Wednesday, May 29, 2013

1988 Giants @ Saints

Week 13

The Setup

John Madden, before he became known for the eponymous football video game of record, and after he was a Super Bowl winning coach of the Oakland Raiders, was a long time broadcaster, and partnered with the late Pat Summerall, generally was given the best game on the schedule in the NFC.  His run would coincide with the Giants glory days in the 1980s and early 1990s, particularly when Lawrence Taylor was in his prime.  Before watching LT play football, Madden had said that a defensive player cannot win a football game by himself.  That changed after watching LT play as a pass rushing destructive force.  The game in particular when Madden had noted this about LT was in 1986, when Taylor and the Giants went into Washington, with the NFC East and the #1 seed on the line and saw LT destroy the Redskins that day, sacking Jay Schroeder 3 times, pressuring him all day and helping force the Skins into 7 turnovers in a 24-14 Giants win.  LT had several games like that over his career, when he would dismantle an offense.

LT was also known for his pain tolerance.  In 1989, in a Monday Night game vs. the 49ers, Taylor was blocked low at his legs by Wesley Walls, in a typical dirty block that was the style of play of the so called "finesse" Niner team.  LT would break a bone in his ankle on this play and would be forced from the game.  The following week the Giants were at home against their chief rival, the Eagles, and LT went out there, on a short week and got back on the field.  However, a slowed down LT didn't make the impact on the field and eventually would be forced to sit, though his force of will got him back out there when 99% of other players would not have even attempted to play.  

One game would sum up LT's ability to both dominate and play through pain, and that would be the Giants match up against the New Orleans Saints, in the Superdome, in 1988.  For the Giants, leading up to this game, the season was unraveling for them.  The Giants started 1988 with LT suspended 4 games for substance abuse by the NFL.  They also began the season an up and down 3-3, including a win by 1 point at Washington because Chip Lohmiller missed 2 FGs and an extra point, and also lost a home game to the 49ers on a last minute bomb from Montana to Rice when Kenny Hill blasted Mark Collins.  The Giants seemed to right the ship winning 4 straight games to get to 7-3.  And then came a tough loss at Arizona, in their first meeting with the Cardinals in the desert since their move to St. Louis which set up a rematch between the Giants and Eagles.  That Eagle game, which I personally attended, was one of the most frustrating in recent Giants' history.  Phil Simms would get knocked out in this game on a hit by Reggie White.  White, a Hall of Famer, was also a pretty dirty player in his own right, wrapped up Simms' arms and slammed his shoulder into the turf, putting his full 300 pounds on the joint.  Jeff Hostetler would come off the bench and throw 2 INTs.  Meanwhile, the Eagles were given a gift TD on a QB sneak by Randall Cunningham, when the replay showed he was stopped short by LT.  Late in the game, with Giants up by a TD, Philly's rookie TE Keith Jackson would catch the ball at the 2 yard line and get drilled by Terry Kinard, forcing a fumble.  Kenny Hill had a free shot at the recovery and missed, but Cris Carter would fall on the ball to tie the game.  In OT, Hostetler would get picked off by safety Terry Hoage who returned the ball to the 41 to set the Eagles up to win.  The final nail in the coffin would occur when the Eagles lined up for the game winning FG.  LT would get in and block the FG attempt, but the ball would bounce behind the line of scrimmage and get picked up by DE Clyde Simmons, who rumbled in for the game winning TD.  I remember standing there in the cold and rain, no one knowing what happened, and I cannot recall this happening before or since.

Enter Week 13, the Giants were now 7-5, in a tie with the Eagles for first place, but with the sweep in hand, the Eagles had the tie breaker.  Meanwhile the Giants were without Phil Simms thanks to the hit by White, so they were forced to start 5th year QB Jeff Hostetler, for the first start of his career.  And to further hinder their cause, Harry Carson was already lost for the season due to injury and Carl Banks was ruled out of the lineup in the pre-game.  

Standing in front of the Giants were the 9-3 Saints, in first place in the NFC West.  The Saints of the late 1980s vintage were nothing like the Sean Payton/Drew Brees offensive powerhouse, and bounty lusting but weak defense.  The Jim Mora Saints were a conservative offensive club, relying on a running game and controlled passing game and a dominant defense.  The Saints were lead by their linebackers, including 4 Pro Bowlers in Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Vaughan Johnson, and Sam Mills.  Mora had turned the Saints around from their 'Aints past.  Mora had won 2 titles in the USFL as the coach of the Philly/Baltimore Stars. By 1986 he had the Saints playing competitive football and in 1987 he had them reach the playoffs for the first time in their history after posting a 12-3 record, to finish in 2nd place behind the Niners.  The Saints stay wouldn't be long, getting blown out 44-10 by the Vikings in the Wild Card round at home.  Come 1988, the Saints were considered to be a Super Bowl contender.  After a rough loss at home to open the season vs the Niners, dropping a back and forth 34-33 game, they would rip off 7 straight victories to get to 7-1, the best record in football at the halfway point.  After brief stumble by losing 2 straight games, the Saints seemed to right themselves.  They would beat their rival Rams in LA, 14-10, and then demolish the defending AFC Champion Broncos 42-0 at the Superdome and seemed to be hitting on all cylinders.

This was a Sunday Night game on ESPN.  The Saints, a 5.5 point favorite, were looking to maintain their lead on the 49ers, who crushed the Chargers earlier, and the Rams, who lost to Denver.  Meanwhile, the wounded animal Giants team, who had not beat a team with a winning record in 1988 thus far, needed to win to keep pace with the Eagles, who beat the Cardinals 31-21.  In the loud dome, with a QB making his first pro start against a dominant defense, things weren't looking good.  So they had to turn to their defense to keep them in the game, and looked to their best player, Lawrence Taylor to help find a way to win this game.

The Game Highlights

The game started off with a touchback as Jeff Hostetler lead the Giants offense on the field for his first NFL start.  The Giants, with a loud crowd in the Superdome looking to rattle the team, decided to start off conservative.  A handoff to Joe Morris was stopped after a short gain by Rickey Jackson.  Morris would take the next handoff to the 24, where he was dropped by Vaughan Johnson.  On 3rd and 5, with Hoss in the gun, and then forced to move under center due to noise, took the snap and threw a pass over the middle intended for Lionel Manuel, but Saints corner Dave Waymer knocked it away.  That forced punter Maury Buford to come on and a poor kick to the dangerous return man Mel Gray was taken to the 48 yard line, a mediocre 38 yard effort.

Bobby Hebert, the local son from Cut Off, Louisiana (seriously), lead the Saints offense on the field, and he was paired with WR Eric Martin, who was breaking team receiving records.  Hebert's first play was a play action pass to the usual blocking TE Hoby Brenner, good for a 12 yard gain, who fumbled the ball out of bounds, so no harm/no foul.  Now at the 41, RB Rueben Mayes would carry for one yard before he was stopped by Kenny Hill and LB Johnnie Cooks, who was in for the injured Carl Banks.  Now 2nd and 9 at the 40, Hebert hit WR Lorenzo Hill down at the 25 for another first down as he sat down and got open in the Giants' zone.  Hebert was pressured into an incompletion as he was chased down by Cooks on first down.  Now 2nd and 10, Lawrence Taylor would announce his arrival to the game

LT, lining up on the right side rather than at his usual spot to the left on the QB's blindside, came crashing in around Brenner's attempted block to sack Hebert and force a fumble that bounced forward and into the arms of CB Perry Williams.  Williams would pick the ball up and run it back to the 25 where he was finally dropped.  The Giants, thanks to their defense had stopped the Saints deep in scoring territory.  After a false start penalty on William Roberts to set the Giants back to 1st and 15, the Saints defense would respond

Morris took the handoff, and as he was cutting back and working his way up the field, the ball just squirted out from his grasp and the Saints DE Jim Wilks fell on the ball at the 24, thus ending whatever momentum the Giants had gained thanks to LT's sack.

After the back to back turnovers, Mayes was stopped after a 2 yard gain.  On 2nd and 8, Mayes took a draw play run down to the 18, setting up a 3rd and 3.  Hebert in the shotgun, flanked by Dalton Hilliard, threw a quick pass to Hill which was good for a first down, before he was dropped by Kinard and Tom Flynn down to the 12.  Now on first down, a pitch to Mayes was strung out by Cooks and Hill and resulted in a 3 yard loss.  Hilliard would take a shotgun handoff and gain 5 yards to set up a 3rd and 8, where we saw how instant replay worked during its formative years

From the 10 yard line, Hebert would throw to Hill in the back of the end zone, who beat Sheldon White and Adrian White on the play for an apparent TD.  As the kicking unit came on the field, the instant replay booth buzzed down to the official on the field to announce that the play was under review.  Back in 1988, there were no flags thrown by the coaches to challenge plays.  There was no review booth on the field for the head official to check.  There was a group of officials, in a booth near the coaches, who if they saw a play that they deemed worth review, be it a TD or even some short gain on a questionable reception, they would stop the game to check.  Often times the fans would have no idea what was going on until after a play was deemed that it was confirmed by the review, because sometimes it wasn't communicated that it was even being looked at.  Anyway, in this case, the replay booth did get it right.  Hill only got one foot in bounds and the call was reversed.  The touchdown was taken off the board, and the Saints Pro Bowl kicker, Morten Andersen came on to nail the 27 yard chip shot and give New Orleans a 3-0 lead.

Andersen's kickoff to Neal Guggemos was fielded in the end zone for another touchback and the Giants got the ball at the 20.  Hoss's first down play call was a screen, which saw Johnson come in on a blitz and forced the ball to be floated over his head, and also went over the head of it's intended target, 5'7" Joe Morris, for an incompletion.  To make matters worse, William Roberts, the starting left tackle was hurt on the play and Karl Nelson, who returned from missing the 1987 season to fight Hodgkins Disease, was forced into action to play RT, and Doug Reisenberg was shifted from RT over to LT.  Morris would get nailed after a 2 yard run on 2nd down, as he was swarmed over by several Saints defenders.  On 3rd and 8, Hoss out of the gun would complete his first pass for a first down to Stephen Baker out to the 38 yard line.  Morris would be stuffed for no gain by Swilling and Mills and on 2nd down, as Hoss was under pressure from a blitzing Swilling, threw an incomplete pass to Baker, as the ball was knocked away by DB Van Jakes.  Following offsetting penalties on 3rd and 10, which wiped away a first down reception by George Adams, Hoss would be forced to take the next snap from under center as it was too loud for the shotgun.  Hostetler had no chance, as a jail break pass rush broke through the Giants offensive line as Hoss scrambled backwards to avoid them and was dropped by Swilling, Johnson, and Jackson for a huge loss.  Buford came on to punt to Gray, who was dropped by Lee Rouson at the 36, and thanks to a block in the back on New Orleans, set them up at the 26 yard line to start their next drive.

After a false start on the Saints set them back to 1st and 15, Buford Jordan would gain back 3 yards before getting stopped by Cooks.  Now 2nd and 12, Hebert found himself initially pressured by Leonard Marshall and scrambled out to the 28 yard line where he was forced out of bounds by LT.  In the shotgun on 3rd and 8, Hebert again was under pressure by Marshall, who had him for what seemed to be a sack, but be broke out of his grasp and scrambled for 15 yards and a first down up the middle out to the 43 where he was stopped by Sheldon White and Gary Reasons.  The Saints would stick to the air again, this time a short 2 yard gain on a pass to Hill, where he was dropped immediately by Mark Collins.  Another pass on second down was an incomplete attempt to Brenner, but a hands to the face penalty on guard Brad Edelman set them back to 2nd and 18.  The Saints would get 10 yards back on a pass to Eric Martin and would bring up a 3rd and 8.  The Giants would only rush 3 men, and Hebert would throw a nice pass down the middle to Brett Perryman, however Reasons and Adrian White converged on him to knock the ball loose and bring on Brian Hansen to punt the ball away, which was fair caught by Phil McConkey at the 9 yard line with 1:57 to go in the first quarter.

The Giants offense would continue to struggle, going 3 and out after 2 runs from Adams would result 5 yards worth of losses and an out of bounds deep pass attempt to Manuel.  Buford's punt was nearly run back for a TD by Gray, who was stopped on a saving tackle by Rouson, but still gained 18 yards out to the 30.

The Giants defense was again put in a bad position, defending a short field.  Mayes' first down carry was for a 1 yard loss, as Kinard came up from his safety spot to get him out of bounds.  The quarter ended on an Hebert to Hill pass out to the 24, where he was forced out by Sheldon White and Pepper Johnson.  The 2nd quarter started with Hebert throwing an ill advised pass right into Sheldon White's gut, but he dropped what would have been a sure long TD return.  Morten Andersen would trot back on the field and hit a 41 yard FG to make the score now 6-0.

After yet another Andersen touchback on the kickoff, the Giants offense came on to the field, looking rattled and overmatched.  The Giants had a 7 yard pass to Manuel erased on a Reisenberg holding penalty, which set up a 1st and 20 at the 10 yard line.  The Giants would get five yards back on the next play, as Saints NT Tony Elliott jumped offsides.  And then, out of nowhere, the Giants would land a haymaker.

This was a stunner.  The Giants looked completely clueless out there.  But Hostetler was able to get some time to throw and aired out a long bomb down the left sideline.  Baker got behind the Saints' Jakes and caught the ball at the 42.  Safety Brett Maxie came over, but Baker stopped short, causing Maxie to lose his footing and run himself out of position.  Baker was able to sprint the rest of the way into the end zone for an 85 yard TD.  Now, a special note for ESPN Sunday Night announcer Mike Patrick, who seemed so baffled by the play, that he never said anything until Baker was clear into the end zone.  I suppose he could be forgiven, as the Giants showed no indication of being able to complete such a big play.  Up to that point, they had gained 5 total yards in the first quarter.  Paul McFadden came on to hit the extra point and give the Giants a stunning 7-6 lead with 14:29 to go in the half.

Gene Atkins returned the kickoff to the 21.  Jordan would gain 5 yards on first down, as he spun off some would be tackles.  Hebert, under duress, got the 2nd down pass off to Jordan, who beat Cooks in coverage and the fullback got the ball to the 45 for a first down.  On the next play, Hebert was under pressure from LT, and overthrew Hill by 10 yards for an incomplete pass, but more importantly, LT's pressure prevented Hebert from seeing a wide open Dalton Hilliard, who snuck out of the backfield and could have had a long gain, if not a TD.  On 2nd and 10, the Giants pass rush would reach Hebert, the least sacked QB in the NFC with only 15 up to that point, as Marshall barged in and nailed him for a 9 yard loss.  Hebert's 3rd and long pass to Martin would have been good for a first down, however a vicious hit by Kinard jarred the ball loose and brought on Hansen, who's low line drive kick was returned by McConkey for 11 yards out to the 42.

The Superdome crowd was in a bit of shock as the Giants offense came back on the field, now with the lead.  Hoss would hit Mo Carthon on a dump off over the middle and was finally stopped at the Saints' 46 by Sam Mills, but good for a first down.  The Giants stayed conservative with the pass, dumping it off to Adams, out to the 37 for close to another first down.  But the third straight pass by Hoss didn't go as well, as he dodged a few blitzers, but was sacked by Jackson and Warren at the 42.  Now 2nd and 16, a draw to Adams went for 3 yards before Jackson made the stop.  Now 3rd and 13, Hoss was under pressure again from Swilling, who beat Reisenberg and hit Hoss just as he got off a throw to Baker, but the ball fluttered for an incompletion.  Deciding not to try a long FG and give up field position, Parcells brought on Buford, who got off a great kick out of bounds, pinning the Saints offense back at the 5 yard line.

The Saints, now backed up by their own goal line, started off strong, as Hilliard ran right up the middle out to the 19 yard line before he was stopped by Hill and Kinard for a first down.  After an incomplete attempt for Martin, and a holding penalty on the Saints' Darren Gilbert, attempting to block LT, made it 2nd and 19.  Hebert in the gun, had time to throw and threw a deep pass down the sidelines to Perryman, who had a step on Collins.  Collins, playing with a groin injury that was wrapped up, reached out and grabbed Perryman, giving up a pass interference penalty at the 31, and a first down, but preventing a long TD.  Hilliard was able to hit a huge hole created as Jim Burt was shoved out of the way, and sprint ahead to the 43 and another first down.  Though they had 2 good runs by Hilliard, the Saints went to the air

Bad decision, Hebert, who on this pass attempt actually had time to throw, air mailed the ball over the middle intended for Brenner and was snagged by Kinard playing center field.  Kinard returned the ball to the 35 and ended the Saints drive.

The Giants though couldn't keep up the momentum.  A three an out thanks to a pass to Morris for 7 yards, followed by 2 short runs by Morris were not enough for a first down.  Buford came back on and boomed a 56 yarder, which went into the end zone for a touchback.

Now with 4:37 to go in the half, the Saints started with a 5 yard run by Hilliard, who looped inside of LT for the gain.  Another pitch to Hilliard on 2nd down got him near a first down, before he was stopped just short by LT in the open field.  The Saints would ruin a 3rd and short, as TE Greg Scales would jump offsides and set them back to 3rd and 6.  The Giants would rush 3 on Hebert, who had time to throw and hit Hill over the middle, who broke a tackle and got the ball to the 39 for a 14 yard gain and a first down at the 2 minute warning.  Hebert would hit Martin on a nicely lofted ball to the Giants 43 and another first down.  A delayed draw to Hilliard would get bottled up by John Washington for a one yard gain, and a second down incompletion to Martin set up 3rd and 9.  Hebert went back to throw and had the OL pushed into his face, mostly by an onrushing LT, but the defense didn't keep containment, and Hebert scrambled outside the pocket and hit Martin for a first down and out of bounds at the 26.  Hilliard took the next carry and got around left end down to the 15 yard lines, before he was shoved out by Perry Williams and a first down.  After a nice run by Hilliard to the 9 yard line, where he was hit by LT, Hebert had his 2nd down pass knocked down at the line by Marshall.  Now on 3rd and 4, Hebert was again under pressure from LT, who never let him set his feet and resulted in an incomplete pass to Hilliard.  Andersen would come on to hit the 26 yard FG and get the Saints the lead back, 9-7.

After Guggemos returned the kickoff and a block in the back on Adams brought the ball back to the 17, Parcells decided being down 2 points going into the half was A-OK, so Hoss took a knee and the second quarter came to an end.

The Saints started off getting the ball, and Atkins returned the kickoff to the 23 yard line.  Hilliard took the first down handoff for 4 yards, where he was stopped by Eric Dorsey.  Hilliard wouldn't be as lucky on 2nd down, losing 5 yards on a pitch and was nailed in the backfield by Pepper and Perry Williams.  Now 3rd and 11, Hebert was drilled on a safety blitz by Kinard, and Hill was able to catch the floater, though was held up long enough by Sheldon White and was stopped a yard short of the first down.  The Saints, in punt formation and with less than a yard to go at the 40, tried to draw the Giants offsides with a late, sudden shift. But the Giants didn't fall for it and the Saints got a 5 yard penalty.  That would be significant because on the next punt, Tom Flynn, who made a Giants career being involved in punt blocks, ran into Hansen.  However the refs would call running into the kicker, and the 5 yard penalty set them back to 4th and 1.  The punt would finally go off on the next play, with McConkey returning it 11 yards out to the 37.

The Giants offense would trot back on the field, but not lead by Hostetler.

I am very critical of the job that ESPN has done in their sport coverage.  In the past few years, ESPN, by far the biggest sports network around with a global reach, has become a bit of a joke.  If you watch ESPN now, it has devolved into stories for the lowest common denominator.  Vapid stories about Tim Tebow, hyping up bandwaggon teams, focusing on one specific highlight in a game rather than the real impact of the play, etc.  I get it, the network is not for any "serious" fan, but for the casual fan who is watching a game and needs the story told to them.  That said, 20+ years ago, they were a little bit better in their coverage, however, their NFL game broadcasts were awful.  Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann were brutal game day announcers.  In this case, how does not only the announcers miss that Rutledge came in for Hostetler, but the entire production truck as well?  The single most impactful in game substitution in the NFL is at QB.  The Saints had the ball first, which means that Rutledge was very likely warming up on the sidelines before coming in.  That is always a telltale sign that there is going to be a switch at QB.  But with cameras on the sidelines, and on Hostetler, no one picked up that Rutledge was getting ready to come in?  So Rutledge trots out, in the huddle takes the snap, and on his first play gets nailed by Swilling (Mike Patrick still calls him Hostetler, even though Rutledge is #17 not #15) and fumbles the ball.  Geathers falls on the ball for the Saints at the Giants 23.

Anyway, after that train wreck sequence, both on the broadcast side and on the Giants side, things seemed very bleak.  However, LT decided to turn things around again.

LT would beat Jim Dombrowski and come barging into the backfield to hit Hebert.  Hebert would fumble the ball on the sack and Burt would recover at the 30 yard line.  The Giants breathe a sigh of relief.

Out trots Rutledge again.  Still no discussion in the booth as to why he's in.  Was Hostetler hurt?  Did Parcells bench him for poor play?  Nothing from the ESPN broadcast on the reason.  It was only 20 years later in the NFL Films' America's Game on the 1990 Giants do they tell you that Parcells decided to bench Hostetler in favor of the veteran Rutledge because he had a gut feeling, which led to Hostetler wanting to just quit the game of football.  Maybe Parcells was regretting that decision on Rutledge's second snap

Are you effing kidding me?  Poor Doug Reisenberg, a right tackle by trade, was completely overmatched at left tackle, and Swilling went around him (again), sacked Rutledge (again), forced a fumble (again) and was recovered by Geathers (again).  Back to back to back turnovers and the end result was the Saints ball at the Giants 29.

Jim Mora had enough of the circus and went conservative, handing off to Jordan who took the ball up the middle for 5 yards before he was stopped by Dorsey and Hill.  Jordan would take the next handoff and get it out to the 22 yard line, where he would get dinged on the play and have to come off the field.  On 3rd and 3, Hilliard would take the delayed handoff and got it out to the 16 yard line for a first down, where he was finally dropped by Pepper and Kinard.  On first down, Hebert, showing some happy feet in the pocket, over threw an open Hill in the end zone and missed a TD chance.  Hilliard would get stuffed for no gain by Burt on the next play.  Now 3rd and 10, Hebert was under pressure again and dumped the ball to Hilliard, who got the ball to the 12 yard line, but was stopped short of the first by Pepper and Collins.  Andersen came on for what should have been an easy 29 yard FG, however, the Pro Bowler hooked the ball to the right and the score stayed at 9-7.

Now at the 20, the Rutledge led offense continued to sputter.  2 incomplete pass attempts to Baker and a pass knocked down at the line by Elliott caused the Giants to quietly disappear with a 3 and out.  Buford got off a 40 yard punt which was fair caught by Gray at the 40.

Hilliard started off with a 5 yard run up the gut again, and was stopped by Hill coming up from his safety spot.  On 2nd and 5, Hebert again had LT in his face and forced a dump off pass to Brenner for 3 yards.  Now on 3rd and 2, Hebert was pressured by Cooks, but got the pass off to Martin who hauled it in at the 45 and another first down.  Hilliard would gain 4 yards on the first two downs, which set up a 3rd and 6 pass by Hebert.  Hebert again was under a heavy rush by the Giants DL and had the ball batted down by Marshall.  What was significant was this was the play in the game when LT hurt his shoulder, as he was coming around Dombrowski and fell awkwardly on it, with the 300 pound offensive lineman adding more weight to the injury and LT came off favoring that shoulder.  Hansen would sail the punt into the end zone for a touchback.

The Giants offense came back out, this time with another change, as Reisenberg was benched due to poor play and the Giants second round pick out of Michigan, John "Jumbo" Elliott took over at left tackle to see if he could fare any better against Swilling.  Did ESPN notice this change in the lineup, a new left tackle?  Nope.  Shocker.  After Adams would lose a yard on a carry, Rutledge would complete his first pass of the game, to Lionel Manuel who got the ball out to the 28.  However, the Giants would end up going 3 and out again, as Rutledge would be under pressure from the blitz, threw a deep pass to no one.  Buford's punt was fielded on a hop by Gray, but he was hit during his runback by Guggemos and fumbled the ball.  The Saints were lucky to come away with the ball on the 28 yard line and averted another turnover.

The Giants defense would again flex their muscles on this next series.  On first down, Hebert was back to throw, but found himself being harassed by LT (with one arm at this point) and then Marshall, before getting away, however Burt was waiting for him to wrap him up for a sack and a 10 yard loss.  On 2nd and 20, Perryman had the ball knocked away by Adrian White, who just narrowly avoided a pass interference call.  Now 3rd and 20, the Giants were not done

The Saints, the best team in the NFC in protecting their QB, had another onslaught on their passer.  This time Hebert was in the gun, scrambled to avoid some pressure, was chased by Pepper Johnson, and then had LT come racing over to hit him from behind and nail him for his 3rd sack of the game, and the Giants 5th as a team.  Again, LT is playing with a torn deltoid muscle in his chest, and injury that keeps you from combing your hair and he's out there chasing down Bobby Hebert.  LT would come off in obvious pain as Hansen punted out of his own end zone and McConkey returned the ball to the Saints 44.

Finally with good field position to work with, Rutledge was able to dump the ball off to Carthon on a play action pass, Carthon broke a tackle by Jackson and got the ball down to the 33 yard line and a first down.  Joe Morris ran the ball for 3 yards, but a hold set the Giants back.  Meanwhile, on the bench, there was something going on that even ESPN couldn't miss

LT, rather than shutting himself down, or letting the docs take him out, has a shoulder harness strapped on and then needs help getting his pads back on so he can go out and play.  You won't find too many guys who would want to keep playing, but with the season on the line and a defensive struggle, LT wanted to be on that field.  Meanwhile, the Giants offense had to keep playing, now 1st and 20, Rutledge dumped the ball off to Morris for 2 yards at the 40.  Rutledge would again keep with the short passes, dumping it off to Carthon who got the ball to the 32 yard line, which would be the final play of the 3rd quarter.  Now 3rd and 9, Rutledge would roll out from the shotgun to buy some time, and hit Mowatt, who was nailed by Atkins and the play was ruled a completion and fumble.  Baker fell on the loose ball to keep possession (though it looked like and incomplete pass, but anyway).  McFadden would come on to nail a 46 yard FG and all of a sudden, the Giants had a 10-9 lead with 14:03 to go in the game.

McFadden's kickoff would be a short one and Atkins took the ball back to the 29.  LT, with one arm more or less strapped down, came back out there with the defense.  Mayes started off with a 4 yard run.  On 2nd down, LT and Marshall both jumped offsides, but the play continued as LT hit Hebert, who escaped and scrambled for a yard.  The penalty would get assessed though, setting up a 2nd and 1.  After a delay because someone drove a remote control car on the field with a Saints logo on a little flag (seriously)

Jordan would gain 3 yards and a first down to the 41.  Hilliard would catch a pass out of the backfield on the next play and was dropped by Sheldon White and LT (who hit him with his bad shoulder) and a gain of 3.  On 2nd and 7, Hilliard would take a handoff and burst around right end and was dropped at the 36 on a TD saving tackle by Hill, but it was a first down.  Hilliard's third straight handoff was good for 4 more yards, before he was stopped by Reasons and Burt.  As the Saints went to the ground, LT was taken off the field and replaced by Ricky Shaw, who helped stuff Hilliard along with Marshall for no gain.  Now 3rd and 5, Hebert back in the gun again, was under pressure from Cooks and Pepper, but was able to scramble away and was stopped just short of a first down by Adrian White.  Andersen would come on and nail his 4th FG of the day, splitting the uprights from 45 yards out and giving the Saints the lead again 12-10 with 8:37 to go in the game.

Andersen's kickoff was fielded by Guggemos just inside the end zone.  Guggemos took a knee for a second, and then got up and went past the goal line, and then came back in again.  Realizing that no touchback was granted by the ref, he had to scramble out of there to avoid a safety and actually got the ball out to the 22 yard line.  Rutledge began with yet another short safe pass to Carthon, who barreled ahead for 19 yards past the 40.  Adams took the next pass, also short over the middle to the 50.  On 2nd and 1, a false start on Jumbo negated a first down plunge by Carthon.  Now 2nd and 6, Rutledge was under pressure and rolling backwards, was able to get off a nice pass to Adams, who caught it across mid field and took the ball to the 46 where he was upended by Waymer, but the Giants got the first down.  An incomplete pass attempt to Baker and a hold on Adams set up a 2nd and 20.  The Giants would go nowhere fast on 2nd down, as a screen pass to Adams was snuffed out by Swilling, who played off a block from Jumbo and looped back to hit Adams for no gain.  The crowd was in full throat, and they would get louder

Rutledge, under assault in the pocket since he got in the game, again showed his happy feet in the pocket as the pressure was coming his way, uncorked a deep pass over the middle intended for Robinson, but was picked off by Toi Cook at the 34 yard line with 4:24 to go in the game.  For Rutledge it was his 3rd turnover in a quarter and a half.

The Saints took the field, and one of Giants' unsung members of the linebacking corps would step up on 3 straight plays.  On first down, Hilliard would get hit in the backfield by Gary Reasons and struggle to get to the line of scrimmage for no gain.  On 2nd down, again Reasons blitzed, and this time dropped Hilliard for a loss, as the Saints fans booed the conservative play calls.  But Reasons would save his biggest impact for 3rd down.

Hebert, in the gun again on 3rd and long, this time actually had time to throw.  But rather than go the safe route, Hebert tried to force the ball in to Hill in the zone.  Reasons cut in front of the pass and picked it off and rumbled back to the 20 with 3:13 to go.  The Giants had new life!

And just as they got new life.....

Oh.  My. @#@@#%@#%....  Morris, who was bottled up all day, suddenly had some real running room to work with.  Just as he seemed ready to break a good gain, Geathers stuck his hand in and knocked the ball loose.  It bounced forward where it was recovered by Waymer at the 3 yard line with 3:07 to go.  For the 3rd time in the game, the teams exchanged turnovers on successive plays.

So it was left to the Giants defense.  Again.  Hilliard would get smothered by Burt after a just a yard.  However, Marshall jumped the snap count and gave the Saints a critical 5 free yards and made it now 1st and 5 at the 8.  Jordan took the next handoff and got it near the first down marker and the Giants called a time out with 2:19 to go (though Parcells took a good 10 seconds for him to make up his mind to call the timeout.)  The Saints brought in 3 TEs for the 2nd and short, and Jordan plowed ahead for the first down...however...holding on Saints guard Brad Edelman brought it back half the distance and set it up at 2nd and 6, and the Giants would call a second timeout to stop the clock at 2:16.  Hebert would stay conservative and hand off to Jordan who got the ball to the 11 yard line and set up a 3rd and 2 at the two minute warning.  The game was on the line here, a Saints first down and they could take a knee and run out the clock.  A Giants stop and they would still have some life.

Again, not to pile on ESPN, but this was the biggest play of the game and the announcers totally missed what was going on here.  Hilliard took a pitch and ran to his left side, where he had ripped off several big gainers throughout the day.  LT was playing with one arm at this stage of the game, so the Saints purposefully targeted running at him and matched him up with Brenner, who was a solid blocking TE.  LT held up Brenner, preventing any big cutbacks from Hilliard, which he was doing all night.  Kinard raced in from his safety position to hit Hilliard and stop him short as LT laid down in pain.  No mention of the strategy here at all from ESPN, nor recognition what LT had done on the play to force a punt, nor that this was a play run successfully several times earlier.  What a joke.

Hansen came on to punt, and the Saints had the clock running, and then came some questionable clock management from Mora.  With time outs in his pocket, Mora decided to let the clock run down and rather than call a timeout with 1 second on the play clock, he took the penalty, set Hansen back 5 yards and into the end zone but got the game clock down to 1:08.  This would be significant because on the next play, the Giants would go for an all out punt block attempt.  Hansen would get the punt off, which was downed at the 47, but on the play he was hit by Sheldon White, who came very close to blocking the punt.  A flag was thrown and the question on everyone's mind, was it a running into the kicker (5 yards) or roughing the kicker (15 yards and a first down= end the game).  Despite replays showing that the Saints Brett Maxie actually pushed White into Hansen, thus making it a proper no call, they went with running into the kicker.  No first down.  Again, if Mora had decided to call a time out rather than accept the delay of game, the Saints get the first down and win.  Anyway, with 1:00 to go in the game, Hansen got the punt off, and McConkey fielded it and stepped out of bounds at the 49 yard line with :52 to go in the game.

With 1 time out remaining, Rutledge took to the field for one final gasp.  On first down, Rutledge would hit Zeke Mowatt at the Saints 45 with :47 to go in the game.  Then came Rutledge's best pass of the game

Baker, more or less the lone offensive weapon in this game for the Giants, somehow was able to get open behind the Saints defense.  Meanwhile, back behind the line of scrimmage, Rutledge scrambled up towards the line as he avoided a blitz and threw a dart to Baker for a huge 33 yard gain as he went out of bounds at the Saints 12 yard line with :39 seconds to go.  The Superdome was stunned and silent at this point.  Their defense had been dominant all game, save for 2 passes to Baker.  On first down, Rutledge chose to not go with the traditional kneel down, but instead kind of just fell in a heap on the ball.  However, an illegal procedure on the Giants set them back 5 yards.  Rutledge would do the same trick 3 times, flopping towards the middle of the field and forcing the Saints to use all their remaining time outs.  Now with :24 to go in the game, the barefooted ex-Eagle kicker McFadden came on to the field

McFadden calmly stepped on the field for the 35 yard field goal to give the Giants the lead.  McFadden's kick would start to hook towards the left upright, as the entire team was using body english to try to keep it in.  Luckily for the Giants, it snuck inside the post and gave them a 13-12 lead as the team engulfed McFadden in celebration with :21 to go in the game.

McFadden's kick was squibbed down the middle and picked up by Atkins, who raced it back to the 35 with :16 to go in the game.  Hebert's first desperation pass was intended for Robert Clark and knocked away by Perry Williams.  With :11 to go, Hebert's next heave into a group of players was knocked away by the Giants Wayne Haddix and was nearly caught on the deflection by Lorenzo Hill.  With :03 left in the game, all there was time for was a Hail Mary, and Hebert was able to uncork a long pass intended for Hill.  Sheldon White was able to range over and make the game ending pick.  The Giants had somehow managed to escape against a very tough team, on the road, with 2 backup QBs playing and LT playing the final quarter on one arm, and won the game 13-12.

The Post Mortem/ Interesting Tidbits

  • At the end of the day, this would be LT's signature game.  With the Giants needing a huge defensive effort to win, and playing with a torn deltoid muscle suffered in the 3rd quarter, LT would finish with 10 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles and win the NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors (likely from Swilling who had a huge game in his own right).
  • Hostetler's TD pass to Baker was the first of his NFL career and his only one of 1988.  He would take over the backup duties in 1989 and get a spot start against the Cardinals due to a Simms injury suffered against the Vikings on a Monday Night.  Hoss' second TD pass of his career?  It went to Carl Banks on a fake field goal in a loss at Philly in 1989.
  • This would be the only game that Hostetler would start in New Orleans in his 12 year career.  The only other time that Hostetler would face the Saints would be in 1994 as the QB of the Raiders, when he beat the Saints 24-19 in LA
  • Stephen Baker would have a career game in this win, setting single game highs longest catch, longest TD catch, and most yardage.  
  • Baker's 85 yard TD remained the teams longest TD catch until 1998, when Tiki Barber caught an 87 yard TD on a pass from Kent Graham in a win at Arizona.  Prior to 1988, it was the longest TD catch since Johnny Perkins caught an 80 yarder in 1981 at Atlanta.
  • When Rutledge took over for Hostetler in the second half, it would represent the last time that he Rutledge would make an appearance as a Giants QB.  Hostetler would take over as Simms' primary backup in 1989.  Rutledge would leave the Giants and sign as a Plan B free agent in Washington, where he was the 3rd string QB behind Mark Rypien and Stan Humphries.  Rutledge would play 3 seasons with the Redskins and in 1990 actually had one of the most impressive games coming in off the bench in NFL history.  The Skins fell behind 35-14 in Detroit when Rutledge entered the game after Joe Gibbs benched Humpries following his 3rd interception.  Rutledge would rally the Skins with a career effort, going 30-42, 363 yards and 1 TD.  In addition, he scrambled for a 12 yard TD at the end of regulation to send the game to OT, which the Redskins would ultimately win.  On the heels of this performance, Rutledge was given the starting nod the next game, a Monday Nighter in Philly.  This would be the final start of his career, as the Eagles defense knocked him out of the game with an injury.  They would also knock Humpries out of the game as well, forcing Washington to actually play RB/KR Brian Mitchell at QB for the remainder of a 28-14 loss.  Rutledge would remain on the Skins roster through the 1991 season, where he would collect his 2nd Super Bowl ring following the Redskins blow out win in Super Bowl XXVI over Buffalo.
  • Gary Reasons' INT was his only one of 1988
  • The Giants would run for only 14 yards on 17 attempts.  Joe Morris "led" the team with 16 yards on 8 carries.  The 14 were the fewest since the Giants were held to 13 yards at San Francisco in 1986, a game the Giants would come back and win 21-17.  In fact, come the 1986 playoffs, Parcells taunted the Giants offensive line for that output, calling them "Club 13" as they got ready for the rematch.  Properly motivated, the Giants would demolish the Niners, rolling up 216 yards and blowing them out 49-3.
  • Wayne Haddix was on the Giants roster in this game.  Haddix was generally the Giants 3rd or 4th corner, behind Williams, Collins, and Sheldon White.  Haddix remained on the roster through 1989, when he was lost due to an injury and was eventually released.  Haddix would resurface in Tampa Bay, and in 1990, out of nowhere, he would pick off 7 passes, returning 3 for TDs, and get named to the Pro Bowl.  When it seemed like the Giants had let a good one go, Haddix signed a new contract with the Bucs, and in 1991 would again fall off the map.  A horrible start resulted in his mid season release, and he would sign with the Bengals to finish out 1991 and would retire after the season.  All of Haddix's interceptions would occur in his one magical 1990 season.
  • The Giants team would get penalized 12 times in this game, a season high for them.  It was the most in a game since their second loss to Dallas in 1987, when they were also penalized 12 times.  They were actually penalized 15 times in a 6-3 OT loss to the Bills in Buffalo in the final replacement game (though LT played and actually lined up at TE), which would drop the Giants to 0-5 on the season.
  • Paul McFadden, the only barefooted kicker in the past 30 years for the Giants, was one of that breed of barefooted kickers who were featured in the 1970s and 1980s (Mike Lansford, Rich Karlis, and Tony Franklin other examples.  Lee Johnson was actually a barefoot punter on the Bengals).  McFadden did not start the 1988 season on the Giants roster, as Raul Allegre was the starter in the opener.  Allegre would strain a groin muscle in the Giants Week 4 loss to the Rams.  McFadden, who was released after 4 years in Philadelphia, was signed by the Giants and kicked in their 24-23 win over the Redskins in Washington.  Allegre would come back to kick in the next 2 games, before reinjuring the groin in the Giants 30-10 win vs. Detroit, which would shelve him for the rest of 1988.  McFadden would kick the rest of the season, and actually won an OT game in Detroit, 13-10.
  • McFadden wasn't the only specialist who played in this game but didn't start the season.  Maury Buford was the punter in this game for the Giants.  In the pre-season, the Giants regular punter, Pro Bowler Sean Landeta held out for a new contract.  He would eventually sign a 2 year, $445 k contract, and on his first day in practice, Landeta would strain a muscle in his back and would only end up punting only 3 of his 14 days in camp.  In the season opener vs. the Redskins, Landeta would get off a weak 37 yard punt in the first quarter, and that more or less told the Giants they had a problem.  Landeta would wind up on IR after the game and be lost for the year.  Buford was out of football in 1987, working as a sales rep in a paper supply company outside Chicago (kinda like The Office).  Buford started his career in San Diego and was traded to the Bears in 1985, which put him in position to cross paths with Landeta in that fateful playoff game in Chicago, when Landeta whiffed on the punt in his own end zone and resulted in a Bears' TD.  Buford would punt for the Bears in Super Bowl XX and win a championship ring, but would be released by Mike Ditka after the 1986 season.  For the Giants in 1988, he'd average a decent 41.3 yards per punt.  By 1989, Landeta was healed up and Buford was sent packing.  He'd return to the Bears in 1989 and punt 3 more seasons in Chicago before retiring after the 1991 season.
  • In talking about this being one of LT's greatest performances, it is ironic that it came in New Orleans considering how they are forever intertwined with his career.  Going into 1981, the Giants held the #2 overall pick in the NFL Draft.  The team with the #1 overall pick?  The lowly New Orleans Saints.  The top defensive player in the draft was a linebacker out of the University of North Carolina named Lawrence Taylor.  The top offensive player was the Heisman Trophy winner at running back, from the University of South Carolina named George Rogers.  The Saints would choose Rogers, leaving LT for the Giants, and the rest was history.  To be fair, Rogers was hardly a bum or a bust and ended up having a very productive NFL career.  In 1981, he had one of the finest rookie seasons in NFL history, leading the league with 1674 yards and earning Pro Bowl and All Pro honors.  In the 1982 strike season, Rogers would again make the Pro Bowl, rushing for 535 yards in just 6 games, which would have put him on pace for another 1400+ yards in a full year.  Rogers would keep going strong, rushing for 1144 yards in 1983 and 914 in 1984.  By 1985 though, Rogers was in the midst of contract disputes with the Saints front office.  The Saints made the decision to trade Rogers to the Redskins before the 1985 draft for their first round pick (who would turn into Alvin Toles, a LB from Tennessee).  While the Saints would eventually field one of the finest linebacking corps in the league (more on that later), Toles wasn't one of them and would retire after 1989.  Meanwhile, Rogers would run for 1093 yards in 1985 and in 1986 he would rush for 1203 yards and an NFL leading 18 TDs, helping the Skins to the NFC Championship game.  By 1987, as the Skins would go on their Super Bowl march in another strike season, Rogers would rush for 613 yards in 11 games, but start to break down with injuries.  While he scored a TD in Washington's win in the playoffs at Chicago, he was being phased out and in the Super Bowl, rookie Timmy Smith would rush for 203 yards in the win over Denver.  Rogers would retire after the 1987 season.
  • So while you'd say that LT was clearly a better player overall than Rogers, the Saints softened the blow thanks to their 2nd round pick in that 1981 draft, a linebacker out of Pittsburgh, named Rickey Jackson, who was overshadowed by his college teammate Hugh Green.  Jackson would turn out to be one of the best players in Saints history, playing there for 13 seasons, making 6 Pro Bowls, 6 All Pro Teams, and having his #57 retired by the team.  Jackson would move on to the 49ers for his final two seasons, and win a Super Bowl in 1994 with them, during a season in which the Niners' GM Carmen Policy violated most every salary cap rule as the league was getting used to it and was bringing in All Pros from all over (Jackson, Deion Sanders, Bart Oates, etc).  Jackson would be named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • In talking about LT and Jackson, if you liked linebackers, the rosters on these teams in this game were a dream team.  Just look at some of the individual achievements over the course of their careers:
    • Giants
      • LT- 10 Pro Bowls, 10 All Pro Selections, 3 Defensive Player of the Year awards, 2 Super Bowl championships, Hall of Famer
      • Harry Carson- 9 Pro Bowls, 6 All Pro Selections, 1 Super Bowl championship, Hall of Famer
      • Carl Banks- 1 Pro Bowl, 2 Super Bowl Championships
      • Pepper Johnson- 2 Pro Bowls, 2 Super Bowl championships (3 later as a coach in New England)
    • Saints
      • Jackson- 6 Pro Bowls, 6 All Pro Selections, 1 Super Bowl championship
      • Pat Swilling- 5 Pro Bowls, 4 All Pro Selections, 1 Defensive Player of the Year
      • Vaughan Johnson- 4 Pro Bowls
      • Sam Mills- 5 Pro Bowls, 4 All Pro Selections (and for the hell of it, 3 time All USFL and 2 time USFL champion)
    • In Total- 42 Pro Bowls, 30 All Pros, 6 Super Bowls, 4 Defensive Player of the Year from the linebacking corps.  That didn't even include good players like Gary Reasons, who had an outstanding career, even without all the individual honors.
  • Swilling also wore #56, thanks to LT, back in the 1980s, your best defensive player/linebacker was given that number to wear in his honor.  Swilling wore it damn well too, getting 3 sacks and forcing 2 fumbles of his own in this game.  Back in 1989, as the Giants were getting ready to face the Rams in the playoffs, Parcells told LT to fly to New Orleans and trade places with Swilling.  The reason for it was LT had struggled the past few years with the Rams tackles, Duval Love and Jackie Slater, not registering a sack during 2 blow out losses to LA.  Meanwhile, Swilling would register 4 sacks vs. the Rams, including 3 in one game during a blow out win in 1989.  That motivation worked, as LT registered 2 sacks, including a fumble on Jim Everett, and was all over him the entire game, which the Giants would eventually drop in OT on the Flipper Anderson TD.
  • While the Saints offense was conservative under Jim Mora, they had an impressive stable of running backs on their 1988 roster.  Rueben Mayes was a 2 time Pro Bowler, who ran for 1353 yards in his rookie season in 1986, but his career was derailed with knee problems.  Dalton Hilliard was one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL in the late 1980s/ early 1990s.  In 1989, Hilliard would run for 1262 yards, and catch 52 passes for another 514 yards and scored a combined 18 TDs.  Last, their former first round pick, the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward from Passaic, NJ was at fullback.  Ironhead would play 11 years in the NFL and be named to his only Pro Bowl 1995 as a member of the Falcons, when he had his only 1000 yard rushing campaign.
  • Morten Andersen would kick 4 FGs in this game.  Andersen, born in Denmark, had a remarkable NFL career, which spanned 25 years, including 7 Pro Bowls, 6 All Pro selections, and a stay with the Giants in 2001.  In all, Andersen would kick 4 field goals in a game 19 times.  His career high was 5 field goals, which he did 7 times, including twice as the Falcons kicker in 2006, at age 46.
  • Andersen's missed FG from 29 yards was his first miss inside 30 yards since 1985.
  • Toi Cook's interception was his first of the season and the first of his NFL career.
  • The Saints were held to 255 total yards in this game, and just 100 yards passing.  The passing yardage total was their fewest in a game in 1988.  Hebert was brutal, getting sacked 5 times and accounting for 5 turnovers (3 interceptions and 2 fumbles lost).
  • This loss would send the Saints on a downward spiral after such a strong start to the season.  They would travel to Minnesota, looking to avenge their 1987 playoff ouster, but end up taking an even worse beating, 45-3.  The Saints would lose their 3rd in a row, this time at San Francisco by the score of 30-17, which gave the Niners a season sweep of the Saints and ended their hopes for a division title.  The Saints would regroup in the final game, and outlast the Falcons in a 10-9 win at the Superdome on a late Andersen field goal.  At 10-6, the Saints would finish in a 3 way tie at the top of the NFC West.  However, with the 49ers winning the division, and the Giants and Rams both having the tie breaker over the Saints, they were on the outside looking in.
  • Mirroring that eventual problem was the Giants.  The Giants took this win and it actually spring boarded their playoff hopes.  The Giants would win their next 2 in blowout fashion, dominating the Cardinals and Chiefs at Giants Stadium by scores of 44-7 and 28-12.  However, they would blow their final game against the Jets and lose 27-21, a game I'd argue was the Giants worst regular season loss in the past 30 years.  Thanks to an Eagles win vs. Dallas to give the division title to Philly and the Rams win on Sunday Night over a Niners team which "laid down like dogs", the Giants, also at 10-6, missed the playoffs.