Any sports fan has their list of games that, for better or worse, they will never forget. I think Giants fans have added yesterday’s game to that unfortunate side of the list. I know I am not quite as excited to see my Philly-area family and friends over the coming holiday season. It will be a long couple of weeks.
It’s easy to point to the two or three plays that lost this game, which we will do in a moment, but for me what hurts the most is that this was a team loss. Those game-changing mistakes piled up because no individual player took a stand and made the one big play that would have preserved the lead. Of the three units, offense, defense and special teams, not one group of players played for four quarters. All were content with their 21-point lead and felt they could coast through the final few minutes.
Boy were they wrong!
- The offense played an impressive three and a half quarters of football. The Eagles were prepared for the running game, and when it was shut down, they took to the air. Eli Manning made good decisions throughout, and his only interception came off of a tipped ball. Eli and his receivers picked apart the secondary most of the day, scoring four touchdowns in the process. But then the Eagles staged a comeback, and the Giants managed only two first downs after the onside kick that eventually resulted in a touchdown. Neither of these first downs happened during their last possession, and since the Eagles were out of timeouts, this would have ended regulation and given the Giants a chance to win. Instead, an otherwise big offensive game was negated.
- The defense held the Eagles and contained Michael Vick through most of the game. Their offense was shut down, and even Vick’s attempts to run the ball himself weren’t working. The Giants pressured the quarterback throughout and did not allow him to get his rhythm. At one point, he was even limping after an awkward sack. Then Vick got his chance to make a big run. This lead to other big runs. The Giants were suddenly unable to stop him and did not look like they were even trying all that hard. The Eagles were in four-down situations at that point, which means the Giants had every advantage. If nothing else, the Eagles could have run out of time if even one of these drives had gone to fourth down.
- For three quarters, special teams had an uncharacteristically strong performance. The return game showed promise, even breaking a tackle or two to gain extra yardage before being brought down. Matt Dodge, who normally has a slow start, had a nice, high 50-yard punt on his first attempt and the team held Maclin to only a one-yard return. But then the Eagles took a chance with the onside kick, and instead of showing any signs of awareness, the front line looked flat-footed as Philly easily recovered. Then of course there was that ugly line drive punt right to DeSean Jackson, the huge holes left open upfield, and the inability to make a tackle in the open field.
- According to some reports, the coaches are not to blame for the mistakes on special teams. During the onside kick play, the line was warned that such a play was a possibility. Apparently they didn’t believe it, because they visibly began to move backwards as the Eagles approached. It was a risky play for the Eagles, and not one you often see in this situation, but it is always a possibility in the fourth quarter and they should have prepared for it.
- The last punt of the game was one of the worst plays I have ever seen out of the Giants. Matt Dodge, who has proven time and again that he lacks control of his own punts, could not do as he was told and kick it out of bounds. But that is not his biggest fault. As a punter, you cannot, under any circumstances, kick a line drive. When you do this, your team does not have time to get downfield, resulting in a big return. This one cost the Giants the game and control of their own destiny as the playoffs loom.
- I have known all season that special teams would cost the Giants an important game down the stretch. I feared it would happen in the playoffs, but there is little consolation that we are still in the regular season. There has been some improvement over the course of the season, but this is obviously an undisciplined unit who cannot handle the pressures of a big game. When it mattered most, they could not step up, and this is something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. I have not seen any reports about personnel changes either among the coaches or players, but at the very least this unit will need to be revamped in the off-season.