Giants vs. Buccaneers: 7 Things We Learned from New York's 41-34 Win
The Giants wanted the win desperately after kicking off the season with a disappointing loss to the division rival Cowboys last week. New York’s comeback victory over Tampa Bay officially puts its Week 1 slip-up in the past and balances out their record at 1-1.
In some aspects, the game was a historic one, as multiple personal records were broken. Many of the impressive individual efforts were pivotal to the Giants’ Week 2 win. And some of those efforts came from slightly unlikely sources.
Heading into Sunday’s game, we had several questions and concerns regarding the Giants’ future. Although what we saw against the Bucs was far from a well-polished final product, it did manage to clear up some of the uncertainties heading into Week 3.
This article will highlight seven things we learned about the Giants from their matchup with the Bucs.
The Giants Are Still Resilient When Faced With Adversity
Almost everything that could have gone wrong for the Giants on Sunday went wrong in the first half. After jumping out to a 6-3 lead in the first quarter, things began to quickly fall apart for New York.
To begin, running back Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), right tackle David Diehl (knee) and wide receiver Domenik Hixon (head) all suffered game-ending injuries early on. These injuries alone acted as a daunting roadblock for the Giants, but miscues in the game’s second frame would only add to the team’s troubles.
Eli Manning showed flashes of his pre-2007 self, as he struggled to find a connection with his receivers. He turned the ball over three times in the second quarter, which included a 60-yard pick-six that gave Tampa Bay an 11-point lead just before the half.
Instead of folding after failing to close the gap in the third quarter, New York was able to slowly swing the momentum back in its favor. We had seen Manning lead last year’s Giants to numerous fourth-quarter victories, but this 2012 team had yet to develop that kind of character.
But this year’s Giants took a huge step in the right direction, as they were able to assemble an explosive 25-point performance in the fourth quarter to propel them past the Bucs. Whatever the setbacks may be, with Manning at the helm, the Giants resemble an unstoppable machine with the game on the line.
Eli Manning’s Inconsistency Can Be a Major Setback
If we learned one thing from New York’s 41-34 victory, it’s that the Giants success is dangerously dependent on Manning’s play.
Manning was able to lead the team to a miraculous comeback once again, which included two go-ahead touchdowns in the final four minutes of the game, but the Giants are getting themselves into a sticky situation by relying on him so heavily.
After throwing 25 interceptions two seasons ago, Manning made the necessary adjustments to cut his 2011 interception total to 16. Early in his second performance of the 2012 season, it looked like Manning was taking a step in the wrong direction.
Manning’s tosses were off target and he put the ball in harm’s way more than we’re used to seeing lately. His three interceptions directly allowed the Buccaneers to put up 21 points, which forced the Giants to dig their way out of a deep hole early on.
Sure, Manning was able to bounce back and lead the team to victory, but can he really be expected to repeat that performance week after week?
Interceptions are going to happen, but when the entire team is playing up to expectations, they won’t hurt as badly. As of right now, the Giants’ success seems to be completely dependent on Manning’s arm. If Manning has another shaky early-game performance, New York will have difficulty finding another way to win.
The Red-Zone Offense Is Bad
One of the reasons why the Giants weren’t able to close the gap early on was because of poor execution, especially in the red zone.
The Giants made five trips to the red zone and didn’t capitalize on any until their final one. Luckily, kicker Lawrence Tynes was automatic, hitting all four of his field-goal attempts on the day. However, when the team is consistently turning the ball over and giving up 34 points against, field goals just aren’t going to cut it.
The Giants become increasingly one-dimensional the closer they get to the end zone. Teams don’t need to respect the Giants’ running game, as New York’s offensive line can rarely get a push up front, and the secondary can keep the play in front of them since it doesn't have to worry about getting beat deep.
In the past, we’ve seen Manning connect with Hakeem Nicks countless times on the fade route for a touchdown, but so far this year they haven't gone to that look. Perhaps Manning and Nicks have yet to form that timing given his preseason injury. If that’s the case, expect the red-zone offense to steadily improve as Manning and Nicks slowly regain that timing.
The Uncertainties Surrounding Cruz and Nicks Can End
The two players under the most scrutiny after Week 1 were probably Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Manning hit Cruz six times for 58 yards in the Giants’ Week 1 loss to the Cowboys, but he failed to score a touchdown and dropped three huge passes. Some began to wonder if the superstar from 2011 would fizzle out and eventually be remembered as a one-hit wonder.
Cruz proved all his naysayers wrong with 11 catches for 179 yards, which included a game-breaking 80-yard touchdown grab. His yardage total topped his previous career high of 178 yards (2011, Week 17 vs. Dallas) by only one yard.
It’s not very often that you use the term “workhorse” to describe a wide receiver, but Cruz certainly fits the mold. He still provides big play potential, but he also works his tail off to get open in short-yardage situations as well. The way he evades would-be tacklers after catching the ball demonstrates his determination to fight for every extra yard.
Nicks, who is still recovering from a broken foot, only managed to haul in four balls for a total of 38 yards against the Cowboys. It was suspected that his foot was bothering him, resulting in slower routes and less separation. After spending more of his time on the workout bike than on the field this past week in practice, few expected him to have a dominant performance in Week 2.
But that’s exactly what Nicks did against the Bucs. He caught 10 passes for a career-high 199 yards and a touchdown. Nicks also caught a 50-yarder in the game’s final minutes, which led to the game-winning touchdown run. In 10 days, Nicks went from virtually a non-factor in Week 1 to an absolute game-changer in Week 2.
Contrary to what was expected, the Giants’ wide receiver tandem was pretty much unstoppable against Tampa Bay. Hopefully, we’ll see a few repeat performances as the season wears on.
Andre Brown is A Gamer
When Ahmad Bradshaw went down with a neck injury, New York’s already-struggling running game looked like it was doomed. Instead, Andre Brown was inserted into the lineup and had a surprisingly impressive performance.
Brown brought with him a decisive running style that the Giants’ offense had been missing. He gashed the Bucs for 23 yards on his very first carry, and he finished the game with 73 yards and an average of 5.5 yards per carry.
With Bradshaw out of action, it was expected that his complementary back, rookie David Wilson, would take over the workload. Apparently, Wilson still isn’t completely out of Tom Coughlin’s doghouse after fumbling last week against the Cowboys. He was only given three carries, which he only managed to take for a total of six yards.
Brown has been in the league since 2009, but he’s spent most of that time bouncing around different practice squads. Before Sunday he had two career carries for negative-one yard, so his game against the Bucs certainly qualifies as a breakout performance.
His first NFL touchdown was a game-winner, and it came one play after he fell to the ground on the one-yard line to kill time as the Tampa Bay defense opened the gates, welcoming him into the end zone.
Overall, Brown was a pleasant surprise. We’ll see if his impressive performance will result in more touches in the future.
Jason Pierre-Paul is Back, Others Are Still Missing
The Cowboys shut out New York’s top three defensive ends in Week 1, so they were surely looking for a bounce back performance against the Buccaneers.
Jason Pierre-Paul was the only one who showed up in Week 2, though. As usual, he recorded a freak, eight-tackle (four solo) performance. Two of his tackles were for a loss and he also added a sack and a QB hit.
After a quiet Week 1, it looks like Pierre-Paul is back, and is in his full one-man-wrecking-crew form. While it was encouraging to see Pierre-Paul make a difference on defense, the fact that he was one of the only players to do so was equally discouraging.
The other defensive ends, Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora, have yet to record a sack through two games this season. They only combined for four total tackles against the Bucs, and neither player even came close to being a factor in the pass rush.
New York has been known for the play of its defensive ends lately, but they just aren’t getting it done so far this season. If their struggles to get after the passer continue, a more talented quarterback will surely take advantage of the extra time in the pocket.
The Secondary Will Be a Huge Liability Moving Forward
The insufficient play of New York's secondary isn’t exactly breaking news, but it was definitely reinforced Week 2 against the Bucs.
Tampa Bay isn’t known as a team that airs the ball out, yet the Giants managed to turn their matchup with them into a high-flying shootout. Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman is an average passer, but against New York, he was able to connect on huge plays to both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
The Giants knew going into the game that the only player that could beat them was Jackson. Despite this, Jackson still racked up 128 yards and a touchdown on five catches. The Giants’ secondary lacks a shutdown corner right now, and through the first two weeks of the season, we’ve already seen the ill effects.
Corey Webster looks like half the player he was a season ago, and Justin Tryon seems to be perpetually giving up big plays. With former first-rounder Prince Amukamara still out of the starting lineup with a high ankle sprain, the Giants are left with average replacements in Michael Coe and rookie Jayron Hosley.
Safeties Kenny Phillips and Antrel Rolle have been holding down the defensive backfield as best they can, but the lack of talent at cornerback could prove to be the downfall of the ’12 Giants.