Thursday, April 18, 2013

1998 Giants vs Broncos

Week 14

The Setup

The Giants have had a habit of being involved in several runs from dominant teams looking to go undefeated and standing in their way.  Obviously, the bar will forever be set in 2007, as they first gave the Patriots all they could handle in Week 17, before falling late and watching the Patriots go 16-0.  However, a combination of a dominant pass rush, a catch prominently involving a helmet, and a late TD by Eli Manning ruined the Pats perfect season in Super Bowl XLII.  Even in the Giants 2011 championship season, they gave the 11-0 Champion Packers a tough game before falling on a late Mason Crosby FG to lose 38-35.  The Packers perfect season would ruined in Kansas City 2 weeks later, and the Giants, for good measure went into Green Bay in the second round of the Playoffs and blew out the Packers 37-20, and if not for the officials, the score would have been even worse.

But back in 1998, the Jim Fassel lead Giants, who came off an unexpected 10-5-1 NFC East Title in 1997, were floundering, and they ran into NFL powerhouse at the time, the Denver Broncos.  The Broncos finally got the championship monkey off John Elway's back, by beating the Packers in the Super Bowl the previous season.  With that confidence in play, the Broncos started out rampaging through the NFL in 1998.  Carrying over from 1997 and going into the match up with the 5-8 Giants team, the Broncos had won 18 straight games.  The were 13-0 going into this game, and they were 13 point road favorites.  Why such a high line?  The Denver offense was damn near unstoppable.  Beyond Elway, they had Terrell Davis in his absolute career year.  Davis would run for 2008 yards and score 23 TDs both rushing and receiving.  Elway also had weapons at receiver, with former Giant Ed McCaffrey, Rod Smith, and Shannon Sharpe.  With all this talent, the Broncos offense was a machine.  The fewest points they scored in a game to this point was 21. They averaged over 33 points a game, and would score over 30 points 10 times, included in there were three games of going over 40 points.

With this outburst of points, it would be easy to play defense, but the Broncos had a veteran group of defensive players who still were playing at a high level, such as Alfred Williams, Neal Smith, Steve Atwater, and Bill Romanowski.  The 1998 Broncos were as close to an all around complete team that has been fielded.

Meanwhile the 1998 Giants were floundering.  Things just started on the wrong foot for the Giants.  Jason Sehorn, their starting corner had gone from a curiosity as a white guy playing CB, to one of the best players in the NFL and looked to explode as a superstar.  A desire to take advantage of his playmaking ability and speed, the Giants decided to try him out as a return man on kickoffs.  That experiment lasted exactly 1 time as he was hit on a return vs. the Jets in the pre-season, tore his ACL and was lost for the year.  Meanwhile, QB Danny Kanell, who helped turn around years of malaise under Dave Brown, regressed badly and was benched and the Giants were playing out the string at 5-8.

The two players for the Giants who would play the biggest role in this game would be two journeymen, Kent Graham and Gary Brown.  To understand how strange this would be, going up against a team with a Hall of Fame QB, you need to realize how both players got to this point.

Kent Graham had a very interesting Giants career entering this Broncos game.  Graham was drafted as a strong armed QB out of Ohio State (he transferred from Notre Dame) in the 8th round of the 1992 draft.  The Giants, who were in the midst of their QB controversy of Simms vs. Hostetler, wanted to inject some youth into the mix, as Hostetler was over 30 and Simms nearing 40.  But Graham would end up getting even more competition, as later in the summer of 1992, the Giants would use a Supplemental first round draft pick on Dave Brown out of Duke.  The Giants would actually play the 1992 season with all 4 QBs on the roster in Ray Handley's final season.

In 1993, Dan Reeves came on and ended the QB battle, by picking Phil Simms and moving Hostetler out, where Hoss would sign with the Raiders.  The real question was who would be Simms primary backup QB, Graham or Brown, and even though he was an 8th rounder, Graham technically served as the #2 QB, however Simms wouldn't miss a start in his final season, and actually be named to the Pro Bowl.  In 1994, Simms was released and the Giants opened up a competition now for the starting QB slot, Graham vs. Brown, and this time the draft slot really did matter.  The first rounder Brown won the starting job.  Graham would see some time in 1994, he came on when Brown was injured in Houston and thanks to two bombs from Graham to Mike Sherrard, would help lead the Giants to a win and snap a 7 game losing streak.  The Giants would reward Graham with a new 2 year contract in 1995 to be Brown's primary backup.  However, Dan Reeves abruptly changed things by picking up his former first round pick, Tommy Maddox, who was released by the Broncos and cut Graham, who would sit out the 1995 season.  Graham would land with the Cardinals in 1996, and serve as Boomer Esiason's backup.  As the Cards season moved along, coach Vince Tobin benched Boomer, and elevated Graham as the starter and he responded, leading them to consecutive victories and in one game put up 366 yards and 4 TDs on the Rams.  That would set up a strange head to head matchup against the Giants, with Graham, now 3-2 as a starter taking on Dave Brown.  The grudge match didn't last long.  Both Graham and Brown were knocked out early, and the game would turn out to be a snoozefest as Esiason and Danny Kanell battled in a 16-8 Giants win (Spoiler Alert- I won't be reviewing this game unless someone pays me a significant sum to do it).  Anyway, Graham would return from injury and finish out the season as the starter and was given the starter's job going into 1997.

1997 was a disaster for Graham.  He was 1-4 going into their scheduled matchup vs. the Giants.  In the Giants game, Graham would go 4-14, 40 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs before he was benched in favor of Stoney Case.  Graham would be released after the season as the Cards would hand the starting spot over to Jake Plummer.

In 1998, Graham and Dave Brown's career paths would again intersect.  Brown lost his starting job to Kanell and that also lead to him losing his roster spot, as the Giants released him.  Needing a backup QB to Kanell, the Giants would reach out to Graham and sign him as the backup QB.  Meanwhile, Brown headed West and signed with the Cardinals to serve as Plummer's backup.  As 1998 moved along, Kanell's "it" intangible as a winner started to wear off, and the tangible of what he was (weak arm, couldn't make all the throws expected of a QB, didn't adjust in game, poor accuracy) started to show.  By Week 11, the Giants were 3-7, they were drubbed 37-3 by the Packers at Giants Stadium and Kanell, who went 8-20 for 88 yards, 0 TDs and 2 INTs was benched for Graham and Fassel handed the reigns to Graham the rest of the way.  Going into the Broncos game, Graham was 2-1 as a starter and had finally gotten the Giants offense moving again.

Another guy who came on to get the Giants moving was a quiet free agent signing in running back Gary Brown.  Brown was a guy who was drafted out of Penn State in 1991 by the Oilers, getting very little playing time due to the stable of backs that Houston had at the time (Lorenzo White, Alonzo Highsmith, Allen Pinkett, etc)  In 1993, Brown didn't play much in the first 8 games, however, he was installed as the starter around midseason and exploded once he got the opportunity, running for 166 yards vs. the Bengals and followed that up with 194 yards in a win at Cleveland, the most yards rushed for by an Oiler in a game since Hall of Famer Earl Campbell ran for over 200 yards in 1980.  In all, Brown would run for 1002 yards in 1993, averaging 5.1 yard per carry in only 195 carries.  Brown would struggle to match that output going forward (not many would to be fair) as injuries would limit him to 698 yards in 1994 and 293 in 1995. Brown would miss 1996 due to injuries and would be released by Houston.  Brown would rebound after signing with the Chargers in 1997, coming close to another 1000 yard season (943 yards) but San Diego decided to not bring him back.

At age 29, the Giants signed Brown with the expectation that he would primarily be a backup to Barber, help get some carries as needed from Charles Way and in general fill the role that the now departed Rodney Hampton had held in the later part of his career once his knees gave out.  Brown was seldom used early, he was on the bench the first 2 games and only got 2 carries for 10 yards.  Brown would finally start to get his chance in a Week 4 win against his former teammates in San Diego, when he had 20 carries for 66 yards and scored a TD rushing and receiving.  By the Denver game, Brown had settled in as the main back.  He had 3 100 yard games (and also had 96 yards in another) under his belt, including a 124 yard effort in a win at Arizona the week before.

The football world had figured that this collection of Giants would be no match for the Broncos.  All eyes were on the matchup the following week for the Broncos.  That would be a Monday Night game at Miami, where Dan Marino and the Dolphins would look to protect their organization's biggest prize, the 1972 Undefeated Season.  In 1985, the Dolphins would stop the 12-0 Chicago Bears and beat them 38-24, the Bears lone loss of that season.  ABC executives looked forward to Marino vs. Elway, a primetime battle to see if the Broncos would keep their perfect season alive, or if the Fish could ruin it.  The thoughts of the highest rated Monday Night Game ever danced in their heads.  But to get there, the Broncos still had to beat the Giants.  Shouldn't be a problem...right?

The Game Highlights

It was a downright balmy mid December game in the Meadowlands.  Usually when you get into November, let along December, you can count on the wind blowing at least 20-30 mph and temperatures in the teens or 20s.  Well, in this game, 44 degrees and little if any wind.  The Broncos would win the toss and Brad Daluiso started with a kickoff to Vaughn Hebron, who returned the ball out of the end zone and was stopped at the 27 yard line.  John Elway began with a quick pass to former Giant Ed McCaffrey to the 32.  The next play was pass to TE Shannon Sharpe for a first down at the 40.  With a new set of downs, Terrell Davis had his first carry, a 3 yard gain before he was stopped by Keith Hamilton.  On 2nd down, Davis would be hit in the backfield by Jessie Armstead for a loss. Now on 3rd and 8, Elway would throw a dart to Rod Smith across mid field and he was eventually stopped by Tito Wooten at the 44.  Davis would take the next handoff and gain 3 yards before being stopped by Hamilton and Marcus Buckley.  Elway would draw the Giants offsides on the next play, making it 2nd and 2, where he took a deep shot to Sharpe, but the ball was batted away by Wooten.  Now 3rd and 2, Elway would again go to Sharpe and this time they would connect for a first down to the 30.  The Broncos would go to the air again on first down, with outstanding protection, Elway had plenty of time to hit McCaffrey for 9 yards and Davis would follow that up with another 9 yard gain and a first down to the 13.  Elway again would target Sharpe for a short gain to the 10.  After a Denver timeout, Davis gained 2 yards before being stopped again by Hamilton and Chad Bratzke.  Now 3rd and 3, Elway would go to the end zone, trying to hit Sharpe, but the ball was knocked away by Corey Widmer and the deflection was nearly picked off by Wooten and then Conrad Hamilton.  Broncos kicker Jason Elam came out and hit a 24 yard chip shot to cap off a 14 play, 68 yard drive that took 7:59 off the clock and gave Denver an early 3-0 lead.

The Giants defense had bent put didn't break on the opening drive, now it was their offense's turn to take the field.  Elam kicked it off to David Patten, who had a nice return out to the 36 yard line.  Kent Graham at QB, started off with a pass to Ike Hilliard for a 13 yard gain out near midfield.  Gary Brown got the next carry, and broke a tackle and headed up field for an 8 yard gain around the left end.  Charles Way would get stacked up on an inside run and set up a 3rd and 1 (which at this point in the season, the Giants were an NFL worst in converting 3rd down, at a 25% clip).  Brown took a pitch and got up a head of steam for a good gain out to the 24, as he broke a tackle from Steve Atwater along the way for a first down.  Brown would catch a swing pass in the flat from Graham to the 21, where Tyrone Braxton made a great open field tackle or else it would have been a TD.  Brown would gain 2 on the next play up the middle to set up a 3rd and 5.  Graham in the shotgun was pressured by Denver, and after a pump fake tried to run it but was stopped just beyond the line of scrimmage.  Daluiso came on to kick a 36 yard FG right down the middle to tie the game at 3-3 in a fast moving first quarter, with only 2:32 to go in the first stanza.

Daluiso's kickoff was short and was fielded by the blocking unit which normally formed a wedge and they fell on the ball at the 17.  Davis started with a good gain on first down that went for about 9 yards, but with a 5 yard facemask penalty tacked on from Sam Garnes gave them a first.  At the 34 yard line, Davis ripped off another big 18 yard gain before getting hit hard out of bounds by Wooten at the Giants 45.  Elway's shovel pass to Howard Griffith on first down was read perfectly by Widmer and stopped for a short gain.  The first quarter would end on a pass to Willie Green from Elway that was just shy of a first down.  On 3rd and 1, a draw play to Davis was snuffed out by Widmer and stopped short of a first down.  On 4th and 1 at the 25, Mike Shanahan decided to go for it and handed off again to Davis, and again Widmer was there, but the All Pro RB made a last moment lunge to just get the first down.  The Giants would blitz Elway on the next play where he was flushed out by Michael Strahan and Bratzke, and on the play a hands to the face penalty on Denver set them back to 1st and 20.  Elway would throw two straight passes to Willie Green to get Denver back to the 20 yard line.  Now on 3rd and 8, Elway threw a bullet to backup TE Duane Carswell, but Shaun Williams had good coverage on the play and resulted in Elam's second FG, a 38 yarder to make the score 6-3 Broncos.

Patten would return the ensuing kickoff to the 16 where he slipped to the ground.  Graham would go right to the air, hitting Chris Calloway for 20 yards out to past the 35.  Brown would carry up the middle for 2 yards. and on 2nd down, Graham nearly threw an INT to defensive lineman Alfred Williams who dropped into coverage.  The Giants drive would officially stall as Graham was blitzed and sacked by Trevor Pryce.  Brad Maynard came on and just got off the punt, avoiding a punt block, but the kick was short and went out of bounds at the Denver 40.

Things were looking bad for the Giants.  The Broncos offense had 2 long drives and got field goals and were now in great field position.  Elway started with a 4 yard pass to Smith.  Davis took a draw right up the middle for 8 yards and a first down in Giants' territory.  The Giants defense would stiffen though.  Davis was stopped after a 2 yard gain, on second down Elway took a deep shot on a play action pass to Smith, but was knocked away by Conrad Hamilton, but Conrad wasn't done.

On 3rd and 8, John Fox's defense dialed up another blitz.  Elway was under pressure from Shaun Williams coming unblocked on one side and Conrad Hamilton also from the other side from the corner spot.  The Broncos had wasted a good chance at pulling away from the Giants and punter Tom Rouen came on and promptly boomed it into the end zone for a touchback.

Dodging that bullet, the offense came back out and started with a run for no gain by Brown.  On second down, Tiki split out at WR and Graham hit him for 8 yards.  In a critical 3rd and 2, Graham would hit rookie Joe Jurevicius for a first down at the 35.  Fassel would go to the bag of tricks next, attempting a flea flicker from Charles Way back to Graham.  But the Broncos had crashed in and Way was forced to flip it back too quickly and Graham was under pressure and under threw Calloway who was running a medium route.  On 2nd down, Graham's play action pass was caught by Calloway for a first down to the 48.  After an incompletion on first down by Graham, who was under pressure and avoided a sack, a delayed draw to Way was easily swallowed up by Denver for a 3 yard loss.  Now 3rd and 13, Denver again blitzed, but the Giants picked it up perfectly and Graham drilled a first down pass to Calloway to the Denver 40.  A 2 yard run by Brown and an incomplete pass set up another third and long for the Giants, and again the Giants would convert, as Graham would scramble up in the pocket and drill a 13 yard pass to Jurevicius, who came close to scoring if his knee didn't touch the ground and brought the game to the 2 minute warning.  With yet another first down, Brown would catch a 3 yard pass out of the backfield.  A hold on Hilliard set back a run by Brown inside the 10 and set up a 2nd and 12.  Graham would hit Amani Toomer for a 5 yard gain which brought the clock under 1 minute and Fassel called a timeout.  On 3rd down, the Giants would land their first square punch to the Broncos' jaw

With Graham in the shotgun, and Tiki playing in the 3rd down back role, Barber came out of the backfield, and thanks to a nice pick by Toomer on linebacker John Mobley, left Tiki wide open.  Graham hit Tiki in stride and he raced it in untouched for a 21 yard TD and made the score 10-6 with :45 to go in the half.  In all it was a 15 play, 80 yard drive in 5:25.

Hebron returned the kick to the 31, but a penalty on Denver moved it back to the 21 with :38 to go.  Davis took the handoff to the 25 and Shanahan called a time out.  Elway would hit Green out to the 45, but a hold on center Tom Nalen brought the ball back to the 16 yard line.  Deciding that it was better to just fold the tent, Davis took the carry for 5 yards to run out the clock and go in at halftime with the Giants in the lead, 10-6.  It was the first time Denver trailed at halftime since Week 9 vs. the Bengals.

Coming out of halftime, the Giants would receive the ball and it was returned by Patten to the 23.  Brown took a first down pitch around right end for 5 yards to the 28.  On second down, Graham had all sorts of time, but no receivers got open so he had to throw it away, but Graham would convert on 3rd down, hitting Patten for just enough yardage to move the chains.  Brown would lose 2 yards on the next play, getting forced out by Romanowski.  Way would catch the ball out of the backfield and would get to the 37 before he was stopped by Mobley and Darien Gordon.  Now 3rd and 6, Graham would face another Denver blitz, and again the Giants picked it up, and he would hit Hilliard, who put a move on Tito Paul and would get to the 50 for a first down.  Brown would gain 3 up the middle and on 2nd down, Graham would avoid a blitzing Romanowski and hit Hilliard to the 43.  Now on 3rd and 4, Graham would throw a deep ball to Toomer, who was one on one with Paul, but Toomer held up his route and the ball fell incomplete.  Maynard would come on to place a coffin corner out of bounds at the 6 yard line.

Pinned deep, the Giants defense would continue to play well, forcing a 3 and out thanks to a short Davis run and 2 incomplete Elway passes.  Rouen, punting out of his own end zone, boomed a 54 yarder and Toomer would return the ball to the 47.

The Broncos defense, feeling momentum starting to get away, would force a 3 and out of their own.  Trevor Pryce dropped Brown for a loss and on 3rd and long, Charles Way dropped a wide open pass which would have easily gone for a first down, and brought on Maynard would again get off a nice punt, dropping it out of bounds at the 11.

The Broncos, out of sorts the whole game, would start to get a drive going.  Davis ran for 2 yards before he was stopped by Armstead.  On the next carry, Davis would go around left end to the 24 and a first down.  After another 2 yard gain by Davis, Elway would be under pressure from Strahan, but he spun out of the would-be sack and then avoided getting sacked by Christian Peter and Chad Bratzke by lobbing a pass to Howard Griffith who dropped the pass.  On 3rd and 8, Elway would drill a strike to Green for a first down to the 35.  Elway would be forced into an incompletion on the next play, as Widmer came in unblocked on the blitz to knock Elway to the ground.  Denver would call a timeout as the playclock got down and Griffith would take the second down carry and rip off a 15 yard gain up the middle for a first down.  After an incomplete pass intended for Smith, Elway would scramble away from pressure and hit Green out to the 32 and another first down with a gain of 17.  Davis would lose a yard on first down, getting dropped by Bratzke.  However, Davis would get the ball past the 30 on a draw play, and tack on an extra 5 yards for a facemask penalty on Wooten.  Now at 2nd and 1, Elway would run a playaction fake, but on his rollout, Cedric Jones would come up the field and force an incomplete pass.  Elway would try a sneak on 3rd and 1, but would get stopped short.  Shanahan decided to get aggressive and went for it on 4th and 1, and Elway faked the handoff to Davis and hit Griffith out of the backfield for an 8 yard gain down to the 15, as he beat Buckley in coverage.  The Broncos though wouldn't make much more headway after that, a Davis carry for 2 yards, a pressure by Peter forcing Elway to throw the ball away and then on 3rd and 8, Elway again under pressure from Strahan and Peter threw an incompletion to Davis by the goal line.  Elam would come on to hit his 3rd FG of the game, a 30 yarder that now made the score 10-9.

Patten would return the Elam kickoff to the 26.  Brown would take a pitch for 9 yards out to the 34 and Way would plow ahead on the next play for a first down.  The Giants would need to burn a timeout as the playclock got down, with :20 to go in the 3rd quarter.  Tiki would drop a quick pass to him lined up out wide (which was nearly a lateral) and set up 2nd and 10.  Graham would hit Way over the middle for 5 yards out to the 41 to end the quarter.  The first three quarters was kind of a slow standoff between the teams, but things would start to get dicey right away in the 4th

On 3rd and 5, Ike would make the catch and start to turn up field.  As he was making his move up the field, Ike just dropped the ball.  The refs called the play a fumble and while it was close to being an incompletion, it's important to note that in 1998 there was no replay, so the call on the field would stand (more on that later).  John Mobley would fall on the ball at the 47 and the Broncos would take over possession.

Denver's first play was for no gain, as Davis stumbled on the turf and went down.  Elway threw an incomplete pass to McCaffrey, which set up a 3rd and 10, and Elway would flash some of his old form, scrambling and running it up the middle and got it to the 36 for a first down.  Denver looked to take advantage of the turnover now, but the Giants defense got involved

On first down, Strahan would beat his man around the corner to hit Elway for a sack, it was a play very reminiscent of his final sack in the NFL, when he dropped Tom Brady in the 3rd quarter of Super Bowl XLII.  On 2nd and 17, Elway would try to hit Sharpe, but rookie first round pick Shaun Williams raced in, stepped in front of the pass and picked it off at the 36.

The fans were into the game, and the Giants would keep them on their feet on the next play

Gary Brown took the handoff and rumbled down to inside the 20, for a 45 yard gain, as he broke several tackles along the way, including attempts by Mobley, Atwater, and Tanavaasa, stayed in bounds and nearly got away for even more yards. Brown would follow that up with a 6 yard gain to the 12 yard line.  Brown would get stacked up on 2nd down, only gaining 2 yards.  Now 3rd and 2, Graham back to throw, avoided a sack and scrambled up the middle for a first down to the 7 yard line.  Brown would take the next carry to the 5 before stumbling to the ground.  And the Giants would dodge a bullet.

The Giants got lucky here.  As Brown took the handoff around right end, he was dragging tacklers and the ball was stripped away by Gordon, and went into the end zone.  Bodies went flying in for that ball, including Lance Scott, the Giants center, who bowled over a ref in his way, but Romanowski fell on the ball for a would be touchback.  However, Broncos cornerback Ray Crockett, on the side away from the ball, lined up in the neutral zone and the Giants were able to retain possession.  Fassel would call a timeout to settle down the troops after this.  Now 2nd and goal at the 2, Way was stopped for no gain.  On 3rd and goal, Alfred Williams jumped off sides which got the ball a little closer to the end zone.  Brown would take the 3rd down carry and get pushed backwards going over the middle.  Fassel did not hesitate and called for the field goal.  Daluiso would hit the 19 yard chip shot to make the score 13-9 and force Denver to score a TD to get the lead.

Hebron would return the kickoff to the 23 and Elway would begin with a handoff to Davis, who raced out past the 40 before getting drilled out of bounds by Wooten.  Davis would gain 4 more yards before getting tackled by Conrad Hamilton a the 46.  Elway would throw another bullet in to Smith to the 39 before getting stopped by Sam Garnes over the middle.  Davis would run out the 35.  On 2nd down, Elway would scramble away from pressure and gain just 1 yard until he was run down by Buckley (on the play the Giants were lucky that Elway didn't look up field as a wide open McCaffrey got behind Hamilton and Wooten was late to come over, for what would have been an easy TD).  After another Denver timeout, the Broncos would convert their 3rd and 5, as Elway hit Sharpe to the 27, where he was hit immediately by Percy Ellsworth.  On the next play, the high powered Broncos offense would finally cross the goal line

Davis, playing with a stomach virus or food poisoning, still had enough to take the carry, get through the hole and make a cut, break a tackle attempt by Buckley and then show his speed as he hit another gear to out race the angle the Giants defends had on him for a 27 yard TD, his 22nd of the season, and it gave Denver a 16-13 lead.

Denver now had momentum back.  Tiki would return the kickoff to the 26 yard line to start the Giants drive. On first down, Graham was blitzed and threw a hot read to Calloway, who dropped the ball.  But on the next play, Graham wouldn't get down on his WR, this time drawing the Broncos offsides and then throwing a deep pass to Calloway, who cut underneath the defensive backs to haul in a 38 yard pass down to the 38.  The Giants were heading for at least a field goal shot to tie it, and then disaster

Brown was in the midst of breaking yet another good chunk of yards, this time around right end, but as he was running, Tyrone Braxton was clawing at the ball and ripped it out.  Romanowski, always around the ball, would fall on it at the 29 with 3:30 and seemingly a back breaker for the Giants

The Broncos would gain 4 yards on a Davis carry on first down.  On 2nd down, Armtead tried to time the snap count, and was a hair early as he jumped offside and knocked down Elway on the snap, making it 2nd and 1.  Armstead would make up for it on the next play, stopping Davis for a 2 yard loss and the Giants called their final time out, with 2:43 to go in the game.  Then came the biggest play on defense for the Giants

On third and 3, Mike Shanahan had lots of options.  Davis, though sick, was running the ball very well on this day.  They had a future Hall of Famer in John Elway, who could run or throw.  If they decided to throw it, he had Pro Bowlers in McCaffrey, Smith, and Sharpe to choose from.  He even had Willie Green, who was having a big day.  But he decided to go with a handoff to his fullback, Griffith, who had Giants in his face almost immediately and was dropped for a loss by Buckley.  Good call Shanahan.  Anyway, that brought the game to the 2 minute warning.  Rouen would come on to boot a low line drive punt, that would be misplayed by Toomer, and then when he ran back to get it, was running backwards with the ball trying to get an angle and lost about 12 yards until he was stopped at the 14 with 1:49 to go and no time outs.

Graham would come on the field and begin with a pass to Calloway over the middle to the 29 and a first down.  On the next play, Graham would take off out of the shotgun and scramble for 21 yards and another first down out to the Denver 49, where he would spike the ball with 1:11 to go in the game.  On 2nd down, Graham would be under pressure and would get hit as he was throwing the ball.  It fluttered in the air and Jurevicius jumped up for it, but the ball was knocked away for an incomplete pass.  Now 3rd and 10, Graham would look to Jurevicius again, hitting the tall rookie for a first down to the 38 with :57 to go in the game.  Then came the Kent Graham's most memorable play in his career

With a blitz on, Graham lofted a deep pass to Toomer down the right side, as he was one on one with Paul and running more or less stride for stride.  Toomer would jump in front of Paul and snatch the ball away from him and come down with the ball.  The refs came in, one called the pass incomplete, the other called it a TD.  Keeping in mind, there was no replay in 1998, the call here was crucial.  The refs conferred briefly and they would get the call correct, awarding Toomer the TD.  The crowd (including your truly who was at this game, sitting in my usual seats in this end zone) went nuts.  The Giants mobbed Graham on the field and the Broncos were stunned.  Daluiso would hit the important extra point, making the score 20-16 with :47 go to in the game.  Greg Gumble said it all "Kent Graham may have just shot down the Broncos perfect season."

Daluiso would squib the ball up the field, however it was grabbed by the Keith Burns who got it up to the 42 yard line with :41 to go.  Elway, with 47 fourth quarter comebacks under his belt, came on to the field.  On first down, Elway was pressured and threw incomplete to Smith. Now with :37 to go, Elway would hit Smith, who would look to do the hook and lateral back to Davis, but the Giants had that covered, so Smith kept the ball and made it to the Giants 41 for a first down and Elway would run up to spike the ball with :19 to go in the game.  On second down, the Giants defensive line would push the pocket back into Elway's face and Bratzke would end up sacking him near mid field.  The Broncos would call their final timeout with :12 to go.  Elway would drill a 20 yard pass to Green with :09 to go out near the 30 yard line.  Deciding that they didn't have time for 2 plays, the Broncos went for broke

The Giants would rush 3 guys, who would get no where near Elway, and the ball was heaved up to the left corner of the end zone and what would look like a team photo with all the guys there.  The Giants knocked the ball away and the ball fell incomplete.  The clock showed all zeros and Fassel got the gatorade thanks to Roman Oben.  The final score showed 20-16 Giants and the Broncos search for perfection was ended.

Interesting Tidbits/ Post Mortem

  • After this loss to the Giants, the Broncos seemed to lose some steam from the pressure valve.  The highly anticipated Monday Night game in Miami now lost a ton of luster.  The Broncos would take an early 10-0 lead, however Marino would throw for 4 TDs to hand the Broncos a 31-21 loss, their second straight game.  Denver would get it's mojo back in their final game of the season, a win over Seattle as Elway would throw for 338 yards and 4 TDs.  By the playoffs, Denver would return to form, blowing out Miami in the second round 38-3, beating the Jets in the AFC Title game, and then beating the Falcons in the Super Bowl, for a second straight championship in Elway's final game as he headed into retirement, Canton, and now a front office job with the Broncos.
  • The Giants, behind a rejuvenated Graham and Brown, would win their final 2 games after this one and finish with an 8-8 record, with Graham finishing the season as the starter and a 5-1 record.
  • Graham would win the NFC Offensive Player of the week and his 265 yards passing were a season high for him.
  • Speaking of Graham, you would think that his 1998 ending would give him the opportunity to be the Giants new starting QB for the next few years.  Danny Kanell would be released and end up with the Falcons, thus ending his stay in NY.  However, Graham wouldn't have smooth sailing.  Ernie Accorsi would reach out to his friend, Penn State head coach Joe Paterno to get his opinion on one of his former players, troubled QB Kerry Collins.  Collins was at one point the face of the Carolina Panthers, a former high first round pick, Collins led the Panthers to the NFC Title game in their second season in existence in 1996.  However, Collins' demons would catch up with him, an alcohol problem and some tense racial moments with his teammates got Collins released in 1998 and he wound up with the Saints to finish out the season.  As a free agent in 1999, Accorsi would step up and sign the "backup" QB Collins to a new 4 year, $16.9 million deal, dwarfing Graham's contract and more or less putting the writing on the wall.  Graham would start as the QB in 1999 for the first 4 games before a concussion suffered vs. the Eagles forced him out.  Collins would start the next week in a loss to the Cardinals, but Graham would return the next week and lead a 31-3 blowout of New Orleans and would remain as the starter through Week 10.  In that game vs. the Redskins, Graham would go 3-10, for 36 yards and 2 INTs with 0 TDs and he would be pulled for Collins.  Collins would be established as the starter, throwing for 298 yards in a loss to the Cardinals, but the following week would lead the Giants to 41 points, and he put up 341 yards and 3 TDs.  Collins would remain at QB through the 2003 season.  Graham meanwhile would be released after 1999 and sign with the Steelers before retiring after finishing out the 2001 season with the Redskins.
  • One note about Collins and Graham and passing yards.  After 1993, here are the number of 300 yard games by Giants QBs (and in their careers)
    • Dave Brown- 0 in career
    • Kent Graham- 2 in career (both with Cardinals, 0 with Giants)
    • Danny Kanell- 0 in career
    • Tommy Maddox- 6 in career (all with Steelers after he returned to the NFL in 2002 after his XFL stint)
    • Kerry Collins - 32 in career
      • Carolina- 4
      • New Orleans- 1
      • Giants- 19 (including 2 playoff games)
      • Oakland- 7
      • Tennessee- 1
    • Kurt Warner- 52 times in his career (0 with Giants)
    • Eli Manning- 27 times (including 2 playoff games) and 3 times over 400 and once over 500.
  • Gary Brown would finish with 112 yards rushing in this game.  He would have 6 games over 100 yards in 1998, including going over the century mark in the last 4 games of the season.
  • Brown would end up rushing for 1063 yards in 1998, and of the running backs to gain over 1000 for the Giants since 1984, he's probably the forgotten one.  Since 1984, here are the 1000 yard backs for the Giants
    • Joe Morris - 1985-1986, 1988
    • OJ Anderson - 1989
    • Rodney Hampton - 1991-1995
    • Gary Brown - 1998
    • Tiki Barber - 2000, 2002-2006
    • Brandon Jacobs - 2007-2008
    • Derrick Ward - 2008
    • Ahmad Bradshaw - 2010, 2012
  • Brown's lost fumble in this game was his first since October of 1993.
  • Unfortunately for Brown, this would be the final productive season of his career.  In the 1999 offseason, Brown would get injured in a motorcycle accident, which left him with a concussion and a bunch of cuts/bruises on his ass.  Brown would come along slowly in camp, and then in the final pre-season game at Baltimore, he would hurt his knee and miss the first month of the season.  He would finally be shut down after a win vs. Dallas, when a lingering knee problem shut him down for the season and ultimately ended his career.  The Giants would be forced to go with a RB by committee in 1999, doling carries out to Tiki, LeShon Johnson, Joe Montgomery, and Sean Bennett.  Needless to say, it was awful.
  • Brown is back in the NFL today, as the Dallas Cowboys running back coach.
  • Few would argue that Jim Fassel is a better NFL coach than Tom Coughlin, but one thing in which Jim has been better...winning at the end of the season.  If you go back and look at their careers and match up 6 seasons (excluding the end of 2003 for Fassel and end of 2004 for Coughlin), here are the numbers
    • Fassel (1997-2002): 27-20-1 for a .563% winning percentage
    • Coughlin (2005-2010): 23-25 for a .479% winning percentage
  • Now, without removing any seasons, here are the Giants coaches records in the second half since 1983 (Parcells' first season)
    • Parcells- 1983-1990: 38-25 (only losing 2nd half of season was 1983)- .603% 
    • Handley- 1991-1992: 6-10- .375%
    • Reeves- 1993-1996: 17-15- .531%
    • Fassel- 1997-2003: 27-28-1- .482%
    • Coughlin- 2004-2012: 30-42- .417%
  • Toomer's 37 yard TD catch was his longest catch of the season, and obviously the longest TD as well.  That was the 2nd longest of his career to that point, bested only by at 56 yarder from Danny Kanell in 1997 in a 19-10 win over the Cardinals.  His eventual career long TD would be an 82 yard TD, which he hauled in from Kerry Collins to complete a flea flicker in a win at Indianapolis in 2002.
  • Toomer again would break the Broncos hearts on the receiving end of a late TD from a QB wearing #10.  In this case it would be in 2005 as he caught a 2 yard TD pass from Eli Manning, in his 2nd season as a starter, helping the Giants overcome a 23-10 deficit in the 4th Quarter to beat the then 5-1 Broncos 24-23.  It also happened in the same end zone as the 1998 catch, both in front of me in my seats.
  • One thing to keep in mind about Toomer's TD, there was no instant replay in 1998.  The league voted to get rid of 1992 and it was gone through 1998.  The league didn't reinstate it until after the 1998 season, thanks mainly to a horrible call in the Jets vs. Seahawks game when Vinny Testaverde was stopped short of the goal line, but the refs thought his head was the ball (seriously) and gave him the TD and the Jets a win.  However, in this Broncos game, Toomer indeed made the catch, and luckily the official who called it incomplete allowed himself to be overruled by the other official and they got the call correct.
  • Calloway's 99 yards receiving were a season high for him in 1998.  Calloway, a steady WR who should have been more of a #3 or #4 WR rather than the #1 WR as he was so often cast.  Add in poor QB play, and Calloway had a 100 yard game only 3 times in his Giants career.
  • Strahan's sack of Elway was his 13th of the season.  Strahan registered at least 1 sack in 12 of the 16 games in 1998 and finished with 15 sacks on the season.  The highest total by a Giants defender since LT had 15.5 in 1989.
  • Conrad Hamilton was the starting corner in this game.  He took over the spot after Sehorn's devastating torn ACL on a kick return in the pre-season.  Hamilton played a strong game against Denver and his sack of Elway was his first of the season and as it would turn out, the only of his NFL career.
  • Tiki's TD would be his 3rd receiving TD of 1998, and that would turn out to be a season career high for him.  In all, Barber scored 68 TDs in his career: 55 rushing, 12 receiving, 1 punt return.
  • Tiki's favorite QB to catch TDs from? Kent Graham, with 4 TDs.  Graham was just ahead of Eli and Collins, who both threw Tiki 3 TDs each.
  • Rookie WR Joe Jurevicius wore #86 in his rookie season.  He would change to #84 in 1999 and wear that throughout the remainder of his Giants career.  
  • Side note, Phil Simms made a mention as the announcer about Jesse Armstead.  Simms final season in the NFL was 1993, which was Armstead's rookie season.  Simms was in Miami for the Giants final pre-season game and had mentioned to a coach as they were watching the 8th round draft pick, that he thought Armstead looked good.  The coach told him to enjoy watching him because they were going to cut him after the game.  But Armstead made plays all over the field that day, forced the coaches to keep him and he would turn into a Pro Bowl LB and a leader on the team.  Sometimes it pays to play your ass off in that final pre-season game.
  • This game would feature 3 coaches who are now head coaches in the NFL
    • Mike Shanahan (Denver head coach, now head coach in Washington)
    • John Fox (Giants defensive coordinator, now head coach in Denver)
    • Gary Kubiak (Denver offensive coordinator, now head coach in Houston)
  • This was Shanahan's first game coaching against the Giants as a head coach.
  • Giants Stadium has not been good to the Broncos.  Their only win vs. the Giants came in 1980, when they beat the Giants 14-9 to drop Big Blue to 1-7.  What was memorable about that game?  It was the first Giants game I ever attended.  I was about 6 years old and attended with a friend and his dad took us.  I got a Giants sweatband which is somewhere buried in a closet.
  • Elway also had his problems with the Giants throughout his Hall of Fame career, going 1-5, including losing Super Bowl XXI in 1986.  Elway's only win came in 1992 at Mile High Stadium as the 6-3 Broncos took on the 5-4 Giants (it's hard to remember that the Giants under Handley were actually over .500 that late in his final season).  This was the game just after LT tore his achillies tendon the the previous week in a win over Green Bay.  The Broncos would jump out to a 14-0 lead and hold off a late Giants comeback to win 27-13.  The wheels would come off for Handley starting in this game, as the Giants would lose 5 straight games, including a 19-0 shutout loss to the Cardinals, who would finish 1992 at 4-12.  The Giants would finish 1992 at 6-10, Handley would be fired and the Giants would hire....Dan Reeves, also fired by the Broncos after 1992.
  • Fassel and Elway's careers intertwined a couple of times.  Fassel was Elway's QB coach at Stanford and again as offensive coordinator in Denver.
  • Elway was brilliant in 1998, at age 38.  The Giants game was the first one he played in where he didn't throw a TD (he was knocked out in a game vs. the Chargers early that Bubby Brister came in to help win).  His 180 yards was also a season low for Elway (other than the Chargers game, and a Raiders game when he was also knocked out) up to that point in the season.  He would end up doing worse one week later, in a loss to the Dolphins, throwing for only 151 yards.
  • Terrell Davis would rush for 2008 yards in 1998, and would run for 147 yards in this game, despite playing with stomach "issues".  In all, Davis would rush for over 100 yards in 11 games of 1998.
  • Former Giant Ed McCaffrey would play in his first game at Giants Stadium since he was released by Dan Reeves in 1994 to make room for Arthur Marshall.  McCaffrey would have a quiet game, 3 catches for 24 yards.  The next time he'd face the Giants was on a Monday Night, 9/10/2001.  In that game, McCaffrey would get tackled by Shaun Williams and wound up with a broken leg, which would end his season.
  • Jason Elam's 3 FGs tied a season high for him, matching when he kicked 3 in a win over Jacksonville. Elam would kick only 23 FGs in 1998, but still made the Pro Bowl as the prolific Denver offense would set him up for a career high 58 extra points.  However, that still wasn't the record for extra points.  That's held by the Patriots Stephen Gostkowski, with 75 extra points in 2007.
  • Denver WR Willie Green, a former Detroit Lion, had his best game of 1998, who had 6 catches for 69 yards, both season highs for him.  This spoke more to the focus the Giants placed on Sharpe, McCaffrey and Smith, so someone had to get open.
  • Denver punter Tom Rouen actually started his career with the Giants.  He was signed as an UDFA after Super Bowl XXV and was an extra leg in camp in a no win "competition" to Sean Landeta.  Rouen would bounce around, getting cut by the Rams and then play in the WLAF with the Ohio Glory.  However he would keep fighting and make the Broncos, beating out Mike Horan in 1993.  Horan, a Reeves favorite, would be signed mid season by the Giants for his "directional kicking" and the Giants would cut Landeta.  Rouen would go on to play 8 seasons in Denver, winning 2 Super Bowls.  He would be cut by the Broncos in 2002 after 8 games, and would actually sign with the Giants in 2002 and punt in 2 games for them after an injury to their regular punter Matt Allen.  Rouen would finish the season in Pittsburgh and retire after the season.
  • Last, one other comparison to the 2007 Perfect Season busting team.  The referee of Super Bowl XLII was Mike Carey.  The referee in this 1998 game?  Mike Carey....(mind blown).