By Paul Dottino
» More Columns
Amazing. Ok, raise your hands. How many people thought the Giants – without three starters on offense – would shock the Patriots at home with a last-minute touchdown drive?
There’s so much to be said about the Giants’ 24-20 victory Sunday in Foxboro, although the most important fact is they are 6-2 and still have a tough mountain to climb before the season is over. No playoff spots have been clinched. No division titles have been won. Tom Coughlin’s team cleared a hurdle, but that’s all it is – a significant hurdle somewhere in the middle of the race.
But that’s the big picture. If you narrow the focus, it’s pretty tough for Eli Manning’s critics to come after him right now. He’s clearly in his prime and playing as an elite quarterback. The guy has engineered five come-from-behind victories in the fourth quarter this season, and did everything he could do in the failed rally against the Seahawks.
A veteran coach once told me that one of the ways to define an elite quarterback is to see if he’s able to take a team on his shoulders and almost will them to win at least three or four times during the course of a successful season. You know, these are games where either nothing went right or the other team simply was on fire. Yet somehow, the quarterback in question made plays down the stretch and pulled out the victory.
Still not sure about Manning? Well, how about the numerous audibles he called on the Giants’ final two touchdown drives, including the 1-yard TD to Jake Ballard that won it with 15 seconds to play?
The definition appears to fit – allow Manning to wear it.
So let’s get to our weekly review:
Offense – QB Eli Manning. We prefer to peel the onion and try to find someone other than the obvious who deserves it, but how can we ignore Manning after what he did on the Giants’ final two drives of the game. Down 13-10, he took the Giants on an eight-play, 85-yard drive that was capped by a sweet 10-yard TD toss to Mario Manningham in the back left corner of the end zone with 3:03 remaining. So Tom Brady and the Pats answer with a TD to regain the lead at 20-17 and leave Manning with 80 yards and 1:36 in front of him. Sure, the 19-yard pass over the middle to Victor Cruz started it off and the 28-yard seam pass to Ballard was huge, but the most underrated play of the drive was Manning’s 12-yard scramble around the right side to the Pats 21 with 35 seconds left.
Defense- DE-LB Mathias Kiwanuka. There were a few considerations here – including LB Michael Boley (10 tackles and a strip-sack) and Deon Grant (four tackles, two breakups and an interception – but he could have made another). We’re going with Kiwanuka (12 tackles with an interception) because of his sure tackling and ability to be around the ball all game. Besides, it was Kiwanuka’s interception at the start of the second quarter that prevented the Pats from taking the lead in a scoreless game – he grabbed a pass after it was deflected by Boley at the Giants 29.
Special teams-P Steve Weatherford. He continues to collect in this category. Weatherford punted eight times for a 43.1-yard average and a net of 41. Did we say that he dropped five inside the 20? Very strong night.
Offense –RB Danny Ware. He gets this one by default. The offense did what it had to do without making many glaring errors. Ware was called upon to help offset the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw to a foot injury and finished with 23 yards on seven carries while backing up Brandon Jacobs (18 for 72). It was a small sample of work and he didn’t have much room to run on his opportunities, but the Giants sure could have used somebody to bust a long run in what was a tight game throughout.
Defense – Kenny Phillips. It appears that he vacated the center of the field, allowing Rob Gronkowski to grab a 14-yard TD pass in front of Michael Boley on fourth-and-9 with 1:40 left to put the Pats up, 20-17. All indications are that there was a busted coverage and Boley was not expected to be on the tight end at the goal line.
Special teams- CB Aaron Ross. His muffed punt midway into the third quarter turned the momentum in the Pats’ favor and appeared to be the spark that allowed them to believe they could salvage the game. The Giants were up, 10-0, when the Pats were forced to punt from their own 22. Ross coughed up the ball and Rob Nikovich recovered at the Giants 33. Michael Coe’s defense on a pass intended for Chad Ochocinco forced New England to settle for a field goal, but the points bought the crowd to life.