By Curt Macysyn
The win certainly could not be characterized as artistic, but this particular effort by the New York Giants surely was viewed as a thing of beauty in the eyes of head coach Tom Coughlin. After jumping out to an early 13-3 lead, New York squandered a stellar first half effort, as the Lions scored 17 unanswered second-half points to take a 20-13 lead in the fourth quarter. At that point, the G-men could have packed up their chairs and called it a day. After all, the Detroit Lions needed this win and the Giants were only playing for pride. But Giants pride defeated Lions desperation 23-20 in overtime at Ford Field in Detroit.
The win elevated the Giants record to 6-9 on the season, while Detroit dropped to 7-8.
Giants fans are understandably upset over their team’s first losing season since 2004, Tom Coughlin’s first season as coach of the G-men. But these fans should take a deeper look at the Detroit Lions long record of futility. This loss dropped the Lions to 29-49 in the Jim Schwartz-era. Meanwhile, the Giants under Coughlin have a 89-70 record since 2004, and the team has won two Super Bowl titles during that time span.
The Giants held the Detroit offense in check in the first half; holding the Lions to a lone David Akers field goal. New York did receive a big assist from the fact that All Pro receiver Calvin Johnson was not his usual self, as he was nursing a sore knee after Monday night’s contest against the Baltimore Ravens. But then again the Giants should not concern themselves with other team’s injury woes, when their offensive unit has had seven different offensive line combinations, due to injury, this season.
This week veteran offensive lineman David Diehl sat out with a knee injury, so the team had to insert unproven Brandon Mosley at right guard. Before the first quarter was over, Mosley was in the locker room getting x-rays on an injured hand, which has been reported broken. Given this latest injury, New York will most likely employ offensive line combination number nine next week against the Washington Redskins.
Fortunately for New York, playing the perfect game was never going to be an option, so the game plan was modified. The offense moved Eli Manning’s pocket to avoid the Detroit pass rush. The Giants defense was opportunistic all afternoon, and the team converted three Detroit turnovers into 17 points; highlighted by safety Will Hill’s 38-yard interception return for a touchdown with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 20-20.
New York performed better in overtime, but an Andre Brown fumble took away an opportunity for an early OT score. Still the Giants persevered and were rewarded by the winning 45-yard Josh Brown field goal with 7:32 left in the overtime period.
Offense Grade: C+
Given the patchwork nature of their offensive line, expectations for the offensive unit should be lowered. But the effort of some existing veterans continues to be perplexing. For instance, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks continued to sleep walk through the 2013 season. Outside of his weekly dropped pass, it seems that Nicks’ effort remains substandard each week. To be fair, quarterback Eli Manning did overthrow Nicks on a sure touchdown pass in the second quarter, but Nicks allowed himself to drift out of bounds on a perfectly thrown sideline pass by Manning in the third quarter. The Giants surely should expect more than four catches for 52 yards from Nicks, but that production seems to be the norm lately for the soon-to-be free agent receiver. With the Giants missing Victor Cruz after knee surgery this week, New York could have used a monster effort from Nicks, which they did not get.
Giants general manager Jerry Reese invested a significant amount of money in giving left tackle Will Beatty a five-year contract in the off season. The reality is that Beatty is the only lineman playing his normal position this season, and he has been awful. Beatty got knocked on his rear end by Nick Fairley and that led to Manning getting tackled in the end zone for a safety in the third quarter. And Beatty also had his weekly holding call.
Rueben Randle clearly needs to work on his route running in the off season. Randle is a talented athlete, but he refuses to run precise patterns and makes it difficult for a quarterback needing help from his receivers. The Giants should be able to expect more than four catches for 40 yards from Randle, but that seems to be his weekly production.
The urgency in the game of Jerrel Jernigan has been a welcome sight for New York. The young receiver now has made the most of his year-end audition and had six catches for 80 receiving yards against the Lions. Jernigan had his first career touchdown, a beautiful 20-yard slant.
Even though Manning was 23-42, his statistics in this game do not tell the entire story. Manning tried to force a throw down the middle of the field at the end of regulation that was picked off by Glover Quin, but given the situation, going for the win was the right decision. In this case, the execution was poor. On the afternoon, Manning had 256 passing yards, but his completion percentage (54.8%) remains low.
Defense Grade: B+
The only thing that keeps this grade from being an A is the fact that the defense gave up an uncharacteristic 148 yards on the ground, with Lions reserve back Joique Bell having 91 yards on his own with a rushing touchdown. Also, the defensive unit allowed Detroit to convert on seven of 16 third-down attempts (47%), allowing the Lions to win the time-of-possession battle (37:45 to 29:43).
Overall the defensive unit had a solid effort.
Mathias Kiwanuka bounced back with a stellar game. Kiwanuka had two quarterback sacks, a forced fumble and six tackles. Safety Antrel Rolle had an important recovery of a Reggie Bush fumble that led to a Giants touchdown. Rolle continues to be a difference-maker and solidifies his Pro Bowl status every week. Bush was not the same after his ill-timed turnover.
Both interceptions were things of beauty. Defensive end Justin Tuck somehow came down with a point-blank pass from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Tuck’s interception was the tonic that a wilting Giants team needed to stay in the contest.
Will Hill’s interception represented quintessential safety play. Hill was in perfect position to come up with Joseph Fauria’s deflection and took it to the house to tie the game 20-20. For good measure, Hill had 11 tackles on the afternoon.
Special Teams Grade: B+
Kicker Josh Brown has been a vital asset for the Giants this year and continued his fine play. Brown converted field goals of 41 and 52 yards in regulation and then converted a 45-yard kick to win the game in overtime. Brown has flown under the radar this season and has hit 21 of 23 field goal attempts.
The punt team woes cropped up again as the unit gave up a 50-yard return to Jeremy Ross that set up a Lions touchdown. Also, rookie Damontre Moore committed a mindless offsides penalty on a Lions punt that gave Detroit a first down after the Giants defensive unit defused a drive. Fortunately, Justin Tuck’s interception bailed Moore out.
Rookie Michael Cox had a 56-yard return off of the overtime kickoff which should have gotten the Giants on the scoreboard with at least a field goal, but Andre Brown’s fumble negated the return.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.