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Pyrrhic Victories

King Pyrrhus of Epirus, in ancient Greece, who won battle after battle with Rome, is quoted as saying: “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined” — because he simply could not replace his fallen soldiers while Rome could replace theirs. And, after sacrificing the next two generations of young men, he finally succumbed — hence the phrase, pyrrhic victory.

December 1st, 1986, Monday Night Football; the 49ers vs. The Giants in their first meeting since the 1985 Wild Card Game at Giants Stadium — a game in which the Giant’s Joe Morris ran all over SF in a 17-3 49er loss. The 49ers figure that this time, they have to stop Joe Morris at all costs — and they do. By half-time, SF is up 17-0 and positive they’ve found the formula for beating the Giants. Then, in the 2nd half, still focusing on Joe Morris and still holding him in check — except for one key first down, one yard run — Phil Simms takes them apart. By game’s end, San Francisco has indeed stifled Joe Morris but it’s only a — pyrrhic victory — because the Giants win the game 21-17.

Fast forward twenty-two years to yesterday’s game at the Arizona Cardinals’ toaster oven stadium in the desert. Like the 49ers, the Cardinals are sure the key to victory is in stopping a Giants running game that’s put up over 200 yards five time this year — and in the last three games in a row. So, the Cards start out with 8 men in the box and, when Plaxico Burress goes out with hamstring tweak, they walk down a 9th guy — and sure enough, like the 49ers twenty-two years ago, they limit the run, holding the Giants to a paltry 87 yards. But, for the Cardinals, just like for the 49ers years ago, it’s only a pyrrhic victory because the final score is Giants 37 Cardinals 29.

The Giant’s on the other hand, don’t deal in pyrrhic victories. They don’t play to stop one thing at the expense of everything else. The Giants play a complete game. In this game — which I think was their most impressive win of the year — the Giants not only stop the Cardinal’s ground, limiting them to a measly 23 yards, they also handle the Arizona passing game. Yes, Warner goes 32 for 52 for 371 yards and Fitzgerald and Boldin catch their share of passes — but the Giants don’t let them run wild after the catches because the Giants tackle them dead in their tracks.

The Giants play tough and tight all afternoon and, yeah, they get some pass interference penalties but they never let a very good Arizona passing attack dominate the game. They don’t do anything stupid, either, like trying to hurdle people. And, they don’t turn the ball over while forcing two Cardinal turnovers. And, even though they have no Brandon Jacobs or Plaxico Burress, they simply plug in Dominek Hixon and Derrick Ward.

And, when the Cards limit the Giants running attack by overcompensating for it, Eli – like Simms before him — makes them pay by passing them silly. The plain simply fact is, while Giant’s opponents may be into pyrrhic victories, for the Giant’s, there’s nothing but victory victories.

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