Remember all that fuss last week about Bill Belichick going for it on fourth and two? Well, the good thing about being a Giants fan is that you never have to worry about calls like that. Our team doesn’t like going for it on third down.
Consider the Giants’ penultimate possession yesterday. Less than five minutes remaining in the game, they have a third and ten on their own 41. Eli Manning brings the team up to the line of scrimmage and notices that the Falcons are preparing to blitz. Manning signals a new play — which calls for him to quickly pass out wide to Mario Manningham, who didn’t catch the ball, but wouldn’t have come anywhere close to the first-down marker anyway.
And so the script was set for what happened next. The Giants punted, Matt Ryan Swiss-cheesed the Giants secondary like we knew he would, and the game went into overtime. Thankfully, the Giants won the coin toss or they probably would’ve lost their fifth straight game, which would have made them the first team in NFL history to do so after winning their first five.
But they won. There were a few commenters last week aggrieved by the comparison of Eli Manning to Dave Brown, so let’s be clear: Eli won this game for the Giants yesterday, rewarding those who kept their faith in him (a.k.a. not us) with his best performance of the season. The beginning was ugly, but he steadied himself and, among many good things, distributed the ball nicely, not just padding his stats with harmless short-gainers to Steve Smith. He threw two marvelous, just-over-the-cornerback balls to Manningham, reviving the possibility that this could be the big-play combo the Giants sorely need. The Giants seem to have actually studied the other team’s vulnerabilities and then exploited them; eschewing the underneath route that is his bread and butter, Smith went deep on weak-ass corner Chris Houston and Manning threw a strike for a crushing, punchback play early in the third quarter. Manning also grasped his power to turn tight end Kevin Boss into a bona fide star, hooking up with him for a pair of touchdowns, as well as two other big plays. And he even tossed a nifty little touchdown pass to fullback Madison Hedgecock, showing what can happen when they get the backs into the passing game. The only time Dave Brown played like this was in his dreams.
But lest we sound like we’re leaping on the Eli bandwagon, let’s be clear about something else: The Falcons stink almost as bad as the crap-excuses-for-pro-football-teams the Giants faced in the opening weeks. They have legitimate weapons on offense, but the defense is ranked 25th in the league and gives up the most big plays. Is it any wonder that Manning was able to carve them up? And yet still, the Giants offense failed to close out the game in the fourth quarter. On that critical third down, the underwhelming Falcons defense did exactly what you’d expect them to do in that situation, and yet managed to fluster Manning. On that situation, he needs to hang in there, find his big tight end over the middle, and give the team a chance to pick up the first down. It’s a continuing problem; in tough spots, Eli basically puts the Giants into a “prevent offense.” It’s not working, and if there’s one thing the defense has shown, it’s that they can’t be depended on to win the game.
We’re guardedly optimistic about the Thanksgiving game against Denver, in no small part because the Broncos have a quarterback who helps us appreciate the good things about Eli, and because, like that of the Falcons, their season is rapidly disintegrating. With a badly needed win under their belt, we expect the Giants to go out and get another.