By Neil Keefe
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Wall Street is the place to be right now. Well, it’s the place to be if you don’t have a job or any responsibilities at home, or if you don’t have a home, or if you don’t mind sleeping in a tent in the middle of the city in freezing temperatures, and if you can deal with people protesting everything and anything around you.
New York City is the place to be for football right now. It’s the place to be if you’re a Giants fan with the G-Men at 6-2 and in first place in the NFC East. And it’s the place to be if you’re a Jets fan with Gang Green at 5-3 and in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East. One city with two first-place teams. It’s a glorious thing.
With New York City currently serving as the center of the football world along with the center of the business and news world, I thought it would be a good idea to combine everything going on in the city to help recap where both of the city’s football teams are at midseason.
Last season I handed out some midseason awards for the New York Football Giants, but this year I decided to do it a little differently. Instead of awards, I thought we would use quotes from the movie Wall Street with what’s going on in New York (and also in honor of “Kappo” wanting to be called “Young Gekko” in this season of How To Make It In America) to celebrate New York’s two first-place teams at midseason and analyze the first eight games.
“It’s a zero sum game. Somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another.”
I couldn’t read this quote without thinking about what I wrote on Monday following the Giants’ win over the Patriots.
The perception of New York City right now is that it’s a Giants town (or at least that’s what the Daily News told us on Tuesday). Sure, it sort of swings depending on who reaches the postseason and who doesn’t, and who lasts longer in the playoffs, but hasn’t it always been a Giants town?
It’s actually kind of crazy to think the city would be considered a Jets town because of their two AFC Championship appearances. It would be like the Mets being referred to as King of the City after their 2006 NLCS loss. (I actually know Mets fans who were under this impression). The Yankees hadn’t won in six years and had lost in the World twice and the ALCS once, but one NLCS appearance apparently was good enough for some Mets fans to think that their team was the king. Now Jets fans are under a similar impression after back-to-back AFC Championship Games (despite losing both).
It’s been a miserable three-plus year drought since the Giants last won a Super Bowl. That’s way longer than 42 years.
“Blue Horseshoe loves Anacott Steel.”
There is a whole group of people that loved the Kings of Leon well before “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” were played on the radio more times than Adele is now. That’s how I feel about Eli Manning. Giants fans have known what he is capable of for years, it’s just taken everyone else a lot longer to catch on.
Everyone is buying stock in Eli after beating the Patriots and leading his team to a 6-2 record. It almost seems like the perfect time for everyone to board the Eli bandwagon as the Giants’ gauntlet continues this week in San Francisco, and the football world waits for Eli and the Giants to falter, so they can say, “I told you so.” Maybe the Giants will lose in San Francisco (though I don’t think they will), but it won’t be enough and shouldn’t be enough for any sensible person to give up on the Giants or their quarterback.
“This is the kid. He calls me 59 days in a row. Wants to be a player. Oughta be a picture of you in the dictionary under persistence, kid.”
I said after the Jets beat the Patriots in the playoffs that I didn’t know what Mark Sanchez is. I still don’t. Yes, I root against him and hope he throws five interceptions every Sunday, but he’s still someone you can kind of, sort of pull for even though he’s a Jet.
Sanchez has only thrown two picks in his last four games (the Jets are 3-1) after throwing five in the first four games (the Jets went 2-2). He’s only in his third year in the league and already has four playoff wins (all on the road), which is as many as Tom Brady has since the 2006 divisional round. But the Jets still have the training wheels on him and whenever they take them off to see if he can keep his balance, he rides his bike off the sidewalk and into a bush.
The reason I don’t think Sanchez gets as much respect as he should outside of New York (and I’m not sure he gets that much here) is that he came into the league in a great situation. The Jets were a team built to win when he showed up in 2009. (They were built to win in 2008 before Brett Favre lit their season on fire). Sanchez didn’t take over for a three-win team and wasn’t forced to be part of a rebuilding process. He was given a “now” team and asked to manage the game and to not do anything spectacular, but also to not screw anything up either. He has basically been given the same responsibilities as a 16-year-old babysitting for the first time. “Make sure the kids don’t run away or light the house on fire for the three hours we’re gone and make sure that they’re in bed by 10.” Basic stuff. It’s not Sanchez’s fault, he’s being treated this way, and you do have to give the Jets credit because it’s worked to an extent.
I don’t think the clock is ticking on Sanchez to prove himself the way it ticked on Tim Couch and David Carr and Joey Harrington because those three were in some rotten situations. But Rex Ryan isn’t doing his 25-year-old franchise quarterback any favors by guaranteeing things every time he opens his mouth like Ray Zalinsky in Tommy Boy. Let’s give the kid a few years to learn how to perform at a high level consistently in the NFL without Brian Schottenheimer holding his hand while he crosses the street. It pains me to say this, but I think Sanchez will be worth the Jets trading their first-round pick, second-round pick, Kenyon Coleman, Abram Elam and Brett Ratliff to the Browns for the fifth pick.
“If you need a friend, get a dog.”
There’s nothing really to this other than that I can picture Tom Coughlin saying this to his team in training camp or after a loss.
I have been waiting for Coughlin to give us his patented confused look after the Giants allow an improbable comeback this season. You know the face. The one where he looks like he is trying to solve the equation on the hallway chalkboard in Good Will Hunting. The one he gives Matt Dodge and his special teams after the DeSean Jackson punt return for a touchdown last season. So far we haven’t seen it, and I’m hoping we don’t.
Coughlin entered the season on the hot seat and right now it has cooled off. I still think he has to reach the postseason to come back in 2012. So far, that doesn’t look like a problem for a guy getting a lot of recognition for Coach of the Year.
“I don’t throw darts at a board. I bet on sure things. Read Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” “Every battle is won before it is ever fought.” Think about it.”
I doubt that Rex Ryan has ever read “The Art of War” or any book that isn’t full of “X’s and O’s” or starring The Berenstain Bears. I realize that Gordon Gekko’s quote is about how properly preparing for battle leads to victory, and while I think Rex does that, I also think he feels he will win no matter what preparation steps he takes.
In Rex’s mind the Jets are a perfect team every season and therefore they have nothing to work on and nothing to improve. At least that’s what it sounds like when he opens his mouth. Then the Jets lose a couple of games, Rex backtracks and makes some wild statements to cover up his original wild statements, and soon enough he’s like a guy on Cops handcuffed in the back of a cruiser digging himself a hole full of fiction. It happened in 2009 when he thought the Jets were eliminated from the playoffs. It happened in 2010 when the Jets were dominated by the Patriots on Monday Night Football and started a late-season slide. It happened this season when they lost three games in a row and he almost went Jim Mora on us.
I like Rex Ryan. He’s good for football and good for the Jets, and he’s an easy guy to root for (unless you’re a Patriots fan) as he straddles the line between being a public relations dream and a public relations nightmare. I just wish he would use his back page material for big games and meaningful situations, and not just any time there is a microphone or a camera or a cell phone or a Talkboy in front of his face.
“Just remember something. Man looks in the abyss, there’s nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character and that is what keeps him out of the abyss.”
Brandon Jacobs has regressed since his 1,089-yard 2008 season (which he amassed in only 13 games). Back then, Earth, Wind and Fire dominated the NFC, and the Giants were the best team in football. Since then Jacobs has dropped to 835 yards in 2009, 823 yards in 2010 and just 198 yards in 2011. He’s averaging his lowest yards per carry (3.3) since his rookie season in 2005 when he averaged 2.6 yards per carry (but he only had 38 carries in 16 games that year).
Jacobs had to take a $1.75 million pay cut just to stay with the Giants this season, and he will most likely be an ex-Giant this March when he is due to get a $500,000 roster bonus before a $4.4 million salary in 2012. With the drop in production, he hasn’t been able to compensate for his decline by being a positive locker room presence or a team player. Instead he has complained about his playing time, pouted about his use and touches and gone off to the media about his displeasure with the organization. I’m not sure if it’s a bigger upset that Fred Armisen is still on Saturday Night Live or that Brandon Jacobs is still on the Giants.
On Sunday, Jacobs was given a chance to redeem himself and prove to the Giants and the other 29 teams that he isn’t as washed up as we all think he is. Jacobs ran for 72 yards on 18 carries and had four receptions for another 28 yards for a total of 100 yards on the day, including a 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. It was his best game in two years. (He hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game since Week 10 against the Eagles … in 2008!)
If Ahmad Bradshaw doesn’t get healthy soon then Jacobs is going to be counted on and given more chances to prove his worth to the NFL. He will most likely be cut by the Giants in March, but he can use the next eight weeks to try and recreate an image he has tarnished the last two years for potential suitors for 2012 and beyond, and hopefully help the Giants win in the postseason too.
“Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”
When Steve Johnson had a 52-yard reception against Darrelle Revis on Sunday, I thought Twitter was going to crash. An NFL team’s No. 1 wide receiver caught a pass against Darrelle Revis! History! That’s what it felt like when it happened. No one does that on Revis Island. No one.
I’m not being sarcastic or joking. I’m serious. No one does that to Darrelle Revis. It’s such a rare accomplishment that people felt the need to tweet about it. Could you imagine if people felt the need to tweet when big plays occurred against the Giants’ secondary?
“There goes Rob Gronkowski over the middle untouched for 27 yards.”
“DeSean Jackson with a 39-yard reception against Corey Webster.”
“There’s Miles Austin behind Aaron Ross for 21 yards.”
“Wes Welker has it for 24 yards before being brought down.”
Revis is so good that it feels like, maybe, he should have held out for even more money last year. I know that the $32 million of guaranteed money is a lot of money, but the guy is so much better than the next best guy at his position and anyone else in the league that he deserves it, and more. With Antonio Cromartie jumping routes and trying to catch balls himself instead of making sure they aren’t caught by the other team, where would the Jets secondary be without Revis, and with Cromartie and with Kyle Wilson? Not in first place.
“It’s not always the most popular guy who gets the job done.”
When the Giants were marching down the field with 1:36 left against the Patriots on Sunday, and Ramses Barden and Jake Ballard were the guys putting together the winning drive, how many Patriots fans turned to the person next to them and said, “Who the hell is Ramses Barden?” or “Who the hell is Jake Ballard?” in the same voice that Verne Lundqvist uses in Happy Gilmore to ask that same question about Happy Gilmore.
Prior to the season the Giants lost Steve Smith (Philadelphia) and Kevin Boss (Oakland) to free agency. They lost cornerback Terrell Thomas (knee), linebacker Clint Sintim (knee), defensive tackle Marvin Austin (pec), cornerback Bruce Johnson (Achilles), cornerback Brian Witherspoon (knee) and Jonathan Goff (knee). And on top of that, cornerback Prince Amukamara (foot) still hasn’t played in a game.
Even after all the injuries and the season-opening loss to the Redskins and the embarrassment at home against the Seahawks, the Giants are 6-2 and have a two-game lead over the Cowboys in the division. And when Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeen Nicks and Kevin Baas were ruled “out” for Sunday’s game, the Giants turned to Barden and Kevin Boothe and D.J. Ware to play significant roles, and the Giants came away with a win.
The same way the Patriots have amazed everyone with their ability to replace proven stars and long-time Patriots with new and unproven names, the Giants have done that this season by getting production from guys who most of the league doesn’t even know exist. Last Sunday, it was Ballard and Barden. Who knows who it might be this Sunday?
“Wake up, will ya, pal? If you’re not inside, you are outside.”
I will never get over what happened to the Giants in 2008 and what could have been if Plaxico had just stayed in on the Friday before the Giants’ Week 13 game. I have little doubt that the Giants would have reached the Super Bowl and probably won it. Forget probably. They would have won it. The final four teams in the postseason were the Cardinals, Eagles, Steelers and the Ravens. The Giants beat all four of those teams in the regular season. But they lost in the divisional round to the Eagles because they were relying on Domenik Hixon to be their deep threat and became one-dimensional because of a lack of receivers.
I thought Plaxico Burress was going to have more of an impact with the Jets than he has. Sure, he’s 34 now and hadn’t played in an NFL game in almost three years when he came back, but the man who gave me one of the best sports moments of my life has just 322 receiving yards this season (he had 1 catch and 16 yards combined in Weeks 2 and 6). He does have five touchdowns, but three of those came in one game, and his season high for receiving yards in a game is 79.
Maybe Plaxico isn’t going to be the safety blanket for Mark Sanchez the way he was for Eli Manning and maybe the two won’t ever build the same chemistry he had for the other New York team, and that’s OK with me. I’m over Plaxico.
“Well, you’re walking around blind without a cane, pal. A fool and his money are lucky enough to get together in the first place.”
Did anyone see Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker on Sunday? They were Tom Brady’s only two targets and they ran around the middle of the field like streakers trying to evade security guards and police officers. Their presence somehow caught everyone by surprise and caused the Giants secondary to have delayed reactions as if Zack Morris called timeout to give the Patriots receivers a head start.
This is a problem for the Giants. Yes, it’s more of a problem for some of the other teams in the league, but when Aaron Ross (you might know him by his birth name of Fumbles Magee) is tracking down open receivers like it’s a game of two-hand touch, and when Deon Grant is leaving Gronkowski open on fourth down for potentially the game when the whole world knows Brady is going to Gronkowski in the end zone, you know things are bad.
This wasn’t only a problem against the Patriots. The Giants let Rex Grossman (who isn’t good enough to start over John Beck) throw for 305 yards against them in Week 1. They let Sam Bradford go for 331 yards in Week 2. Charvaris Whiteson (the combination of Charlie Whitehurst and Tarvaris Jackson) threw for 315 yards in Week 5, and Tom Brady put up 342 on them in a losing effort. The good news: They are 6-2 despite this. The bad news: Drew Brees in Week 12 and Aaron Rodgers in Week 13.
“When I get a hold of the son of a b-tch who leaked this, I’m gonna tear his eyeballs out.”
Remember when Derrick Mason complained that there were “cracks” in the offense after Week 4 against the Ravens? Then before Week 5 against the Patriots, Mason, Burress and Santonio Holmes reportedly went to Rex to complain about Schottenheimer’s play calling.
And then after losing to the Patriots, Plaxico said, “Whoever wrote that story, they’re just making up stories. I would like to get the name of the guy who wrote it, because that never happened. Whoever wrote it … is just trying to make himself look good, but it’s all rumors.”
When asked about the meeting, Rex Ryan said, “If [the meeting did happen], then maybe I got hit in the head or something. I don’t remember that.”
And Santonio Holmes said, “I honestly have no idea where that came from [or] who could’ve said it. Me, personally, I have no issue with Coach Schottenheimer and I didn’t go and talk to Rex about anything.”
Two days later the Jets traded Mason to the Texas for a conditional seventh-round pick.
Mike Tannenbaum talked about the trade by saying, “What he said after the Baltimore game had nothing to do with the decision we made last night.”
Everyone believes you, Mr. T. No, really, we believe you…
“You’re on a roll. Enjoy it while it lasts, ’cause it never does.”
Jerry Reese was on top of the world after Super Bowl XLII. Then he went down a few notches after the divisional loss to the Eagles in 2008. Then he went down a few more after the 2009 collapse. Then he went down even more after the 2010 collapse. Then he was at rock bottom of his time as Giants general manager when the Giants preseason looked like a controlled demolition video. But now at 6-2 and in first place, Reese’s stock is slowly climbing back up as the Giants have shown exceptional depth on both sides of the ball.
Mike Tannenbaum has watched the Jets transform themselves from the “Same Old Jets” into an elite team in the league with back-to-back AFC championship appearances under his reign. He has made some questionable decisions and some exceptional ones, and has earned his self-proclaimed title as “one smart SOB” at times. But with Rex continuing to guarantee rings for a team that last won 42 years ago, Tannenbaum’s approval rating is going to mirror the success of the Jets in the second season.
“Well, life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.”
Three years ago this weekend, the Giants were 9-1 (on their way to 11-1 and then 12-4), Plaxico Burress hadn’t gone to the Latin Quarter with sweatpants on and a gun in those pants, and everyone expected the Giants to appear in the Super Bowl for a second straight year.
After missing the playoffs in 2003 and 2004, the Giants returned to the playoffs in 2006, and 2007, and 2008, and it felt like they weren’t going to miss the playoffs again. Then the collapse of 2009 happened after a 5-0 start to the season, and then the collapse of 2010 happened with 7:18 left against the Eagles in Week 16, and they haven’t been back since losing to the Eagles in the 2008 divisional round.
Things can change in a second in the NFL. Right now the Giants are coming off their biggest win since beating the Panthers in overtime in Week 16 in 2008, and New York Football Giants hype is selling better than Four Loko was at this time last year. The G-Men survived one week of the nine-week gauntlet, but have to travel to the West Coast this weekend to face the 7-1 49ers, and then they get the Eagles, Saints, Packers and Cowboys. A loss against the 49ers will get the collapse buzz brewing again like it would have if they had lost in Foxboro. The stench of late-season failure will follow the Giants until they can reach the postseason again, and right now they are set up for that to be this year.
But, once again, things can change and they can change quickly, and once they begin to change, it’s hard to stop them. It happened in 2009. It happened in 2010. The schedule has the Giants facing a perfect storm of devastating events that could make it happen again in 2011.
The NFL season comes down to a few moments. This Sunday is one of them for the Giants. Next Sunday will be another one, and the Monday after that, and the five Sundays after that. I have desperately wanted the Giants to get back to the postseason and with eight games left in the regular season, they are already there.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe