Talk about a memorable ending to what was probably the most important game of the season so far! If you hung in there and watched until the bitter end like I did, you saw the blocked field goal that gave the New York Giants sole possession of first place in the NFC East. It was as exciting as it was shocking, and a huge relief because, based on what we saw throughout the first four quarters, whoever won the coin toss in overtime was likely to win this game. This was pretty much an offense-dominated game on both sides of the ball. So let’s break this one down.
Clearly the biggest pitfall of this team is the defense, in all aspects of their game. Let’s start with the secondary, where huge plays were given up, and almost given up that would have cost the Giants the game if Tony Romo had been more accurate. He overthrew an open Miles Austin late in the fourth quarter, and given his speed, that was a sure touchdown that would have likely put the game out of reach for the Giants. Other huge plays were given up throughout the game because of miscommunication and blown coverage. As great as it feels to win, the secondary cannot and should not be proud of this victory. That incompletion to Austin happened because of a mistake by the Cowboys, not because the defense did anything to stop it. First place is theirs to lose now, and they will against more accurate quarterbacks if they can’t figure out how to keep receivers under control.
Same goes for the line, because they need to find a way to stop creating huge holes and letting these backs run all over them. Felix Jones gained 106 yards on 16 carries. Granted, this is not as bad as some recent games, but the point is the Giants have a mediocre defense, and at least one area has to improve in the next few weeks. Injuries are a problem across the board but there is more talent up front then there is in the secondary, and they need to play with more intensity to put pressure on the quarterback and shut down the running game. Forcing quarterbacks to throw more often then they want to is huge for any defense and will result in better success for this team.
Their biggest problem, however, is their inability to step up when it matters most. Two weeks in a row the defense was handed the responsibility to win the game as the clock wore down, and two weeks in a row they failed. When it matters most, it looks as if they are not even on the field trying to stop the winning drive. In both instances they were working with a short field because the other team was within a field goal to tie or win, and yet they could not keep up with the driving offense. Last night special teams bailed them out, but there is no reason the defense can’t make one positive play in the last 46 seconds of a game.
Despite their woes, there is one player who is emerging as a lightening rod on defense, and any success the Giants might achieve in the playoffs will likely be because of Jason Pierre-Paul. The offense stepped up for sure, but this guy is the reason the Giants won last night. He led the team with six tackles and two assists, two sacks, a forced fumble, and of course the blocked field goal to win the game. That is a ridiculous night for such a young, relatively inexperienced player. I know many critics questioned this first round draft choice last year, but he is already proving that he was the right choice for this team. During the offseason there will need to be changes to this defense, and any player they decide to bring in will need to compliment JPP, because his athleticism is only going to help him improve over the next few years, and a defense built around him should scare any opponent.
I also want to give a special shout out to Chris Canty for recording the third sack of the night against his old team. The Giants have struggled with sacks this year, so to record three against as mobile a quarterback as Tony Romo is something to build on in the coming weeks.
If I have to watch one more receiver drop perfectly-thrown passes I am going to scream. Victor Cruz is the biggest culprit, who at one point dropped two in a row. I am a huge fan of Cruz’s, who still managed to pick up 83 yards on seven catches, but he drops at least one ball every game. I get that he is in his first real season in the NFL, but that has to stop, especially if the Giants make the playoffs. Same goes for Manningham, who dropped one in the end zone, and Nicks, who let one go through his hands in the middle of the field. The latter was a bit high, but still catchable. Everyone knows Eli likes his tall receivers and almost always throws them high and out of the reach of smaller corners, so Nicks needs to bring those in.
Eli had another excellent outing last night at Cowboys Stadium, in which, it seems, he cannot lose. That must drive Jerry Jones completely insane. Eli went 27/47 for 400 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. It was a game that puts Eli in the record books. He is only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 or more yards in three games in a season, alongside Dan Marino, and he has tied the record for the most fourth-quarter touchdowns in a single season, a record held by Johnny Unitas and Peyton Manning. With three weeks to go, Eli could break one or both of these records. He has also beaten team records for most passing yards (4,105) and most seasons completing at least 300 passes (four), both originally set by Kerry Collins. Not bad for a guy some still do not consider to be elite.
This was also a big night for the running game, who for the second week in a row are showing signs of life. Brandon Jacobs, who used to be out of gas by this point in the season when he was the feature back, had a great night, gaining 101 yards on 19 attempts and scoring two touchdowns. Bradshaw was much less impactful this week but barring further disciplinary actions I have to imagine he will come out strong next week. The Giants need the running game now more than ever, because a team cannot win on passing alone, especially with a struggling defense. It was incredibly promising to finally see this aspect of the game come together.
With the Giants now in control of their own destiny, we enter the final three weeks of the regular season with first place in the division theirs to lose. Should be an exciting end to the season.