By Jason Keidel
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For a few, ephemeral moments in an otherwise tattered autumn, they put the “football” back into the New York Giants.
Trading blows with the best team in the NFC, if not the NFL, the Giants played with purpose and passion on Sunday. On offense they mixed the run and pass with aplomb. The defense was far from perfect, but it came to punish the opponent, with defenders darting and dashing and lunging into piles and players.
So, of course, it figures the Giants were felled by the most basic of football skills — special teams.
Yes, the Giants lost to the Eagles, 34-29, but the game pivoted on two simple plays, two blocked kicks. One was a field goal attempt, the other an extra point try. It wasn’t kicker incompetence, or a poor placement by the holder. The Giants just didn’t block enough Eagles to execute two basic kicks.
For a while on Sunday you had no idea which team was 2-12 or 12-2, until the end. For a while you wondered what it would have been like had Sterling Shepard, who had a sterling game with 11 catches, 139 yards, one touchdown (and 33 fantasy points on Draft Kings), been the No. 3 receiver all along. If not for the biblical swarm of injuries that devoured high-end Giants like Odell Beckham Jr and Brandon Marshall, we could forget, for a moment, that the Giants were in the running for the worst record and top pick in the draft.
Eli Manning was playing like the old Eli Manning, shredding the rugged Eagles defense with laser passes, audibles, and check-downs. Eli was in full command of an offense that had recently played like a Pop Warner squad, finishing with 434 yards, three touchdowns, and a 98.1 passer rating.
For a while you forgot the personal and professional ignominy he endured when he was benched after 210 consecutive starts, absurdly blamed for things that were way beyond his control. Things like player rebellions, anonymous locker room chatter, and systemic apathy. In a season where no one seemed to give a damn, the Giants punished the one player who always did. It also spawned the last beautiful, full-throated rant from the recently retired Mike Francesa.
You forgot that Ben McAdoo coached this team like his 12-year-old doppelganger in the stands, or that Jerry Reese was finally held accountable for all those hollow drafts. You forgot that the Giants had no running game, passing game, or offensive line to facilitate, either. For a few moments, the Giants looked like the G-men, like Big Blue, like the team they were supposed to be this season.
But teams are 2-12 for a reason. And in the end, the Giants popped that dream bubble.
It’s almost always distilled to those white-hot moments in the fourth quarter that divide the haves and have-nots. Even without leading MVP candidate Carson Wentz, the Eagles found a way, thanks backup Nick Foles, who threaded passes all afternoon.
Perhaps we forgot this isn’t Foles’s first round as a starting QB. He not only has played well as a starter, he did it for the Eagles. Indeed, just a few years ago, Foles posted PlayStation numbers, tossing 27 TDs and just two INTs under former coach Chip Kelly. A precursor to his four-TD, no-pick performance on Sunday, in which he finished with 237 yards and a robust 115.8 passer rating.
The haves, like the Eagles, passed the ball 38 times, while running 27 times, a picture of balance. Meanwhile the Giants tossed the ball 57 times while rushing the ball just 23. Though the Giants ran 15 more plays than the Eagles (81 to 66), Philadelphia held the ball for two more minutes. That disparity speaks to the difference between a winner and loser, between 12-2 and 2-12.
But, somewhere between whistle and gun, between the first and fourth quarter, the Giants were up 20-7 on the top seed in the NFC. And you forgot, for a few, ephemeral moments, anyway, that the Giants lost this season long before they lost this game.
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