Whenever a team wins its sport's respective championship, the players and coaching staff are given a grace period in which they are forgiven for most sins. It is safe to say that for the New York Giants, the grace period is over.
After a 5-0 start, the Giants find themselves 8-7 with a meaningless week 17 game against the Vikings. After that, it's golf season.
What went wrong for the Giants on Sunday? Let's look at my "Five Keys to Victory" for the answer to that:
1. Stop Steve Smith
Despite not playing most of the second half, Steve Smith of the Panthers caught five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown came on a play in which he brushed off what looked like a crushing hit from Michael Johnson and walked into the end zone for an easy score. It was later revealed that he broke his arm on this play. A broken arm, not the Giants defense, was the only thing that could stop Steve Smith.
But this one is on Bill Sheridan. Why is Kevin Dockery, a pretty good 4th CB, covering Steve Smith. This is just another example as to how clueless Sheridan has been this season. Instead of putting Terrell Thomas, the team's best remaining defensive back, on Smith, he puts a guy who wouldn't be a nickelback on must teams. Perplexing.
2. Contain Running Game
Hahaha! Riiiiiight. Jonathan Stewart had 206 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. That's a 7.4 average. The team was allergic to tackling all day, mostly attempting weak arm tackles. There were times when I saw defensive backs backpedaling away from the ball-carrier instead of coming up to try and make a play. The team just had no interest in tackling.
Even fullback Brad Hoover had 37 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries. Overall, the Panthers ran for 247 yards, dropping under 250 only because they took a couple kneel downs to end the game.
Verdict: EPIC FAIL
3. Block Julius Peppers
The very first play of the game, Julius Peppers came in unblocked and tackled Brandon Jacobs for a loss of three yards. He didn't continue to play that dominant for the entire game, nor was he as unstoppable as he was last week, but he still beat the Giants' offensive line on numerous occasions.
Peppers finished with a sack, two tackles for a loss, and a QB hit.
4. Commit To The Run
Kevin Gilbride must have been confused by my word choice. When I said commit to the run, I didn't mean "stop doing what is working just for the sake of committing to the run."
After the first drive in which Eli Manning moved the ball almost at will on the Panthers, with Ahmad Bradshaw in the backfield, Kevin Gilbride decided to put Brandon Jacobs back into the game. First play: a thirteen yard completion to Steve Smith. Eli was in total control and the Panthers pass defense was on their heels.
What does Gilbride call next? Two straight Brandon Jacobs runs. The result: one yard.
The day continued like this for Jacobs, who finished with one yard on six carries. I'll repeat: one yard on six carries. Ahmad Bradshaw had a respectable 53 yards on 11 carries, yet Jacobs was still in the game during what could have been crucial drives in the second quarter.
It's not Gilbrides fault that Jacobs has become a shell of his former self, but we've seen this all season. Jacobs' terrible performance yesterday should not have surprised anyone. Gilbride and Coughlin should have had a shorter leash with Jacobs, knowing that they can no longer entrust their season in his hands.
5. Cover The Tight End
The Panthers' top two tight ends combined for one reception and two yards. The one reception was a touchdown, however. Still, not much to write about here.
Conclusion: It's not too hard to see that the Giants failed miserably in the top four keys. When you cant stop the run and you can't run the ball, you're going to have to do everything else right in order to win. That clearly did not happen. Add four Giants turnovers and no Panthers turnovers, and it's easy to see why 41-9 was a score that accurately portrays the competitiveness of this game.
Other Game Notes:
This was the only game the Giants lost this season to a non-playoff team. They also beat only one playoff team, the Cowboys (twice). This fact alone should show you what their chances were had they somehow made the playoffs. It also shows you that the Giants were firmly entrenched among the middle tier of teams; good enough to blow out bad teams, could not compete with good teams.
It was a battle of Steve Smiths, and ours won! Take that, Carolina! What is interesting, though, is the symmetry involved. Both Steve Smiths had pretty good games, but were both injured while scoring touchdowns...okay I guess it wasn't that interesting.
Hakeem Nicks had another bad drop. At what point do we start to worry that his huge hands are not as sticky as advertised?
Michael Boley fooled horribly on Stewart's touchdown run. It was almost as if he saw a ghost and started chasing it. Boley has had a good year, but he has had a couple of notable lapses.
Why design a pass play specifically to Madison Hedgecock? With all the talented weapons the Giants have on offense, they should NEVER design a play specifically for Hedgecock, especially on third down. Manning hit a wide open Hedgecock in the corner of the end zone, and not surprisingly, the full back dropped it.
With the fans pumped up and with guys like Harry Carson, Carl Banks and Lawrence Taylor in attendance, these Giants players and coaches should be ashamed and embarrassed. That is all I have to say.