|The Ultimate World Cup of Hockey Preview||LeBron James: A Performance for the Ages||RIP Muhammad Ali: The GOAT||Steph and the Warriors came out to play|
The Giants are going to the NFC Championship Game. Wait, really? Let me Discount Double Check the score.
Yup, the same Giants who lost to the Redskins twice, and needed a miraculous finish to beat Arizona and New England and the Cowboys, will play on Sunday for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Remember that game that they won in 2008, when they were the best team in football? They can do that again.
Why is this happening? Because they ripped an apparently overrated defending champion on the road, a week after clobbering an alleged football team at home. How did this happen? Um… I don’t know?
I barely know where to begin with this game, but let me get this out of the way first: the Greg Jennings fumble and the Osi Umenyiora “roughing the passer” calls were so bad, so absolutely deplorably bad, that I hope they lead to real changes in NFL officiating. Roughing calls should be reviewable, without question, and the referee under the hood should be able to be overruled by the NFL office in New York. If the Packers had won this game on the basis of those two phantom calls, it would have been the second worst loss in recent Giants history.
But they did not win, and so the Giants get to head to the site of their worst loss in recent history, the historic collapse in San Francisco that ended their 2002 season.
That 39-38 choke job was about as bad as it gets – any time you lose and get into the record books as a result, you know it’s bad. But for anyone who watched the 49ers pull out a fantastic victory against the Saints on Saturday, you may have noticed San Fran use up the very last drops of their pixie dust for the season. They pulled out an emotional win like that at home, against an elite offense and terrible defense. This week, they will face the Giants elite offense. Which defense will show up?
I don’t want to toot my own horn (I totally do) but I would like to quote Past Evan, who wrote this last week:
So… run the ball? I know it’s not revolutionary, but it may actually work against a team that was fairly middle of the pack (pun intended) against the run this year.
[….] But what if the Giants run the ball all day, and keep Rodgers off the field? What if when he’s on the field, they hit Rodgers early and often? The Chiefs sacked Rodgers four times that game, including three by Tamba Hali. They hit him five other times. What if Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck are in the backfield more than the Packers running backs? In the Week 13 loss, the Giants sacked Rodgers twice – a well-placed sack on the Packers final drive might have changed the entire game.
What did the Giants do this week? Ran the ball 27 times, and sacked Aaron Rodgers four times, including key drive-stopping sacks by Michael Boley and the strip-sack by Umenyiora. The Giants were unbeatable all season when they broke the century mark rushing, and they got to 95 yards this week, including some kneel downs. Let’s round up and say they did exactly what they had to do, which was run the ball regardless of outcome and put pressure on Rodgers all day.
Now Rodgers did not have a terrible game – he rushed for 66 yards, and every time he ran into the open field it seemed as though he was driving a stake into the Giants heart in slow motion. But my grandpa made a great point to me in a post-game phone call – when your QB is your leading rusher, you probably screwed up. Rodgers did not get to sit in the pocket much, especially in the second half, and putting him on the run meant forcing him into off-balance and poor throws. They didn’t let him play his game, to quote every terrible football announcer ever.
Essentially, the Giants minimized the Packers’ explosive offense, similar to how they beat the Patriots early this year. Rodgers hooked up with nine different receivers, but the longest completion of the day was just 21 yards. The Packers helped out a lot thanks to several fumbles, but the Giants seemed to have their hands on the ball all day, and even when the Packers were driving, they seemed out-of-sync.
The player of the game on defense was Boley, without a doubt, who had a quiet season but a dominant game Sunday. He even whipped out the Discount Double Check move a few times, for a little insult to injury. Umenyiora had a huge impact, negating quiet games by Jason-Pierre Paul and Justin Tuck. And the secondary held strong, even as the pass rush failed to launch for much of the first half.
On offense, the Giants can score with absolutely anyone right now – Patriots included. They played a B+ game, in truth, and probably should have laid a 45-10 beatdown on Green Bay the way New England smacked around the Tebows on Saturday. The Hail Mary was the backbreaker, but the key play of course was the brilliant run by Ahmad Bradshaw, who crossed the entire field lengthwise to get out of bounds and set up the big pass. Eli Manning was basically perfect on a day where he got hit much more than usual, and Hakeem Nicks played a superb game – all the Giants receivers were great, and they clearly left the pass drops to the Packers.
Even if Green Bay had played their absolute best game, they would have had a hard time beating the Giants on Sunday – that’s the long and short of it. Forget the three week layoff, and the butterfingers, and the tragedy. They were not going to beat a Giants team that is almost at its peak.
I say almost, because I am expecting them to hit their apex over the next few weeks. The 49ers will present a huge problem when it comes to running the ball, and the Giants run game has been a huge indicator for their success all season. If they end up with 37 yards on the ground like the Saints had, they probably won’t win. But this 49ers team is slightly fraudulent: they have a middling pass defense, the worst QB on a playoff team (non-Flacco division), and had to come back from the dead twice Saturday to win.
They beat the Giants this season, yes. But a rematch has got to favor the losing team (which will still be in effect for a potential Giants-Patriots Super Bowl, so be forewarned) and the Giants had a chance to tie that game on the 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter. They also faced a Giants squad without Bradshaw or Umenyiora, with a hobbled Tuck and Boley and Nicks.
The Giants have a very good chance this week. They are road warriors, they are hot, they have the Super Bowl in their sights. But they will have to exorcise some demons that still plague longtime Giants fans. They will have to find a way to beat a team that just beat a team that beat the Giants by 25 points (does that make sense?).
They will have to make Vernon Davis cry again – but this time, tears of DEFEAT.