By Neil Keefe
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Five minutes and 41 seconds. That’s the amount of time that separated Tom Coughlin and his coaching staff from turning in their three-weeks notice and guaranteeing that they wouldn’t be part of the New York Giants organization after Week 17.
I was prepared to open this column with an exchange between Michael Scott and Pam Beesly on the day they found out that the Michael Scott Paper Company was broke.
Michael Scott: Did I ever tell you about the day that Steve Martin died?
Pam Beesly: Steve Martin’s not dead, Michael.
Michael Scott: I know. But I always thought, that the day that he died would be the worst day of my life and I was wrong. It’s this.
That’s what Sunday night was shaping up to be. Another terrible memory added to the now long list of terrible memories and moments in recent Giants history. And with five minutes and 41 seconds left in the game, the Giants trailing by 12 points with two timeouts and a defense that couldn’t get a stop, I thought the Giants’ season was over. Actually I knew it was over. Dez Bryant had just been left so open on the field that the there wasn’t another player on the TV when the NBC camera found the him and the ball, and Rambo-like flashbacks of DeSean Jackson backpedaling into the end zone while dancing and laughing in Week 14 in 2009 clouded my mind. The season was over.
I had used the commercial break to ease the pain of the Giants’ loss, and convince myself that they didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs, and that if they did make the playoffs they would just get embarrassed anyway. I remembered thinking that the season was over after their Week 1 loss to the Redskins and that they weren’t going anywhere in 2011 with the injuries, and that getting to Week 14 was an accomplishment. It was like I had just used my entire checking account on a bar tab, and I was trying to justify it to myself, and trying to think of a way to twist it so that I wouldn’t feel so terrible about what had happened. “It was worth it. You only live once. This is what your 20s are for.” When in reality, it’s hard to justify buying $10 beers and $18 drinks for four hours the same way it’s hard to rationalize getting repeatedly sucked back into the Giants over the course of a season and constantly believing the team will come back.
I was willing to do anything to have the Giants win Sunday’s game in the form of a dagger that the Eagles delivered to the Giants in Week 14 last year. I said I would watch Saturday Night Live every week for the next five years. I would listen to Nickelback and only Nickelback from now until the end of January. I would read Snooki’s book and watch Pan Am and Kourtney and Kim Take New York. I would only use the ends of loaves of bread for sandwiches for the next month, and wake up at 4 a.m. all winter and run 10 miles. I would watch the Seahawks-Rams on Monday Night Football and attend a Nets game this year. I would do any of these things for the Giants to beat the Cowboys and keep their postseason aspirations alive. (So, yeah, I have a lot of horrible things to do and accomplish. And I probably should have said I would do these things if they beat the Cowboys and made the playoffs because if they lose to the Redskins or the Jets or the Cowboys and then don’t make the playoffs, that’s going to be devastating.)
Last night wasn’t the type of game that the Giants win. It was the type of game that the Giants lose. Never, ever, ever the type of game that they come back and win. It was the type of game where they drag you along and lead you on before they break your heart, only to put it back together before shattering it again with a sledgehammer. And they did their best to do this, and they tried to do it right up until the final play of the game (or the final play that mattered which was the missed field-goal attempt since the actual final play was an Eli Manning kneel).
That’s not me being negative or pessimistic. That’s me being a realist. Even Giants owner John Mara agrees with me, and he owns the team! He said so after the game: “The best thing is we got our season back tonight. It would be nice to have an easy tin for a change, but I don’t know if that is in our DNA.”
The Giants did get their season back like I thought they would before the game, but not with 5:41 left to play. They took care of their own business for the first time since beating the Patriots five weeks ago and they temporarily paused the second-half collapse, which is something they haven’t been able to do in past seasons.
The Giants won because they played with urgency when they had no other choice. I talked about this a few weeks ago. The Giants play to the level of their opponent, and they don’t play at the level we expect them to play at until the fourth quarter when it’s nearly too late and when one mistake will end the game. But really they won because of a series of crazy plays that happened in the final “five minutes and 41 seconds” that we will hopefully look back on in a few months as the turning point for this Giants season.
– The Giants go 80 yards in 2:27 to score and don’t use any timeouts, leaving them both timeouts and the two-minute warning.
– The Giants finally stop the run, and put the Cowboys into a third-down situation and only burned one timeout in doing so.
– Instead of running the ball on third-and-5 and trying to take additional time off the clock and hoping for a first down to end the game, the Cowboys try to pass for the first down. Tony Romo jussssst overthrows a wide-open Miles Austin, which would have resulted in a touchdown pass. The incompletion stops the clock, saves the Giants their final timeout (which they would go on to use to ice Dan Bailey) and the two-minute warning and forces the Cowboys to punt and play defense.
– Cowboys punter Mat McBriar only punts the ball 33 yards to the New York 42 giving the Giants great field position with 2:12 left.
– The Giants botch a snap and get saved by a Cowboys penalty. Eli Manning gets nearly sacked, but throws the ball with his left hand, but the play doesn’t count because of a Cowboys penalty.
– Mario Manningham drops a perfectly thrown ball in the end zone that would have given the Giants the lead. At the time I was going insane. When in reality, a touchdown there would have given the Cowboys even more time to work with and they would have sent the game into overtime or possibly won the game. The drops turns out to be a blessing in disguise.
– Jake Ballard catches an 18-yard pass, but is tackled at the Dallas 1 to kill additional time. If he gets in the end zone there, the Cowboys have more than the 46 seconds they ended up being left with.
– The Giants convert a two-point conversion on a … wait for it … wait for it … wait for it … DRAW PLAY TO D.J. WARE! Kevin Gilbride, you genius you!
– The Cowboys have 46 seconds and no timeouts, starting at their own 20. I don’t know what the chance of getting into field-goal range is given those circumstances, but it’s low. Really, really, really low.
– The Cowboys get to the New York 29 and kick a game-tying field goal, but Tom Coughlin calls timeout to ice Dan Bailey. On Bailey’s second attempt, Jason Pierre-Paul blocks the attempt and the Giants win.
The Giants came away with the win, which is all that matters. And it is all that matters because if the season ended today, the Giants would be the No. 4 seed with a home game in the first round (even though I would rather have them on the road in the postseason). But even with a win that saved their season, they were an iced kicker away from going to overtime where a coin flip would have decided their season. So, despite the elation from last night that has carried over into today, let’s look at the old saying, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” and how it pertains to three Giants from each side of it.
PART OF THE PROBLEM
Kevin Gilbride sometimes calls plays as if Tyler Palko is his quarterback and Adrian Peterson is his running back. OK, it’s not sometimes. It’s all the time. And because of that, I spent halftime last night creating Monster and CareerBuilder accounts for Gilbride to use following this season. I sent the user names and passwords to firstname.lastname@example.org, but I’m not sure if that’s his email or not.
Cris Collinsworth said Gilbride told him in their pregame conversation, “If we can run it, I’m not going to do anything else.” At least Gilbride isn’t a liar.
Manning threw for 149 yards in the first half. The Giants started with the ball in the second half, and came out with a seven-yard screen pass to Ahmad Bradshaw, and then back-to-back running plays with Bradshaw that went for a combined one yard, forcing the Giants to punt. I understand that the Giants were probably thinking that Bradshaw would have fresh legs since he was bench for the first half, but Eli Manning just picked apart the Dallas secondary for a half.
Then at the end of the third quarter, they didn’t get a third-down play off in time, so the game went to a TV timeout. Out of the break, the Giants ran the ball with Bradshaw on third-and-2 from their own 41. He lost three yards, as Jay Ratliff was ready for the run as if he could read Gilbride’s mind. Speaking of which … does Gilbride really need to cover his mouth with the play chart when speaking into his headset? You don’t need X-ray vision to see through the chart to know that he’s mouthing “draw with Jacobs” or “inside handoff to Ware.” Actually, I want to see what it says on Gilbride’s play chart. I picture just a blank chart with “DRAWS AND SCREEN PASSES!!!” written in huge letters in bad penmanship in red marker. I mean with less than five minutes to go and down by 12, and just two timeouts left, the guy ran a shotgun draw to Bradshaw.
Jets fans probably think this is nothing compared to what Brian Schottenheimer calls for their team, but he has Mark Sanchez to work with. Gilbride calls plays like he has Mark Sanchez and not Eli Manning.
Giants Defense (Minus Jason Pierre-Paul)
If one of my friends had been living overseas since Labor Day without Internet or any access to the American sports world and just moved back today and wanted to catch up on the NFL season and the Giants, and asked me to describe the 2011 Giants defense to them, I would say: “If there’s 30 seconds on the clock at the end of either half and the opposing team has the ball at their own 20 with no timeouts left, I don’t feel confident in the Giants being able to stop them from scoring.” Am I wrong?
I would rather watch Boone Logan face Josh Hamilton with the bases loaded and two outs in Game 7 than watch the Giants play defense. That’s not an exaggeration. For all the negative tweets and words I have written about the Yankees left-handed specialist who can’t get lefties out, he doesn’t even come close to the frustration level that the Giants defense brings out in me (and I’m assuming all Giants fans).
When the Cowboys got the ball with 1:38 left in the first half, I tweeted “If there is a line available on “Will the Cowboys score before the end of the half?” … I’m willing to wager a lot of money on it.” The Cowboys fumbled on the first play and the Giants recovered, and I got responses from people laughing at me. But when the Giants went into their “Settle for a Field Goal” red zone offense and barely took any time off the clock, the Cowboys got the ball back again with 1:03 left in the first half. They went 49 yards in 48 seconds and kicked a field goal to retake the lead. I didn’t need to tweet back as those who doubted me and believed in the Giants’ defense. It wasn’t worth it.
As of right now, if the Giants were to make the playoffs and win their first-round game, they would likely go to Green Bay to face the Packers. And while they played the Packers tough (but still lost!), that was at home. I can’t think of a worse thing to watch than having to go to Green Bay with the Packers coming off a bye week and watching a rest Aaron Rodgers and his offense just go to town on the Giants’ defense. Actually I can think of a worse thing to watch: Tom Coughlin trying to brave the cold and frigid temperatures of Green Bay like he did in the 2007 NFC Championship Game. (I would link to a picture here, but I plan on trying to sleep later.)
Bradshaw missed four games because of a cracked bone in his foot. You would think he would be itching to play and wanting to prove himself after missing 25 percent of the season. You would think.
I’m not mad at Tom Coughlin for benching Bradshaw here because even though it might have cost the Giants their season and Giants fans like me the season, it could have potentially cost Coughlin his job and his career. Sunday’s game was the most important game of Coughlin’s coaching career outside of Super Bowl XLII. He is 65 years old and isn’t going to get another head coaching job after he’s done with the Giants, and if he lost on Sunday, he would have basically fired himself. If he felt it was that important to bench his No. 1 running back for the first half of a must-win game then I have to stand by that decision because he put his livelihood in danger, and to me, only my football season as a fan was in danger because of it. Though you might be able make a case that Coughlin’s livelihood and my football fandom are equal.
Coughlin has been about discipline and old-school football since his first day on the job with the Giants. If you know who he is and what he’s about as I’m sure Bradshaw does, then no one is to blame for reportedly missing curfew and being benched other than Bradshaw. But yeah, Tom Coughlin has some pretty strong “principles” if he’s willing to go to war without one of his best players for breaking a team violation.
PART OF THE SOLUTION
The world is full of silence from the Eli Manning critics today. Six fourth-quarter wins this season, his third 400-yard passing game of the year and he’s now tired with his brother and Johnny Unitas for he most (14) fourth-quarter touchdown passes in single-season history. We are far removed from the “Gee, golly” Eli days.
Sure, there are still those brain farts in the game where Eli panics and goes to the back-foot, off-balance throw that makes time stand still and makes your heart drop like when you drive past a cop doing radar going 20 mph over the speed limit. You hope the cop doesn’t pull out and come after you the way that you hope Eli’s errant pass finds the sidelines or hits some open ground.
There isn’t anyone that I would rather have with the game on the line in the two-minute drill in the league. (I say this a lot, but I don’t care. I’ll say it again!) Does that sound crazy? Maybe, but it isn’t if you watch Eli play every week and not just on national TV. With 5:46 left I didn’t think the Giants would win, but when it got to the point that Eli had the ball and a chance to go down the field and score the go-ahead touchdown, I knew he would find a way to get it done. I think the only two New York athletes I feel confident with in certain situations are No. 42 in the ninth inning and Eli Manning in the two-minute drill. Maybe Mark Teixeira with the bases loaded? Oh, wait…
Eli Manning has been so good that when you factor in the all of the drops between Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham throughout the season (and if it weren’t for the drops last night he might have thrown for 500-plus yards) and that Kevin Gilbride is calling his plays for him, Eli is actually even better than his numbers suggest he is.
If you’re not a Giants fan, you might not know who Jason Pierre-Paul was at this time yesterday. But I’m pretty sure after last night and now this morning, you know who he is.
It’s guy like JPP that make me feel bad when I berate the Giants defense because why should a guy like that get lumped into the conversation with guys who don’t do their job like Aaron Ross? It’s unfair to JPP. So, I’m giving him this space for me to honor him and separate him from the rest of the defense and those that don’t give the effort needed to prevent second-half collapses.
A safety, a forced fumble, two sacks, eight tackles and blocked field goal … in one game! If the Giants don’t give JPP a platinum copy of this game on DVD, I’m willing to buy him the NFL Rewind version of it iTunes. It’s the least I can do for him for saving my football season.
Brandon Jacobs is in the A.J. Burnett Zone and there’s no returning. I made this clear about three weeks ago.
I can’t stand Jacobs and his fall since the 2007 season has been devastating. But for one game, Jacobs used some of Steve Urkel’s “Boss Sauce” and hopped into the transformation machine and came out as 2007 Brandon Jacobs. He ran north and south, and east and west, and ran people over and held on to the ball and scored two touchdowns. He ran for 101 yards on 19 carries (averaging 5.3 yards per carry) and it was the first time since Week 14 last year. I could have done without whatever it was that he did in the end zone after his first touchdown, but I have accepted the fact that he still thinks he is as good as he was three and four years ago, and he is going to act like it.
If the Giants can get that kind of effort from Jacobs from here on out (and I don’t think they can but I hope they can), they will have two thirds of Earth, Wind and Fire for the stretch run and into the postseason. And the last time they had anything close to resembling that three-headed running monster they reached the postseason. (Yes, they lost in the first round, but after two straight years without the playoffs, I’m worried about getting to the playoffs first.)
On Friday, I said if we’re lucky we will get to relive this Game 7, do-or-die, must-win scenario again in Week 17. I will be ready for it.
Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe