Friday, October 28, 2016

2000 Giants @ Eagles

Week 2

The Setup

If you watch football, or any sport for that matter, long enough, you learn that there are a few franchises that become media darlings, and get an unbalanced share of positive coverage (or any coverage), even if they don't win.  For the most part, New York teams do not apply to this.  Though the Yankees are likely the most recognizable sports brand in the World, there is a healthy amount of anti-NY bias in and around America that turns the Yankees into a lightning rod and will garner negative press.

In the NFL, there are a few teams that fall in this category, and it so happens the Giants reside in a division with 2 of them.  Of course, there are the Dallas Cowboys..."America's Team".  Undeniably, the Cowboys have a successful history behind them.  Tom Landry, Jimmy Johnson, dynasties in the 1970s and 1990s, and yes the Cheerleaders.  Playing in 8 Super Bowls and winning 5 of them.  They have a national following and always get big ratings.  However, since 1996, the Cowboys have become more a Jerry Jones side show than a success.  They go for the big names.  They built a massive stadium that is one of the envies in all sports.  But look deeper at what the Cowboys have become since winning the Super Bowl in 1995.  In the past 20 years, the Cowboys have made the playoffs 8 times.  And in that stretch, they are 2-8, and if not for the officials handing them the game in 2014 vs Detroit, should be 1-8.  They haven't been to the NFC Championship since 1995.  And yet, when Troy Aikman was calling a game earlier in 2016 at San Francisco and was talking about the 49ers (fair weather) fans watching the Cowboys offensive line he said the following:  
"These fans here are getting ansy because they see the Cowboys with all these high draft picks on the offensive line dominating.  And they are thinking, hey we used to be that team with the talented offensive line.  The one that dominated a game and wore teams out.  And were going to the Championship games.  Well, that's the Cowboys now."
No Troy, no it's not.  Perhaps a healthy dose of homerism from the former Cowboy Hall of Famer.  Or perhaps the CTE speaking.  But Dallas has not been to a title game since you were the QB.  Romo has never played beyond the 2nd round.  Mark Sanchez has more title game appearances than the Dallas Cowboys in the past 20 years.  Just stop it.   

While the Dallas love is always annoying, as are their fans, at the very least they can hang their hat on successes of the past.  You can't say the same for the Philadelphia Eagles.  But yet, at least  in the past 30 years, the Eagles seem front and center with the media love.  I get it in the late 1980s.  They had exciting players.  Randall Cunningham was one of the real first QBs who had the ability to throw a 50 yard pass with the flick of his wrist and run for 50 yard TDs, sprinting past defensive backs.  The Giants got a first hand look at how athletic he was in 1988 when on Monday Night he bounced off a Carl Banks sack and threw for a TD.  And then the boomed a 91 yard punt over Meggett's head in 1989.  He was a nightmare.  As was the Eagles defense.  Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, etc.  But what made them news worthy was their head coach, Buddy Ryan.  Much like his now loudmouth twin sons, the late Buddy Ryan was full of crap.  Yes, he won a title as an assistant on the Jets in 1969.  Yes, he was the architect of the 1985 Bears defense.  But in Philly, he spoke over and over how they were the best team in the NFL.  How they are going to win the Super Bowl.  The result?  5 years in Philly, 1 Division title, 3 playoff appearances-- 0 playoff wins.  Things quieted down somewhat in the 1990s, mainly because the Cowboys were in their Aikman/Emmitt/Irvin dynasty and owned everything.  And in the 2000s, it ramped up again.  Whether it was Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid's run when they pretty much took over the NFC East for several years.  And they made it to 2 Championship games at Philly...and lost them to Tampa Bay and Carolina.  And they did make the Super Bowl in 2004, and lost to the Patriots.  And as the McNabb star started to fade, they went and brought in a dog killer fresh out of prison in Michael Vick, saw his career flourish again and make the playoffs...only to lose to the Packers.  In 2011, they were the "Dream Team", signing high priced free agents and everyone had them in the Super Bowl.  Only, they finished 8-8, and saw the Giants win the Super Bowl.  After a crash and burn 2012 which saw them fire Andy Reid, it was on to the next shiny penny, college maven Chip Kelly and his innovative Oregon Duck offense.  Time of possession didn't matter.  Keeping teams off balance with a constant hurry up offense, attacking the defense.  And at first it seemed to somewhat work, going 10-6 and making the playoffs...and lose at home to the Saints, who never win on the road.  By 2014, the Chip Kelly excitement was starting to wear off, the Eagles faded down the stretch, going 9-7 and missing the playoffs.  In 2015, Kelly won a power struggle with Howie Roseman, tried to trade his next 15 drafts to get his former college QB in Mariota, and proceeded to dump productive players like McCoy.  Kelly wouldn't make it to the end of the season and was fired/quit.  And the cycle continued with Carson Wentz in 2016, who started out 3-0 and Brian Baldinger, said:
"Wentz is Peyton Manning before the snap, and Aaron Rodgers after it."
Arrrrgggghhhhhh!  No.  Just no.  He looked pretty good for a rookie.  But comparing him to 2 future Hall of Fame QBs?  This stuff drives me insane.  And it's usually the Cowboys or Ealges behind this type of ballwashing praise.

As it would turn out, it was those 2 teams meeting to start the 2000 season, which brought us to this review.  The Eagles, in Andy Reid's 2nd season, with McNabb now established as the starter at QB.   In 1999, they were a 5-11 team as Reid tried to implement his system, but they had a number of promising young players on offense (McNabb, Duce Staley, Chad Lewis) and defense (Jeremiah Trotter, Brian Dawkins, Bobby Taylor) and went out and got some big price free agents like Jon Runyan, Steve Everitt, and Hugh Douglas.  Meanwhile, the Cowboys entered the 2000 season off an 8-8 season and a playoff appearance (and quick exit) in Minnesota.  By now the age was starting to show.  Aikman was 34.  Emmitt was 31.  Irvin was forced into retirement due to injury.  Their offensive line started creeping into their 30s (Stepnoski was 33, Erik Williams was 32).  And on defense some of their other stalwarts were getting old- Darren Woodson was 31.  Leon Lett was 32.  And the talent they used to have when Jimmy Johnson was there was no longer coming to bear, as Jerry Jones the GM wasn't much of a GM, choosing to throw big money at name free agents/trades past their prime, like Joey Galloway and Chris Warren.  

So the hype train, usually reserved for the Cowboys, ran into the new locomotive in Philly.  With the backdrop of 109 degree Texas heat, the Eagles started their season with an onside kick.  They would go down to score on a Jeff Thomason TD from McNabb, and the rout was on.  The score was 24-0 by the mid 2nd quarter.  By the end of the game it was 41-6, with only a garbage time TD by Randall Cunningham (yes, Randall) in relief of Aikman to make it a more friendly 41-14 beat down.  There was a new media darling.  The Cowboy king is dead, long live the Eagle king.  Duce Staley ran for 201 yards in this heat, and it came out that the Eagles training staff had their team drink pickle juice to combat the effects of dehydration.  How ingenious!  Screw Gatorade, the Eagles have all the answers.  

So all week long, the story was about the Eagles blowout in Dallas.  Stupid Eagle fans drinking pickle juice in the parking lot (as opposed to their usual taste for rubbing alcohol or urine).  Duce Staley was the next Walter Payton.  McNabb the best young QB in the NFL.  And they were coming home as the new presumed champions of the NFC East.

Meanwhile, I remember going into this game and thinking:  The Giants looked pretty good in their opening win vs. the Cardinals.  Not great, but good.  They had a good 1-2 punch in Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne.  Kerry Collins had established himself as the QB, wresting the job officially away from Kent Graham and the Giants bringing in career backup Jason Garrett.  They had some weapons at WR in Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard.  And on defense, the DL looked really good, with Strahan and Keith Hamilton, along with Christian Peter and Cornelius Griffin.  And they had Jesse Armstead and Micheal Barrow.  Sehorn was back from his injury and Shaun Williams a big hitter at safety.  

This was actually a good Giants team.  And Jim Fassel had owned the Eagles up to that game, going 6-0.  What if the Cowboys weren't all that good and the Eagles are way over hyped?  Right about kickoff, one of those strange sensations came over me, and as a Giants fan, while I'm optimistic all week, I tend to get pessimistic once the game starts and then hope for the best as it plays out.  This was different.  In watching the intro, something just clicked and I said "the Giants are going to kick the crap out of these guys".  And it turned out that my intuition was correct

The Game Highlights

Eagles would kickoff with David Akers sending it deep to Ron Dixon, 2 yards deep in the end zone.  Dixon would take the ball out up the middle and fall forward to the 22 yard line, hit down by veteran safety Tim Hauck.  Kerry Collins came out and began with a pass to Ike Hilliard on a button hook out to the 33 yard line, hit down by Troy Vincent, but good for a first down.  The ball would go to Ron Dayne up the gut, and plowed for 2 yards, hit down by Corey Simon.  On 2nd down a near disaster

On 2nd and 8, the Giants shifted formation and Collins would drop back.  Hugh Douglas would beat a double team, playing off the block of Lomas Brown and then shoving Tiki Barber aside and would hit Collins from behind and knock the ball loose.  Usually when there is a strip fumble like this, the ball would hit around the QBs feet and there would be a scramble.  In this case, the ball launched forward and all the way out to the 39, where Amani Toomer fell on it for 4 yard gain on a sack.  3rd and 4, as a draw went to Tiki, Douglas jumped offsides and had an unabated charge in the backfield, so the refs blew the play dead and the 5 yards gave the Giants a first down.  The ball was now out to the 44 yard line and gave to Dayne, running to his left, where he was strung out and hit down by Bobby Taylor and Simon at the 46.  2nd and 8, the Eagles would come on a blitz right up the middle, which was picked up by the offensive line and allowed Collins time to hit his hot read, which was Toomer, out by the right sideline at the Eagles 49 and he would turn up the field to the 43 yard line, running through Jeremiah Trotter and Vincent, good for another first down.  With Howard Cross in motion, the pitch would go to Tiki running to the right on a sweep and he would slip around the corner to the 41 yard line and out of bounds by Trotter.  2nd and 8, the ball again went to Tiki, again running to his right and he was met by safety Damon Moore at the 40 and shoved backwards.  3rd and 7, Collins took a 3 step drop and drilled a pass in to Hilliard, who made a lunge at the 35 to snag the ball and he fell forward right by the sticks, ridden down by Vincent.  The refs would bring out the chains and it would show that they were a half yard short.  Faced with a long field goal, Jimbo Fassel decided to roll the dice.  

But it was all for naught, with Dayne the lone setback, the Giants adjusted their formation and brought Greg Comella in motion.  With all that time to set up, Luke Pettitgout would jump early, and that false start would set the Giants back to the 40 yard line and force a punt.  So on would come Brad Maynard, who tried to pooch the ball near the goal line, but it would bounce at the 2 and go into the end zone for a touchback.

The Eagles would begin at the 20 led by Donovan McNabb, in his 2nd year out of Syracuse, and he would begin with a pump fake, get flushed out and pressured by Michael Strahan, who beat Jon Runyan on an inside move, and McNabb’s pass would be a dart towards FB Cecil Martin, but off target and incomplete.  2nd and 10, the ball would go to Duce Staley, who danced up the middle, but was smacked by Cedric Jones after a 1 yard gain.  3rd and 9, the Giants would come on a blitz, with Shaun Williams sprinting in from safety, and flushed McNabb to his left, where he would throw on the run towards Damian Douglas by the first down marker, but the refs ruled him out of bounds.  So a 3 and out for Philly, and former Giant Sean Landeta trotted out to punt, and he would send a booming kick to Tiki all the way out at the 20, but as happens on a long punt, Landeta out kicked his coverage and Tiki had room to find a lane up the middle and took it out to the 35, where he was tripped by Mike Bartum or else it might have gone for much longer.

The Giants second drive would begin with a run to Dayne to his right, hit by Trotter after a 3 yard gain.  2nd and 7, Collins would fake an end around to Dixon and throw back to his right to a screen to Tiki out at the 34 yard line, with 3 blockers set up in front.  Tiki would break a tackle attempt from behind by Mike Mamula, and lurch forward all the way to the Eagles 42, hit down by Brian Dawkins and a 19 yard gain.  First down, Collins would play fake to Dayne and that held up the Eagles rush, allowing Collins time to set up and throw a deep pass towards Toomer at the 21 yard line where Amani caught the ball and tried to drag his toes before going out.  One ref called it incomplete and after a discussion, decided he didn’t catch it.  Replays would show that Toomer actually did catch the ball, but Fassel did not challenge and moved on with a handoff to Dayne up the gut, where he was promptly met by Hollis Thomas after a 1 yard gain.  3rd and 9, the Eagles would blitz coming from the left side, however the Giants would sprint Collins out to the right, avoiding the rush from Douglas, and he would rifle a pass in to Hilliard at the 30, where he would drag his toes and get a first down.  With Tiki coming in motion out of the backfield, Collins would hand off to Comella on a quick hitter up the gut, and the fullback would find some room, follow a nice block by Glenn Parker and cut back to his left and get all the way out to the 14 yard line, stopped by Dawkins.  Another first down, and a draw to Dayne would go for a loss of 1 as he was stacked up by Paul Grasmanis right up the middle.  2nd and 11, Collins would take a shot at the end zone for Toomer, but it went over his head and he was well covered by Taylor.  3rd and 11, Collins again back, and had some pressure and tried to hit Hilliard over the middle but the play was broken up by Mike Caldwell, who smacked Ike and took him to the ground.  The Giants would trot out Brad Daluiso to bang through a 33 yarder to make the score 3-0 with 4:05 to go in the first quarter.

Daluiso’s kickoff would be a short one, bouncing at the 14 and was picked up by Brian Mitchell at the 11.  Mitchell would fake a reverse and come running his way to the left, but the Giants were not fooled by John Harbaugh’s special teams and he was nailed down at the 19 by Omar Stoutamire and Jack Golden.  McNabb would look at a blitz immediately, and it was picked up by the Eagles offensive line, giving him time to take a deep shot to Todd Pinkston, who had beaten Dave Thomas but dropped the ball at the 45, and the veteran corner might have gotten away with a pass interference as well.  2nd and 10, the ball went to Duce, who ran to his right, cut back over the middle and was dropped by Strahan and Ryan Phillips at the 22 yard line.  3rd and 7, McNabb dropped back, and started to feel a little pressure, which made the young QB start to scramble a little too soon and tried to run up the middle, where he was met by Christian Peter and Keith Hamilton, with Jesse Armstead coming over to clean up at the 26 yard line.  Another 3 and out for the Eagles on this hot and humid day.  Landeta’s punt was another boomer to Tiki at the 20, who ran to his right, bumped into his own man Reggie Stephens who was trying to peel back to block at the 24, and got swarmed by the rest of the coverage unit at the 23.

The Giants offense controlled the ball pretty much all quarter, and started with a fake to Dayne and would dump the pass off to Comella who slipped out of the backfield at the 25, and the fullback would chug out to the 34, hit by Barry Gardner, but good for a first down.  The Eagles would again blitz, and Collins would roll to his right and set up a screen to Tiki whow as open at the 31.  Barber would start to head up field, but he would get caught from behind by Douglas and was horse collared down at the 38, but it wasn’t a penalty in 2000.  Douglas would come out with an ankle injury on the play and set up a 2nd and 5, Trotter came on a run blitz right up the middle, but he was erased by a great block from Ron Stone, who leveled the linebacker, giving Dayne a lane up the middle and he got out to the 45, hit down by Carlos Emmons, but again, good for another first.  The Giants would shift their 2 TE offense and Collins would drop back and throw another dart to Toomer at the Eagles’ 41 yard line and he was taken down by Taylor on the final play of the first quarter.  Dayne would take the next carry, run to his right and get hit by Grasmanis at the 41 yard line, living up to what would become his name Ron “No Gain” Dayne.  2nd and 10, Tiki would take an inside draw, cut quickly to his left and accelerate up the field, break a tackle attempt from Vincent at the 29 yard line and keep his legs moving all the way down to the 18 yard line before Moore and Dawkins got him to the ground but good for a 23 yard gain.  Again defensive coordinator Jim Johnson brought the blitz, and again Collins rolled to his right to avoid it, pump fake and took a deep shot in the end zone towards Hilliard but the ball sailed out of bounds.  2nd and 10, Dayne would take the ball and chug around the left end to the 14 yard line, hit by Thomas.  3rd and 6, Collins in the gun, but the Giants would go backwards as Lomas Brown jumped.  3rd and 11, the Giants essentially had a give up call, a pitch to Barber running to his right, and he was met by Moore and Caldwell at the 19.  So the Giants had dominated the game so far, but all they had to show for it was a 2nd field goal attempt, this time from 36 yards out which was good by Daluiso to give the Giants a 6-0 lead with 11:43 to go in the 2nd quarter.

Daluiso would kickoff and this time there was some confusion between the return men Mitchell and Alex Van Dyke and it would bounce at the 4 yard line, picked up by Mitchell who ran it back up the middle to the 39 yard line, taken down by Thomas.  To compound things, the Giants were offsides on the kickoff, on Thomas.  The Eagles declined it and took the field position.  The Eagles would give to Duce, and again the Giants were waiting as Hamilton blew up the blocking, allowing Armstead and Strahan to clean up for no gain.  2nd and 10, Duce would run to the left, tried to turn the corner and was bumped out of bounds by Jason Sehorn after a 2 yard gain.  3rd and 8, the Giants would bring their blitz, with corner Emmanuel McDaniel chasing McNabb, who ran backwards and just slipped out of the sack, but he would commit the Cardinal Sin of QBs, by throwing across his body and over the middle towards, Duce, but Cedric Jones had peeled back from his rush and had an easy interception, but the defensive end dropped it.  A third straight 3 and out as the crowd was in stunned silence.  Landeta’s punt was a low line drive, that bounced at the 22 yard line.  Tiki didn’t play the ball and let it go, where it rolled forward all the way to the 7 yard line, a 52 yarder, his third 50+ yarder in the game.

The Giants were deep in their own end as the crowd started to come to life.  Collins would drop back into the end zone, and Douglas got his hands on him, but Collins broke away, was able to move up in the pocket and fired a deep pass towards no one, which probably could have been a grounding, but the refs let it go.  2nd and 10, Dayne got the carry up the middle, picked his way up the field and actually got the ball out to the 17 yard line, tripped by Emmons, but a big first down by the nose of the football to get out from deep in their own end.  First down, Collins back again, threw an outlet to Barber, which was very close to a lateral, but incomplete.  2nd and 10, a draw to Barber, who was met by Gardner at the 15 and driven back for a loss.  3rd and 12, Collins under center, would call a timeout to talk it over with Sean Payton and Jim Fassel.  After figuring it out, the Giants would fake a handoff to Barber, and Collins would rollout to his right, with no one open, would tuck it away and scramble out to the 18 yard line and out of bounds, no reason to force the ball.  Maynard would come on to punt it away and he would have a horrible effort, a wobbler that would bounce at the 45 and go backwards all the way the 50, downed by Lyle West.  The Giants would have an ineligible man downfield, called on Golden.  The Eagles obviously declined and took the field position.

The Eagles best field position started with a run to Duce going to his left, and he was met by Williams in the backfield for a 2 yard loss.  2nd and 12, we saw a little young McNabb athleticism

Early in his career, McNabb was a more mobile QB.  And the Giants had an unfortunate history of Eagle QBs scrambling around against them in Philly, particularly Randall Cunningham.  In this case, McNabb would have Hamilton bear down on him and dive at his legs, but he was able to avoid him.  And as he got away, he had Peter next looking to hit him, but he avoided the DT, kept his feet, bumped into his offensive lineman and away from a hit by Strahan and up the field, and away from Michael Barrow in open field, and took off to his right and out of bounds at the 35, forced by West, a 17 yard gain and the Eagles first 1st down of the contest.  McNabb would drop back and hit TE Chad Lewis, who had just beaten Barrow and he made a nice one hand grab and was down at the 3 yard line on a great catch, a 31 yard gain.  So Back to back great plays by the Eagles had them set up with a first and goal.  McNabb would fake to Duce and try to roll to his right, but this time the Giants pressure did get to him, as Hamilton came charging in again, which stopped McNabb in his tracks, allowing Strahan and Phillips to come over, and though McNabb flipped the ball away, the Giants were given a sack with control back at the 16 yard line.  2nd and goal at the 16, and McNabb was again under heat, this time from Cedric Jones, who hit him as he was throwing and the ball floated out of bounds in the general direction of Pinkston.  Andy Reid would call a timeout to regroup.  With Duce in motion, the Giants would blitz again, and McNabb would get nailed by Strahan and West, and would fling the ball over the middle, just past a dive by Barrow and incomplete, in the direction of Charles Johnson.  Akers kick would be good from 33 yards out to make the score 6-3 with 5:22 to go in the first half.

Akers kickoff would go to Dixon at the goal line, where he misplayed the ball, as it bounced at his feet and straight up in the air, and would show why he was such a dangerous return man as he accelerated past 4 Eagles converging on him at the 7 yard line and broke into open field, got past a dive attempt by Akers all the way at the 25, hopped past another tackle attempt at the 40 and was finally downed by Ike Reese at the 45.  So the Giants started off in great field position, would begin with a fake to Dayne, and then an end around to Amani Toomer, running to his right.  Toomer would get strung out and cut back into Eagle territory, but a blatant hold on Luke Pettitgout in open field where he choked Carlos Emmons in front of the officials, and the entire stadium, who all saw it happen.  So it made it 1st and 20 at the 35, the Giants shifted formation and gave to Tiki on a quick cut up the middle and he took it out to the 43 yard line, where he took a shot by Moore and hit his head on the concrete “astroturf” at the old Vet, and Tiki stayed on the ground as the Eagle fans predictably gave a little cheer, as is their way.  Back in 2000, there was no concussion protocol, so Tiki came off the field and was checked out by the doctors.  2nd and 12, with Ike Hilliard in the backfield, Collins dropped back, hit Greg Comella at the 42 in the flat, and the fullback got it to the 45, tackled by Gardner.  3rd and 10, Tiki came back in the game, with Collins in the gun, the offensive line stuffed the pass rush, giving the strong armed QB plenty of time to find Dixon on the sidelines at the Eagles’ 40 yard line for a big first down, as the rookie did a Toomer style dragging of his feet to stay in bounds.  First down, Collins faked to Dayne, he got some pressure from his right side from Mike Mamula, and the slow footed Collins was able to avoid him, roll to his right, and just throw the ball away as no one was open.  2nd and 10, the ball went to Dayne, and the first round pick took it up the middle, and cut back to his left, following a nice block by Glenn Parker and a nice crackback on Dawkins by Joe Jurevicius, and took the ball to the outside and plodded his way out to the 27 yard line, pushed out of bounds by Taylor.  First down, the ball again to Dayne, this time he got smacked by Jeremiah Trotter and was hit down after a very short gain.  That would lead to the 2 minute warning as the Giants were driving on a hot day.  2nd and 10, Collins would fake to Dayne and roll to his right, and hit Hilliard coming out of the backfield at the 29 yard line.  Hilliard would avoid Caldwell’s hit up high, spin away, from Trotter and Dawkins, and then get blasted by Caldwell coming back to clean up at the 25.  3rd and 8, with the clock running, the play was stopped to see if Hilliard’s knee went down on the initial hit by Caldwell as the instant replay booth buzzed down.  The decision was to let the play stand.  So again they lined up, and the clock was re-started and the Giants would take advantage of Jim Johnson

The Eagles have been a team that defensively lives by the blitz.  They did it over and over with Buddy Ryan in the 1980s.  The late Jim Johnson, the Eagles defensive coordinator also believed in it.  And when you blitz, if you don’t get there, you are in trouble.  In this case, they blitzed, a linebacker, which was picked up and gave Collins a pocket.  Collins, who had one of the strongest arms in the NFL, backing up and off his backfoot at the 32 yard line, pump faked to get the Eagles defense off balance, and just flicked the ball to Toomer, who burned the Eagles Moore and Al Harris and hauled in the easy TD in the end zone, and proceeded to do his spike celebration where his hand were so good and sticky that he couldn’t get the ball out to spike it and had to use his foot to get it off.  Not bad.  Daluiso’s extra point was good to make the score 13-3 as the Giants were handing it to the Eagles in the first half, keeping the ball for 21:53.

Daluiso’s kickoff went to Mitchell halfway into the end zone and took the knee for a touchback with 1:00 remaining in the half.  McNabb began with a drop back and blitz by the Giants corner, and McNabb dumped it off to Staley at the 18, and the running back took the ball out to the 26 yard line, ridden out of bounds by Jason Sehorn.  With :53 to go, on 2nd and 4, McNabb back, and the pocket collapsed as the QB ran forward and got drilled by Cedric Jones forcing a floater pass which went over Staley’s head for an incompletion.  3rd and 4 with :48 to go, the Giants came on a blitz

The Eagles blitzed on a 3rd down and got burned.  This time John Fox dialed up a blitz from MLB Pete Monty, who was not picked up as he barged though the middle and was ignored by Staley who looked the wrong way and just engulfed McNabb back at the 16 for a big sack.  The Giants called a timeout with :45 to go.  Landeta on to punt, and got off a low, short kick taken by Tiki at the 43 yard line, and he took it to his left, and accelerated past the first line of tacklers and stepped out at the Eagles’ 41 yard line with :35 to go, after a poor 39 yarder by the former Giant All Pro.

The Giants had 1 time out to work with and Collins in the gun, set up a screen as the Eagles again came on a blitz, and dumped it to Barber at the 46, with Parker in front, and Tiki got the ball out to the 38 yard line, where he was forced out of bounds by Trotter with :30 to go.  2nd and 6, Collins found Hilliard across the field at the 36 by the sidelines, Ike avoided Harris, and then took off up the sidelines and made it out to the 31 yard line, and out of bounds for another first down, with :23 to go.  The Vet was dead quiet as Collins was again in the gun and they would go from confusion to concern very quickly.

Talk about a shot to the gut.  The Giants were driving on the Eagles and the defense was looking tired.  Expecting a pass, Sean Payton called for a handoff to Tiki out of the gun, who started by running to his right, read the blocking, and cut back to his left, Emmons missed a tackle, and out by the 23 yard line, followed a block by Toomer and turned up the field, picked up another downfield block by Hilliard on Taylor, turned the corner as Bill Maas was in disbelief of what was going on, and Tiki raced into the end zone.  A smattering of boos in Philly as Tiki’s 31 yard TD run and Daluiso’s extra point, made the score 20-3, while Sean Payton was yukking it up on the sidelines.

Daluiso’s kickoff was a bouncer taken by Stanley Pritchett at the 30, and he got a nice little return, out to the 46 yard line, hit down by Emmanuel McDaniel with :08 to go.  McNabb dropped back, just avoided a sack by Strahan, and uncorked a Hail Mary, at the goal line, which was nearly caught by Todd Pinkston at the goal line, but it just fell incomplete as Sehorn knocked it away.  The half was over, and the fans lustily booed the Eagles off the field as the Giants had a 17 point lead going into the locker room and were in total control.

To start the 2nd half, Daluiso had a short kick that bounced out of bounds at the 10 yard line, which was a penalty and put the ball all the way out to the 40.  With good field position, McNabb started with a drop back and was hit as he threw by Strahan, but got the pass off down the seam to Charles Johnson, who was open, but the ball bounced off his hands near the 34 yard line.  2nd and 10, the Eagles got nailed for an illegal snap penalty on Bubba Miller.  2nd and 15, McNabb threw a quick pass down the line to Johnson, who caught it at the 34 and was hit down immediately by Sehorn and Shaun Williams.  3rd and 16, McNabb back and the Giants brought an all out blitz, which didn’t get there, and the ball went out to Johnson at the Giants’ 49 yard line and a first down, hit down by Sehorn.  First down, fake pitch to Staley and McNabb threw to his right to Johnson at midfield coming across the formation, and he was hit down by Sehorn at the 46.  2nd and 7, McNabb dropped back, had pressure in his face and somehow avoided a sack by Armstead and fired a pass down the field toward Johnson, but it was broken up by Sehorn.  However, behind the play, the Giants defense frustrated by McNabb getting away, had Keith Hamilton drill him for a 15 yard roughing the passer penalty.  With the penalty, the ball moved up to the 31 yard line and a first down, and McNabb would look to check down to his TE Chad Lewis at the 28 yard line, where he was dropped immediately by Armstead.  2nd and 7, again the Eagles would go to the pass, and with Williams coming on a blitz, McNabb would throw the ball out in the flat to Staley at the 26 and the running back would bounce off a hit at his thigh by Armstead, keep his balance, and lunge out to the 20, taken down by Sehorn and Thomas, and good for another first down.  With an empty backfield, McNabb hit Staley on a 3 step drop at the 17 yard line, Staley would get hit and spun down by Lyle West and Michael Barrow at the 14 yard line.  Staley would argue that his knee didn’t hit down and went into the end zone, but the officials would disagree, while the Eagles fireworks committee shot off a celebration too soon.  2nd and 4, Staley took the handoff running to his right, where he was smacked down by Ryan Phillips at the 11.  On 3rd and 1, the Eagles would call a timeout with 9:18 to go in the 3rd.  Andy Reid would go to his Chinese menu of plays and decided to go with a dropback by McNabb, where he rolled to his right and was pressured by Strahan and Armstead and forced him to throw it away.  On 4th and 1, the Eagles brought out David Akers for a field goal, and he banged it through from 29 yards out to make the score 20-6 with 9:09 in the 3rd quarter.  

The Eagles would kickoff to Dixon at the 11, and he would pick his way up the field to the 32 yard line, where he was hit down by the Eagles coverage team.  Collins brought his team out and gave the ball to Dayne up the gut, hit down by Douglas after just a 2 yard gain.  2nd and 8, with Comella in motion, Collins tried a quick pass to Cross over the middle, and it was broken up by Trotter.  3rd and 8, on a 3 step drop, Collins fired a slant in to Toomer, who got position on Harris at the 40 and lept in the air to snag the ball and fell forward to the 44 yard line and a first down.  Collins would give to Dayne, again up the middle and as he cut to his left, he was hit by Dawkins after just a 2 yard gain.  2nd and 8, the Eagles came on a run blitz, and actually ran past the initial penetration, and Hollis Thomas took the former Heisman Trophy winner down at the 46.  3rd and 7, Payton came with an interesting play, splitting Tiki out wide and with Hilliard in the backfield, the Collins would give a little shovel pass to Ike, who got beyond another Eagle blitz and took the ball at the 45, followed a good block by Dusty Ziegler and made his way out to the Eagles’ 44 and another first down, hit down by Simon.  On first, Collins dropped back, got pressure from Mamula again, and scrambled out to the 42 yard line, pushed out of bounds by Dawkins.  2nd and 8, Collins would throw a quick out to Toomer down the line at the 42, and the WR would try to dance past Taylor and was taken down at the 39.  3rd and 5, Collins again back, rolled to his right, and hit Toomer by the sidelines at the 30 yard line and out of bounds, but yet another first down.  The clock kept moving, the Eagles defense looked tired after a 10th play on the drive and the crowd was quiet.  So Sean Payton knew it was time to go for the throat

There are times when you go for the knockout and you set up plays and bring in the hammer.  Sean Payton has proven to be an aggressive offensive coach, winning a Super Bowl in New Orleans.  And here in Philly, on a first down, he had Collins drop back, and with no pass rush, lobbed an easy TD pass to Hilliard, who burned Taylor and the rout was on.  Daluiso’s extra point was good to make the score 27-6 with 4:01 to go in the 3rd.  

Daluiso’s kickoff would go to Mitchell at the 8 near the corner, and he took it up to the 32 yard line, hit by Reggie Stephens.  McNabb looking at a 21 point deficit tried to find a way to rally his team, and began with a pass over the middle to Staley at the 36, where he got past Barrow and and made his way to the 46, hit by Thomas and a first down.  With an empty backfield, McNabb dropped the snap, and was in trouble, but the refs blew the play dead on a false start by Staley, making it 1st and 15.  McNabb dropped back, with a blitz coming by the Giants, but was picked up by the offensive line, and the pass was in the direction of Johnson, but harmlessly hit the ground.  2nd and 15, with Barrow coming on a blitz and nailing McNabb just as he dumped it to Staley on a screen at the 37,  and with blockers in front, Duce made his way out to the Giants’ 47 yard line, with Sehorn nearly punching the ball out from behind, hitting him down at the 47.  3rd and 2, McNabb got pressure from Strahan up the gut and lobbed a deep pass down the sidelines to Pinkston, who stopped his route and jumped, as Thomas lost the ball completely, and Pinkston hauled it in at the 24, and pushed out, but good for another first down.  First down, McNabb fired a quick slant to Johnson at the 15 where he was covered up by Sehorn.  2nd and 1, we saw a bit of the young McNabb elusiveness

Here was saw what McNabb was, prior to injuries and age/weight.  While McNabb was never in the Randall Cunningham or Mike Vick scrambling class, he was athletic and quick.  In this case, he dropped back, had some pressure from Strahan, and took off up the middle on a QB draw, broke through the line, spun around a tackle attempt by West at the 11, got away from a last lunge from Barrow and into the end zone.  One thing that never changed however, was McNabb as a jackass, as he went for the layup celebration over the goal post when you are down 3 TDs.  But you can’t change who you are.  Akers’ extra point would end up getting blocked by DT George Williams and kept the score at 27-12 with :56 to go in the 3rd.

Akers kick would go to Dixon at the 3 and he would run it to his left, and find his way out to the 26 and pushed out of bounds.  As he was already out, he took an extra shot from Pritchett, which drew flags from the officials and added 15 more yards and put the ball out at the 45 yard line.  Good discipline Philly, nice job.  So the Giants took the nice field position, and gave to Dayne running to his left, where he was hit down after a 1 yard gain by Simon.  2nd and 9, the Giants let the quarter run out and put it into the 4th.  The Giants would give to Tiki on a draw going to the right, however, the Eagles were in place, but Tiki hunkered down, got lost behind the offensive line, and cut back to his left and followed a block by Dusty Ziegler and took off up the field to the Eagles 44 yard line, hit down by Dawkins, but good for a first down.  With Barber in motion, Collins rolled to his right, and fired to Toomer at the 35 yard line for a 9 yard gain, hit down by Barber.  2nd and 1, following a block by Comella, Dayne plodded to the right side and dragged Hollis Thomas to the 30, but good for another first down as the clock continued to run.  Dayne got the ball again, running to his right and cut back over the middle, but was stuffed for no gain by Trotter.  2nd and 10, a quick trap to Comella up the gut, and he gained 3 yards, taken down by Whiting.  3rd and 7, Collins dropped in the pocket, and off his back foot as he was getting hit, whipped the ball into Hilliard, who was hit close to the marker and pushed backwards by Dawkins, but the Giants were given a rare good spot by the refs, and a first down at the 20.  The Giants went back to Dayne, who just put his head down up the gut and powered forward for 1 yard.  2nd and 9, Dayne took a draw and got smashed in the backfield by Douglas and Mamula for a loss.  3rd and 13, a pitch to Tiki running to his left, but the Eagles read it again and was taken down by Trotter at the 28 yard line, for another loss.  Daluiso came on for a 44 yarder, and he buried it to make the score 30-12 with 8:40 to go.

Daluiso’s kickoff went to Mitchell at the 8, and he was taken down on a form tackle by Reggie Stephens at the 27.  With the clock against them, the Eagles started with a quick pass, and though he got nailed by Cedric Jones as he threw, the ball made it to Damian Douglas at the 30, and he darted his way to the 36 yard line, hit by Thomas and West.  2nd and 1, came a really strange play

Every now and again, you will see and offensive lineman have a shot at a catch.  Most of the time it’s illegal because the QB is throwing it away and the OL happens to be there.  And most times a pass is tipped, the OL’s hands are too wrapped up to do anything with it.  In this case, Hamilton was standing at the line and jumped and looked to knock the pass down (if not pick it off himself), but the ball bounced off one Eagle offensive lineman and then into the hands of Bubba Miller, who snagged it, tucked it away, and chugged out to the 44 yard line, tripped up by Armstead.  McNabb tried a deep shot towards Douglas, which fluttered away and was way incomplete.  Duce took the draw out to the 48 yard line, hit down by Strahan.  On 3rd down, McNabb tried a quick pass over the middle to Luther Broughton, and was nailed by Williams, knocking the ball loose and laid out Broughton.  The Eagles called a timeout with 6:50 to go in the game and looking at a 4th and 6, the Eagles had one last gasp.

And there went the gasp.  McNabb was looking at a delayed blitz, as Armstead came charging in as McNabb dropped back and rolled to his right, Armstead came firing up the field and nailed him for a sack at the 36, and essentially ended the Eagles last hopes with 6:46 to go.

As the Vet crowd started to stream to the exits, the Giants weren’t done piling on, and this time it was another run by Tiki

Pretty much what Tiki had done all day, and the Eagles defense exhausted, Tiki followed a block by Comella running to his right, waited for a lane and then popped through the line, and took off down the sidelines, making it all the way to the 8 yard line, ridden out of bounds by Vincent on a 29 yard carry.  First and goal, Dayne tried to pick his way to the right side, but was bottled up for a loss, but at least kept the clock running.  Dayne got the ball again, and pushed the pile to the 6 yard line.  3rd and goal, the ball went to Tiki on a draw up the middle, and was hit down by Douglas for no gain.  The clock would continue to tick down, and Daluiso trotted out and called a time out with 4:03 to go.  Daluiso would hit the 23 yard chip shot and make the score 33-12 with 3:59 remaining.

Daluiso’s kickoff went to Mitchell at the 13 and he took it to the 36, where he was taken down by a pile of players.  So now officially in garbage time, McNabb, dropped back and was hit down Jones and Strahan right near the line of scrimmage for a short gain.  2nd and 9, the ball was dunked off to Duce at the 38, and he was met immediately by Armstead and Short.  3rd and 7, the Eagles in a hurry up, McNabb, had time, dumped off to Duce at the 42, and he avoided Sehorn in the open field and got to the 47, hit by Monty.  However, a hands to the face on the Eagles wiped out the first down and made it 3rd and 17.  This time McNabb would have time again, roll to his right and fire a strike to Johnson at the 49, and a first down.  First and 10, McNabb tried to Broughton on a seam route, and the ball went through his hands as Short had good coverage down the field.  2nd and 10, McNabb back, with a blitz on, hit Lewis down the middle at the 26 and banged down by West at the 2 minute warning.  First down, McNabb dumped to Duce at the 27 coming across the field, and he got around Short and Monty, and was taken down by Williams at the 15 yard line and a first down, but he didn’t get out of bounds and the clock kept running.  This time McNabb pumped and scrambled up the field and took the ball out of bounds at the 7 yard line, pushed out by Short, but stopped the clock at with 1:25 to go.  2nd and 2, the Eagles made the most of garbage time

With the game well in hand, the Eagles got a textbook window dressing TD, from McNabb to Lewis, who was wide open in the end zone as the Giants blitzed, with Lyle West technically in coverage.  The Eagles would go for 2, and McNabb would roll to his right and try to dump it to Johnson, but Emmanuel McDaniel knocked it down, so the try was no good and the score held at 33-18 with 1:22 to go.

With kickoff coming, the Giants brought on the hands team

Now, this would be a pretty mundane highlight, Akers’ attempting an onside kick, and the Giants recovering it.  But what is interesting is what would come a few months later in the December game vs. the Jaguars.  In this case, Akers kick bounced up in the air, and the Giants front line didn’t wait for the ball, but rather ran up and created a pile with the on rushing Eagles.  That left a clear path for Sehorn to wait for the ball and jump and catch it.  Sehorn would run across the field and backwards towards the 45, but with some Eagles in his path, he would slide down at the 47.  If you go back and review the highlights of the Giants vs Jaguars game, the same exact thing happened, only this time, Sehorn took off with the ball for a TD.  We got a little pre-cursor here.  With 1:17 to go, it was time for the victory formation, and handshakes, but not before Andy Reid decided to use his final timeout with 1:10 to go, just to annoy everyone.  2 more kneel downs would officially end the game, and made the Giants 2-0 for the first time since 1994 with an impressive 33-18 win.

Interesting tidbits/ Post Mortem

  • This win made Jim Fassel 7-0 vs. the Eagles. He would go on to beat them 3 times in 2000, including the 2nd round of the playoffs at Giants Stadium.
  • His first loss didn't come until 2001, in a heart breaking 10-9 loss on a Monday Night, following a 15-14 loss at the Rams the week before.
  • While Fassel owned the Eagles early, from 2001-2003, he went 1-5.
  • The last Giant coach to beat a team 3 times in one season? Bill Parcells, who beat the Redskins 3 times, including in the NFC Championship Game in 1986 by the score of 17-0.
  • Ron Dixon had his first NFL catch in this game and only caught 6 passes his rookie year. In his 3 year career Dixon only had 36 catches.
  • Dixon was known for his speed and as a kick returner. He prevented a shut out in the 2000 Super Bowl, returning a kickoff 97 yards for a TD. But he first burned the Eagles in the Divisional round, returning the opening kickoff 97 yards for a TD in a 20-10 win.
  • Dixon also nearly burned the Eagles in 2001. Trailing 24-21 with only a few seconds remaining, the Giants ran the "Lambuth Special", a variation of the hook and ladder named after Dixon's alma mater. Collins dumped the ball off to Tiki over the middle, who drew in the Eagles defenders. Dixon came sprinting over from the right side and caught the lateral heading to his left, and had a convoy of blockers in front. Dixon sprinted up the field, with no time on the clock and you could actually hear the crowd at the Vet go silent in horror as they watched him run. Dixon made it all the way down to the 3 yard line, a 62 yard gain, before he was tripped up short of the goal line. The Eagles won the NFC East.
  • Pete Monty registered the first sack of his career in this game. His 2nd, and final, NFL sack also came in 2000, in a 13-6 win at Atlanta.
  • The Giants had their running game of "Thunder (Ron Dayne) and Lightning (Tiki Barber)" It was revealed that the fullback, Greg Comella also had a nickname..."The Cloud". Because before Lightning or Thunder, you need a cloud. Yes, sometimes this stuff gets stupid.
  • "The Cloud"'s 16 yard run in this game would turn out to be a career long. He would rush for 66 yards in his 7 year career.
  • Ike Hilliard's TD was the 2nd and final one vs. the Eagles in his career in 15 games vs. the birds. His only other one came in 1999 on a 9 yard TD from Kent Graham in a 16-15 win at Giants Stadium.
  • The Eagles punter was Sean Landeta, the long time NY Giant who won 2 Super Bowls with them in 1986 and 1990. Landeta returned "home" so to speak, as his professional career actually began with the USFL's Philadelphia Stars, before the league folded and he joined the Giants.
  • Duce Staley, who ripped the Cowboys for 201 yards the week before, had a slightly less productive day, rushing for 11 yards on 7 carries. Duce played the Giants 13 times in his career and only went over 100 yards rushing once, when he rushed for 126 yards in a 17-3 win at Philly in 2002. Duce actually only rushed for more than 65 yards just 3 times vs. the Giants.
  • While Jim Fassel and Andy Reid both would make 1 Super Bowl trip as head coach, and both lose, there were several assistants who went on to take teams to the Super Bowl as the head man. John Fox, the Giants defensive coordinator, would take the Panthers and Broncos to the Super Bowl, and lost both times. The Giants offensive coordinator, Sean Payton, would take the Saints to the Super Bowl in 2009 and beat the Colts. Meanwhile, the Eagles Special Teams coordinator, John Harbaugh, would lead the Baltimore Ravens to the 2012 championship, beating his brother Jim, who coached the 49ers.
  • The man calling play by play in this game was Sam Rosen, known more for his work on MSG Network as the voice of the New York Rangers hockey team.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

2008 Giants vs Panthers

Week 16

The Setup

Obviously when you are talking about the #1 and #2 teams in the NFC, playing at Giants Stadium late in the season with homefield advantage on the line, there are a number of different directions you could go in reviewing it.  In Giants team history, they were the #1 seed in the playoffs just 2 other times prior to this...1986 and 2000.  That 1986 Giants team faced somewhat of a similar scenario in Week 14 in Washington, when the 11-2 Giants faced off at RFK against the 11-2 Redskins.  The winner of that game was in the drivers seat for the NFC East and would have been equaled by the 11-2 Chicago Bears, with tie breakers on the line.  The Giants would win that game, 24-14, sweeping Washington set the stage for the Giants to finish at 14-2, and beat out the Bears for the #1 seed due to the fact that the Giants had only 1 loss to an NFC Team (Dallas in the season opener), and Chicago lost twice to the NFC (Rams and Vikings).

The 2000 team, at 12-4 under Jim Fassel, got hot late.  At 7-4, that team lost to the Detroit Lions, 31-21, and dropped 2 straight.  That brought on the Jim Fassel "pushing my chips in the middle of the table" declaration that the Giants were going to the playoffs.  the Giants ripped off 5 straight wins to finish at 12-4 and the #1 seed, on their way to a Super Bowl loss to the Ravens.

But rather than focus on the winner take all part of the matchup, I wanted to focus on something which is more of a lost art in the NFL, player development.  In the NFL, teams used to have a 5 year plan to turn things around.  But that was in the days before free agency and salary caps.  Due to that, you were able to see dynasties such as the Steelers and Cowboys in the 1970s and 49ers in the 1980s.  Teams were able to take their time in developing players.  It was not at all uncommon to see teams keep talented players on the bench for years at a time before bringing them on the field.  Jeff Hostetler was drafted as a QB out of West Virginia in 1984.  He had to volunteer to play WR and blocked a punt in 1986.  He finally got in a game in 1988, for one half vs. the Saints before he was benched.  He started a game at Phoenix and won in 1989 when Phil Simms was hurt.  And when he went on to help win Super Bowl XXV, Hostetler was in his 7th year.  You couldn’t get away with that today.  Starters have maybe 3 or so years to show they can do it, or else they get replaced.  With a salary cap in place, teams simply can’t stand by and wait anymore for someone to develop.

But over the years in the NFL, teams have tried all different ways to develop young players.  Cynics (or realists), recognize that the NCAA, for all intents and purposes serves as a minor leagues for the NFL.  It should come as no surprise that NFL teams have a close relationship with the big programs.  And you see it as NFL scouts know full well the types of players that a Nick Saban Alabama and an Urban Meyer Ohio State will produce.  It should also come as no shock that many of the NFL best prospects, particularly QBs, will favor going to a team which will run a “Pro Style” offense.  Years ago, college teams were running the wishbone offense.  Now they favor a spread offense, similar to what you see in the NFL.  There is simply too much money.  Too much for the NCAA, too much for the NFL, and too much for the college players who have pro potential.

But what about the guys who are not blue chip prospects from Ohio State or Alabama?  Once guys come out of college, the NFL didn’t really have a D-League like they do in the NBA, or a minor league system like in the NHL or in MLB.  So the NFL, being the NFL, decided to mix an opportunity for player development with marketing and brand expansion.  That gave birth to the World League (Hello Scottish Claymores and London Monarchs) and eventually to what was called NFL Europe in the 1990s through the 2000s.  Of course, the NFL’s real main goal with this plan was to look to open up a new market.  The NHL already was an international sport.  But the NBA opened eyes as they expanded and found big time players from Europe (ie Dirk Nowitzki) and then into China (Yao Ming).  The NFL, with it’s brand of “American Football” wanted to push to get that foothold as well.  It started with NFL Europe, moved to discussions to host games in London, and has landed on NFL International Series of game played in Wembley Stadium (the first one being the Giants vs. the Dolphins in 2007).  

Once the real purpose of what the NFL wanted out of the Rhein Fire was made clear, they were back to the issue of how to develop these players who were not quite ready for prime time, but had skills to work with.  So enter the Practice Squad.  In the 1940s, Paul Brown in Cleveland created a “taxi squad” of players he scouted but didn’t make the active roster, but he wanted to keep around the team for practice and eventually to groom to make the team and didn’t want to lose them to another franchise.  Essentially it was as dirty as it sounded.  Brown worked out a deal with a Cleveland taxi cab company to add these guys as employees, though they’d never work for the company and would filter the money to the players through the cab company.  In return, the Browns would promote the Taxi cab company.  Needless to say, somewhere Jerry Jones is strangling puppies in anger that something like this is banned today and Paul Brown got away with it.  The NFL would change the rules and adopt this taxi squad or practice squad to be part of a roster, but in addition to the main 53.  In 2016, there are now 10 members of a practice squad, made up of rookies and first or 2nd year players (depending on time on the active roster) for eligibility.  These players would practice with the team but not dress on Sundays, unless signed to the active roster.  Practice squad players can be signed to other teams, so long as they go to the active roster.  And they can be cut and new players signed at any time.  Over the years several big name players have had a chance to work their way up and turn into Pro Bowl caliber players.  Kurt Warner, Tony Romo, Rod Smith, Arian Foster, Jason Peters, James Harrison, Danny Amendola, and Danny Woodhead were all former practice squad players who would end up having solid NFL careers.  

Now, what on Earth does this have to do with the Giants/Panthers tilt?  One of the big stars in this game to help the Giants win was a former practice squad player, who the Giants stuck with and would reap the benefits...running back Derrick Ward.  Ward had come out of Fresno State and then moved on to Ottowa University and was picked in the 7th round of the 2004 draft by the Jets.  That Jets team had 2 very good running backs, the ageless Curtis Martin, who at age 31 would put up a 1697 yard season and 12 TDs.  They also had a good young backup in LaMont Jordan at age 26.  With no room on the roster, the Jets tried to stash Ward on the practice squad.  The Giants would jump at the chance and signed him off the squad an on to the main roster in 2004.  Ward would return a kickoff for 92 yards and a TD against the Redskins, which saved the Giants from a 31-0 shutout.  Else, from 2004-2006, Ward was generally a special team player, with the carries going to Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs.  In 2007 Tiki had retired and burned his bridge with the Giants.  Jerry Reese traded for former 1000 yard back Rueben Droughns for depth.  Ahmad Bradshaw was a talented rookie taken in the 7th round due to character concerns.  Jacobs, who was a short yardage back in 2006, would assume the lead dog role and would end up rushing for 1009 yards.  Droughns would also get some carries along the way.  But out from the depths would come Ward, who was asked to do more after Jacobs injured his knee in the Dallas season opener.  Ward was immediately productive, rushing for over 80 yards in the first four games.  And then the injury bug hit, with ankle and groin issues costing him 4 games.  In the Giants comeback win at Chicago, Ward was putting up a career day, with 154 yards on 24 carries.  He was the Giants leading rusher with 602 yards at that point in the season.  But Ward would not finish the game, and would end up breaking his leg, costing him the rest of the season and missed out on the Super Bowl run.  By 2008, the Giants were ready to defend their title, and they looked and realized they had 3 top quality running backs on their roster, Jacobs, Ward, and Bradshaw.  Years prior, with Tiki and rookie Ron Dayne, the Giants called their backfield “Thunder and Lightning”.  Well, this time, the Giants had a new nickname for the 3 headed monster, “Earth” (Jacobs), “Wind” (Ward), and “Fire” (Bradshaw).  This combination, along with a stout offensive line, made the Giants the #1 rushing offense in the NFL in 2008.  Going into this game against the Panthers, the Giants had rushed for over 100 yards 10 times in the first 14 games, including over 200 yards 5 times.  At one point, the Giants were at 11-1 and were looking like clear favorites to repeat at champions.  And then Plaxico shot himself.  Now, Plaxico was not at his normal productivity.  He was already suspended by Tom Coughlin once during the season.  Scouts were noting he was a step slow.  And his numbers were not that great, 35 catches, 454 yards and 4 TDs in 10 games.  Amani Toomer, at age 34 had also shown signs of hitting the wall, as he put up a 48 catch, 580 yard season.  Steve Smith was on the rise, but was considered to be a “possession” receiver, with 57 catches for 574 yards.  The big new comer was their return man, Dominik Hixon, pressed into service after Plax shot himself and the Giants hoped he could help the WRs.  But before the shooting, Plax was still a threat.  A mismatch at his size that teams had to respect.  When he was gone, the rest of the receivers didn’t pick up the slack.  The Giants would drop 2 straight games to Philly and Dallas, rush for under 100 yards and offensively only scored 13 points (the Giants defense got a safety and the special teams returned a blocked FG for a TD).  The Giants were watching their season start to slip away as the Panthers, winners of 7 of their last 8 games, and with a matching 11-3 record came to Giants Stadium.  The winner would get home field advantage and make their Week 16 game moot.  Carolina had a dominant running game of their own, with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as a one/two punch.  On a Sunday Night National TV game, in December when it was a snowy mix earlier in the day and with temperatures dropping and the wind picking up as the night went along, it was time to see which rushing offense was going to take control.  And it would turn out that a former practice squad player would play the game of his life.

The Game Highlights

The Panthers were kicking off as the story going into the game was the temperature was right around 32 degrees at kickoff, but a weather pattern was coming in that should reach the Stadium by the 2nd half which would drop the temperature almost 20 degrees and the winds would become a factor.  Rhys Lloyd, the kickoff specialist from England came on to kick one into the wind and it was taken at the 4 yard line by Ahmad Bradshaw who powered it to the 25 yard line where he was taken down by several Panthers.  First down, Eli Manning would come out and fake to Brandon Jacobs and would hit Dominik Hixon on the right side at the 30, and he would evade one tackle and dive out to the 34, touched down by Thomas Davis Jr.  2nd and 1, Eli would give to Jacobs up the gut and plowed ahead for a 3 yard gain and a first down, hit down by Darwin Walker.  First down, Eli would change the play, give to Jacobs running to his right, but was met by Jon Beason at the 40.  2nd and 8, a delayed draw to Jacobs running to his right, but was met by Tyler Brayton at the 42.  

3rd and 6, Eli in the gun, would step up through a sack attempt by Charles Johnson, and fire a deep shot down the field to Hixon, who got behind 2 Panthers and hauled it in at the 20 and was taken down at the 18 by Chris Gamble.  After a 40 yard gain, it was first and 10, and Jacobs took the carry on the right side and was hit down by Brayton after a 1 yard gain.  2nd and 9, Jacobs took the carry up the middle, bounced off about 4 different tackles and until he was finally halted by Julius Peppers and Davis.  3rd and 6, Eli in the gun, would dump it off to Derrick Ward, but he dropped it and would have been short anyway.  On would come 44 year old John Carney for a 32 yard attempt and the veteran who was named to the Pro Bowl, thanks to a great hold by fellow veteran Pro Bowler Jeff Feagles, was able to bang it through for a 3-0 Giants lead.

Carney’s kickoff was very short, taken by former Giant Mark Jones at the 12 yard line and he would head up the middle but was met by Zak DeOssie and slung down at the 23.  First down, Jake Delhomme would give to DeAngelo Williams, who took the ball to the left side, broke a tackle attempt by Justin Tuck and got into the secondary where he was met by Michael Johnson and Corey Webster at the 30.  2nd and 3, Delhomme had plenty of time and dumped it off to Williams, who dropped the pass.  3rd and 3, Delhomme would swing the pass out to Steve Smith at the 26 on what was essentially a backwards lateral, and Smith would head up the field, break a tackle attempt by Johnson at the 32, and keep his footing and accelerate up all the way to the Giants 47 yard line, knocked out of bounds by Kenny Phillips.  1st and 10, Delhomme gave the ball to Williams up the middle, but was hit down after a 1 yard gain by Fred Robbins.  2nd and 9, Delhomme back, with a little pressure from a blitz that was picked up, was able to step up and throw a deep pass to Smith who was wide open at the 17 yard line and he would get ridden out of bounds at the 11 yard line by James Butler.  1st and 10, Delhomme gave the ball to Williams trying to run left, but was run down by Webster and dropped for a 2 yard loss.  However, the Panthers weren’t going to stop giving the ball to Williams

The Giants might have stopped him the previous play, but this time Williams got the ball on a little delayed draw and found a hole up the middle and just popped it untouched right into the end zone on a 13 yard TD run as Fred Robbins was just pushed out of the way and no one else could find Williams.  So John Kasay put through the extra point to make the score 7-3 on Williams 15th rushing TD on the season with 6:16 to go in the first quarter.

Lloyd’s kickoff was taken by Bradshaw at the goal line and he would get tripped up at the 26 yard line.  First down, Eli would give to Jacobs up the middle, who looked like he might have a lane, but was taken down by Davis after a 4 yard gain.  2nd and 6, Eli back, with time, found Steve Smith at the 40, and was thrown down by Davis and Beason for a first down.  Jacobs took the carry, cut to his right, ran over Davis at the 42, kept chugging and powered his way to the 50 yard line, with 3 Panthers on him, and just got enough for the first down.  As the Giants set up for another play, Carolina took a time out.  Jacobs got the ball again, running to his right and took 2 Panthers for a ride out to the 46 yard line, gaining 4 yards when nothing was there to start.  Eli was back and threw a comebacker to Smith at the 38 yard line, who dove and snagged it for a first down.  Jacobs took the next carry up the gut for a 2 yard gain, hit down by Damien Lewis.  2nd and 8, a fake to Jacobs, Eli looked deep and came back to Jacobs, who caught it and got his legs cut out by Davis at the 31.  3rd and 3, Eli in the gun would pitch to Ward on a toss to the right and he would find a lane and charge out to the 22 yard line, hit down by Chris Gamble, but good enough for yet another first down.  1st and 10, Ward took the carry up the middle and ran into traffic and was taken down at the 19 by Beason.  2nd and 7, Ward with the carry running to his right, would pick up speed and take it to the 15, hit down by Beason again on the final play of the first quarter.  3rd and 2, Eli in the gun, would set up and hit Smith on a quick drop and curl at the 10, and get banged down by Peppers at the 7 yard line.  First and goal, Eli in the gun gave the ball to Jacobs, who took it up the middle and plowed his way to the 2 yard line where he was tripped up.   But if at first you don’t succeed

Jacobs was just a monster, taking the carry up the middle, took on 2 Panthers at the goal line and looked to get it in, but on his second effort, just pushed his way into the end zone to clearly score.  After the play Beason got into it with Richie Seubert, and ended up going backwards on the ground, and somehow a flag wasn’t thrown.  But it showed the type of nastiness and toughness that the Giants offensive line had back in those days.  A 13 play, 74 yard drive over 7:38 hammed that point home and Carney’s extra point made the score 10-7 with 13:38 to go in the half.

Carney’s kickoff would be a bouncer up the middle of the field and was picked up by one of the blockers, TE Jeff King at the 22 and he would scramble his way out to the 35 yard line, tackled by Ahmad Bradshaw.  First down for the Panthers and Delhomme started with a handoff to the rookie first round pick Jonathan Stewart, who was met at the line of scrimmage by Fred Robbins and Antonio Pierce.  2nd and 10, Delomme gave to Stewart on a draw to the right, where he was tackled by Cofield and Pierce for a 3 yard gain.  3rd and 7, a play fake to Stewart held up the rush for a moment and gave Delhomme time to check back off to Stewart who was wide open at the 40, and he would turn up the field and take the ball all the way to the Giants’ 48 yard line, hit down by Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas.  First down, another play fake and this time Delhomme had pressure coming right at him and he backed up and threw an out pass to King in the flat at the 48 yard line, Danny Clark missed an open field tackle and King took the ball to the 38 yard line and was forced out by Pierce and James Butler, but good for another first down.  A draw to Stewart up the gut would work like a charm as there was a huge hole for him to gallop through and he would take the ball to the 31, wrapped up by Butler and as he was going to the ground, Johnson hit him around the head and Stewart stayed on the turf.  As Stewart was helped off, Williams came back in and he would take a pitch to the right and with the Giants covering it well, he would bounce all the way back to his left.  As he headed to his left, one of the contain men, Cofield, was on the ground holding his knee in pain, and Williams simply went around him, past Ross, and accelerated to the 14 yard line and out of bounds with Corey Webster in pursuit.  First down, Williams again got the ball running to his left, but this time Mathias Kiwaunka was waiting and took him down after a 1 yard gain.  2nd and 9, Delhomme would throw over Smith’s back shoulder at the 5 yard line and he would snag it and head out of bounds at the 4 yard line, with Kevin Dockery in coverage.  First and goal at the 4, a draw to Williams running to his right, and he would get nailed by Thomas on a run blitz for a loss of 1.  2nd and goal at the 5, the Panthers would stay on the ground.

Just a combination of power, quickness, leverage and speed on this TD by Williams, as he took the handoff running inside left tackle, he would actually get hit at the 2 by Butler and Jay Alford, but his momentum took him into the end zone for a TD to cap off a 10 play, 66 yard TD drive in 5:26.  Kasay’s extra point was good to make the score 14-10 with 8:12 to go in the first half.

Lloyd’s kickoff would be a low line drive which would bounce it’s way through the end zone for a touchback.  Eli would start off with a pass in the direction of Amani Toomer, but the ball skipped on the ground and was incomplete.  2nd and 10, a handoff to Ward up the middle first looked to be shut down at the line of scrimmage, but he would bounce off the back of Chris Snee, and then find the edge and head up the field all the way to the 29 yard line, tackled by Lucas.  3rd and 1, with only Madison Hedgecock in the backfield, the Giants gave the ball to the fullback and the 260 pounder would power his way up the middle where he was met by Beason and friends near the first down.  It was Hedgecock’s first carry as a Giant as his role was as a blocking back.  Well, with Jacobs, Ward, and Bradshaw to choose from, why Coughlin gave it to Hedgecock by himself had the predictable result of him being short of the first down.  On came Jeff Feagles, he would send it to Jones at the 30, and he would be taken down by Zak DeOssie at the 35.

First down Carolina and all hell would break loose

Delhomme would start with a play action fake to Williams, which held up the rush and allowed the QB to set up in the pocket,  Just as Cofield started to apply some pressure, Delhomme heaved a deep shot down the field towards Mushin Muhammad, who had beaten Ross badly in coverage.  However, the pass hung up and Ross was able to recover and be in position for what looked to be an easy pick of this floater at about the 27 yard line.  But it went through his hand and into Muhammad’s at the 26.  The WR would then turn up the field and get all the way down to the 5 yard line, stopped on a nice tackle by Butler and Pierce coming back to help and it was good for a 60 yard gain.  First and goal at the 5, Delhomme dropped back and first looked at Steve Smith, who was well covered to the left, so he came back to the right and threw an out pass towards Muhammad, and for a moment the ball hung there again, but it was hauled in at the 4, and was ridden down by Thomas.  2nd and goal at the 4, the Panthers would make sure they went to Smith

Steve Smith was an amazing WR for Carolina.  An undersized guy, but was tough as hell and as competitive as any player in the NFL.  In this case he would catch a flare from Delhomme at the 6 yard line, with Muhammad in front to block and he got around Johnson, absorbed a hit by Webster and looked to be down, but he was able to actually launch himself forward and into the end zone for a TD.  On the replay however, it looked like his knee did hit the ground, so Coughlin ran out and tossed the red flag. The refs would rule that Smith was down and placed the ball at the ½ yard line.  3rd and goal all that would happen is the Giants delayed the inevitable

The NFL’s leading TD maker, Williams would get the ball on a quick count, and chug inside left guard, leave his feet and dive into the end zone, over Justin Tuck, his third on the day in the first half.  So now the score would officially be 21-10 as Kasay put through the extra point with 4:45 to go in the half and a stunned/angry Giants crowd started with some slight boos.

Lloyd would come on again to kickoff, and it would be taken by Bradshaw at the goal line and he would force his way to the 27 yard line.  First and 10 and now down 11 points in a winner take all game, Eli would give to Jacobs running to his left, and he would head around the edge to the 30 yard line, tackled by Chris Harris.  2nd and 7, Eli would fake the handoff to Jacobs and step up and away from Peppers and sling a pass to Kevin Boss who was wide open at the 45 yard line.  Boss would get thrown out of bounds by Harris right at the 45.  First down, Eli another fake, and would look to hit Hixon on an in route at the Panthers’ 35 yard line, and there looked to be contact from Gamble and pass interference, but no flag was thrown as the ball fell incomplete.  2nd and 10, with the play clock running down, Eli gave us a clear “Omaha” and snapped the ball, but Davis came around McKenzie and sacked Eli back at the 38 yard line.  3rd and 16, Eli in the gun, would dump off a screen to Ward on the left side at the 34, but it was read perfectly by Lucas, who nailed Ward as soon as he caught it.  The boos now got louder at Giants Stadium as Feagles came back out to punt on 4th and 22.  Feagles punt went to Jones at the 21 yard line on a fair catch with 2:06 to go in the half.

So the Panthers were now looking to put a stranglehold on the game and had the Giants on their heels.  First and 10, Delhomme would throw a pass down the line to Smith, this time to the right side, but the Giants were ready and Smith was engulfed by Pierce at the 19 yard line for a loss which brought the clock to the 2 minute warning.  2nd and 12, Delhomme would audible to a run, and gave to Williams running to his right, but got hit for no gain by Cofield and Johnson.  The Giants would take a timeout with 1:55 to go.  3rd and 12, Delhomme got extremely lucky as he tried to throw a quick slant to the left in the direction of Smith, but it was read by Thomas who had his hands on it at the 25 and it would have been a walk in TD had he held on.  On came Jason Baker to punt, and he would sent it towards RW McQuarters, but Bradshaw who was back as an upman to block, tried to field it at the 38, and he would drop the ball, but had time to pick it up and he took it to the 45 yard line with 1:39 to go.

Eli with good field position would be in the shotgun, but not to throw

Eli would give to Ward out of the shotgun on a little draw and Ward would follow Snee who was pulling to block.  Ward would cut inside the block up the middle and burst past the Panthers’ DL, around a missed tackle at the 40 and took off all the way down to the 21 yard line and forced out of bounds by Davis with 1:30.  1st and 10, and the Giants would run the same play to Ward out of the shotgun, and he would take it to the 17 yard line, stopped by Harris.  2nd and 6, Eli in the gun, with plenty of time, tried to throw it over the middle towards Boss, who had it tip off his hands and into a crowd of Giants and Panthers, and was lucky it wasn’t intercepted.  3rd and 6, Eli in the gun and tried to sneak a pass in towards Mario Manningham over the middle and he was actually triple covered.  As luck would have it, the ball was tipped near the line by Peppers, which made it wobble and ruin what would have been an easy INT for Beason.  John Carney would come on to convert a 35 yard field goal to make the score 21-13 with :50 to go in the half.  

Carney’s kickoff would go to Jones at the 11 yard line and he would squirt out to the 36 yard line, taken down by Bryan Kehl.  Delhomme give the ball to Williams running to his left, but was met by Johnson, Webster and Kiwanuka at the line of scrimmage and let the clock run.  John Fox, a defensive coach at heart, decided that he wanted to play it safe and get out at the half with the 21-13 lead.  

At the start of the 2nd half, the temperature continued to drop and the winds got a little stronger.  Carney’s kickoff would go to Jones at the 8 yard line and Jones took it up the middle and had a lane and took the ball up to the 33, tackled by Thomas.  Carolina started with a handoff to Williams, who ran to the left, broke a tackle and got the ball out to the 38, tripped up by Clark and Pierce.  2nd and 5, a fake to the fullback and then a pitch to Williams on a sprint to the right and initially it looked like it was going to work as Williams got the corner and was into open field.  However Johnson came flying up from his safety spot and took out Williams’ legs at the 44 and kept him from having a huge gain, but still good enough for a first down.  Stewart back in the game, even though he had a “head injury” (ie- concussion) and he would also take the ball inside to the right, found a lane and got to the Giants’ 49, hit down by Clark.  2nd and 4, Delhomme would fake the handoff, have time initially, but as he got a late rush and was hit by Robbins, he floated a pass towards Stewart, who was well covered by Chase Blackburn and the ball fell incomplete.  3rd and 4, the Giants fans would rise up and make a bunch of noise, and the defense responded, with an all out blitz that forced a quick pass from Delhomme which went over the head of Muhammad and was nearly picked,and should have been, by Dockery.  Baker came on to punt it away and he would send a high punt that was fair caught at the 10 by McQuarters.

First down, and Eli would give to Jacobs running to the right side for a 3 yard gain, hit down by Beason.  2nd and 7, a deep toss to Jacobs to the left, and he hesitated early, as a run blitz backed him up, but he would cut back inside and pick his way to the 15, tripped by Diggs.  3rd and 5, Eli in the gun, would drop back, and try to hit Hixon on an out pattern, but the ball sailed out of bounds and incomplete on the back shoulder attempt.  The crowd was looking for another flag on Lucas, but none came, so it was a 3 and out, Feagles back on to punt it away, standing at the goal line, and his kick was a poor effort, a shank that bounced at the 42 yard line and rolled forward to the 48 yard line, a 33 yard kick.

Panthers first down, gave to Stewart up the middle and he would gain 2 yards, hit down by Renaldo Wynn.  2nd and 8, Stewart again up the middle, found some space for a moment, but was hit by Pierce and Clark at the 43 and driven backwards.  3rd and 5, Delhomme was back to throw, and got nailed by Alford as he threw in the direction of Muhammad and the pass was broken up by Webster.  Muhammad was looking for a flag that was not to come.  So Carolina would respond with their own 3 and out on offense, Baker’s punt was a line drive, fair caught at the 16 by McQuarters with 9:35 to go in the 3rd quarter.

Eli would start off with a fake to Jacobs and roll to his right and throw a short pass to Boss at the 16, and the TE would get the ball to the 20, hit down by Davis.  2nd and 6, Jacobs would take the carry up the middle, cut to the right and get stood up by Lewis after a 1 yard gain.  3rd and 5, Eli in the gun, and he would take too much time, and the first penalty of the game would get called against the Giants.  Now 3rd and 10, Eli again in the gun, with all day to throw, he would find Boss coming out late and crossing over the middle at the 19 yard line.  Boss would take the ball up the field, and dive forward to the 27 yard line, getting upended by Lucas and landing on his head, but good for a first down.  Boss would come out of the game looking a little shaky (and in hindsight his career would end early due to concussions).  First down, Jacobs took the carry and picked his way to the 32 yard line, ridden down by Beason.  2nd and 5, Eli would change the play at the line and threw a quick slant to Hixon at the 40 and he would take it out to the 41 yard line, dropped by Gamble, but good for another first down.  Eli would again change the play and gave to Jacobs running to his left and powered to the 44 yard line, bouncing off several Panthers along the way, before Peppers took him down.  2nd and 7, with Ward in the game, would stay on the ground

Jacobs softened the Panthers up and Ward took advantage, running to his left, he cut inside a David Diehl block on Peppers, ran out of an arm tackle, and accelerated all the way to the Panthers’ 33 yard line, tripped up by Marshall.    Eli would drop back to throw, fake a pass to the left, and then come all the way back to the other side to Amani Toomer, who was open at the 21, good for another first down as he was pushed out of bounds by Gamble.  The drive kept rolling, and Eli would again drop back, and this time he would dump off to Hedgecock who was open on a checkdown at the 19 yard line, and the fullback would rumble down to the 8 yard line, spun down by Gamble.  First and goal, Eli in the gun, would hand off inside to Jacobs up the middle and he would bull his way all the way down to the 2 yard line, taken down by Davis.  2nd and goal, Jacobs took the ball around right end, and as he held up, Harris smacked Jacobs up high and took the big running back down, something rarely seen.   On 3rd and goal, the Giants would go to the air

With the Panthers having to respect the Giants running game out of the shotgun, Eli had plenty of time to sit back in the pocket, survey the field and drill a pass in to Boss who had gotten open in the end zone for an easy TD catch.  Coughlin didn’t give a 2 point conversion much thought and sent out Carney to make the score 21-20 and cap off a 12 play, 84 yard drive, which took 8:36, and left the clock at :59 remaining in the 3rd quarter.

Carney’s kickoff would go to Jones on a line drive at the 10 and he would follow his wedge all the way out to the 37, hit down by Blackburn.  So Carolina started in good field position began their drive with a play fake and Delhomme threw a deep shot towards Smith, but the ball was off course and incomplete.  2nd and 10, the ball was given to Williams, running to his left and out to the 43, hit down by Pierce and Blackburn.  3rd and 4, Delhomme took the snap and got off a quick pass as the Giants came on a blitz and it was caught by Muhammad and he was taken down by Webster at the 50, but it was good for a first down and the final play of the 3rd quarter.  To start the 4th quarter, the Panthers gave it to Williams on a delay, but Pierce came on a run blitz and hit in him the backfield for a 1 yard loss.  2nd and 11, Williams again got the ball up the middle, and he was hit down by Justin Tuck after a 2 yard gain.  3rd and 9, Delhomme would take the snap, have plenty of time to throw a strike to Dwayne Jarrett at the 32 yard line and the former 2nd rounder rolled forward to the 30 yard line, touched down by Pierce.  The Panthers would make the Giants pay for allowing that conversion

Now we are getting into crazy territory, Williams took the handoff on a draw up the middle and he would cut back to the right, turn the corner and cut back to his left, a missed tackle by Clark, past the overpursuit by Butler, stiff armed Pierce at the 20, and then out run Johnson and Blackburn to the end zone and score his 4th TD of the day, a 30 yarder.  Casey’s extra point was good to make the score 28-20 with 12:50 to go in the game.

Lloyd would kick off to Bradshaw at the 5 yard line, and he would take it out to the 23 yard line.  Eli would drop back and get smothered by Brayton for a sack at the 14, as he burst past McKenzie who was expecting help inside.  2nd and 19, Eli gave to Jacobs on an inside handoff from the gun, and he would cut back to the left, and again the Giants got good yardage, plowing out to the 30, finally taken down by Beason.  3rd and 3, the Giants would let Ward bust loose again

Ward would take the pitch back out of the shotgun running to his left, follow the pulling guard Suebert who took out an onrushing defender, and Ward would get the edge and cut up the field, breaking a tackle and then into the open, going all the way down to the 33 yard line, before Charles Godfrey shoved him out of bounds, good for a 37 yard gain and would put Ward over 100 yards for the game.  Jacobs would get the carry, run to his right, bounce off a tackle attempt by Beason at the 32, and then put his shoulders down and plug forward to the 31.  2nd and 7, with the playclock going down, Eli would call a timeout, the Giants first of the half.  Now on 2nd down, Eli would drop back, and dump off to Jacobs at the 28, and for a moment it looked like he had the ball as he was hit by Diggs and fumbled, but the refs called it incomplete.  3rd and 7, Eli in the gun, and he had no chance as Peppers got around Diehl and erased Manning for a big sack back to the 39 yard line, and the Giants were lucky the ball didn’t come loose.  So that erased a scoring chance and brought Feagles on to punt on a 4th and 15.

Feagles needed to put the ball in the coffin corner and he did so nearly perfectly, having it bounce at the 5 yard line.  Thomas came running over as the ball bounced high in the air to bat it out of bounds at the one yard line, before the ball or Thomas went into the end zone.  A huge play to change field position with 9:21 to go in the game.

The crowd now in full throat with the Panthers pinned.  The gave the ball to Williams up the middle and he was engulfed by Robbins and the pile went down at the 3 yard line.  2nd and 8, again Williams got the ball, and he slipped for a moment, and was nailed by Cofield for no gain.  3rd and 8, the Panthers played it safe, gave to Williams, who ran to his right, and was hit down by Pierce at the 5 yard line.  So Baker had just enough yardage at the back of the end zone to punt and nearly had it blocked as the ball went to McQuarters at the Giants’ 46 yard line.  McQuarters got the ball out to the Panthers’ 44 yard line where he was shoved out of bounds with 7:09 to play.

The Giants started off going the wrong way, with a false start called on Diehl.  1st and 15, Eli dropped back, had time and threw to Hixon on an out at the 45 yard line.  Hixon would turn up the field and get the ball all the way to the 36 yard line, and nailed out of bounds by Davis setting up a 2nd and 2.  Eli would give to Ward, tried to run to his right, but was strung out by the Panthers and he was dropped for a 1 yard loss by Beason.  3rd and 3, Eli would pump fake, and then throw to his old reliable, Toomer at the 31 on a comebacker, and the veteran WR would spin off Gamble, get away from Beason and head up the sidelines until he was banged out of bounds at the 22 yard line.  First down, a pitch to Ward running to his right, would get hit down at the 20 by Diggs.  2nd and 8, Eli went in the gun again, and again gave to Ward, this time up the gut, and he took it to the 17, hit by Brayton.  3rd and 5, with the clock under 4:30, Eli back in the gun, threw over the middle to Boss, who hauled it in at the 13, and he would take the ball all the way down to the 5 yard line, stopped by Lucas, as Boss got up limping.  First and goal, Eli tried to to over the back shoulder toward Hixon who got tangled up with Lucas and the ball was batted away.  However a flag was thrown for pass interference, amazingly Carolina’s first pass interference call all season and set up a first and goal at the 1.  With Jacobs in the game, it wasn’t hard to see what was going to happen next

Jacobs used his 267 pound frame to power into the end zone and through the Panthers defense, plowing over DTs 6 yards deep in the end zone.  Obviously, with 3:21 to go in the game, the Giants had to go for a 2 point conversion.  Normally what Coughlin and Gilbride prefered was to spread the field and give to the running back on a draw.  And with the way the Giants were running, you could see it happening here.  But the Giants were 0-2 in 2008 on the 2 point conversion and this was the most important of the season.  The Giants decided to go to the air, and Eli in the gun, would fake to Jacobs to draw in the defense and then hit Hixon on a slant in the end zone for a huge 2 pointer to tie the game at 28-28, as he beat Lucas in coverage.

Carney would kickoff to Jones, who fielded it at the 10, and he got off a nice return to the 38 yard line, hit down by Thomas.  Needing just a field goal, the Panthers began with a playfake to Stewart, sat in the pocket and checked back down to Stewart at the 40 yard line.  He would spin off a tackle attempt by Pierce at the 42 and make his way to the Giants’ 49 yard line, hit from behind by Kiwi.  First down, a draw up the gut to Stewart was good for just 1 yard, hit by Clark.  2nd and 9, the Panthers took the clock down to the 2 minute warning.  Delhomme would drop back and fire a dart to Smith over the middle at the 37, but it was broken up by a diving Webster.  3rd and 9 with 1:54 to go, and the crowd roaring, Delhomme would drop back, hit Muhammad on a slant at the 40 and the big WR would turn his body and fall forward to the 37, tackled by Webster and good for a huge first down.  The Panthers, with all 3 timeouts, let the clock run, and looked to be a disaster at first, as Delhomme dropped the snap, and just got the ball to Williams running up the middle, but the running back quickly cut to the left and made it all the way to the 32, hit down by Butler for a would be first down.  However, a penalty on Smith for a hold on the outside made it 1st and 13 at the 40.  Tuck, playing hurt and sick with the flu went down after the play, and by rule the Giants had to take their 2nd timeout with 1:11 to go.  Delhomme would give to Williams again on a draw, this time running to his right, and he cut back over the middle, where he was met at the 40 by Johnson and Wynn for no gain.  The Giants would call their final timeout with 1:03 to go.  2nd and 13, the Panthers went with the Wildcat formation, and Williams playing at QB, took the snap and ran to his right, behind 2 pulling linemen, found a hole, lept over the pile and got to the 33, where he was shoved out of bounds by Butler with :54 to go.  3rd and 6, the ball went to Williams, who tried to run to his left and was nailed at the 32 by Tuck.  Unable to stop the clock, the Giants had to watch as the Panthers took the clock down to :09 left in the game and took a time out.  

Before the kick, NBC showed a highlight of Kasay hitting a 55 yarder in this direction in pre-game warmups.  However, as they also noted, that was at 7:30 PM, it was now past 11:00 PM and the temperature was dropping and the wind was picking up.  In this direction (kicking opposite my seats in the other end zone), he had the wind at his back.  But in old Giants Stadium, the winds would swirl.  And we would see it on Kasay’s kick, which started off looking good, as hit was heading down the middle, and then it started to flutter and in the last about 5-10 yards, it shifted wide to the left as the crosswind got a hold of the kick and pushed it out.  The replay would also show that Kasay did a bit of a move forward and should have been a false start.  With :04 left, the Giants would take a knee and send the game to OT.

Back in 2008, the rules in OT were still that the first team that scores win.  So a field goal on the first possession was good enough to win the game.  The Panthers would call heads on the coin toss, and it landed tails, so the Giants got the ball first.  Lloyd’s kickoff would go to Bradshaw about 6 yards into the end zone and he took a knee for a touchback.  First and 10 at the 20, Ward would take the carry running to his left, and got out to the 26 yard line, tackled by Peppers and Diggs.  2nd and 4, Eli would audible again and check off to a quick slant to Hixon, which was a little high and off his hands, and luckily wasn’t picked.  On 3rd and 4, out of the shotgun, Eli tried to hit Toomer on a quick out pass to the right, as the Panthers came on a blitz.  Toomer was open, but this pass was also a little high, and bounced off Toomer’s hands, and this time came dangerously close to being picked off by Gamble.  The Giants dodged a bullet and on came Feagles to punt, sent it out to Jones at the 25 yard line, and the former Giant ran across field to the right, just got past a DJ Ware tackle attempt and was brought down by Thomas at the 38.

Carolina had the ball with 13:54 to go in OT.  First down a straight ahead run by Stewart got out to the 43, hit down by Clark.  2nd and 5, Stewart again up the gut, this time just 2 yards, hit by Tuck and Robbins.  3rd and 3, with the crowd screaming, Delhomme dropped back with a blitz coming and tried a quick pass towards Muhammad and it was nearly picked off by Dockery.  So Carolina responded with a 3 and out and Baker came on to punt and McQuarters made it an adventure

Talk about a near nightmare.  Baker’s punt was more of a low floater, that forced McQuarters to race up to fair catch it at the 19 yard line.  But in windy Giants Stadium, nothing is easy.  McQuarters had the ball bounce off his arms and head back towards the goal line, and was in a race for the ball with Richard Marshall and the crowd yelling in terror.  McQuarters was able to get possession at the 14 and in a big pile up, the refs gave the ball to the Giants.  

The Giants had and fans had a chance to exhale for a moment.  And that’s all they had, because Ward made them stand up and cheer

Ward took the carry and followed a lead by Suebert in the hole on Beason and burst though the middle and it was a foot race at that point, with Lucas finally catching up to Ward and pushed him out of bounds at the Panthers’ 36, and nearly got him to fumble, but it was good for a 51 yard gain.  Jacobs would take the next carry and he powered his way to the 33 yard line up the gut, stopped by Johnson.  2nd and 7, Eli would try to hit Hixon and they would get crossed up as Hixon came in, and Eli threw out, so the ball was incomplete.  That set up a huge 3rd and 7, and the Giants went to their favorite play of the day

Over and over again, the Giants were in a passing down, in the shotgun and handed off to a running back.  In this case, and this game, it was a money play with Ward back there.  And it would happen again here, as Ward took the draw, followed Suebert and Boss, ran to the right, and again found a lane and took off all the way out to the 19, stopped by Godfrey before it got even worse for Carolina.  But it was good for another first down and got closer for Carney to kick into the wind.  Carolina took a timeout to catch their breath as the Giants were marching on them.  On first down, Ward got the ball and kept his career game going, this time running to the right, he turned the corner, took off up the field and dove towards the goal line, getting pushed out at the 2 yard line by Davis, and put Ward over 200 yards on the day (215 to be exact).  As great as Ward was, it was time to go to the hammer.

This was just pure power here from Jacobs.  He was actually stopped at about the 3 yard line.  But as they teach all running backs, keep your legs pumping.  And when you weight about 270 like Jacobs does, that can have a big effect, and it did here as he kept chugging, fell off the back of Suebert, and lunged forward and into the end zone, with an assist from Shaun O’Hara and Kevin Boothe shoving him,  to win the game for the Giants as the crowd went nuts.  The win locked up home field advantage through the playoffs for the defending World Champions in a 34-28 back and forth OT thriller.   

Interesting tidbits/ Post Mortem

  • The Giants would have 2 guys go over 1000 yards rushing in the same season with Jacobs and Ward, and they became the 5th in NFL history to do so.  Prior to their feat in 2008, the following duos were able to turn the trick
    • 1972- Miami Dolphins: Larry Csonka (1117 yards) and Mercury Morris (1000) * in 14 game season
    • 1976- Pittsburgh Steelers: Franco Harris (1128 yards) and Rocky Bleier (1036 yards) * in 14 game season
    • 1985- Cleveland Browns: Kevin Mack (1104 yards) and Ernest Byner (1002 yards)
    • 2006- Atlanta Falcons- Warrick Dunn (1140 yards) and Michael Vick (1039 yards).  In the process, Vick became the first QB to rush for 1000 yards in NFL history.
  • There has only been one other pair of teammates to do it since, and they were featured in this game.  In 2009, for the Carolina Panthers, Jonathan Stewart went for 1133 yards and DeAngelo Williams went for 1117 yards.  
  • The 2008 Giants team was a rushing machine.  They were the #1 ranked rushing offense in the NFL.  They would rush for 200 or more yards in a game 6 times.  And if you count going over 100 yards rushing in a game as part of that, including the playoffs, they did it 13 times in 17 games.  In comparison to their Super Bowl teams
    • 1986- Over 200 yards: 4 times, over 100 yards: 15 times in 19 games
    • 1990- Over 200 yards: 1 time, over 100 yards: 16 times in 19 games
    • 2000- Over 200 yards: 2 times, over 100 yards: 12 times in 19 games
    • 2007- Over 200 yards: 1 time, over 100 yards: 12 times in 20 games
    • 2011- Over 200 yards: 0 times, over 100 yards: 10 times in 20 games.
  • And in the most recent 2015 season: Over 200 yards: 1 time, Over 100 yards:4 times.  Yikes.
  • Giants had over 300 yards rushing, most since 1959 when they rushed for 351 yards in a 45-14 win at Yankee Stadium over the Washington Redskins. Frank Gifford led the team with 159 yards, including a 79 yard TD.
  • Madison Hedgecock had his first carry as a Giant in nearly 2 years, and he didn’t get the first down on the no gain run. It was his only carry as a Giant. He only had 2 other carries in his career, both with the Rams, and he gained 2 yards.
  • Brandon Jacobs' 3 TDs in the game were a career high in a single game
  • John Fox was the head coach for the Panthers in this game. Fox was the Giants defensive coordinator from 1997-2001. Fox beat the Giants the first 2 times they met up. In 2003, in Jim Fassel's final game as head coach. And in 2005, in Tom Coughlin's first playoff game as NYG Head Coach, in an embarrassing 23-0 shutout of the Giants at the Meadowlands.
  • After this loss, Fox was involved in another couple of Giants milestones. In 2009, Fox's Panthers destroyed the Giants in their final game at Giants Stadium, 41-9. The Panthers would also open the new Meadowlands Stadium (before it was known as MetLife), and lost that game 31-18.
  • The wheels would come off for the 2010 Panthers, they would finish at 2-14 and Fox would be fired. In 2011, Fox would land in Denver, and squeezed an 8-8 season out of the Broncos, with Tim Tebow at QB, and made the playoffs and actually beat the Steelers at home before getting blown out in New England, 45-10.
  • Fox would then go on a run in Denver with Peyton Manning at QB. In 2012, he would go 13-3 and get the #1 seed, before an OT loss in the playoffs to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. In 2013, Fox would again beat the Giants and lead his team to another 13-3 season, and this time make the Super Bowl...only to get destroyed 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks in...MetLife Stadium.
  • Fox's run in Denver would end after the 2014 season, this time going 12-4, but with a broken down Manning at the helm, lost to the Indianapolis Colts in Denver and Fox would be fired.
  • Fox has since landed in Chicago, where he is trying to rebuild the Bears and in 2015 had a rough go at it, going 6-10.
  • DeAngelo Williams would rush for 4 TDs in the game and get 18 on the season.  That number is tied with Adrian Peterson, who also rushed for 18 TDs in 2009 as the highest since 2008.  The highest all time was when LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for an amazing 28 TDs in 2006.  
  • And no one knew it at the time, but this was the final Giants game the great John Madden would broadcast. Madden, who always spoke about players not showboating or making themselves bigger than the game, had mentioned in the past that when it was his time to go, he didn't want a bunch of fan fare, he would just walk away. And sure enough, after the 2008 season, that's exactly what he did. Madden's post coaching career was amazing. Quickly skyrocking to the #1 analyst role in the broadcast booth with former Giant Pat Summerall, the Madden/Summerall broadcast team was far in a way the best that there ever was, and no broadcasters today can hold a candle to what they did when they were at their best. If Madden was at your game, then that meant it was the best game of the week. When CBS lost their NFL contract after the 1993 season, Madden and Summerall went over to FOX, where they continued their work together, until the FOX higher ups decided it was time to get younger and promoted Joe Buck and Troy Aikman as their new #1 team. Summerall would retire, but Madden would press on, going over to ABC with Monday Night football. However, when it became clear that Monday Night Football was no longer the premiere show it used to be, Madden would go to NBC for the more lucrative Sunday Night football, and the ability to flex games to be sure that a prime matchup was on TV. Madden still stays in the public consciousness with this Madden NFL video game on EA Sports. And he still weighs in on NFL matters on call in shows from the Bay Area. But it would have been nice if Giants fans in the stadium that night, myself included, knew it was Madden's last game so he could have had a proper send off.