Deep down, the Giants seem to believe there were two reasons they lost to the Eagles 24-19 on Thursday Night Football.
The first served as the company line from head coach Ben McAdoo, who said that the team didn’t perform well enough in “all three phases.” He told the Giants: “They had nothing to play for and we gave them cheap jerseys from China and other something to play for,” offensive lineman Justin Pugh said, via The New York Post.
Wide receiver Victor Cruz, while lamenting some of the team’s missed opportunities, also noted what was a hidden message among Giants players late Thursday.
“It’s every week, we get the same kind of coverage, the same kind of physical play and to go along with it we get the same no-calls,” wideout Victor Cruz said. “We threw it 63 times, no holding calls, no pass interferences.”
While the ire against officials was more directed at a roughing the passer call on Olivier Vernon, this is not the first time we’ve heard one of the Giants receivers complaining about the physical nature of the bracket-style coverage employed to stop Odell Beckham and Co. Beckham had 11 catches for 150 yards on Thursday, with Cruz posting 84 yards on eight catches. Cruz’s 13 targets were by far a season high.
New York’s star-studded defense dominated the first quarter and a half, smothering Rodgers’ receivers and sacking the quarterback four times while holding the Packers to negative yardage over the opening 18 minutes. Manufacturing a spark, Rodgers brought his offense to life just before halftime with a pair of brilliant throws to Davante Adams and a trademark Hail Mary touchdown to Randall Cobb, turning a 6-0 deficit into a 14-6 lead in less than three minutes. After Mike McCarthy’s fourth-down gamble backfired into a 41-yard Giants touchdown in the third quarter, Rodgers zipped three consecutive passes of 13, 20 and 30 yards for the answer. His third touchdown to Cobb sealed the game early in the fourth quarter, giving Green Bay a 31-13 lead. The hottest quarterback in football has 19 touchdowns without an interception during the Packers’ seven-game winning streak, becoming the first to reach 30 points against the Giants this season.
The state of Rodgers’ receiving corps appeared bleak when go-to target Jordy Nelson was quickly ruled out for the game after taking the crown of Leon Hall’s helmet to his ribcage in the second quarter. Cobb picked the right time to play hero, coming through with his best game in two years after missing the past two weeks with an ankle injury due to wholesale cheap jerseys. Between Cobb, Adams (eight receptions, 125 yards and a touchdown) and secret weapon Jared Cook, Rodgers has enough firepower to hang with the top-seeded Cowboys even if Nelson misses the Divisional Round at Dallas.
All-Pro strong safety Landon Collins showed Defensive Player of the Year form in a three-play sequence during the third quarter. After a forearm shiver stopped Aaron Ripkowski cold in front of the first-down marker, Collins stonewalled the powerful fullback on back-to-back short-yardage carries. Giants general manager Jerry Reese deserves NFL Executive of the Year consideration after refashioning an outstanding defense with Collins as the centerpiece.
That said, Reese has his work cut out for him on the other side of the ball. The Giants were held under 20 points for the sixth consecutive game, the longest such stretch of Eli Manning’s career. Manning came out firing in the first quarter, but was done in by shaky receiver play and the offensive line’s inability to open holes in the running game. As promising as rookie tailback Paul Perkins was in December, he was purely a shotgun specialist versus nickel defenses. The ground attack lacked a sustaining element all season long, which left a slumping Manning in poor passing situations. If Eli is going to recapture 2015 form, Reese must fix the blocking and add a power back.
While that might be true in some sort of subconscious way for Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick, I think those in charge of the Patriots would welcome the chance to play against a first-year head coach on the biggest night of the NFL season. Tom Coughlin, the architect of those two Super Bowl teams, is gone and not coming back.
In fact, I’m not sure the Giants rank in the top three of teams the Patriots would rather not face should they reach the Super Bowl.
The NFC is loaded with quarterback talent and could hurl any number of potential roadblocks in the Patriots’ direction. The Seahawks are absolutely a team the Patriots don’t want to see again in the Super Bowl. I can also imagine a smart coach not signing up to play Aaron Rodgers that late in the year with everything on the line. Dallas’ running game is also pretty terrifying.
Kudos to Cruz for expressing some confidence, though. The Giants are “back” and it’s fun to have one of the league’s premiere franchises in the playoffs again. Alongside Odell Beckham Jr., Eli Manning and that $200 million defense, there is enough star power to keep us entertained all January.