Wow, what a game. If this is an NFC Championship Game preview, sign me up. Of course, the Giants have to get there first, but after the last two games, this 34-28 come-from-behind, resilient victory was a good start to get back to where they were. This also wraps up the No. 1 seed in the conference and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Welcome back, offensive line. They looked like they were their old selves again, and were back together with Kareem McKenzie returning to the lineup. They opened up 301 yards worth of holes, proving again that they’re the best run-blocking group in the NFL. They also changed some of their protection schemes to avoid a repeat of last week’s eight-sack debacle in Dallas.
Their blocking led the way for the star of the game—Derrick Ward. He had a career day, with 215 yards on 15 carries. It was only the second time in NFL history that a running back had 15 or fewer carries and rushed for over 200 yards. He almost single-handedly got the Giants down the field on their game-winning drive in overtime.
The return of Brandon Jacobs was huge. He changes the offense for the Giants. They missed him more than Plaxico Burress the last few weeks. It takes about six guys to bring him down every time he touches the ball, and he softens up the defense for Ward to come in and excel. Jacobs wasn’t bad himself, with 87 yards, and he bulled and bullied his way for three touchdowns.
The Giants need to run, run, and run some more, and with Jacobs in the lineup, he can wear down a defense, even if he’s not gaining a lot of yards. That’s Giants football. It’s not flashy—just old-fashioned blue-collar hard work.
Eli Manning had an effective game. Of course, it helps the QB if your backs are gaining 301 yards. He went 17 for 27 for 181 yards and threw a TD pass, with no picks. He spread the ball around to Kevin Boss, Domenik Hixon, (the other) Steve Smith, and Amani Toomer. And they all seemed to make an important third-down reception.
Carolina loaded up the box to stop the run (that didn’t really work out) and dared Manning to throw, and he made the throws when it counted. Boss hauled in a TD pass, and Hixon caught the key two-point conversion to tie the game in the fourth quarter.
John Carney made both of his field goal attempts, and Jeff Feagles showed why he made the Pro Bowl. One of the key plays of the game came in the fourth quarter, when Feagles pinned the Panthers back on their own 1-yard line. The D held them to a three-and-out, which led to the game-tying touchdown.
Carney and Feagles are one more good game away from starring in their own sitcom. Can an aging, bald kicker share an apartment with an aging, bald punter without driving each other crazy? (Actually, they probably can.)
Tom Coughlin won another challenge and made the right decision to kick the extra point after their TD at the end of the third quarter and get the two-pointer later (of course, it’s easy to say that now, after it all worked out). Even the Meadowlands had a good game—Carolina’s last second field goal attempt got caught up in the stadium’s swirling winds.
The defense gave up touchdowns on Carolina’s first three drives, and DeAngelo Williams scored four TDs in all. It looked like it was going to be a long night for them. They hung in there and stopped the bleeding long enough to keep the game within reach for the offense. Carolina has a great offense, so it wasn’t unexpected.
They did a good job on Steve Smith but couldn’t stop Williams. Aaron Ross and Terrell Thomas missed what looked like gimme interceptions, and R.W. McQuarters dropped a punt in OT, which could have been disastrous. No sacks for the D, and that call to hand off to Madison Hedgecock on 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter wasn’t the best of decisions.
Justin Tuck was battling the flu all game long, or flu-like symptoms, as someone (I can’t remember who) said. Is there a difference between flu-like symptoms and just having the flu? Does that mean I can have broken leg-like symptoms but not a broken leg? But anyway...
Was Tuck on his hands and knees in the middle of the field hurling? With the camera giving him a nice close-up? That was kind of ugly. But give the defensive end all the credit in the world for making it through the game.
Last season, the Giants used their last game of the regular season against New England to give them the confidence they needed to catapult them into the playoffs. Maybe this game will do the same for them this year. Carolina was the best and hottest team coming into this game, so if anything, it will renew the Giants’ confidence after the Philly and Dallas losses.