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.  

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Updated schedule

7/29 Update:

With the opening of Training camp, I'm going to be spacing out the reviews a little bit, as with plenty of new Giants news around, the off-season doldrums are gone.  I am almost done with the 1986 Giants @ Niners Monday Night game and should have the review up this week.  After that, I'll try to work in a schedule to publish on Tuesdays/Wednesdays during the season, and try to find a game relevant to the Giants scheduled game at the time.  Stay tuned....

7/11:  After getting back from a family vacation, I'll try to get back on the stick with more reviews.  I am currently working on the 1991 Giants v. Oilers game, one of the few Ray Handley highlight wins.  After that I was lucky enough to connect with other fellow Giants fans on who have an amazing library of games and have shared it with me, and I will be doing the 1986 Giants @ 49ers Monday Night Game, AKA "the Bavaro catch and drag Ronnie Lott, and several others, around for 20 yards"