all there for a story book ending

Now this was getting insane.  Danelo, who was down from the 2 misses and then hits the 40 yarder to tie the game, doinks one off the upright and with it a chance to stay alive to clinch a Wild Card berth.  Out trotted the Giants defense again, who was determined to get the ball back to the offense.  After a 2 yard Dorsett run, the defense went into overdrive

Now this is Giants defense and what we as fans have come to love.  On 2nd down, a safety blitz by Courrier hit White and forced a fumble, but it was recovered, somehow, by Dallas.  On the very next play, LT pressured White and forced him to throw the ball, where rookie Byron Hunt, playing in the game due to an injury to the usual starter Brad Van Pelt, stepped in front of the pass to pick it off in OT.  [Full Disclosure- I worked with Byron on a few projects back in the early 2000s and still stay in touch with him to this day.  He's a good guy and it's pretty sweet to go back and see this footage of what was probably the biggest play of his career]

The Giants got the ball on the 24 yard line.  Two Carpenter runs and then a pass to Mistler got the ball to the 17 yard line.  Joe Danelo would come out for his 5th FG attempt of the day, and he'd make this one count.

Danelo came on and this time drilled the 35 yard FG right down the middle and was carried off the field by his teammates.  The Giants and their fans celebrated a huge victory over their rival Cowboys, 13-10 in OT.  The Giants would go to bed that night with a 9-7 record and wait to see what would happen the next day to know what their playoff fate would be.

Post Mortem/Interesting Tidbits

  • As it would turn out, the Giants did get that fairy tale that they were hoping for.  The Jets destroyed the Packers the next day, 28-3 and the game was never in doubt.  The Giants would make the most of their new playoff pedigree, going into Philly and jumping all over the defending NFC Champs in the Wild Card taking a 20-0 first quarter lead and winning the game 27-21.  They would lose to the Niners in the divisional round, after holding their own to a 7-7 first quarter tie, the Niners would pull away in the 2nd quarter and eventually beat the Giants 38-24.  
  • Which set up the Niners own showdown with Dallas.  The Cowboys easily crushed the Bucs 38-0 in the divisional round and headed to San Francisco in the NFC Championship game.  In what was a textbook changing of the guard moment, the old dynasty of Dallas was facing the up and coming new power on the block in the Bill Walsh/Joe Montana 49ers.  The 49ers won 28-27, highlighted by the immortal "Catch" when Montana hit Dwight Clark over Everson Walls on 3rd and 3 with :51 seconds to play.  The Niners would go on to win the game and beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI.
  • For as bad as the Giants were, this win was actually their second straight over the Cowboys at Giants Stadium.  In 1980, they beat the Cowboys 38-35 in a game in which the 1-8 Giants faced the 7-2 Cowboys.  George Martin caught a TD pass from Phil Simms in this game.
  • Speaking of George Martin, he had a huge game, with 2 sacks and the big fumble recovery, not to mention a number of QB pressures.  However, the NFL didn't recognized the QB sack as an individual statistic until 1982, so his sacks in this game didn't "count" towards his career total.
  • Scott Brunner would face the Cowboys 4 times over the course of his career.  This game was the only one he would win.
  • Brunner's 23 yard run would be the longest of his career.  In fact, he never totaled more than 17 yards in a game running the ball, let alone on a single carry.
  • Bryon Hunt's INT was the first of his career.  He would only have one more interception in his 8 year career, a pick against the Redskins in a loss at Washington in 1984.
  • Rob Carpenter's 29 carries would be his career high.  The next highest total carries in a game was 28, which he did twice in 1983 (@ Atlanta and home vs. Green Bay)
  • Tom Mullady's TD catch would be his only one in the regular season.  He would follow that up with another TD catch the next week in the playoff victory at Philly.
  • Tony Dorsett had a brutal game, 20 carries for 39 yards and 2 critical fumbles lost.  The 1.95 yards per carry would be the 5th lowest of his career in a single game with at least 10 carries.  His lowest overall in his career came in 1987, also vs. the Giants when he carried 14 times for 3 yards (0.21 ypc).  For good measure, his 4th worst of his career also came vs. the Giants in 1980, when he had 15 carries for 26 yards (1.73 ypc).  To give the Hall of Famer some credit, all his games weren't duds vs. the Giants.  He did run for 183 yards in their other matchup of 1980, good for the second highest total of his career (bested only by 206 vs. Philly in 1977)
  • This would be the Giants 3rd OT game of 1981.  The previously won in Atlanta in Week 8 on a Danelo 40 yarder.  They would lose at home to the Redskins in Week 11.
  • Danelo's game winning FG would be his final game winning OT kick for the Giants.  He'd kick one more season with them and in 1983 moved on to kick for Buffalo, where he did kick one OT game winner, to beat the Dolphins and rookie Dan Marino in the Orange Bowl.
  • This was Dallas' only OT game for them in 1981.  They wouldn't face the Giants again in an OT game until the famed 1993 showdown between the 11-4 Giants and the 11-4 Cowboys, with the NFC East and home field advantage on the line.  Emmitt Smith, playing with an injured shoulder, ran for 168 yards on 32 carries (had another 61 receiving) and helped beat the Giants 16-13 on an Eddie Murray 41 yard FG.  I was at that 1993 game and I can say that Emmitt's effort was the best performance by an opponent that I had personally watched against the Giants since I have been going to games in 1987.
  • Since that 1993 game, the Giants would face the Cowboys twice more in OT in Giants Stadium, in 2001 (Giants won)  and 2003 (Cowboys won, thanks mainly to a brutal Matt Bryant kickoff out of bounds allowing the Parcells' led Dallas team to tie the game at the end of regulation).  It wasn't until 2005 that they would actually play an OT game in Dallas, which the Cowboys won 16-13 on a Jose Cortez 45 yard FG.
  • There was an eerily similar set up in 1994, which matched closely to this 1981 game.  The 1994 season finale was the 12-3 Cowboys vs. the 8-7 Giants.  The Cowboys had clinched the NFC East and were locked in as the #2 seed behind the 49ers, thanks mainly to a head to head win during the season by the Niners.  The Giants had gotten hot late in 1994 and were in the mix for a playoff berth if they had beaten the Cowboys and gotten help from another team who needed to beat the Packers in order to get the Giants into the playoffs.  And like in 1981, it was a low scoring game, which was tied at 10-10 at one point.  The Jimmy Johnson lead Cowboys, unlike the Landry group, decided to rest Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, also pulled Troy Aikman after the half.  A Rodney Peete fumble out of the end zone for a safety and a Daluiso FG helped steer the Giants to a 15-10 win.  Unfortunately for the Giants though, they didn't get help from the Packers' opponent, as the Sam Wyche Tampa Bay Bucs, playing for nothing but pride at home, fell behind 14-0 early and lost 34-19.
  • And thanks go out to Giants fan sgm3332 who was able to get me a copy of this game to review.  He's got a a great channel on Youtube with a number of Giants highlights.  Feel free to check it out:

Monday, July 30, 2012

1986 Giants @ 49ers

Week 13

The Setup

1986 still remains my favorite Giants team of all time, and it didn't hurt that it was their first Super Bowl team.  After building up the team in 1984 and 1985, expectations were high and the Giants were able to get on a roll and begin to meet those lofty expectations from the fans and media.  While the 1986 Giants had a dominant defense, and LT was at his absolute apex as a force in the league, winning the NFL MVP award, the reality is the Giants offense was pretty anemic.  Joe Morris and Mark Bavaro were All Pros, but Simms was inconsistent, thanks mainly to a beat up WR core with Simms favorite receiver, Lionel Manuel, out for most of the season.  While most people remember the playoff blowouts, the 1986 Giants played a number of close games which they won, leading up to the Monday Night game vs. the 49ers, here was their margin of victory:

  • Chargers - 13
  • @ Raiders - 5
  • Saints- 3
  • @ Cardinals -7
  • Eagles- 32
  • Redskins- 7
  • Cowboys- 3
  • @ Eagles- 3
  • @ Vikings- 2
  • Broncos- 3

Other than the home games vs. the Chargers and Eagles, the Giants were within 1 score in 8 of their 10 wins.  The last two games prior to the Niners game the Giants had to win on last second Raul Allegre FGs to beat the Vikings (4th and 17) and Broncos.  In the Broncos game, the Giants didn't score an offensive TD, it was George Martin's one handed INT and 78 yard TD jaunt for the lone touchdown.  However, through it all, the Giants were 10-2 going into the game, looking to win to stay in a tie with the Redskins, who were 11-2 and the Giants were going to face them in a showdown in RFK for the NFC East title the following week.  The Giants mid-season schedule was brutal, with them going @ Vikings, Broncos, @ 49ers, @ Redskins, teams who would combine in 1986 for a 41-21-1 record (and were 3 teams who the Giants would meet in the post-season).  Though if the Giants won their last 4 games, they would be assured of winning home field advantage in the playoffs.

Many observers felt this gave the Niners the advantage going into this game.  And there were many factors to back it up.  The Giants had come off 2 emotional last second wins and had the Redskins showdown the following Sunday.  Playing on the road, across country, was a formula for a letdown.  The Niners were also playing for "revenge", as the Giants ruined their 1985 Super Bowl defense, by knocking them off 17-3 in the Wild Card at Giants Stadium.  They had the emotional lift from Joe Montana, returning recently from back surgery and missing 8 weeks, was helping the Niners return to contention in the NFC West.  And the biggest reason, the standings.  The Niners were 7-4-1 going into this game, trailing the Rams who were 9-4 in the NFC West.  A loss to the Giants would put the Niners in a tough position to win the division and make the playoffs.

With a Monday Night audience watching, the Giants brought their 5 game winning streak to the Bay Area against a 49ers team that needed a win.

The Game Highlights

It was a clear, crisp day in SF on December 1, 1986 for this game.  The Giants won the toss and McConkey, recently re-acquired from the Packers, returned the kickoff to the 29.  The Giants offense took the field and Morris was stuffed for a loss on his first carry and Milt McCall sacked Simms on 2nd down.  On 3rd and 17, McConkey managed to get behind his defender and caught a 32 yard pass down the sidelines to the 45.  After Morris was tackled for a 1 yard gain, Simms missed a long pass to Robinson which set up the Giants first turnover of the day

Simms was drilled on his pass and forced the ball into coverage, trying to hit Bobby Johnson.  What he got was intercepted by safety Jeff Fuller, who fumbled but was recovered by the Niners at the 41.  The Niners probably got lucky, as Johnson was hit by rookie CB Tim McKyer, but there was no call by the refs, so it was Niner's ball early in the game in good field position.

The Niners went to the ground, with runs by the recently re-signed Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig.  On 3rd and 3, Montana converted on a pass to former USFLer Derek Crawford.  However, the drive stalled after 2 short runs by Tyler and Craig and Montana missed a long pass down the sidelines to Rice, who was covered well by Elvis "Toast" Patterson.  Niners punted and McConkey fair caught it at the 14.  So the defense averted early disaster after the turnover.

Joe Morris started off with a short run, and then Simms went to the air.  A dump off to Carthon to the 20 and then a pass to Robinson out to the 31 and then a reception by Bavaro to the 39 had the Giants on the move.  But the drive stalled as Morris was again stuffed and Simms missed a deep shot to Robinson.  Landeta came on to punt and sent one down to the 19 where it was fair caught by Don Griffen.

The Niners began to move right away.  A pass out to Dwight Clark to the 38 for a first.  After Tyler was stuffed on 2 straight runs by Carson and then Banks, Montana hit Craig who got just enough for a first down.    After a first down incompletion, Montana hit Rice to the Giants 41.  Craig followed up with a 10 yard run, thanks to a strong block by Tyler on rookie Mark Collins.  Montana again connected with Rice down to the 16.  The drive stalled there, as 2 incompletions and a short run brought on Ray Wersching for a 30 yard FG to make the score 3-0 San Francisco.

A return by McConkey got the ball out to the 24 and the Giants offense came back out to work.  Simms hit Robinson out to the 36 for a first down.  The Giants ended the first quarter on a dump off to Morris, who sprinted up the field out to the Niner's 47.  However, on the first play of the 2nd quarter, Simms made a poor decision

Simms was under pressure from the Niner's defensive line and threw the ball up the field as he tried to squeeze the ball in to Bobby Johnson.  The result was a Carlton Williamson INT at the Giants 26 yard line and the Giants 2nd turnover of the game.

The Niners started with a run to Tyler for a short gain.  A Giants defensive hold and some short passes out to Craig and TE Russ Francis had the Niners driving again.  Montana continued to work underneath the Giants zone, with more short passes to Craig and Francis, and some runs sprinkled in to Tyler to get the ball out to the Giants 38.  Montana then connected with Rice twice more to get the ball out to the 17 and a Tyler run brought it to the 12.  Montana would go to his young star WR for the score

Montana floated the ball up to Rice for the score, as Terry Kinard was a beat slow in getting over to knock it away.  While replays would show that Rice was juggling it, the replay setup in 1986 was pretty primitive and the call stood.  One other side note, and this is my own personal observation.  Niner's fans traditionally have the worst signs they hold up at a game of any fan base.  "Cook the Giants with Rice"?  Really?  It reminded me of when I went to the 1991 season opener vs. the Niners at Giants Stadium.  Jerry Rice caught a 73 yard TD on a catch and run (similar to the one he had in 1986 in the playoffs, when he dropped the ball).  There was a Niner fan holding up a sign that said...seriously:  "49ers are FAN-tastic!"  He held this up and showed it around to the crowd, which resulted in the Giants fan behind him, blocked by the sign, to take it out of his hands and rip it up.  A scuffle ensued, the yellow coats came down and security escorted out the Niners' fan.  I'm not saying that physicality is condoned, just saying.

Anyway, the score was now 10-0 and the Giants were looking like they were in trouble.  McConkey took the kickoff to the 23 and the Giants started with a pass to Morris to the 27 and he was stuffed on a 2nd down run.  Simms then hit Tony Gallbreath for a first down to the 45.  Simms connected with Bavaro out to the Niners 38.  After a Morris run to the 33, Simms drilled the ball to Bavaro who took it to the 23 for a first down.  However, a short gain by Morris, a big hit on Robinson by Ronnie Lott to break up the 2nd down, and an incomplete pass in the corner of the end zone from Simms to Jeff Hostetler (yes, that was right, Hostetler came on at WR) as he caught it out of bounds.  Raul Allegre came on for his first FG attempt of the season on natural grass.  His low line drive was blocked by Duane Board and a nice drive went for naught.

Montana continued his patient attack vs. the Giants.  With passes to Craig and Clark to the 43.  After a Craig run to the 50, Montana hits Craig on a screen to the 41 and then a pass to Rice to the 33.  Joe Cribbs, took the ball to the 25 and the Giants defense was on its heels.  Two more runs to Craig and Tyler got the ball to the 11.  Tyler turned the corner on the next play to take it to the 1 for a first and goal.  On first down, Montana was pressured by Carson on a blitz and overthrew Rice.  Craig was stuffed on 2nd down by LT.  On 3rd down, Bill Walsh decided to show off the depth of his playbook

An end around to Jerry Rice on 3rd and Goal from the 1.  Perry Williams got hit and lost containment allowing Rice to score untouched.  The score was 17-0 and the shot of Parcells on the bench looking disgusted said it all.  This game was turning into a rout.

The Giants got the kickoff and Soloman Miller took it to the 27 with :40 to go.  Simms had 2 passes to Gallbreath as the Giants got it to the the 44.  A pass to Bobby Johnson for a first down and add 5 more on a facemask on Keena Turner (loved that name) put it at the Niners 42.  Simms passed again to Johnson for 18 more, which set up a 43 yard FG.  However, in keeping with the whole first half, Allegre hooked it and the Giants went in down 17-0.

Now keep in mind the following.  The Giants offense was slumping at this point.  They had 1 TD in 11 quarters and were now down 3 scores, on the road, vs. a good team.  The Niners offense was moving the ball at will vs. the Giants defense.  And the Giants had real do-or-die game at RFK for the NFC East title.  The Niners needed this win and were beating the Giants offensively (rolling up 229 yards), defensively (2 picks, Giants unable to run), and on special teams.  The Niners got the ball first and it would seem that the Giants were going to just pack it in and get ready for the Redskins with a short week to prepare.  But then the 3rd quarter started.

San Francisco took the opening kickoff to the 15.  A dump off pass to Francis went for 3 yards.  Though things finally went against the Niners, as an offensive pass interference, a Rice dropped pass (which was a big problem for him in his 2nd season), and Gary Reasons knocked down a 3rd down pass brought on the punting unit.

McConkey fielded the punt and took it to the 50.  After an incomplete pass to Johnson down the sideline came one the biggest plays in the past 30 years for the Giants

Every Giants fan knows this play and it really did spark the team and was one of the most memorable plays in 1986 and certainly defined Mark Bavaro's career.  Bavaro made the catch at the 40, and 49ers LB Mike Walter bounces off of him, and Riki Ellison misses a hit on Bavaro.  Ronnie Lott ran up and grabbed Bavaro around his mid-section at the 33 and Bavaro just kept moving, dragging the Pro Bowler up the field.  Keena Turner dove in and bounced off the Bavaro tractor, meanwhile CB Don Griffen tried to stick a shoulder in and ended up going backwards, as Bavaro, with help from Oates and Carthon kept moving forward.  In all, the play came to a halt at the 18 yard line.  After a run to Morris went for no gain, the Giants decided that if Little Joe couldn't do it on the ground, he could maybe do it in the air

With Hostetler again in at WR, Morris ran a pattern up the seam and beat Turner for an 18 yard TD reception.  The Giants had life and were now down 17-7.

The Niners got the kickoff and returned it to the 30.  After a dump off to Craig for 6 yards, the Niners drive again stalled in a 3 and out thanks to Jerome Sally and LT stuffing Craig on 2nd down and Montana missing Francis.  Another Niner's punt and McConkey made a fair catch at the 29.

Simms began with a dump off to OJ Anderson, who bulled to the 41.  Morris was stopped for no gain and Simms hit Bavaro to the 49.  On 3rd and a long 1, Morris was stopped by Lott short of the first down.  That set up The Gambler, Bill Parcells.

Parcells deserves tons of credit for this sequence.  The Giants finally had some momentum, however they couldn't run the ball worth a damn on this night.  If the Giants do not make it here, the Niners get the ball at midfield, and with a short field, could easily put the game away.  But Parcells showed confidence in his offensive line, and Morris followed strong blocks by Carthon and William Roberts (in as an extra OL) and ran it out to the 34.  On the very next play, Simms went up top for a 34 yard TD to Robinson on a perfectly thrown ball.  The score was now 17-14 and it now became a real game again.

The Niners were looking shell shocked, and yet again, their offense which was flawless in the first half, sputtered, going 3 and out again, as Montana missed Clark down the field and punted to the Giants 28.  Simms began with a pass to Carthon out to the 36 and then hit McConkey over the middle to the 50.  After Anderson was stuffed for no gain, the Giants decided to air it out

Simms had the hot hand and went up top to Robinson for a 49 yard catch down to the one.  Robinson made a circus catch, rolling over and having the ball fall into his lap.  I still think he scored a TD and wasn't touched by the SF defensive back, and if the game was played today, there would have been a lengthy replay stoppage.  OJ Anderson left no doubt on the next play, plowing into the end zone for a TD and the Giants had scored 3 TDs in the 3rd quarter to stun the Niners and go up 21-17.

The Candlestick crowd was stunned.  The Niners offense took over and tried to regain some control, but instead that backfired

Montana was rushed on the throw by George Martin, and the ball deflected off of Rice (who was crushed by Carson and Kenny Hill) and was intercepted by Perry Williams.  Williams returned the ball to the 40 and suddenly the Giants were threatening to really grab the game by the throat.

A few runs by Morris and a dump off to Carthon got the ball to the 30.  Simms hit Robinson to the 20 and the Giants wanted to go for the kill.

Bavaro, who was having one of the best games of his career, caught the ball in stride and was heading towards the goal line, when he tried to finish off the play and fumbled the ball at the 5, where it was recovered by Ellison and the Niners dodged a huge bullet.

Tyler ran to the 11 yard line to end a dominant 3rd quarter for the Giants, and he followed that up with a burst out to the 24 for a first down.  Montana went back to work, with passes to Clark, Craig, Cribbs got the ball to the Giants 42.  The Niners would get the ball to the 31, and eventually on would go for it on 4th and 2.  Montana went deep to Rice, who made a 1 handed catch near the goal line but was out of bounds.

The Giants couldn't do much with it on their turn and went 3 and out and punted back to SF.  Montana ended up missing a wide open Jerry Rice, who got behind Herb Welch, for what would have been a TD.  Montana was then pressured by Marshall and LT and missed an open Cribbs for a first down and were forced to punt.

Morris' terrible day continued, losing 6 on a first down carry, and by third down Simms dropped the shotgun snap from Bart Oates and the Giants had to punt it away again and Landeta sent it to the Niners 32.

Montana, famous for his comebacks and 2 minute drills, went to work.  After a first down incompletion, Montana hit Rice to the 43 and then 2 passes to Francis to the Giants 36.  2 more passes to Craig set up a 4th and inches, which Montana converted himself on a sneak with 1:23 to go.  A short gain to Rice, who dragged Welch out of bounds started off the new series of downs.  Rice then caught the ball in front of Collins, who was playing with a broken hand, and just go out of bounds to make it 3rd and 3.  Wendell Tyler was stuffed in the backfield by Banks, who actually looked like he fumbled on the  hit, but it was ruled inconclusive by the booth and it set up a 4th and 7 with 1:00 to go.

Andy Headen, one of the Giants unsung talented LBs who was behind some of the best in the league at their positions, came up the middle on a blitz and Montana was forced to hurry the throw to Craig.  The pass and the play never had a chance.  The Giants were able to run out the clock and Parcells was thrilled with the comeback 21-17 win (though he sort of dodged the Gatorade bath).  The Giants had gone to 11-2 to tie the Redskins for first place and kept the Giants on track for a division title and homefield advantage in the playoffs.

Interesting Tidbits/Post Mortem

  • This game would feature 7 future Hall of Famers:  LT, Carson, Montana, Lott, Rice, Randy Cross, and Bill Walsh.  Odds are that some day Parcells and Belichick will join them in Canton. 
  • Joe Morris had 14 carries for 13 yards, an average of 1.08 yards per carry.  It was the lowest total of his career in terms of yards and average in a game in which he'd have at least 10 carries.  Morris would make up for it in the playoff win vs. the Niners in the second round, rushing 24 times for 159 yards and 2 TDs.
  • Simms 388 yards passing was a season high for him in 1986.  It was his 4th 300 yard game of the season.  The 388 yards was his 4th highest total for his career: 513 @ Cincy in 1985, 432 vs. Dallas in 1985, and 409 vs. Philly in 1984 would best it.
  • Robinson's 113 yards was a career high and it was the only 100 yard game of his career.  His 49 yard catch was the longest of 1986 for him, and the second longest of his career.  The only catch longer was a 62 yard TD vs. the Eagles in 1988 (the infamous game where LT blocked the FG in OT and Clyde Simmons ran it in for a game winning TD)
  • OJ Anderson's TD was the first as a Giant and his only with the Giants in the regular season.  He did score what seemed to be a going away present TD vs. the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI.
  • Morris was never known as a good receiver.  His TD was the second of his career and his first since scoring on a pass from Jeff Rutledge in 1983 at Washington.
  • The Giants 17 point comeback was their 2nd of 1986.  They came back from being down 17-0 in Week 4 at Giants Stadium vs. the Saints.
  • Pepper Johnson, a rookie in 1986, played with the name T. Johnson on the back of his uniform.  His "real" name is Thomas Johnson.  He would later switch it to P. Johnson on the back of his jersey and it would be that way the remainder of his career.
  • Rice's rushing TD was his only one for 1986.
  • The Niners hadn't lost a game leading by 17+ points since 1977.
  • San Francisco had 3 backs on their roster who had run for 1000 yards in a season.  Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig did it with the 49ers.  Joe Cribbs had done it in Buffalo in the early 1980s.  Craig was the first player to rush and receive for 1000 yards in the same season (accomplished in 1985)
  • Tony Gallbreath was the Giants 3rd down back in 1986, he held the role which Dave Meggett would end up more or less perfecting 3 years later.
  • Monday Night football was the premiere showcase event back when this was played in 1986.  However, the Giants would have a brutal Monday Night record, going 4-11-1 going into this game.  In the time played (and inclusive) since this game, the Giants Monday Night record has been 18-21 .  Though 2 of those games were played on Monday Night due to natural disasters:  2005 game "@" New Orleans due to Katrina (when the Giants played at Giants Stadium) and 2010 "@" Minnesota actually played in Detroit due to the Metrodome roof collapse from heavy snow.  The Giants did not play any Monday Night games in 1996 or 1997, due to their 5-11 horror show in 1995 made them a non-marquee team.  The Giants would twice go 0-3 on Monday Nights in a season (1987 and 2001). Once the flex schedule came into play, Monday Nights became less of a big event, as that honor was shifted to the Sunday Night games.  However, for fun, here are the recent Giants coach's record on Monday Nights, and the lead dog might surprise you.
    • Parcells: 7-10-1 (.389)
    • Handley: 3-1 (.750)
    • Reeves: 2-3 (.400)
    • Fassel: 1-8 (.111)
    • Coughlin: 7-3 (.700)
  • The Niners were unquestionably the Team of the 1980s.  From 1980-1990, they won 4 Super Bowls, and posted a record of 118-49-1.  In the playoffs in this span, they went 14-5.  However, the Giants would go 3-2 in this period vs. the Niners, and Parcells personally went 3-1 vs. San Francisco in the playoffs.  Now you understand why they "laid down like dogs" in 1988 to keep the Giants out of the playoffs.  The Niners wanted nothing to do with the Parcells' Giants.
  • Other than the 1985 playoffs, the last time the Giants beat the Niners was in 1979, in Bill Walsh's first year when they went 2-14.  The Giants didn't win a game in SF since 1975.
  • Since 1990, the Giants faced the Niners in the playoffs 3 times.  They were blown out 44-3 in 1993, in LT and Simms' final game in the NFL, when Ricky Watters ran for 5 TDs.  In 2002, the Giants infamously blew a 38-14 lead and choked away the game, with the help of the officials who ignored the pass interference call on Rich Seubert by Chike Okaefor and coined the phrase "bummer" by Steve Mariucci.  The Giants would get their revenge in the 2011 NFC Championship, beating the Niners 20-17 on an OT field goal.
  • One last note, this game was reffed by Ben Drieth, who was one of my favorite officials.  While most refs were robotic, making the call by the book. Drieth would make the call but would add in his own thoughts along the way.  Most famous was his call in 1986 in a game between the Jets and Bills, when he threw a flag on Marty Lyons for fighting with Jim Kelly, as seen here:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

1991 Giants v Oilers

Week 16

The Setup

At some point, every Giant fan has to come to grips with the fact that 1991 and 1992 did happen.  Though we all try to forget about this period of Giants history (rightfully so), you can't just pretend it didn't exist.  It got so bad that several people even refused to even acknowledge Robert R. "Ray" Handley by name.  Even masking him with a Harry Potter/Voldemort type quality, referring to him as "he who should not be named" on the message boards.

However, in the time since Handley was fired, let's realize that the Giants as a franchise did not go into a deep Depression.  In the past 19 years since he was let go, they have had only 6 losing seasons, made the playoffs 9 times, won the NFC East 5 times, made the Super Bowl 3 times, winning the Championship twice.

So let's take a different look at Ray Handley.  How about:  It's not his fault.  Before I go further, I'll invoke the oft used phrase: "Only Nixon could go to China."  Observe the tee shirt which I bought during the 1992 season.

So I was not a big fan of Handley to say the least.  As time has gone by, you step back and you realize that Handley's failings really fall on the Giants organization as much, if not more, than it should Handley.  Let's be clear, Handley was not a good Head Coach.  But the Giants were the ones who put him there.  Without further ado, the top 8 reasons the Ray Handley era was not all his fault:

  1. Handley actually was ready to quit coaching after the 1990 Super Bowl.  At age 46, Handley was preparing to enter George Washington Law School.  It was Bill Parcells (along with George Young's blessing) who talked Handley out leaving the coaching ranks.  Parcells offered Handley a promotion from offensive backfield coach to offensive coordinator.  In doing so, Parcells moved the current OC, Ron Erhardt to a new Assistant Head Coach position, where he was going to have greater oversight in the overall team, and help Parcells.
  2. George Young did not think much of Defensive Coordinator Bill Belichick.  He didn't feel that he was ready to be a head coach in the NFL, so never stood in his way to keep him around when teams came calling for him after the victory over the Bills.  He was more concerned with Handley going to Law School than Belichick going to the Browns.
  3. Bill Parcells really pushed for Handley.  Parcells coached with Handley back in 1968 at West Point.  And in Parcells' second season as Giants Head Coach in 1984, he brought Handley on to his staff as an offensive assistant.  In several interviews over the years, Parcells would refer to Handley as a "computer on his staff".  He was noting Handley's attention to detail, football x's and o's intelligence, breaking down situations.  Unfortunately, the Parcells' Giants were built in his own image.  The team responded to Parcells' mindgames.  Parcells was a cult of personality in leading the Giants.  Handley was not ever going to be that same charismatic guy and Parcells was a tough act to follow.  In fact, a few times, Handley would tell the press that it wasn't the coach's job to motivate players, they should do it themselves as professionals.  So Parcells' own high opinion of Handley, actually would set him up to fail.
  4. Media saavy:  This one really pointed to an issue which the Giants and Parcells should have realized that Handley was just not ready for the big stage and media glare.  Now, you don't need to be a media darling to be a successful coach.  Belichick proved that in New England.  Coughlin isn't Parcells when it comes to working with the media, but he slips in his barbs and little jokes here and there.  Generally speaking, a coach needs to understand how to handle the press and understand how they function.  Handley never got that.  Look no further than his infamous exchange with Russ Salzberg in December 1991, when he was asked a question about the QB situation (Simms starting, Hoss out with injury) and he refused to answer the question, mocked a sigh/pout at Salzberg, and then stormed off.  That is blood in the water.  Even years later, in 2007 when he was reached for comments on the Giants in the Super Bowl, he told Newsday reporter Jim Baumbach: "No, I'm not the least bit interested. Thank you very much."  And hung up.  This is who he was, the Giants had him in the family for 7 years, he wasn't ready for NY (and likely would never be), and the Giants should have known or somehow mitigated this.
  5. Handley's only stint as Head Coach was in 1977 at Reed High School in Sparks, Nevada.  He had just had his responsibilities increased to Offensive Coordinator.  And then after the draft, when Parcells stepped down, he was handed the Head Coach spot of the Giants.  However, Handley decided to keep his Offensive Coordinator title.  That was simply too much to ask of him.  The safer route should have been to name Ron Erhardt the head coach, as he had previous experience in New England with the Patriots (including a 9 and 10 win season in his time).  Now, Handley compounded that mistake on his own, by actually demoting Erhardt from his Assistant Head Coach position and had him doing, essentially offensive quality control tasks breaking down film on opponents.  Young and Mara should have stepped in here, make Erhardt the head coach, and let Handley grow into the position, if they felt that strongly about him.  Erhardt was 60 years old, he wasn't going to be the long term answer, which is what they had hoped for in Handley.  Make Erhardt the coach and then set up a succession plan to bring Handley on in a year or two.  As it would turn out, in 1992, Handley promoted Jim Fassel from QB coach to Offensive Coordinator to rectify that mistake, but it was too late.
  6. The Giants roster was getting old.  Look at the ages of several of the key members: Simms (37 in his 12th year), LT (32 in his 10th year), OJ Anderson (34 in his 12th year), Bart Oates (33), Everson Walls (32), Leonard Marshall (30), Perry Williams (30), Hostetler (30), Banks/Reasons (29).  Of the young core players, the Giants only really had Rodney Hampton and Brian Williams ready to join the lineup right away and make an impact.  So the team was headed towards a downswing/ transition, and that is as much on George Young as anyone.
  7. The Giants didn't do Handley any favors on the defensive side of the ball.  As noted above, the defense was getting up there in age.  Losing 2 top defensive minds in one off season in both Parcells and Belichick was an enormous blow.  With Handley stretched so thin keeping his OC title, he was really reliant on his defensive staff to keep things going.  The defensive coordinator job fell to an in house replacement, as Al Groh was promoted from linebacker coach to DC.  In the past, when Parcells was asked about defensive rankings, he would always say that the most important stat he cares about is points allowed.  In 1989, the Giants allowed 252 points (#2 in NFL) and were 5th in yards allowed.  In 1990, the Giants allowed 211 points (#1 in the NFL) and were 2nd in yards allowed.  Under Al Groh: 297 points (#12 in NFL) and 7th in yards allowed.  Groh was out after his only season, and rejoined Belichick in Cleveland.  The Giants decided to go for a more veteran coach and decided on former Chiefs, Patriots, and Steelers DC Rod Rust, who coached on the Stanford staff when Handley was a running back there.  All you have to say to any Giants fan who recalls the era is "Read and React" and they will instantly get nauseous and angry simultaneously. Rust was a horrible fit in 1992 and the stats showed it: 367 points (#26 in the NFL) and 18th in yards allowed.  Bottom line, Handley didn't get much help at all.
  8. He actually made a sound decision on Simms v. Hostetler for the starting QB job.  This whole thing was also a perfect storm.  QB controversies can split teams and create a media frenzy.  Add in all the issues listed above and then throw in a popular but aging QB who won a Super Bowl MVP and was coming off an injury (Simms), and the younger, more mobile QB in Hostetler, who just finished a run that resulted in a Super Bowl win.  As a starter, Hoss was 4-0 in the regular season (and he also had wins when he played the balance of the game after an injury to Simms in 1989 vs the Vikings and 1990 vs. the Cardinals) and was 3-0 in the post season.  Hostetler was also in the Giants system for 6 years and was 30 entering 1991.  If you are Handley, looking to make your mark as the head coach for a long time in NY, do you go with a 37 year old Super Bowl winning QB coming off an injury, or a 30 year old Super Bowl winning QB, who also happened to have the added dimension of being able to move and run?  He chose Hostetler, and Hoss went 6-5 as a starter before going down with broken bones in his back in Tampa and Simms took over the rest of the way.  In 1992, he reversed his decision and named Simms the starter.  The Giants decided it was time to move on from the QB controversy and bring in youth, and actually carried 4 QBs in 1992 (Simms, Hostetler, Dave Brown, Kent Graham).  Handley was too inexperienced to deal with this QB problem.  He should have named one a starter and the other should have been traded.  Reeves put his foot down immediately in 1993, chosing Simms (knowing that Brown or Graham would be the replacement) and moved Hoss on to Oakland.  
Anyway, this game was a playing out the string game for the Giants.  After a rousing opening day win vs. the Niners on a last second Matt Bahr FG, the Giants were the model of mediocrity.  Never going more than 2 games over or under 500.  The best record they had was 7-5, which was where they were after beating the Bucs in Tampa, when Simms came off the bench for an injured Hostetler and won the game.  But that good will was ruined the following week, when the Giants lost to the 1-11 Bengals to fall to 7-6.  A loss the next week vs. the Eagles put the Giants at 7-7 and knocked them out of the playoffs.  Once that happened, the Giants slept walked through a blow out loss to the Redskins, 34-17, which got so bad that Lawrence Taylor said the players and coaches both quit.  At 7-8, the Giants had nothing to play for, other than avoiding a losing season and the old standby of "pride".

On the flip side, the Oilers had everything to play for.  they were 11-4, and their biggest problem was bringing their Warren Moon led (Kevin Gilbride coached) run and shoot into the cold weather and away from the cozy confines of the Houston Astrodome.  They finally won out in the cold in the previous week, beating Bill Belichick's Browns on the road.  An Oilers win in this game would make them 12-4 and give them a first round bye and host a home playoff game in the second round.  A loss in this game, plus a Broncos win the following day (this game was played on a Saturday), would make them play a Wild Card game at home and then go on the road to either Denver or Buffalo.

So it was the playoff bound, 8 Pro Bowler strong Oilers vs. the 7-8, collapsing former Super Bowl champ, led by a coach who has looked like he lost the team.  The fans who did come to the game, including yours truly, expected to see the Giants get blown out and be able to voice our collective displeasure at the mockery the team had become.  And then the game started.....

The Game Highlights

All in all it was a fairly typical late December game in Giants Stadium, cold and windy, as you would expect.  The Giants and Oilers were playing a Saturday afternoon game and Giants Stadium was generously 75% full as most fans, like the team the previous few weeks, packed it in.

The Giants got the ball first, as Tillman fielded the kickoff in the end zone for a touchback.  The Giants drive would essentially be the Rodney Hampton show.  Hampton, the second year RB, had taken over the main RB duties from OJ Anderson in 1991, as was the plan.  Hampton started with a 5 yard run and on the next play Simms hit TE Howard Cross over the middle for 24 yards to near mid field.  Cross, never known for his hands, was horrific the previous week at Washington, dropping 3 balls.  The rest of the drive was all Hampton.  A Hampton run and then a reception on a dump off pass went for 1 first down.  Another Hampton catch, where he juked Bubba McDowell, went for another first.  Hampton then followed a huge hole created by Cross and Carthon for a 14 yard run.  Hampton continued to pound on the Oilers, who were forced to call a time out to try to slow things down, but he got the ball to the 3 yard line.

Hampton capped off a marathon with his 10th TD on the season and culminated a 13 play, 80 yard drive eating 9:22 on the clock and keeping the powerful Oilers offense on the bench.  Of the 13 plays, Hampton touched the ball 12 times.

The Oilers finally got the ball with the first quarter nearly over, and started out with a return to the 31.  Al Groh's defensive unit came out in a dime package to deal with the run and shoot, starting 2 DL (Howard and Marshall).  LT, who was nursing a bad ankle, did not play in the game, as the Gianst started rookie OLB Corey Miller in his place.  Moon began with a 16 yard pass to the late Drew Hill.  After a short run by Allen Pinkett to near mid field, Moon on 3rd down nearly had the ball intercepted by Carl Banks and the Oilers punted it away, but Greg Montgomery put it into the end zone for a touchback.

Ray Handley decided to keep the ball on the ground.  Starting with a 6 yard run by Carthon, and another Hampton run for a first down.  Followed up by 2 more short runs by Carthon and Hampton resulted in a chorus of boos by the fans for the conservative calls to end the 1st quarter.  Truth be told, the Giants were leading 7-0 and the fans were really just looking for a reason to boo, as they wanted to let the team and Handley have it for frustration over the way the season played out.  On the first play of the 2nd quarter though, the Giants really gave the fans a reason to boo:

Pretty much sums it up, the Giants lone Pro Bowl representative in 1991, Bart Oates, air mailed the shotgun snap and Simms' half hearted effort to recover gave the ball to the Oilers on the Giants 15 yard line.  Pinkett was stuff by Marhsall and Howard on first down. Moon's next pass floated in the wind for an incompletion and on 3rd down he was sacked by Miller and Marshall.  Al Del Greco came on and hit a 37 yard FG to make the score 7-3 and the defense did it's job.

Del Greco's kickoff went out of bounds, putting the ball at the 35 and the Giants went to the underneath passing game on this drive, along with steady doses of Hampton.  A Hampton 4 yard run and 3rd down pass to Meggett went for 16 yards out to the Oilers 41.  An 8 yard pass to Cross followed by a conversion of a first by Hampton.  A reverse/option pass by Mark Ingram failed as he was tackled behind the line, but a run by Hampton and yet another pass to Meggett for 16 more yards put the ball at the 13 yard line.  And the Giants went again for the short pass

Good protection, Cross coming free, and a nice pick/block by the umpire let Cross trot into the end zone for a 13 yard TD and a 14-3 Giants lead in the 2nd quarter.  Simms was now 7-7 passing in the game.

The Oilers were buried on the kickoff, with Lewis Tillman and Lamar McGriggs nailing the return man at the 10.  However, 2 Pinkett runs got the ball to the 34 yard line.  Moon hit Ernest Givens to the 43.  The Oilers then imploded, a false start, a broken play when Moon had to eat the ball, and 2 incompletions set up a great punt by Montgomery who kicked it out of bounds on the Giants 5 yard line.

Hampton got the Giants out of trouble, plowing over Houston LB Johnny Meads and rumbling to the 19 yard line.  Another Hampton run took it to the 25 when Simms hit the biggest pass of his day, a 39 yard slant to Odessa Turner who took the ball to the Oilers 35.  After an intentional grounding penalty on Simms, and then a hold on Jumbo Elliott (which wiped out a good Hampton run) and then yet another false start made it 2nd and 36.  After a short pass to Meggett, Simms hit Ingram in stride for 25 yards and put the ball at the Oilers 37.  Matt Bahr came out, and with the wind at his back, nailed a 54 yard FG making the score now 17-3.

Bahr continued to muscle up, with a touchback on the kickoff.  The Oilers, who looked so flat with so much on the line, had to get going.  Moon hit an 8 yard pass to start and  Pinkett run for a first.  Moon, who had Miller all over him, then drilled one in to Hill for 21 yards.  Another pass to Hill moved it to the Giants 35.  with :08 to go in the half, Moon hit Givens down to the 10.  With no time outs, Jack Pardee decided to go for the FG and settled for another Del Greco kick, this time a 34 yarder to make the score 17-6 in a half dominated by the Giants who held the ball for over 22 minutes in the first two periods of the game.

The second half began with another Bahr kickoff for a touchback and the Oilers, who you figure would come out all fired up, fizzled and went 3 and out, punting back to the Giants 37.  After a 7 yard pass to Cross, Hampton would reach a milestone

Hampton cracked the 1000 yard mark for the first time in his career and was saluted by the fans for his efforts, one of the very few bright spots on the 1991 Giants.  A pass to Hampton for 8 and two more runs by Hampton to the Oilers 12, where he was finally given a rest and got a Standing O from the home crowd.  A pass by Simms to Lewis Tillman got the ball to the 5.  And then Tillman took care of the rest

Tillman, known as the man who broke Walter Payton's rushing records at Jackson State (hence wearing Sweetness' #34) spent his career with the Giants as a special teamer and a "change of pace" back as a slasher behind Anderson and then Hampton.  In this case, he showed both elusiveness and power, stiff arming Richard Johnson, in his 5 yard TD burst.  A Bahr extra point and amazingly it was 24-6.

The Oilers were now in desperation mode.  A short Bahr kickoff and return got the ball to the 35.  But yet again, after a short pass to Givens, the Oilers went 3 and out and a punt to the 15.  Two Tillman runs made it 3rd and 4, and Simms took off when no one was open and ran for 19 yards and a first down.  A Tillman run and a 17 yard pass to Baker kept the Giants on the move.  After runs by Tillman and Jarrod Bunch made it 3rd and long, Simms would have his first legit incompletion on the day when he was pressured and hurried a throw.  Bahr came on for a 40 yard FG, but it was blocked on an up the middle rush by former Raider Sean Jones and the Oilers survived.

By this time, the Oilers decided to change up at running back, sitting Allen Pinkett, and bringing in Lorenzo White.  An opening pass to Givens got the ball to the 35.  White then popped a run to mid field.  Moon again hit Givens and again White powered ahead to the Giants 26.  Another White run to the 15 ended the quarter.  At the start of the first, Gilbride stayed on the ground, with White taking it to the 5.  After a false start, Moon hit Hill on the 2 yard line.  On 2nd down, White was stuffed by Myron Guyton, Adrian White, and Miller.  Which set up Miller's biggest play of his rookie season

Corey Miller, a 6th rounder out of South Carolina, looked like he could be the next big Giants LB.  Big, strong, with that nasty dark visor and now coming in to sack Warren Moon and force a 4th down. Moon's next pass was incomplete to Hill and the Giants held, keeping the score 24-6.

The Giants however finally stalled and after Simms was sacked on a corner blitz, were forced to bring Sean Landeta in to the game for the first time.  Landeta punted it to the Oilers 46.  After a Moon pass to Heywood Jeffries went for 7, White ripped off a 14 yard run.  Another pass to Drew Hill for close to a first down was followed with a White run to the 16.  The Oilers continued to hand the ball off to the former Michigan State star RB, who got it to the 6.  And then Moon cashed in.

Moon took advantage of a huge hole and ran it in for a TD to make the score 24-13.  Al Del Greco kicked off for a touchback, and with 6:01 left in the game, the Giants started substituting some of their younger players.  Bunch in for Carthon.  Brian Williams in for Oates.  The Giants started off with 3 runs to Hampton, who was just short of a first down, however Pardee for some reason never called a time out, even though he had 3 to work with (plus the 2 min) and the Giants eventually punted it away to the Oilers 28 and left 3:28 to go in the game, up by 11.

After a Moon incompletion, he hit Jeffries for close to a first down.  White was stuffed by Reasons, but given a favorable spot for a first down.  Moon then hit Curtis Duncan for another first, but was kept in bounds.  After a pass to White took them to the 2 minute warning, Moon continued to throw to his WRs.  Passes to Hill, Duncan, and Givens got the ball to the 11 with 1:38 to go in the game.  After a pass to Jeffries (his 100th catch of the season) to the 5 yard line, Moon drilled Givens for a TD

The Oilers made their way down the field, but poor clock management put all hopes on the onside kick.  Though, it's great to see a young Kevin Gilbride as Offensive Coordinator in this highlight.  A few years later, he'd be better known thanks to Buddy Ryan's sucker punch on the sidelines.  Of course, he's now got 2 rings with the Giants.

The Oilers onside kick, as with much they did on this day, they screwed up.  The ball was there for the taking, but about 3 Oilers ran right by it, and Gary Reasons fell on the ball for the Giants.  A big run up the middle by Hampton for a first down gave him 140 yards on the day and enabled the Giants to kill the clock the rest of the way and Simms kneel downs and the Giants would win the game 24-20 to go 8-8 in a letdown of a title defense.

Interesting Tidbits/ The Post Mortem

  • The 8-8 season was Ray Handley's "best" of his two seasons as head coach.  
  • The Oilers loss dropped them to 11-5 on the season, and a Bronco win the next day, 17-14 at San Diego, forced the Oilers to play in the Wild Card round.  They ended up beating the Jets in Houston 17-10.  However, the Oilers continued to earn their stripes as playoff choke artists, this time blowing a 14-0 lead early and 24-16 lead in the 4th quarter to the John Elway/Dan Reeves Broncos, losing on a FG by David Treadwell 26-24 with :16 to go in the game.  Of course, they would set the bar for playoff chokes a year later, blowing a 32 point lead in Buffalo before losing 41-38 in OT.
  • By winning, the Giants avoided their first losing season since 1987.  To be fair, the 1987 season featured a strike and the Giants fielded the worst of all the replacement squads.  The Giants regulars went 6-6.  So you could argue that the Giants did not have a losing season since Parcells' first year in 1983, at 3-12-1.  Handley's 1992 team however left no doubts, going 6-10.  
  • Hampton needed 81 yards to reach the 1000 yard milestone.  He rushed for 140 yards, finishing with 1059 yards in his first season as the feature back.  It would be his first 1000 yard season and began a string of 5 straight 1000 yard campaigns.
  • Hampton's 140 yards was his 5th highest single game total of his career (in regular season).  He ran for 166 yards in the 1993 Wild Card game vs. the Vikings.
  • More Hampton:  he finished with 43 catches in 1991, the highest total by a RB (other than Meggett) since 1974, when Joe Dawkins caught 46.  That number wouldn't be surpassed until 1999, when Tiki Barber had 66 catches.
  • This game saw Meggett reach 50 catches for the 1991 season.  In 1991, the Giants had 2 receivers go over 50 catches in the same season: Meggett (50) and Mark Ingram (51), it was the first time this happened since 1988 when Lionel Manuel (65) and Mark Bavaro (53) accomplished it.  The Giants wouldn't match that number again until 1996, when both Thomas Lewis and Chris Calloway had 53 catches.
  • Bahr's 54 yard FG was the longest of the season and was the longest of his Giants career (next closest was 49 yarder vs. the Lions in 1990).  It was actually the longest FG of his entire career at that point, and lasted until 1996, when he kicked a 55 yarder at Miami as a member of the Patriots.  1996 was the last year of his career, at age 39, not too bad for an old guy to pull off that trick at the very end.
  • Simms 19 yard run was his longest of the season, and as it would turn out, be the longest run for the remainder of his career.  His next longest run was a 9 yard run in 1993.
  • Simms had a great day, going 15-17, 200 yards and 1 TD.  His 88.2% completion percentage and 135.3 QB rating was his highest for his 1991 season.  It would also be the highest single game percentage of his career (narrowing out his Super Bowl XXI MVP peformance of 22-25- 88%).  It wasn't his highest QB rating though, that came in the 1984 opening win vs. the Eagles, 28-27.  In that game, Simms would go 23-30, 409 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs for a QB rating of 157.6.  Just for fun, here are the highest single game QB rating numbers for the QBs after Simms on the Giants
    • Hostetler: 131.5 vs. the Cardinals in 1991
    • Dave Brown: 130.4 @ Kansas City in 1995
    • Kent Graham: 108.8 vs Denver in 1998 (when he and Toomer ruined their perfect season)
    • Danny Kanell: 125.5 vs. Cardinals in 1997
    • Kerry Collins: 158.3 @ Indy in 2002 (technically a perfect rating)  It was even better than his 2000 NFC Title game 5 TDs vs the Vikings (120.8 rating) because he had 2 picks.
    • Kurt Warner: 104.9 vs. Cleveland in 2004
    • Elisha Nelson Manning: 145.7 @ Philly in 2011.
  • Jarrod Bunch had 1 run for 0 yards in this game.  It would be his only carry for his 1991 rookie season as a first round pick out of Michigan.  Bunch actually looked to break out after 1992, when he had 501 yards rushing and was one of the very very few bright spots in that season.  But a knee injury, and lack of desire to play, had him off the team in 1994 and he was out of the league by 1995, and eventually went into acting.
  • This would be the final game for 2 Giants stalwarts: Gary Reasons and Maurice Carthon.  Carthon was not re-signed and played one more season in Indianapolis before retiring.  Reasons came back to the team in 1992, and battled former Patriot LB Ed Reynolds (brought in by Rod Rust).  Reasons was part of the final cuts and given an injury settlement for a bad shoulder. He would sign with the Bengals but would also retire after the 1992 season.
  • This was the Houston Oilers last game as a franchise played in Giants Stadium.  The Giants actually played them one more time in Houston, in 1994 in Jeff Fisher's first game as coach, and beat them in the Astrodome thanks to a couple Kent Graham to Mike Sherrard bombs.  Since the Oilers moved to Tennessee, they have owned the Giants, going 5-0 vs. Big Blue.
  • Heywood Jeffries reached the 100 catch plateau in this game, becoming the 5th WR to do so in 1991 (Art Monk, Charlie Hennigan, Lionel Taylor, and Jerry Rice were the others).
  • One final note about Ray Handley.  Handley would win 14 games as an NFL Head coach.  6 of those wins would come against teams who would finish with a winning record that season.  The Oilers were the best team record wise that Handley would beat (tied with the 1991 Cowboys at 11-5).  Handley also beat two 10 win teams, the 1991 49ers and out of nowhere, in his final home game in 1992, beat the 10-6 Chiefs, taking a 35-7 lead in the game behind 3 Hampton TDs.  It should be noted, he managed to lose to a 1-11 Bengals team in 1991 (who would finish 3-13) and in 1992 would get shut out 19-0 vs. a Cardinals team that would go 4-12.