Monday, November 29, 2004

Giants Fall to Eagles, 27-6

By Michael Eisen,

Four was the Giants’ unlucky number on Sunday.

Their 27-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles was their a) fourth in a row overall, b) fourth consecutive at home, and c) fourth straight to the Eagles. The defeat dropped the Giants to 5-6 with road games at Washington and Baltimore the next two weeks.

The Eagles improved to 10-1 and clinched their – what else? – fourth consecutive NFC East title.

The 21-point margin of defeat was the Giants’ largest in a home game since a 50-21 loss to the Redskins on Sept. 19, 1999.

The Giants trailed at halftime, 7-6, but surrendered 20 unanswered points in the second half, including 13 in the third period. Eli Manning completed just six passes, threw two costly interceptions and fumbled a ball that the Giants recovered. The Giants had a punt blocked and finished with a season-low 12 first downs.

“Not a lot of positives today,” coach Tom Coughlin said. “We weren’t as physical as I expected us to be. We didn’t tackle well. We didn’t block the line of scrimmage as well. Why the second half wasn’t more effective in terms of just our protections and our tackling…even at 20-6, anything can happen in a game. You get a touchdown, you come back and score anything can happen, but it wasn’t to be and the game deteriorated from there, so there not a lot of positive comments about the way we played today.”

“It’s been an M.O. for us, unfortunately, all season,” said Tiki Barber, who rushed for 110 yards despite suffering a laceration in his knee that required stitches. “We’re putting together half games. We’re good in one half or the other but not all the way through. I think we did well in the first half, but in the second half we were misfiring in a lot of different areas and in a lot of different parts of our team. Special teams, with the blocked punt, and the interception that gave them field position. It’s hard to win when you play that way.”

Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook scored touchdowns on short runs and hooked up for a 34-yard scoring pass and David Akers kicked a pair of field goals for Philadelphia, which improved to 10-1 and clinched its fourth consecutive NFC East title. The Eagles are just the third team since the 16-game schedule was introduced in 1978 to secure a division championship after 11 games.

The Giants, who wore red jerseys for the first time since 1953, failed to score a touchdown and got only two first-half field goals from Steve Christie. They have scored only 30 points in three games.

“We played bad today,” said linebacker Carlos Emmons. “If we keep playing like this, we are going to keep losing. They didn’t do anything we didn’t expect. They just executed the plays better than we did. We have a lot of games left, guys just have to step up. We are going to see who this means something to. It is time for us to step up now.”

Manning, making his second start, completed only six of 21 passes for 148 yards, including strikes of 50 and 52 yards to fellow rookie Jamaar Taylor.

“It wasn’t a good performance,” Coughlin said. “The two interceptions, one with the possibility of scoring some points, and the other one (set up Philly points)…they were definitely setbacks. Now is he responsible for the incompletions? A lot of them he is fighting for his life and throwing the ball away, so I wouldn’t comment on that until I see the tape. But I didn’t think the protection was very good and I didn’t think we reacted very well to their pressure.”

“I have to play better than I did today,” Manning said. “It’s just a matter of I have to make plays and I can’t mistakes. I can’t turn the ball over. Even the first drive that we had in the game, we drove down the field and on a curl, Amani (Toomer) was open and the ball slipped out of my hand and it kills the drive when you do those things. I have to stop making mistakes and be better prepared and play smarter football.”

The Eagles seized control of the game with 13 unanswered points in the third period – aided by an interception and a blocked punt – to increase their lead to 20-6. Akers kicked two field goals just 2:31 apart – from 47 and 42 yards – and Westbrook scored a touchdown.

The surge began after the second-half kickoff, when Philly moved 53 yards in nine plays to set up Akers’ first field goal. On the first play of the half, from the Eagles’ 18-yard line, Westbrook ran for 10 yards. Philly then advanced 15 yards further when Will Allen was penalized for unnecessary roughness after he threw Westbrook down out-of-bounds.

“That was not a smart play,” Coughlin said. “That’s not a smart play and that’s what I’m talking about. (Philadelphia started at its) 18 and then we have run and then we have a penalty on top of the run, not smart. You have to learn how to play and how to control yourself and maintain poise and that wasn’t the case.”

The longest play on the drive was a 24-yard pass to Terrell Owens that moved the ball to the Giants’ 23-yard line. The drive then stalled, as Lance Legree tackled Westbrook for a three-yard loss and McNabb was penalized for an illegal forward pass. Akers then kicked his 47-yard field goal.

On the second play of the Giants’ subsequent possession, Manning overthrew Toomer on the left side and the ball was intercepted by safety Brian Dawkins at the Giants’ 47-yard line. A 20-yard pass to L.J. Smith helped the Eagles move the ball to the 24 before Akers came on to kick his second field goal.

“I saw man-to-man and I was trying to throw a ball where Amani could go and get it and maybe adjust and get the ball,” Toomer said. “I didn’t see the safety running over. It was a stupid throw and a bad decision on my part.”

The Giants’ next possession also ended poorly. After Manning was sacked for an eight-yard loss by Corey Simon and Darwin Walker, Jeff Feagles came on to punt. His kick was blocked by Jevon Kearse – who had also applied pressure on the previous play – and recovered by Hugh Douglas on the Giants’ 28-yard line.

“One of the worst parts of the day was the blocked punt,” Coughlin said. “We just got overrun on the blocked punt by Kearse and that’s something that we had not done, hadn’t really had a whole lot of issues with that.”

Philadelphia covered the 28 yards in seven plays, including McNabb passes of 10 yards to Owens and 11 to Westbrook. A seven-yard pass to Owens gave the Eagles a first down at the Giants’ five. Former Giant Dorsey Levens picked up four yards before Westbrook scored the touchdown on a run up the middle.

Westbrook scored again when he caught a screen pass from McNabb and weaved his way through the Giants defense for a 34-yard score with 9:52 remaining in the fourth period. That completed a nine-play, 82-yard drive and increased Philly’s lead to three touchdowns.

The Giants trailed at halftime, 7-6, thanks to Christie’s second field goal, a 31-yarder with 9:08 remaining in the second period.

Following an Eagles punt, the Giants took possession at the Philadelphia 46-yard line. Manning immediately threw a 26-yard pass down the middle to Shockey. Tiki Barber gained three yards, but Manning was then sacked for a 12-yard loss by blitzing linebacker Mark Simoneau, who shot through the line untouched. That pushed the ball back to the 29. Barber gained 14 yards on a run to the left side before Christie was summoned.

Philadelphia took a 7-3 lead on McNabb’s four-yard touchdown run to the right side on the first play of the second quarter. The Eagles drove 53 yards in seven plays following a Giants field goal, including a 16-yard run by McNabb to open the possession. Westbrook had a 12-yard run to give the Eagles a first down on the Giants’ 12-yard line.

Levens gained eight yards on the final two plays of the opening period to set up a third-and-two from the four. After the teams moved to the East end of the field, the Eagles sent two receivers out to the right side. With the defenders pre-occupied in pass coverage, McNabb ran to that side and slipped into the end zone for the game’s first touchdown.

The Giants squandered an opportunity to score in the second period. On the first play after Osi Umenyiora recovered a McNabb fumble, Manning threw a 52-yard pass to Taylor that gave the Giants a first down at the Eagles three-yard line. It was the longest completion of Manning’s young career. But on the next play, Manning’s fade pass to the left side for Jeremy Shockey was intercepted by substitute defensive back Quintin Mikell.

“We had a fade with Shockey and I just threw a bad ball,” Manning said. “I didn’t get it high enough. I didn’t give him a chance where either he’s going to catch it or no one is going to catch it. I threw it inside, didn’t get enough height on it and that’s just something that I can’t do.”

“I didn’t think it was thrown very well,” Coughlin said. “That whole issue there is if you do have the height advantage that we have, the ball needs to be thrown high. If you’re not going to catch it, then Shockey has got to knock the ball down and not let them catch it. I didn’t think there was much of a chance on that. The ball didn’t seem to be up in the air very high. I know he was trying to throw it to the back pylon but it didn’t seem to have the trajectory that was necessary.”

The Giants took a 3-0 lead on Christie’s 22-yard field goal with 3:26 remaining in the first period. The score capped an 87-yard drive that included Manning’s 50-yard pass to Taylor, who got a step ahead of cornerback Lito Sheppard on the right side and hauled in the perfectly-thrown ball.

The long pass gave the Giants a first down at the Eagles’ 11-yard line. After Barber’s three-yard run and an offsides penalty on Philadelphia, the Giants faced a second-and-three at the four. Manning threw a pair of incompletions into the end zone before Christie was summoned to kick the field goal.

Early in the drive, Manning completed a third-down pass to Toomer and scrambled for a 15-yard gain on third-and-eight.

Those kinds of plays were few and far between in the second half.

“We had opportunities early in the game; we just didn’t capitalize on them,” Toomer said. “That is the story of our season. It comes down to turnovers again. We didn’t execute. That is the problem. We don’t execute. We work all week on different things and it just doesn’t seem to click.”

Monday, November 08, 2004

Giants Fall to Bears, 28-21

By Michael Eisen,

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – From a psychological standpoint, the Giants’ 28-21 loss to the Chicago Bears Sunday is difficult to fathom. The Giants were coming off a resounding road victory in Minnesota, they took the field knowing a victory would move them within one game of Philadelphia in the NFC East race (because the Eagles suffered their first loss of the season) and they had a vocal Giants Stadium crowd behind them after jumping out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead.

Then you look at the cold, hard numbers, and the defeat is very understandable. There were five turnovers (three fumbles and two interceptions) committed by a Giants team that had a total of six in the first seven games. Four of them were in the first half, including, remarkably, three on three consecutive plays late in the second period. Those miscues led to 13 points.

Add in a season-high 14 penalties for 109 yards – including one that took a touchdown off the board and another that wiped out an 86-yard kickoff return. And Kurt Warner getting sacked seven times and running for his life on numerous other occasions. Going one-for-14 on third-down conversion attempts, and one-for-six when it was third-and-one or fourth-and-one.

The Giants fell to 5-3 and remain two games behind Philadelphia. Chicago is 3-5.

Tom Coughlin’s post-game news conference was laced with lines that told the story: “Very uncharacteristic game for us in terms of five turnovers, a ton of penalties, untimely plays in circumstances really throughout the entire game.”… “It was very frustrating not to be able to continue the rest of the game like we played in the first quarter.” … “That’s what I’m saying, just stupid plays throughout the game, penalties, turnovers, increasing the opportunity that you won’t be able to get out from under the problems that you create for yourself.”… “You know what’s really disappointing? We’re at home. We’ve lost two in a row at home. We’re 5-3 and we’ve lost two in a row at home. That’s very disappointing, and I’m sure it’s very disappointing for our fans as well.”… “There’s not a lot to be pleased with.”