Friday, April 27, 2018

2004 Giants vs Cowboys

The Setup

Week 16

Eli Manning is an amazing athlete when you look at his “aw shucks” yokel demeanor and it’s a combination being a both a doofus on the field with some of the dumbest plays you’ve ever seen in a game situation, and yet as an assassin in some of the biggest pressure games when the lights are the brightest.  Say what you will about Eli Manning, but there are numbers that he has put up that should make you take notice and put him in the Hall of Fame conversation.   First of all, Eli owns pretty much every passing record in the history of the New York Football Giants, a tradition going back to 1925. 
  • #1 in TD passes (339 vs. Simms at 199)
  • #1 in yards (51,682 vs. Simms at 33,462)
  • #1 in wins (111 vs. Simms at 95)
  • #1 in yards per game (239.3 vs Kerry Collins at 237.7)

Of course, there is the other side of the coin, and Eli owns some of the not so good records as well for the Giants
  • #1 in INTs (228 vs. Charlie Conerly at 167)
  • #1 in losses (103 vs Simms at 64)

Ok, I can hear the argument, the NY Giants franchise has not been a passing team in its history.  The Giants are a team that has been built on defense.  Most offensive players tended to be running backs (Joe Morris, Rodney Hampton, Tiki Barber, Alex Webster, Brandon Jacobs, etc).  The Giants won the 1990 Super Bowl when Dave Meggett led the team with 39 catches (seriously).  Fine...but in NFL history, here is how Eli ranks

  • #8 in TDs and is only 3 behind Fran Tarkenton to move into #7.  He’s moved past Hall of Famers such as John Elway, Warren Moon, Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, and Dan Fouts.  (his brother Peyton is #1 with 539)
  • #6 in passing yards.  A shade under 10,000 away from Dan Marino at #5.  And again, he’s passed Hall of Famers listed above, plus Tarkenton.

And, to be expected, he’s up there in the bad categories too

  • #15 in INTs, tied with Drew Brees.  And is only 5 behind Moon.  A 15 INT season would move him into 12th place, leapfrogging Hall of Famers Fouts and Bobby Layne.

The point of all of this?  Eli’s name is scattered throughout the Giants and NFL record books.  And winning 2 Super Bowls with 2 Super Bowl MVPs is hard to look past.  

But Eli has always been a guy who attracts attention and conversation, even when, at the end of the day, he’s a pretty boring guy.  An upstanding citizen known for his charitable work, winning Co-NFL Man of the Year honors with Larry Fitzgerald and not engaging in social media (there is no Eli Manning twitter account).  Yet, Manning has been a lightning rod in large part thanks to his last name and comparisons to his legendary brother.  It has been said of his father Archie, that the only difference between Archie and Roger Staubach was that Archie got drafted by the awful Saints and Roger got to go to the powerhouse Cowboys.   Eli’s manipulation of the draft in 2004 to get himself traded to the Giants and away from the Chargers drew much of the same scorn as when Elway did the same thing in 1983 to stay away from the Baltimore Colts.

The 2017 season was one of the worst for Giants fans to endure.  Going 3-13, the worst record since Bill Parcells’ opening 3-12-1 year in 1983.  A record number of losses for the franchise.  A buffoon at coach in Ben McAdoo, who somehow made Ray Handley look like a competent head coach.  For all the disasters that 2017 brought, nothing brought shame to the franchise quite like what happened to Eli.  

Going into the 2017 season, many thought (including yours truly) that the Giants were going to be a Super Bowl contender.  Coming off an 11-5 season and a playoff berth, with a strong defensive unit, the Giants were a few offensive weapons short to pair with Odell Beckham and set the Giants up.  So they went and got Brandon Marshall.  They drafted Evan Engram.  We were excited.  But they ignored 2 things.  Their offensive line and their offensive scheme.  In both cases, McAdoo seemed to throw some blame on Eli for not dealing well without a clean pocket.  Basically ignoring the fact that Erick Flowers at left tackle was awful.  Bobby Hart, proclaimed himself to be the best right tackle in the NFL, was a journeyman 7th rounder.  Well, the season unraveled almost immediately.  An 0-5 start and losing their entire WR corps in Week 5, including Beckham, Marshall, and Dwayne Harris for the season in the Charger game killed the year before Columbus Day.  But soldiering on was Eli, with no weapons outside a hampered Sterling Shepard and Engram.  Things came to a head when McAdoo, instead of bringing in rookie QB Davis Webb, thought it was wise to give snaps to Geno Smith.  McAdoo offered to let Eli start to keep his streak going and then pull him for Geno.  Eli saw through the BS and said if Geno is going to play, then start him.  Eli’s iron man starting streak of 210 straight games came to an end, the 2nd longest of all time.  McAdoo was convinced Geno was the better QB in his system.  He blamed Eli for it’s failings.  Geno started and lost that game in Oakland to the Raiders.  The next day, McAdoo and Jerry Reese lost their jobs.  Eli was reinstated at QB.  When Dave Gettleman came back as GM, he lauded Eli, saying he can still play and still has the same arm strength.  His will was tested with a slew of QB prospects in the 2018 draft.  With the Browns taking Baker Mayfield, the Giants were staring Sam Darnold in the face.  The man who came into the 2017 college football season as the presumptive #1 overall pick.  “Suck for Sam” was the motto for teams tanking.  But Gettleman didn’t bite and took RB Saquon Barkley out of Penn State.  

That Eli has had to earn everything the hard way, even after nearly 15 years should make it clear that he had to do it the hard way at the start of his career.  After the whole drama with the Chargers that caused an NBA like swap of Manning for Philip Rivers, the Giants decided to take it easy on Eli and not subject him right away to the pressures of the NFL.  With new coach Tom Coughlin taking over, the Giants tried to first keep Kerry Collins around as Eli’s mentor.  Collins was not keen on the idea and asked for his release.  So the Giants signed former League and Super Bowl MVP Kurt Warner to take over at QB.  Warner, due to injury and some sloppy play, lost his job in St. Louis to Marc Bulger.  So Warner needed a job.  The Giants wanted a veteran QB to show Eli the ropes and they made a deal.  

At the start, things were really rosy for Warner.  The Giants started out 5-2 and it looked like Eli’s time might not come in 2004.  But a loss to Chicago after blowing a 14-0 lead, in which Warner held on to the ball much too long and took 7 sacks and threw 2 INTs in a 28-21 loss.  The next week, the Giants lost again, this time at Arizona, and again Warner held the ball too long, taking 6 sacks and saw the Giants blow a 14-3 lead thanks to 2 Emmitt Smith TDs (yes, he went to the Cardinals at the end of his career) and the Giants lost 17-14.

Sitting at 5-4, still in the playoff picture, Coughlin made an unpopular move.  He benched Warner for Eli.  Many veterans, Michael Strahan in particular, hated the move because he felt it showed the Giants were giving up on the season.  So right off the bat, Eli found himself having to prove what he could do, with a team that wasn’t necessarily behind him.

Eli’s first game was at Giants Stadium against the 7-2 Falcons, the Giants would fall behind 14-0, and Eli’s first TD pass (a 6 yarder to Jeremy Shockey in the 3rd quarter) to make the score 14-7.  A 4th quarter field goal by Steve Christie made the score 14-10, and there it would stay in a loss.  In all, Eli’s first game stats weren’t bad: 17-37, 162 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs considering he was going against one of the better teams in the NFL with a good defense.

After the Falcon game, it turned into a struggle for Eli and The Giants.  Standing at 5-5 and watching their season teeter on the brink, the organizational decision to let Eli learn on the job would cost them the chance to make the playoffs.  They would drop their next two games against NFC East rivals Philly and his first road game at Washington, both blowout losses.  That would give the Giants an overall losing streak of 5 games.  And then came Baltimore....

On December 12, 2004, the Giants would face the Baltimore Ravens for the first time since their blowout loss in Super Bowl XXXV.  It was also the first time that Jim Fassel went against the Giants since he left the team.  Fassel, fired after the 2003 season as the Giants crashed and burned with a 4-12 record, was hired by his friend Brian Billick as Offensive Coordinator.  The Ravens came into the game at 7-5, on the heels of back to back losses at the Pats and to the Bengals, wanted to right the ship.  Now, not only did they want to right the ship, Billick wanted to avenge his friend Gentleman Jim.  The Giants were in trouble right away on the road, falling behind 17-0, and were down 27-7 at halftime, their only score a 50 yard fumble return by Osi Umenyiora for a TD.  The carnage would continue in the 2nd half, as the score grew to 37-7 in the 3rd quarter.  Meanwhile, Eli got a baptism by fire from Mike Nolan's defense.  Eli's numbers were terrible: 4-18, 27 yards, 2 INTs, 2 sacks, 0 TDs.. good for a 0.0 passer rating.  And worst of all, he looked lost and in over his head.  People began to wonder if they drafted the "Little Brother", who was nothing like his famous father and MVP older brother Peyton.  Those thoughts were made louder when Eli was benched, mostly for his own good, midway through the 4th quarter for Kurt Warner to get in some garbage time throws and at least look like an NFL QB.  Meanwhile, Billick and Fassel continued to rub it in, having Kyle Boller air it out, en route to a 4 TD, 0 INT day in a 37-14 drubbing.

It was after this game, this rock bottom that we saw Eli start to show glimpses that he was not going to be a bust.  Working on a short week, the Giants played the powerhouse 12-1 Steelers at Giants Stadium on a Saturday afternoon.  The Steelers had their own first round rookie QB starting for them in Ben Roethlisberger.  Ben was the man who the Giants were going to take with their first round pick if they couldn't secure Eli.  For Ernie Accorsi, it had to be a bad time.  He made the trade for Eli and watched him crash and burn vs. the Ravens.  In came the Steelers machine with Ben leading the charge.  But on this day, Eli went toe to toe with Ben and the superior Steelers team.  In a back and forth game, the Giants would trail 20-14 at halftime.  In the 2nd half, Eli led comebacks twice to take the lead in the 3rd and 4th quarter, including a 30-26 lead mid way through the 4th quarter, until the Steelers took the lead for good at 33-30.  Eli this time would go 16-23, 182 yards with 2 TDs and 1 INT and 0 sacks.  A passer rating of 103.9.  He outdueled Ben (18-28, 316 yards, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 3 sacks, a passer rating 84.8).  And more importantly, Eli looked like he knew who to run an NFL offense, against a top defense, and rebounded from a performance which might have killed his career.

Eli continued to play well the next week at Cincinnati, and on the strength of 5 Steve Christie field goals, gave the Giants a 22-17 lead on the road midway through the 4th quarter.  However, a 4 yard TD pass to Chad Johnson from Jon Kitna with just :44 to go in the game took away Eli's first win in a 23-22 loss.  Again, Eli put up ok numbers, not great, going 19-37, 201 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT.  But he was gaining much needed experience.  

That would set up the Giants vs. the Cowboys.  A Sunday Night finale on ESPN, at a time before flex scheduling in a game which, to be honest, unless you were a Giants or Cowboys fan with their teams battling for last place, there wasn't much to watch here (perhaps Fantasy Football and/or gambling).  The Giants came in at 5-10, losers of 8 straight games and 9 of their last 10.  But they did have Eli trying to finish up strong.  Meanwhile, Dallas wasn't much better.  With Bill Parcells in his 2nd year in Big D, the Cowboys were at 6-9.  They also had nothing to play for when it came down to it.  But at least the Giants had a growth opportunity with Eli.  The Cowboys had 41 year old Vinny Testaverde at QB, and a gaggle of washed up big names like Keyshawn Johnson, Eddie George, and La'Roi Glover.  The Cowboys were going through the motions finishing up the season.  Eli was trying to go into 2005 and able to get his first win under his belt.  And as it would turn out, this game would tell us a great deal about the Giants next franchise QB.

The Game Highlights

Dallas would win the toss and the Giants’ Steve Christie would kickoff would go to Cooper on a line drive at the 7 yard line and he would make his way out to the 26 yard line, hit down by Mike Cloud.  Vinny Testaverde took the field with the Cowboys’ offense and started off with a run to Julius Jones, going to his right, making it out to the 29 yard line, tripped up by Carlos Emmons.  2nd and 7, Vinny would drop back, and throw in the flat to Darien Barnes, and the fullback dropped it.  

3rd and 7, with Keyshawn in motion, the Giants came on a blitz and the pocket collapsed around Vinny, with Dumaine Duckett coming up with the sack.  Duckett, a rookie, shoved the pocket into Vinny and dropped him back at the 23.  On would come Mat McBriar to punt, and he would send it to Ike Hilliard, who had to run backwards to the 18 yard line to field it, but with such a long punt, McBriar outkicked his coverage, giving Ike room to take it up the field to the 34 yard line.

On would come Eli Manning with his offensive unit, and start with a pitch to Tiki Barber, running to his left, and only gained 1 yard, hit down by Marcellus Wiley, but a 5 yard facemask against Dallas made the run look better and set up a 1st and 4.  Eli would play action fake to Tiki and tried to hit David Tyree on a comeback route, but the ball sailed over his head.  2nd and 4 at the 40, Eli audibled to a run to Tiki going to his left, and was hit down after a 3 yard gain by Dat Nguyen.  3rd and 1, with Ike in motion, the ball went to Tiki trying to run to his left, but the offensive line got no push, Tiki got no gain, and was stuffed by Dexter Coakley.  That brought on Jeff Feagles to punt and he sent a short/high punt that was fair caught by Frasier at the 23 yard line, not one of Feagles’ best efforts.

After a lackluster start by both offenses, Vinny began with a play action fake and a quick pass out in the flat to Jones at the 24 yard line, as Giants’ linebacker Nick Greisen was late to recognize and was slow in getting after Jones, allowing the Cowboys’ RB to turn up the field, out run a few slow Giants defenders and was eventually knocked out of bounds at the Giants’ 39 by Brent Alexander and Curry Burns.  First down, Jones got the carry and was met by Osi Umenyiora in the backfield at the 43 and was shoved backwards all the way to the Giants 45 yard line as the refs blew the whistles.  On 2nd and 13, Flozell Adams, who was lined up against Osi, and worried about his quickness, made things worse with a false start, that made it 2nd and 18, where Vinny set up a screen to Jones at the 48 yard line, where he was tracked down by Duckett at the Giants’ 48, for no gain.  That made it 3rd and 18, Vinny threw a quick pass to TE Jason Witten (yes he was around back then) at the 44 yard line and he made it to the 37, hit down by Emmons.  That made it 4th and 8, and Bill Parcells sent in the field goal unit for a 56 yard field goal.

Oh that tricky Bill Parcells!  Billy Cundiff was out of his range, and they rushed the unit out and did a direct snap out to Cundiff, who pooched a punt down the middle and with no return man there by the Giants to field it, had it roll all the way to the Giants 3 yard line, with Al Johnson, the long snapper doing the honors to down it with 8:33 to go in the first quarter.

Starting deep in their own end, the Giants began with a handoff to Tiki running to his left and he only gained 1 yard.  2nd and 9, Eli with a play action fake, and calmly while standing in his own end zone, hit TE Marcellus Rivers coming across the middle at the 10 yard line, where he was hit immediately by Roy Williams.  3rd and 3, with Hilliard in motion, Eli was swarmed under as the Cowboys came on a blitz that the offensive line didn’t pick up and he was sacked at the 3 by Wiley, who came in unblocked.  With Feagles in the end zone, he booted it to Lance Frazier at the Cowboys 48 yard line and he would return it up the middle to the 41, hit down by Reggie Torbor.

So coming off that 3 and out, the ‘Boys had great field position and Vinny handed to Jones, who was held up in the backfield by Alexander, but Jones deked him and what should have been a loss ended up being a gain out to the 37 yard line, hit down by Will Peterson.  2nd and 6, Jones again made a play

For the 2nd straight play, the Giants had Jones in the backfield, this time Fred Robbins had him at around the 43 yard line, but Jones got away and ran to his right, got past Osi and Peterson in pursuit and headed around the corner to the right, past Griesen’s bad angle, and was hit out of bounds by Burns at the 29 yard line, but good for a first down.  Vinny dropped back and tried to hit Witten in the zone, but had the ball knocked away by Will Allen at the 10.  2nd and 10, Jones again seemed to be stopped in the backfield, but got away from Duckett and headed to his left, getting out to the 23, hit down by Burns.  3rd and 4, Vinny tried to hit Keyshawn Johnson at the 19 yard line, but he was cut off of his route by Peterson, and Vinny threw it right to Allen, who as he did in most of his career, dropped the pick.  A bad decision by Vinny, but was bailed out by Allen’s hands.  So Cundiff came on to hit a 40 yarder down the middle, giving Dallas a 3-0 lead with 4:15 to go in the first quarter.

Cundiff would kickoff to Willie Ponder, and a short line drive was fielded at the 15, and he would only get to the 23, nailed by Ryan Fowler, hurting his knee in the process.  So Eli comes out down a field goal, and started this drive with a deep pass to Tyree who had beaten his man and almost connected all the way down to the Dallas 45 yard line, but it was knocked away, as the ball wobbled a bit thanks to a hit near Eli’s knees by the Dallas DT.  2nd and 10, Tiki ran to his left, and picked his way to the 27 yard line.  A flag on the play for a personal foul face mask on Dallas gave the Giants their biggest gain and a sarcastic cheer by the Giants fans, moving the ball out to the 42.  So with a first down, the ball went to Tiki, who waited for the blocking to develop up the middle and accelerated out to the 48 yard line where he was tripped up.  2nd and 4, Eli dropped back and hit Tyree at the Dallas 47 yard line, and he spun out to the 46, hit down by Frazier, good for another first down.  1st and 10, Eli again faked to Tiki, and tried to hit Vishante Shancoe in the flat, but the ball was into the turf.  2nd and 10, Eli back, with pressure in his face from Le’Roy Glover, and hit a diving Tyree at the sticks, good for a first down at the 35.  Tiki got the ball, running to his right, and was hit by Greg Ellis for no gain.  2nd and 10, Eli back on a short set, and again hit Tyree on a quick slant, drilling it in at the 30, and Tyree made his way to the 26, dragging some Cowboys just 1 yard short of a first down.  3rd and 1, Tiki took the carry, waited a moment to follow Jim Finn and ran to his left and turned the corner and went out of bounds at the 16 yard line.  Good for a first down on the final play of the first quarter.  First down, Eli in the gun and drilled another pass to Tyree, who was torching Frazier, and caught it at the 5 yard line, just inches from a first down.  So 2nd and inches, Tiki got the carry, waited a beat, and had a hole to the right and was about to score, but Williams just tripped him up, however, he made it to the 2, setting up first and goal.  On first down, a play action fake and tried to zip the ball to Tyree at the back of the end zone and the ball just went through his hands.  Eli and Tyree would connect on a similar play a few years later in Super Bowl 42.  But in 2004, incomplete.  2nd and goal, Tiki tried to cut up the middle, but was bottled up by Wiley and friends after a short gain.  3rd and goal, the Giants would cash in

Eli showing good vision and a strong arm, drilled the pass into the TE Shiancoe just over the goal line, away from the Cowboys’ linebacker and in front of the safety for a TD.  After a hold on Torbor, Christie’s extra point was good giving the Giants a 7-3 lead with 12:48 to go in the half.

Christie’s kickoff would go to Cooper on another short kick, out near the 20, and he took it down to the 38 yard line, hit down by Curtis DeLoatch.  First down for Dallas, and Vinny swung the pass out to Jones in the flat, where he made another move and got the ball out to the 42 yard line, tripped up by Carlos Emmons.  2nd and 6, Jones running to his left, following Larry Allen, made it to midfield, forced out by Peterson and Osi, but good for another first down.  Vinny would fake the handoff and rifled a pass to Quincy Morgan on a diving catch at the 40 and out of bounds, but good for another first down.  Parcells would go to his favorite flea flicker play, where they have a guy running deep, but also someone coming across the middle fairly deep, and that guy coming across is nearly always open (see the Super Bowl XXI flea flicker to Phil McConkey and he also did it in 1990 vs. the Dolphins throwing over the middle to Mark Ingram).  In this case, Jones got the handoff, flipped it back to Vinny, who hit Keyshawn wide open at the 22, where he slipped down and was hit by Burns, but good for yet another first down.  On the play, Keyshawn got hurt as Keyshawn’s legs got caught under him and turned his ankle and he had to be helped off the field.  On first down, the Cowboys got a little too cute with the gadget plays

Ok, now there has long been a debate about using trick plays in a game.  As the Giants head coach, Parcells was known to use a few when he saw an opportunity.  Otherwise, he was a fairly conservative play caller, knowing he had a great defense.  In the 1990 NFC Championship, not only did they run the fake punt to Gary Reasons, but they also had a halfback option pass by Dave Meggett, which would have been a TD, but Mo Carthon lost it in the sun and dropped it.  Tom Coughlin almost never ran a trick play throughout his entire tenure.  The Cowboys version of Bill Parcells went back to back trick plays.  Following a flea flicker with a reverse pass option with Jones giving to Patrick Crayton running to his right.  With a clear line of sight, Crayton tried to get the ball to Witten in the end zone.  Now, here is where the problem lies when you give the ball to a position player who might not have played QB since high school.  They want to throw the ball no matter what, even if the guy is covered.  Sometimes the safe play is the smart play.  Crayton threw a beautiful spiral...right to Burns at the goal line who returned it to the 12.  Now, more air on the ball might have been a TD.  But Crayton is a WR, not a QB.  And the pick ruined a great scoring chance by Dallas with 10:25 to go in the half.

Having dodged a bullet, the Giants began their next drive with a handoff to Tiki running to his left, and he cut back up the seam for a nice gain of 9, out to the 21 yard line, hit down by Williams.  2nd and 1, the ball went to Ron Dayne, playing at fullback, and plugged up the middle for 3 yards out to the 24 and good for a first down.  Eli went into the gun, he pump faked to his left, scrambled out to the right and threw a low pass towards Toomer which hit the ground.  2nd and 10, Eli back, with blitz coming he dropped backwards and dumped off to Tiki on a screen, but it was read by Coakley, who took him down at the 19 for a big loss.  3rd and 15, Eli back in the gun again, took the snap, rolled to his left and fired a pass to Ike Hilliard at the 26, and he was wrapped up immediately and ridden out of bounds, well short of a first down.  Feagles on to punt, sent one to Frasier short at the 32 yard line, and the Dallas returner took the ball to the 37, tackled by Derrick Ward (wearing #44).  

With 7:25 to go, Dallas began with a quick pass to Crayton at the 38 yard line, he made a move to get away from Alexander and took the ball out to the 50 yard line, hit down by Emmons but good for a first down.  The ball went to Jones, who was met in the backfield by Osi for a 2 yard loss.  2nd and 12, the Giants came on a blitz, and Vinny tossed a low pass to Morgan who made a diving catch at the 43 yard line and rolled out of bounds.  It actually looked like it hit the ground, but no replay happened and set up a 3rd and 3 and a run by Jones to his right, where he found a lane, and burst out to the 31, hit by Will Allen.  First down, Jones again, but this time he was met in the backfield up the middle by Duckett and Williams for a loss.  2nd and 13, a draw to Jones, who broke a tackle by Duckett near the line of scrimmage and took off to his left, getting all the way down to the 13 yard line, a first down, before DeLoatch got him at his ankles.  On first down, Vinny was tripped by his guard and fell down, for an easy cover by the Giants for a 4 yard loss.  2nd and 14, Vinny threw it in the flat by Polite at the 17 yard line, and he was hit down by Griesen at the 13.  3rd and 10, Vinny with all day, hit Morgan out at the 6 yard line, hit down by Peterson, short of a first down and the clock stopped with 1:58 officially at the 2 min warning.  With the timeout, Parcells decided to go for the field goal instead of trying for a TD, and he hit from 24 yards out to make the score an exciting 7-6 Giants lead with 1:54 to go.

The Cowboys kicked off to Ward at the 7 and he took the ball up the middle and out to the 27 where he was horsecollared (no call) with 1:46 remaining in the half.  Eli started with a draw to Tiki up the middle and he took it out to the 33.  On 2nd and 3, Eli threw a pass behind Tyree and nearly for a Pick 6, but the ball was dropped by Frazier.  3rd and 3, Eli in the shotgun, with a blitz coming on, Eli threw a deep shot down the middle in the direction of Toomer, but overthrown, stopping the clock with 1:18 left.  Feagles on to punt, sent one to Frazier at the 23, and he ran it to the 29, swallowed up by Reggie Torbor. 

On first down, Jones took the draw, ran to his right and got the ball out to the 35, forced out by Allen with 1:00.  2nd and 4, Vinny hit Witten in the flat at the 38 and was dragged down in bounds by Pederson at the 39, setting up a 3rd and 1.  On a quick count, the ball went to Jones running to his right, good for a first down at the 45, hit by Torbor and Parcells called a timeout with :34.  First and 10, the ball went to Witten at the 48, he moved around the tackle attempt by DeLoatch, stiff armed Pederson at the Giants’ 48 yard line, and muscled over 2 Giants to the 46 yard line, and the Cowboys called a timeout with :23.  On 2nd and 1, Vinny back, with pressure, and scrambling around, and Vinny chucked one up deep to towards Morgan and at the ball batted away by Peterson.  3rd and 1 with :13 the Giants needed to hold.   Jones had been running well all day, and this time on 3rd and short, he tried the middle of the defense, only to run into Fred Robbins and Osi at the 46 yard line to stuff the running back for a loss and keep Dallas from getting a first down and forcing them to take their final timeout.  

With :08 to go, maybe the Giants thought Vinny was going to try a Hail Mary, but that wasn’t what the plan was.  Vinny, in the gun, took the snap, had time to step up in the pocket and rifle a pass to Crayton at the 27 yard line, complete for a first down, and out of bounds with :02 to go.  A perfect play call for the situation, setting up a 45 yarder for Cundiff who converted after a bad snap.  An offside on the Giants was declined and Dallas took a 9-7 lead into the half.  

To start the 2nd half, Dallas would kick off Ward, who fielded a short kick at the 10, and ran it out to the 27 yard line, where he was taken down by what looked like a tackle up by his head, but no flag.  Eli would begin with a draw to Tiki up the middle for 3 yards out to the 30.  2nd and 7, Eli was back with plenty of time and hit Rivers over the middle at the 41 yard line and the tight end would bull his way out to the 43 for a first down, hit down by Coakley.  First down, Eli pitched back to Tiki running to his left, bounced it outside and around the corner and was knocked out of bounds at the Dallas 49 yard line, hit down by Williams.  2nd and 2, Dallas on the blitz, Eli faked the hand off, rolled to his right, and hit Hilliard out at the 43 for a first down.  A flag on the play for an illegal use of hands on Dallas was declined.  On first down, Eli dropped back, and stepped up in the pocket and rifled a pass in to Jamaar Taylor at the 33, and Taylor would run back across the field to the 28 yard line tackled by Williams on a would be horsecollar.  However, a hold on Jason Whittle brought it back to a first and 20 at the Giants’ 48.  Eli in the gun, hit Hilliard over the middle underneath the zone at the Dallas 49, and Ike got the ball out to the 45.  2nd and 13, a draw to Tiki, who cut back over the middle out to the 40.  On 3rd and 8, we would get a taste of a wacky Eli INT.

Eli would drop back and with a blitz coming, which was picked up well, Eli did a jump pass thing over the middle towards an open Tiki.  However, Tiki wasn’t looking as the ref got in the way and the ball bonked off his helmet and into the arms of Coakley, who also batted it up in the air and with guys from both teams converging on it, the Cowboys LB Dat Nguyen would charge in to grab it at the 29 yard line for a killer interception.  

With 10:24 to go in the 3rd, Jones took the carry to his right for a 2 yard gain, hit down by Griesen.  

2nd and 8, Vinny threw a dart at the sidelines towards Crayton who caught the ball at the 40 yard line and was initially ruled out of bounds.  However, another official came over and said that Will Allen pushed him out of bounds so they gave the catch to Dallas.  And time to give Joe Theismann some credit here.  Joe was a terrible announcer.  However, he made a good point, the rule should be changed because either you get 2 feet in or you don’t.  Leaving it up to the official’s judgement was a problem.  As it turned out, the NFL would change this rule in 2008 to do just that.  With Coughlin yelling to no avail, the Cowboys were given a first down.  Jones would sweep to his right and was hit down by Burns at the 45, good for a 5 yard gain.  2nd and 5, Jones again running to his right, around the corner for a 5 yard gain and a first down, hit down by Alexander.  Vinny dropped back, with a blitz coming up the middle, would hit Crayton at the Giants’ 42 yard line, and the WR would spin inside and break a tackle by Allen, and plow into Alexander and fall forward, coming within inches of a first down, as Emmons dove in late and nearly knocked the ball free.  2nd and inches, Jones took the carry up the cut, got to the 37 for a first down, hit by Kevin Lewis, but a hold on Dallas set them back to a 2nd and 11.  Vinny would drop back for a screen, with a blitz coming off the corner by Peterson, Vinny would lure him in and dump the ball off to Jones, who bobbled it at the 43 yard line, avoid the tackle by Griesen who looked lost again, turn up the sidelines and accelerate out to the Giants’ 45 yard line, pushed out by Emmons.  3rd and 4, Vinny on a 3 step drop drilled a pass into Crayton at the 37 yard line, hit immediately by Peterson, but turned inside to get to the 35 and another first down.  Jones got the carry, running right, and cut back up the middle, hit down by Osi and Greisen at the 32 for a 3 yard gain.  2nd and 7, Vinny would give to Jones on a draw, but this time was met by Griesen for no gain.  3rd and 7, with Witten in motion, Vinny dropped back, and got drilled on a blitz by Duckett, but he slung a pass into Witten at the 27 yard line and the tight end would bang forward to the 23, hit down by Allen but good for another first down.  With the clock ticking down, Vinny called a timeout and the Cowboys gave to Jones running to his left, turned the corner and got the ball to 18, hit by Osi and Peterson.  2nd and 3, Jones took a draw, found a huge hole up the middle and rumbled down to 5 yard line, hit by Allen but set up a first and goal, and putting Jones over 100 yards on the day.  First and goal, Jones got the ball, and this time he didn’t have any chance to dance as Robbins engulfed him and stopped him for no gain.  2nd and goal, Vinny hit Jones out in the flat as the Giants came on a blitz by Alexander.  The last time Vinny got a good gain out of Jones as Griesen missed the tackle.  This time Jones caught it at the 7 yard line and was hit immediately by Burns and thrown down.  3rd and goal at the 7 we would see a Giants killer in the making

On 3rd and goal, with Osi coming off the corner, Vinny set up and threw a dart into Witten, who had set up shop in the end zone, blocked off Will Allen like he was a rebounder in basketball, and caught the ball for a touchdown.  This would become a familiar sight for the Giants and their fans for the next 10+ years.  The extra point was barely good, but finished up a 15 play drive that took almost 10 minutes, and put the Cowboys up 16-7 with :45 to go in the 3rd quarter.

The Cowboys kick was a low knuckleball that fluttered out to the 12 yard line, fielded on a bounce by Willie Ponder and he burst out to the 38 yard line for a nice gain.  The Giants would look to get back into the game quickly.  

Eli would fake the handoff to Tiki and with time in the pocket, heave a deep pass to Taylor, who had gotten a step on the corner and was ready to haul in the long ball at the 19.  But he was pulled down by the Cowboys’ Frazier for an obvious pass interference.  Jamaar Taylor was one of those players who flashed and looked like he was going to be a big part of the Giants future.  Taylor caught several deep passes from Eli in his rookie season, but a knee injury would end his career early.  But for the purposes of the play, the ball was all the way down to the 19 yard line for a big first down.  The Giants would get another highlight on the next play

Needing 4 yards to break Rodney Hampton’s all time rushing record for the NY Giants, Tiki would run to his left, turn up the field and gain 4 yards, giving him the record that he still holds today to end the 3rd quarter.  With the ball at the 15, Eli would show some touch.

Eli put Tiki in motion out of the backfield running to the left, he would fake what looked to be a screen out to Tiki as Tyree looked to come up to block.  That would draw in the Cowboys defensive backs, and allowed Tyree to slip right past them as Eli pump faked to Tiki.  That allowed Tyree to essentially glide right behind the Cowboys defense for an easy TD, hauling in the touch pass from Eli and back into the end zone on the 15 yard TD pass.  Amazingly, it was the Giants first TD catch by a WR the entire 2004 season.  The extra point made the score 16-14 with 14:55 to go as Mike Patrick would say the prophetic words, “don’t worry about Eli, he’ll be just fine”.

The Giants would kickoff to the Cowboys’ Jacque Reed on a line drive where he fielded it at the 15, booted it around and was able to fall on it and give himself up at the 19 yard line.  On first down though, we saw a rising young star on the Giants defense make a play

2nd year defensive end Osi Umenyiora would show what he would do over the course of the rest of his career.  Be a speed rusher off the blind side, beating left tackles and swiping at a QB’s arm just as they went back to throw.  In this case, Osi essentially ran right around Flozell Adams (looking like Erick Flowers basically), who didn’t get a hand on him, and hacked the ball out of Vinny’s hands at the 12 yard line, with the ball going forward to the 20, where Torbor dove on the fumble to give the ball right back to the Giants.  

So the Giants offense was in good shape at the 20, and gave to Tiki up the gut, where he dove ahead to the 15 yard line for a 5 yard gain.  2nd and 5, Eli had a play fake to Tiki and rolled to his right, tried to it Shaincoe and had the ball knocked away by Dixon.  3rd and 5, Eli in the gun shouting out Omaha, actually got a false start on Pettitgout.  3rd and 10 now at the 21, with the clock running down, Eli had to call a time out.  Eli back in the gun again, slung a pass over the middle to Tyree who snagged it at the 9 yard line for a huge first down, where he was hit down by about 4 Cowboys.  First and goal at the 9, Tiki took the carry up the middle for 2 yards.  2nd and goal at the 7, Eli would hit Shiancoe over the middle at the 4 yard line, where he was taken down by Coakley at the 3.  On 3rd and goal, the Giants would cash in

Somewhere the Giants dropped this from their playbook, but it’s a nice play down at the goal line, that being a short inside screen inside the 5 yard line.  In this case it was a quick fake to Tiki and Eli looking out towards a TE going into the flat.  But Tiki would sell the fake and stop, waiting for his offensive lineman to get out in front, get a good block by Shaun O’Hara and take the ball over the goal line for a TD.  Christie’s extra point made the score 21-16 Giants with 11:51 to go in the game. 

Christie’s kickoff was again squibbed and was taken on a bounce at the 8 yard line by Reeves and he got the ball out to the 29, hit down by Derrick Ward.  Vinny would drop back, with pressure forcing him to scramble, threw high to Morgan where it bounced off his hands and incomplete.  2nd and 10, a pitch to Jones running to the right, where he cut back over the middle for a decent gain of 5 yards.  3rd and 5, Vinny had time and fired a pass over the middle towards Witten, but the ball was thrown too hard and went through his hands.  McBriar’s punt to HIlliard was taken at the 28 yard line and Ike took it back to the 36 yard line where he was slung down.
First down, Eli handed off to Tiki, trying to find room up the middle, but found nothing and was hit down for no gain.  2nd and 10, Eli would zip a pass out to Tyree at the 45 and bulled ahead to the 46, just a yard short of a first down.  3rd and 1, Tiki took the handoff but he was met in the backfield by Williams on a run blitz for no gain and forced a punt.  Feagles’ punt bounced at the 5, and nearly held up enough to get downed, but it went into the end zone for a touchback.

On first down, Jones took a draw but was met in the backfield for a 1 yard loss by Duckett.  2nd and 11, Vinny back against the blitz, was able to find Witten who was wide open on a slant at the 30 and the big TE rumbled out to the 42 yard line, hit down by Peterson but a big gain and a first down.  Vinny would drop back again, but the Giants coverage was good and he would get sacked by Torbor at the 36.  2nd and 15, Jones would gauge the Giants for a big gain on a delay up the gut and he took off out to the 50, where he was tripped up by Alexander.  3rd and 2, a fake by Vinny and he would scramble around long enough for Witten to uncover and make the catch at the 43, hit down by Peterson but got a first down.  First and 10, the all went to Jones running to his right and took it to the 40, hit down by Osi after a 3 yard gain.  2nd and 7, Vinny dropped back and found a somehow wide open Witten at the 35 and he would pick his way out to the 30, hit by Lewis and good for another first down.  And Jones would again kill the Giants with a big run

Jones was ripping off big gains all night.  And it was no different this time as he took a handoff going up the middle, got Torbor to commit inside and cut outside of him and turn on the jets past Will Allen who ran himself out of the play, get a block from his WR, and barrelled all the way down to the 6 where he was corralled by Peterson and Deloatch.  First and goal, Eddie George would come into the game and push ahead for 1 yard.  After enough of that, George came out for Jones on 2nd and goal with the clock running near 2 minutes.  Jones took the handoff running to his right and would pound over Griesen all the way down to the 1 yard line, with the 2 minute warning coming officially at 1:58.  On 3rd and goal, Jones barged over to the right side, but this time Greisen did a version of the Gary Reasons’ leap in Denver to engulf Jones short of the goal line and Dallas called a timeout with 1:52 to go in the game.  So it came down to a 4th and goal for Bill Parcells.  But this time he decided to run towards his beef.

The previous play was run to the right.  However, this time the call was for Jones to run to his left.  Behind mammoth left tackle Flozell “the Hotel” Adams and Hall of Famer Larry Allen.  The results were better as Jones found a lane to get into the end zone.  Up by 1 point, the Cowboys would go for 2 and it would work on a quick pass to Witten in the end zone giving Dallas a 24-21 lead with 1:49 to go.

The kickoff was a squib out to the wedge at the 30 where it was scooped by backup TE Marcellus Rivers.  Rivers would push his way up the field to the 34 where he was get nailed by Fowler and put the ball on the ground.  Both teams would dive into a big pile, with the game on the line.  But fortunately for the Giants somehow Rivers was able to cover it up and give Eli his chance.

So here it was 1:41 to go in the game, 1 time out, and down by 3.  Eli in the gun would get whacked in the face and dump it off to Tiki at the 35, and he would end up charging up the field and all the way out to the Cowboys’ 44 yard line.  However, a flag on the play would add an additional 15 yards on roughing the passer on Leonardo Carson thanks to the shot to Eli’s head.  That would put the ball all the way to the 28 with 1:31 to go.  Eli in the gun gave to Tiki on a draw up the middle and he spun down to the 18 yard line, hit by Williams.  With the clock running, Eli back would hit Rivers at the 13, and he would get to the 12, hit by Coakley with the clock running under 1 minute.  Eli in the gun again, gave to Tiki on 2nd and 5 and he was tripped up and fell down at the 11 yard line.  With the clock continuing to run on 3rd and 3, the Giants had a huge decision to make.  Do you take a time out?  Do you throw it?  Coughlin made his decision

In the gun, with the clock now under 25 second, Eli gave to Tiki up the middle, found a lane and burst all the way out to the 3 where he was wrapped up by Williams and friends with 16 seconds to go and a first and goal.  And what would happen next would go down in Giants history

If the 3rd and 3 call was Coughlin’s, this one was on Eli.  Eli looked at the defensive front, saw that they were playing for a pass, and switched to a run to Tiki.  A gutsy move because if he was stuffed, the clock is running and you might not get a chance to spike it.  Not only did it give the Giants the lead, it also broke Joe Morris’ single season rushing record for Tiki at 1518 yards.  Christie’s extra point made the score 28-24 Giants with 11 seconds to go in the game.  

The Giants kickoff was squibed up the field and was taken out to the 37 yard line with 5 seconds to go.  Vinny in the gun and scrambling around, tried to fire it deep, but got his arm slightly hit and under threw Witten down at the 30, where he had to dive and dropped the ball as the clock struck 0 and the Giants ended the 2004 season with a win and gave Eli his first victory of his career.

Post Mortem/ Interesting Tidbits

  • This was the first of Eli's current Giants record 111 career win
  • Eli was the first Giants rookie with 3 TD passes in a game since Phil Simms in 1979
  • This was Eli’s first Prime Time game on ESPN
  • This was Eli’s first 3 TD game of his career.  Going into the 2018 season, Eli has thrown for 3 or more TDs in a game 47 times, with a career best 6 TDs at New Orleans in a shootout 52-49 loss to the Saints in 2015 (Drew Brees threw 7 TDs in the game as well).  
  • David Tyree caught his first NFL TD in this game, a 15 yarder to help key the 4th quarter comeback.  Tyree would catch 3 more regular season TDs in his career. Of course, he became much better known for a pair of 4th quarter catches 3 years later, in Super Bowl XLII, including a TD to give the Giants the lead, and a little known catch on the game winning drive in which the use of his helmet got a bit of attention.
  • Tyree’s 7 catches were a career high.  And his 71 yards were the 3rd best of his career, behind 106 yards in a loss at Philly in 2003, and 72 yards in a loss at Seattle in 2006.
  • Visanthe Shiancoe’s TD was his first of the season and his final TD of his Giants career.  In call he caught 3 TDs as a member of the Giants, and mainly played in the shadow of Shockey at TE.  Shiancoe would leave the Giants and sign with the Vikings and enjoyed a career year in 2009, catching 56 passes for 566 yards and 11 TDs as Minnesota made the NFC Championship game, ultimately blowing it at New Orleans on Brett Favre’s pick.  Shiancoe would play 4 more years, wrapping up his career with stops in New England in 2012 and the Titans in 2013.
  • Tiki’s TD was his 13th and final one of the 2004 season.  His 13 TDs was a career high, besting the 11 he scored in 2002.  
  • This was Ron Dayne’s final game in a Giants uniform.  The former Heisman Trophy winner out of Wisconsin never lived up to his potential with the Giants.  Initially in 2000, there was some hope. Dayne teamed with Tiki to form “Thunder and Lightning”. Dayne rushed for 770 yards and 5 TDs and was a good power component to Tiki’s slashing style.  But in reality, you would have thought Dayne was a power back. He was built like a bowling ball, at 5’10” and 250 pounds. You would have thought he was hammering back who punished defenders. But that was never his game.  He ran as though he was closer to Tiki’s size. He didn’t push piles, getting the derisive moniker “No Gain Dayne”. As Tiki took over as the feature back, Dayne’s production declined year after year: 690 yards, 428 yards, and in 2004 a mere 179 yards.  In this game, Dayne would contribute 1 carry for 3 yards. The Giants would not renew his contract, and he went to Denver, known as a franchise that churned out 1000 yard backs like it was nothing (Reuben Droughns, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, etc). And he got 270 yards.  Dayne would finish his career with the Texans, playing his final 2 seasons in the NFL, and he finished the 2007 season with career highs of 773 yards and 6 TDs and retired at age 29.
  • Going into this game, the speculation from ESPN and others was that this game would be the final NFL game for Vinny Testaverde.  Vinny, now 41 years old, had started 15 games for the Cowboys in his second stint under Bill Parcells, his first was with the Jets in his career best season of 1998 when he threw for 29 TDs with only 7 INTs, good for a 101.6 QB rating and led the Jets to the AFC Championship game in Denver.  But it would turn out that this wasn’t Vinny’s last hurrah. Vinny would go back to the Jets in 2005, and ended up starting 4 games for them in Herm Edwards final season as head coach in a 4-12 trainwreck as 5 different QBs got playing time (Vinny, Chad Pennington, Brooks Bollinger, Jay Fiedler, and Kliff Kingsbury).  Even that wasn’t enough to force Vinny into retirement. He spend the 2006 season as Tom Brady’s backup in New England (his 2nd stint with Bill Belichick after their shared time in Cleveland), and then finally, at the age of 44, he retired after spending the 2007 season with the Carolina Panthers, starting 6 games for them (going 2-4).  All in all, Vinny went from the #1 pick in the 1987 draft to Tampa Bay coming off a Heisman Trophy win at the University of Miami, and had a 21 year career. Not too shabby.
  • It was, however, the final game for a different Heisman Trophy winner on the Cowboys, running back Eddie George.  George, who made his name at Ohio State and burst on to the scene in 1996 with the Houston Oilers (their last season in Houston), racking up 1368 yards and 8 TDs.  George would go on to rush for over 1000 yards in his first 5 years, including a career high 1509 yards on a league leading 403 attempts in 2000, which included 14 TDs.  George would dip to 939 yards in 2001, and rebound to rush for over 1000 in his final 2 seasons at Tennessee. At age 31, George went to Dallas, who love big names and what we saw was a power back who showed the wear and tear from the pounding he took game in and game out as the feature back for the Oilers/Titans.  George only started 8 games for Dallas in 2004, rushing for career lows of 432 yards and 4 TDs. In his final game against the Giants, he rushed 1 time for 2 yards. It has been said that skill position players fall off a cliff when they hit 30. There are a few notable exceptions to the rule (Jerry Rice, Curtis Martin, Tiki Barber).  But the majority fall closer to the Eddie George category. Going from decent production in 2003 (1031 yards) to subpar in 2004 to out of the league in 2005.
  • Ike Hilliard also played his final game in a Giants uniform, catching 3 passes for 22 yards.  The former first round pick out of Florida was a solid WR over the course of 8 years with the Giants.  Hilliard missed most of his rookie year of 1997 thanks to a hit by Chris Hudson of the Jaguars in Week 2 that injured his neck.  While Amani Toomer stepped up and took control of the #1 WR spot, Hilliard became a reliable #2 man, with his slippery moves to get open.  Hilliard was injured again in 2002, suffering a season ending shoulder injury. thanks to a typically dirty late hit by Brian Dawkins. Turning 29 with some significant injury issues and a frail frame, the Giants decided to move on from Ike after the 2004 season and went for a much more physical receiver in free agent Plaxico Burress.  Ike would go back to Florida and sign with the Tampa Bay Bucs and played 4 seasons there. He retired after the 2008 season and signed 1 day ceremonial contract with Giants.
  • Curry Burns’ INT was the only one in his 3 year NFL career as a journeyman who played with the Texans and Redskins, in addition to the Giants.
  • Little used DT Davern Williams registered .5 sack in this game, it was his only time he got to the QB in his career, which was limited to 3 games in 2004.
  • Similarly, DT Damane Duckett registered the only sack of his 3 year career.
  • The Giants finished the 2004 season at 6-10.  Pretty bad considering a 5-2 start getting torpedoed to help Eli learn his craft and doing so at a 1-8 clip to finish up the last 9 games.  Amazingly however, 6-10 was good for 2nd place in the brutal NFC East. The Eagles were the class of the division, going 13-3 and making the Super Bowl (and losing to the Patriots).  The Giants however, swept Dallas and split the season series with the Redskins. In all they finished 3-3 in the NFC East, which was better than Dallas or Washington. So they got 2nd place.  Hurray?
  • Giants had 17 players on IR in 2004.  Not good for Coughlin, particularly his unfortunate comment that injuries were a "cancer" and seemed to insinuate that players milked injury under Fassel.