By Paul Dottino
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EAST RUTHERFORD – The Giants, playing the type of inspired defense that initiated the chants of “Dee-fense” at Yankee Stadium in the late 1950s, stopped their early-season bleeding with a convincing 17-3 win over the Chicago Bears.
Was it perfect? Not by any means. The Giants lost three fumbles and Eli Manning had a few passes tipped and dropped again, but the team did enough NOT to shoot itself in the foot for the second week in a row.
Just how good was the defense? Chicago was limited to two first-half first downs, had quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Todd Collins get knocked out of the game with injuries and finished 0-for-13 on third-down.
Where did the defensive inspiration come from? Retired Pro Bowl defenders Michael Strahan, Jesse Armstead and Antonio Pierce each spoke to the team in the days leading up to the game, emphasizing unity and teamwork.
Does it matter that the message came from three former players who no longer dress in the locker room? Not really, as long as the players got the message and find a way to build on it. In a way, the season begins now, since each of the four teams in the NFC East have two losses. Let’s get to our weekly review:
Offense – WR Hakeem Nicks. The stats tell plenty – eight catches for 110 yards, including a first-down conversion (23, 21 and 30 yards) on each of the Giants’ three scoring drives, but the more important part of his story is that he didn’t have any tipped passes or drops. The only incompletion in his direction was a high pass toward him on a slant in the final minute of the third quarter.
Nicks’ extra effort at practice paid off and resulted in a clean game. And don’t forget Nicks’ key third-quarter block that helped spring Ahmad Bradshaw for a 25-yard gain to the 3 and led to a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Defense – DE Osi Umenyiora. He responded in a BIG way, one week after being shut out against the Titans. His stat line this week? Four tackles and three first-half sacks, including two forced fumbles. Now, consider that Umenyiora’s got a cranky knee that forced him to miss Friday’s practice after which the Giants learned that fellow pass rusher Mathias Kiwanuka would be sidelined indefinitely with a neck injury.
Umenyiora set the tone for the night when he plastered Cutler on the fourth snap of the game, forcing a punt. It’s significant to note that only three of the Giants’ 10 sacks came out of a pressure package – the front four was dominant. Justin Tuck needs to be mentioned here for his seven tackles (three for losses), three sacks and one forced fumble.
Special teams – LB Gerris Wilkinson. Coach Tom Coughlin praised his effort throughout the preseason and Wilkinson’s energy kept him on the final 53-man roster. He bottled up several gallons of energy and unloaded on kickoff returner Danieal Manning on a 13-yard gain, following a Lawrence Tynes’ field goal that had put the Giants up, 3-0, in the first quarter. This might wind up being the best special teams hit of the year.
Offense – RB Ahmad Bradshaw. We understand how Bradshaw’s got game-breaking moves and gives defenses cause for concern, but Coughlin cannot continue to make Bradshaw the primary ball carrier if he’s coughing up the ball (Yes, pun intended). Former coach Jim Fassel made that mistake with Tiki Barber, who need Coughlin and running backs coach Jerald Ingram to alter his grip.
Bradshaw has lost a fumble in three of the Giants’ first four games (84 touches). With the Giants up in the third, 10-3, he took a draw play 30 yards to the Chicago 5, where Zack Bowman knocked out the ball and ended a potential Giants’ touchdown drive for the second time in two weeks.
Defense- LB Jonathan Goff. It’s very difficult to make somebody run when the unit allows only 10 total yards and six first downs the ENTIRE night. The Giants’ dominance means we’ve got to nitpick and Goff gets the call because his double-penalty nullified Jason Pierre-Paul’s interception on the first play of the fourth quarter. A blitzing Goff was flagged for a late hit and a blow to the head when the top of his helmet knocked into quarterback Todd Collins’ facemask on a first down from the Chicago 31. Deon Grant’s interception three snaps later allowed Goff to breathe easier.
Special teams – Punter Matt Dodge. It’s one thing to cut some slack to a rookie, but how much rope does he need? Dodge dropped the snap on his first punt, admitting he was overly concerned about dangerous returner Devin Hester. To be honest, it’s amazing Dodge was able to recover and get off a 42-yard punt after the gaff. Dodge’s woes continued when he didn’t spin the laces properly and Tynes went wide left on a 38-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter.
Dodge’s most majestic punt of the night came with two minutes left in the half – a 56-yarder that Hester took back 36 yards before Dodge pushed him out of bounds at the Chicago 46 – but the Bears got flagged for holding and the ball was spotted at the 5.
NOTES: Madison Hedgecock, the only fullback on the roster, suffered a pulled hamstring and TE Bear Pascoe wound up taking some second-half snaps at fullback. The Giants may need to add a fullback this week. … Kiwanuka (bulging disk in his neck) said he’s got to visit another specialist, but he’s feeling better and was holding out hope that he might be able to play next week. The Giants have said he’s out indefinitely.