What Might Have Been – But Will It Ever Be?
By Martin Alvin
On Sunday, the Giants beat the ten-point favorite, Detroit Lions, in the Lions’ own stadium; knocking them out of the 2013 playoffs. And they did it with, essentially, nothing to gain because they’d already been eliminated from playoff contention, themselves. On paper, Sunday’s game was just the next-to-last game of the 2013 season, but the Giants played it like it was much more then that; and that’s a tribute to them and to Tom Coughlin. It’s also a teasing indication of what might have been.
And nothing illustrates that more than the Giants winning the game in spite of still making so many of the same dumb mistakes they’ve been making all year. They still take too damn long to get a play off: often, with just one or two seconds left. And invariably, they still get at least one delay-of-game penalty every game. And on Sunday, they had their traditional, habitual, weekly, brain-lock, delay-of-game penalty. And to make that even worse, it was on a play that resulted in a TD pass that was called back because of the penalty. And incredibly, after the delay of game penalty, they still needed a time-out because they still couldn’t get the next play off in the allotted time. Now, that’s pretty dumb.
And there were a bunch of other dumb plays; like at the end of the first half, with about 35 seconds left on the clock and a chance to get another TD to put them up 17-3. Eli hit Nicks on a short pass and –- while we applaud Nicks for finally catching a damn ball –- he, then, for reasons known only to him, didn’t try to get out of bounds to save a time-out. As a result, the Giants had to use one of their remaining two time-outs and, eventually, didn’t have enough time left on the clock to complete their TD drive. Instead, they settled for a FG, making the score at the half: Giants 13 Lions 3.
But here’s the most condemning, habitual, mistake of all: in the first half, the Giants were controlling the clock and scoring points by rolling Eli out to his right and moving the pocket to avoid the powerful interior of the Detroit Lion’s ‘D’ line. And that -– along with quick throws and a couple of screens that actually worked — was very effective. Then, for some bizarre reason, in the second half, they stopped the rollouts and the moving pocket and the quick screens and slants and went back to their “Bombs-Away” philosophy — from a stationary pocket, yet!
By mid-way through the fourth quarter, the Giants ‘O’ had amassed a measly eight yards of total offense and five straight three-and-outs. Whatever momentum they’d built up during the first half was gone. And even worse than that, the Giants ‘D’ — which had been stout all game –- had been on field much too long. Detroit by now was beating the crap out of Eli and shutting down the running game. And when Detroit got a safety to make the score 13-12, the momentum had completely shifted to the Lions. And that’s because Big Blue went back to the kind of offense that hasn’t worked all year, and away from the offense that was working. And that’s not just a dumb mistake; that’s a huge, dumb, mistake.
After the safety, the Giants free-kicked to the Lions and that’s when the Giants’ not-so-special teams chipped in with their mistake of the day –- similar to the dozens they’ve made all year — by allowing a huge punt return that set the Lions up for their go ahead TD. With just five minutes left in the game, the score was now Lions 20, Giants 13. And then, with the fourth quarter ticking away, Mathew Stafford made a mistake of his own and overthrew his receiver. Will Hill picked off the deflected pass and returned it for a TD. The score was now tied at 20-20.
But the dumb mistakes just kept on coming. At the very end of regulation, the Giants were moving to a winning FG. Eli threw a perfect pass to Nicks, hitting him right in the hands, except it went right through those same, once very reliable, hands. A short while later, Eli threw a dumb pick: his twenty-sixth of the year, and the year isn’t over, yet. In O.T. the Giants were again driving, this time for the winning TD, until Andre Brown fumbled. Another mistake! And yet, somehow, some way, in spite of a ton of dumb mistakes -– perhaps because they were still playing their hearts out, and perhaps because Tom Coughlin went for it on fourth and seven, on the Lions 42, and made it — they pulled the game out with 45 yard FG in O.T. and beat the Lions 23-20.
And now, if the Giants beat the Redskins next Sunday at Met Life Stadium — after an 0-6 start –- they’ll have compiled a 7-3 record over the last ten games to end the season at 7-9. Not great but a lot better than the 0-16 season they seemed head for back in October. You have to wonder, though, if the Giants can ever clean up the dumb mistakes for next season. And even more important; you have to wonder if they actually recognize the dumb mistakes. Do they see the benefits of more three-step drops, quick screens and slants? Do they recognize the potential of an up-tempo, quick-count, offense? Do they recognize the benefits of rollouts and a moving pocket? And even more important: are they willing to employ those things?
For a little while on Sunday, we had a glimpse of what might have been. But will it ever be?