SUPER BOWL XLVI GAME REVIEW: GIANTS OUT BATTLED PATRIOTS IN COMPETITIVE, CLEAN GAME
"Itís been non-stop for me since Sunday but thereís no way we werenít going to
get in a final game review.
With nothing but this to do today (as opposed to the usual days on which I do
game reviews), I took my time and tried to dive deeply into it. So letís get
* * * *
Settle in. This could take a while.
Quarterback Eli Manning. The New England Patriots' game plan
was to give him everything underneath. It was all he could eat. They werenít
going to get beat up top. Each of his first three shots at a big play fell
incomplete: a corner route to Hakeem Nicks that was well-defended, a deep post
to Mario Manningham that was also covered well and a fake
screen to D.J. Ware (after running it early in the game, which
has been the way the Giants set up the big play, like on the TD by Manningham
against the Falcons) with a go route to Nicks up the left sideline that was
broken up by a monster hit from Pats S Patrick Chung. Thatís
what makes his 38-yard pass to Manningham so impressive. If thatís the first
quarter, he doesnít take that shot and looks for a check-down pass. But with
3:46 to go, he had to squeeze it in there. That ball needed to be perfect, and
it was. Itís why I immediately tweeted ďWhat. A. Throw.Ē Of course, it was met
with some resistance from those who thought I was overlooking Manninghamís grab.
Naturally, I wasnít. I just wanted to make sure no one overlooked just how
perfect that throw was. Judging by the reaction Iíve seen in the past few days,
Manning has gotten his rightful due. He squeezed some passes into extremely
tight spots. Oh and, ho hum, he called an audible at the line (you could hear
him yelling, ďAlert! Alert!Ē on the broadcast) on Victor Cruzís
Manningham. Tremendous catch. No doubt about it. Weíll be talking about that
one forever. Ö However, the ball he caught out of bounds because, as
Cris Collinsworth accurately noted, he drifted too closely to
the sideline was a huge mistake. Heís
battled such issues in the past and itís the finer points of his route
running that have driven Manning and the Giants nuts in the past. Heís been
better recently, no doubt, but heís still a bit undisciplined in his routes at
times. I honestly believe thatíll be a part of why the Giants wonít give him the
huge money he probably will demand. Will another team give it to him? Maybe. As
I said to someone in the press box, his 38-yard catch to spark the game-winning
drive is why heíll get paid; the miscommunication between him and Manning on the
next play is why it wonít be the Giants who pay him. But thatís just an
uneducated guess from me. For now, Manningham deserves all the kudos for that
Cruz. That touchdown was made possible by good timing between him and Manning
(which weíve said goes back to the lockout
workouts Manning held in Hoboken) and another outstanding release off the
line. He gave a stutter step and then a quick move to the inside. If you get a
chance to look at it again, watch the head fake. The entire release had S
James Ihedigbo so discombobulated he looked wobbly-legged all
the way to Cruzís juggling the ball, at which point Ihedigbo couldíve still
broken up the pass. No wonder the Cowboys
were lining up two guys over Cruz when the teams met in December.
Nicks. I didnít realize until I rewatched the game the ball he caught on the
quick throw for a first down on that last drive was tipped. Good concentration
and good catch. Sure, he shouldíve stayed in bounds but whatever.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw. That looked like a walk-through in
practice when the Patsí defenders just held up the blockers. It was also the
oddest celebration of a Super Bowl-winning touchdown youíll ever see. Yes, that
was RG Chris Snee shrugging and then pointing to the ground as
if to say, ďHe shouldíve gotten down.Ē And how about Wilfork pumping his
fist in celebration? Crazy. Anyway, long story short, if you score the
game-winning touchdown, you get a game ball. Especially at the end of an
impressive performance by a tough runner who fought through a painful foot issue
Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and his staff. There
was tremendous design on a 24-yard run by Bradshaw early midway through the
first quarter. It came out of a formation in which they had just run a pitch to
the right side. The formation and the early movement after the snap indicated a
run that way again but then -- bam! -- a quick counter to the left.
Yes, I just unleashed my inner John Madden. And here comes a
whap! because Kevin Boothe flattened CB Kyle
Arrington on the kick-out block. Henry Hynoski cut
pursuing LB Brandon Spikes and then Bradshaw blocked for
himself with a stiff arm (a little grab of Chungís face mask) that allowed him
to gain the last 19 yards of a 24-yard gain. I canít tell you for sure the
Giantsí coaching staff saw something on film that told them a play to the right
and then a counter back left would allow for something like that to happen
against the Patsí D, but Iíd say itís a good bet they did.
Boothe. Jerry Reeseís ďpriorityĒ
had a very good game. There was the block on Bradshawís run mentioned above
and plenty of one-on-one matchups with Wilfork (see below). He was flagged for
the hold on Wilfork in the second quarter, though I didnít think much of that
one. I understand why the flag was thrown but I didnít think the fistful of
jersey had much to do with Wilforkís falling down. Wilfork told reporters
afterward Wilfork winked
at him after the play.
Reese and the front office. While weíre talking about the GM, another pat on
the back for him and his crew for sticking to their plan.
John Mara and Steve and Jon
Tisch. For seeing the big picture and sticking with a darn good coach,
even when many wanted him gone.
Tom Coughlin. For being that darn good coach. Iíve had
conversations with a few people saying, ďWell, if heíd only been this way with
the players from the beginning. ÖĒ But you know what, it was more fun this way.
And it taught a lot of people a lot of things about how to persevere and about
learning to be flexible and adaptable even in your senior years. The way he fell
in ďloveĒ with this team and the way they responded to him was quite the
S Antrel Rolle. Heís the guy who came around to Coughlin
more than anybody. What a story.
DE Justin Tuck. Talk about persevering. This season ended so
very well for a guy
who endured through a lot. Maybe someday heíll get a chance to steal the
Super Bowl MVP from Manning instead of vice versa. (Not saying he deserved it
over Eli. Just referencing
C David Baas. Another guy who
persevered through a tough, tough season that included injuries, learning the
playbook on the fly and a personal life that was upended right before the season
when he signed here and had to move within a few weeks. He might not get his
feet under him until this offseason, but that didnít stop him from plugging
LT David Diehl. The fact he played
with a broken hand was only another example of how much this guy puts the
team first. Where will he play on the line next season? Right tackle? Who cares?
Heíll give his all.
RT Kareem McKenzie. If that was his last game as a Giant,
that capped seven serviceable years for this guy who is anything but a
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. People had issues with
his schemes on the Patsí two touchdown drives. I even had a guy anticipating
my defending Fewell against the masses after the second TD. I reminded that
guy there was still plenty of game left because, at the time, I didnít see many
problems with the scheme or the way the defense was playing. It was just a
matter of little plays by the Pats here and there. It happens. Itís football.
Fewell had to believe eventually those plays would go in his favor. He didnít
panic and kept calling his game, which was to cover more than pressure. It was a
good plan, and it worked out tremendously.
Linebacker Chase Blackburn. What a reception he got at the
rally on Tuesday. People are really connecting with his comeback story. And I
hererby take back this
ill-advised tweet, which I put out there after Aaron
Hernandez easily slipped past him on the touchdown. As for his
interception, someone tried convincing me on Twitter itís a touchdown if Brady
throws a better ball and Collinsworth said Blackburn was ďbeaten and had to
chase (TE Rob Gronkowski) down.Ē I donít see that a little bit,
and I also donít think 54 yards in the air is an underthrown ball. Blackburn was
on Grownkowskiís hip the whole way and showed great coverage and ball skills to
box out Gronkowski.
CB Aaron Ross. He picked a good time to play a complete
game, with very good coverage and excellent physical play. When the Pats ran the
end around his way and he avoided LT Matt Light to make a
tackle for a 1-yard loss, I tweeted New England should be running that play CB
Corey Websterís way. They did in the second half and picked up
17 yards when Websterís attempt to duck under RT Sebastian
Vollmer didnít work out nearly as well as Rossí dodging Light.
Webster. Okay, so he wasnít great on the play I mentioned. Big deal. He
covered very well once again, held WR Deion Branch to only two
catches for 26 yards until that final drive and also made a big play to recover
and break up the pass for Branch that allowed the Giants to get the ball back
for the win.
S Deon Grant. Heís been a very big help for us in the media
this year, so from a personal standpoint, itís nice to see a good guy rewarded
after 12 years in the league. As for his game, he did the little things such as
coming up to wrap up WR Wes Welker immediately on a short hook
instead of allowing YAC and darting forward into traffic to contain the same run
as the 17-yard pitch play I just mentioned. By containing that run, which came
on the first play of the series after the big hitter, he forced it back inside
to Blackburn, who was unable to make the stop earlier because he got cut while
trying to chase.
LB Michael Boley. Solid game for a guy who proved this
season he was worth the $25-million deal he got in 2009.
P Steve Weatherford. NBC just barely missed a great moment
after his punt in the second half when he slapped the Patsí Matthew
Slater on his derriere right after the ball was downed. Slater, to my
surprise, didnít do a thing. ďIím like a kid out there,Ē Weatherford said of his
energy level in general. ďItís a game and thatís how I play it. When Iím able to
have fun, I play well. Iíve had fun this entire year and I think it showed. Ö
Weíre enjoying the ride and thatís kind of an element I bring to the
specialistís group, that youthful joy of the game.Ē Yeah, that and consistency,
which is why heíll soon have a nice long-term deal to stay here."
An extended game-balls section to highlight a few guys who didnít get
enough credit for big plays.
Hynoski. Not only did he stone Spikes for much of the game, he pounced on
Nicksí fumble in the third quarter. What was most impressive was where he was
when Nicks caught the ball -- at the line of scrimmage after getting a piece of
LB Jerod Mayo, whom he thought might be blitzing. Good hustle
by Mayo to get to Nicks, but great hustle by Hynoski to be in position to
recover the fumble. Too many times youíll see a guy quit on the play. He didnít,
and heís to be lauded for that.
Snee. He also plopped down on a fumble by Bradshaw that wouldíve been a
disaster after Blackburnís interception. Huge. Also, it should be noted the
Giants did not lose a fumble in their last eight games. They put eight on the
ground since then and, whether by recovery, a penalty or a ruling of forward
progress, they got them all back.
DT Linval Joseph. He started the chaos on the play that
ended with Blackburnís interception by squeezing inside Pats G Logan
Mankins to pressure Brady. He went for the ball and, much as the play
ended poorly, props to Brady for keeping two hands on the ball to secure it.
Joseph had another pressure on the Patsí next offensive play, an incompletion
from Brady to Hernandez.
* * * *
None. This was a tremendously well-played game by two teams who know how to
do it. I canít even give one to Welker because, while itís technically a drop,
thatís a tough, twisting catch for him to make. Heís too good of a player for
something like this to define him. No way.
And to the clowns at Pawngo.com who thought it was funny
to drop hundreds of Butterfingers in Boston in Welker's (dis)honor, get a
clue. I donít know what that company is, nor do I know what they do. And nor do
I care at this point. Thatís classless right there.
* * * *
Everybody hates the three-man rush when it fails. Few remember to love it
when it works.
On the Patsí first offensive series after their back-to-back touchdowns,
Fewell called a pair of three-man rushes. (This was after Grant contained the
pitch play on first down, by the way.) On the first one, Brady had no time to
throw, scrambled right to avoid late pressure by DT Chris Canty
and eventually threw it away near RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who
was covered by Tuck. One play later, another three-man rush meant eight dropped
to cover. Brady again found no one and, 4.1 seconds after the snap, first
contact was made by DE Dave Tollefson. Tuck then charged from
his linebacker spot and pounced on Brady to finish the sack.
That three-and-out gave the defensive players much-needed confidence in
themselves and the scheme. Itís also an affirmation Fewell hasnít panicked of
late and stuck with his schemes, which is how you have to do it. Also, Tuckís
sack had Brady flexing his shoulder afterward. Huge series right there.
* * * *
MANNINGíS TOUGHEST THROWS
-- Obviously, the ball to Manningham past rookie CB Sterling
Moore and in front of Chung.
-- With DL Gerard Warren in his face, he delivered a strike
on a stop to Nicks just past the outstretched hands of Antuan
Molden. (First quarter, 11:11 remaining)
-- Collinsworth said he didnít know how Manning got the ball to Nicks for
12 yards on third-and-2 in the fourth quarter. Iíll tell you how. He knew where
he was going with the ball so he took one long stride to his left to give him a
better angle on the ball. Spikes was drifting toward the middle of the field and
just missed it by a fingertip because of that slide Manning made, which also
allowed him to get away from pressure and get a clean look at the throw. Weíve
talked about Manningís arm and awareness this season, but Iíd argue his feet,
aided by QBs
coach Mike Sullivanís drills, are the biggest reason for his improved play.
-- A dart to Cruz between Spikes and Arrington on third-and-1, three plays
after the throw to Nicks over Spikes, who mustíve been going crazy with how
close he was to tipping these passes.
So who kept the big guy in check? I thought you might ask. Letís look at who
blocked him and how many times.
NOBODY (HE DROPPED): 1
NOT ON FIELD: 8
* * * *
A lot of fans groaned when they saw the replay of Chung getting an arm around
Nicks on a corner route in the second quarter. I thought that was a good no
call. I also didnít have a problem with the non-call on what many believed was
pass interference on Moore on the Giantsí next-to-last drive.
I donít understand all of the talk about whether the Giants put 12 men on the
field on purpose on that final drive. Tuck was running off the field without a
helmet. (Wait, isnít it a 15-yard penalty when you take your helmet off while on
the field? Anyway Ö) Clearly, it was a mix-up. Now, for those who are saying,
ďHmmm, weíve discovered something,Ē I wholeheartedly agree. And hereís my
suggestion for a rule change: If a defense flagged for too many men on the field
within the last two minutes of a half, the penalty should be enacted
plus the clock gets reset to where it was before the play. So in that
case, it shouldíve been second-and-5 at the Patsí 49 with 17 seconds to play,
not 9. Thatíll dissuade defenses from trying that kind of stuff.
And thatís it for second guesses. Regular readers know this section is
usually much, much longer than this. The reason itís not is that was an
extremely well-played, well-coached and well-officiated, not to mention
well-called by Collinsworth and Al Michaels. I remember when
the Super Bowl used to be a disaster that was over by halftime. Not anymore in
this league of parity. Great, great job by all involved in this yearís game.
* * * *
ODDS AND (TIGHT) ENDS
The Giantsí opening drives in their last three games lasted 12, nine and 10
plays, respectively. They got a grand total of 3 total points in those
possessions. But thatís okay. We hear Gilbride say all the time early play calls
are designed to see what kind of looks theyíll be getting against certain
personnel packages and formations. Scoring is practically secondary to
information gathering for him. So when you saw Gilbride running five different
personnel packages onto the field for those 10 plays on Sunday, you should know
he was quickly working to decode the Patsí game plan.
Whether Cruzís forward progress was stopped on his fumble wouldíve been a big
storyline had the Giants note been saved by a penalty on the Pats for too many
men on the field. If you recall, fumbles by Bradshaw and Cruz in the two games
against the Niners this season were negated because of a ruling their forward
progress had been stopped. Not so in this case. Cruz was being driven back but
then dug in and started to move forward, if only for a few inches. That was the
proper call. Again, it didnít matter because Cruz found his third way to avoid a
fumble this season, with the penalty joining the forward-progress ruling and his
giving himself up against the Cardinals.
Wanna be an NFL coach?
Better prepare yourself for how it will drive you insane. In addition to the
crazy hours coaches
like Al Holcomb are asked to pull, sometimes itís all for naught. One of
those times was on Cruzís touchdown. The Pats had the perfect defense called
there, and Mayo undercut the slant route. He had his eyes fixed on Cruz. If he
just takes a peek back at Manning (who said after the game he never saw Mayo),
he sees the ball coming, defends it and maybe catches it for a potential pick
six. The Patsí coaches identified the threat there and put the players in
position to stop it. Mayo, who never saw the ball that actually went behind his
back, didnít take advantage of proper planning.
Speaking of that play, thatís the second time on an NBC broadcast this season
weíve heard that salsa
music as soon as he scored. Once again, it was only for a few seconds,
wasnít played very loudly and then stopped. Weird. And if it was truly intended,
that was a rare example of poor production on an otherwise excellent
Good play call by the Pats on a third-and-inches in the third quarter. The
Giants had stopped quarterback sneak after quarterback sneak over the past few
weeks and were loaded up over center, so New England ran wide for 4 yards and a
first down on the way to a touchdown that gave them a 17-9 lead.
The Giants prepared as if Julian Edelman would play defense
and cover Cruz in the slot. Edelman played no defense, which was a good move by
the Pats. The only question Iíd have with their game plan is why Ihedigbo was
covering Cruz on the touchdown.
The toughness of Manning was on display when he got high-lowed in the third
quarter as he threw a pass for TE Jake Ballard that fell way
short. I thought he was squashed on that one but he hopped right back up. Also,
if you look at the end of that play closely, Chungís reaction tells you he
thought he was going to undercut Ballard and pick that ball off. Itís tough to
tell from the TV feed, but if thatís the case, LB Rob
Ninkovichís pressure on that play was actually beneficial for the
Giants because the ball never got near Chung. Two plays later, they kicked a
field goal to make it 17-12.
You can get sacks out of the three-man rush, as the Giants showed. But
usually they donít happen as quickly as the one the Patriots got late in the
third quarter when Ninkovich and DE Mark Anderson beat McKenzie
and Diehl. McKenzie got beat cleanly, while Diehl was expecting help from
Bradshaw, who didnít decide quickly enough whether to chip a juking Anderson.
That forced a field goal instead of a touchdown to take the lead. No biggie now,
but had the Giants lost, it wouldíve been a big play.
Speaking of Ninkovich, his offside penalty was obviously a killer. New
England couldíve had the ball at midfield but that flag allowed the Giants to
move the ball to the Patsí 43 before punting.
Did that flip reverse to Welker with Brady leading the way look familiar? The
Pats ran the same play against the Giants in November. They got 13 yards back
then and 11 this time. Both times they called it in the fourth quarter.
When you watch the replay of this game, take a look at the way the Giants
beat up Gronkowski coming off the line, particularly early on.
One more note on the game: No wonder Mara
said he couldnít breathe on the Hail Mary. That thing was closer to being
caught than I thought while watching live and on replays on TVs well above my
head. Maybe a healthy Gronkowski catches that. Wow, what an ending.
* * * *
And finally, thanks and congrats to all of you. From the start of training
camp, youíve been here and on Twitter pushing us and demanding better coverage.
We can only hope weíve delivered and made things more enjoyable for you. Youíve
done that for us. Weíre not going anywhere. As always, the offseason will bring
plenty of storylines with it. But I just wanted to take some time to thank you
Iíve seen your emails, comments and tweets over the past few days. I just
havenít had a time to get to them all. I appreciate your feedback and laud your
passion. Thanks again, and letís keep this good thing going.