Monday, September 26, 2005

Week 3: Chargers 45 - Giants 23

The 8:30 ESPN game, which makes two straight games with Patrick, McGuire, and Theisman. This is a terrible crew, and it’s a wonder that they’re still assigned to this telecast. Or as Paul McGuire would say, “Lemme tell you something. Lemme tell you something. This is a terrible crew….” These clowns’ presence on this broadcast cements its status as the most depressing telecast of them all; even the pre-commercial jingle, that awful siren noise, speaks of the end of the weekend.

Still though, the shots of a sun-drenched Jack Murphy Stadium – my policy is to call all these name-changing stadiums by their original names. Did you know that Candlestick Park is now called Monster Park? – and a Visa Skycam view of the visiting G-Men, huddled up and butting helmets, is enough for me to shake off the late Sunday blues. It’s game time.


Bill Simmons has picked the G-Men to win/cover in his column. This is a bad sign. Any true fan will know that the G-Men thrive on their self-image of blue-collar anonymity, their under-the-radar solidness. You see, the Giants aren’t “bad dudes” like the ’85 Bears or the 2000 Ravens. At their best, they are tough, solid good guys, who go about their business quietly and expect nothing in return but the stirring ovation of the Meadowlands faithful. Anytime we find ourselves too much in the public eye, our modest solidness is compromised. Case in point, 2002, and the offensive explosion towards the end of the regular season that prompted a week’s worth of repeat viewings of the flea-flicker to Toomer, shown from a skycam-type angle, the single prettiest shot of the single prettiest play of my career as a Giant fan. I ask you, fellow Bleeder of Big Blue, did that not indulge your vanity? And, I ask you, did not the Giants ooze with vanity that next Sunday? And did they not get their deserved comeuppance? What a bunch of assholes we were on that field that day: Shockey’s stupid skip dance; Shaun Williams and our dysfunctional secondary melting down in a de’ja vu of 1997; Trey Junkin.

Anyway, I don’t like when people do anything but underestimate us. The bulk of the Sports guy’s entry addressed the hot topic of the week, the response of the jilted San Diego crowd to Eli Manning:

So I’m supposed to pick them just because Eli Manning is coming to town and the Chargers fans are allegedly going to “let him have it?” Are you kidding me? Have you ever been to San Diego? That’s the most laid-back city in the country – San Diego makes Switzerland look like Compton.

But as kickoff approaches, it becomes very clear that Simmons has forgotten the truism that hell hath no fury like a city scorned. Just recently, think of the venomous response that Beltran got from Houston, and he only played there for two months and single-handedly got them a within a game of the World Series! How people tap into their primal feelings of rejection and abandonment, and how the mob atmosphere emboldens them! Even in San Diego. These Chargers fans are pumped, all 65, 373 of them, and you immediately know that it’s gonna be tough.


Nate Kaeding sails one into the still-blue San Diego sky and we’re underway. Ponder fields it 6 yards deep in the endzone and is forced to take a knee, to his visible displeasure. Good, we need guys like that. Eli leads his offense onto the field stoically, the loud, mean-spirited boos raining down on him. ESPN pans to the angry fans and the stupid signs that they make that spell “ESPN,” all starting with Eli, like “Eli Sucks Pele’s Nads,” or something stupid like that. Actually, that would be pretty funny, but they weren’t like that. They had all kinds of extra words and shit. What a dumb-ass way to get on TV.

After Tiki gets 5, Eli hits Shockey on a medium out, who quickly turns upfield and explodes into the open. Shockey in the open field with a full head of steam: is there any better sight for Giants fans? This was the closest thing that I can remember to Shockey’s famous preseason catch against the Texans, when he similarly caught it and turned upfield looking for contact, like Nelson in that Simpsons episode, barreling over those poor expansion-team defenders. We Giants fans were smitten. Jeremy, you had us at catch one. He gets 32 on this one, and we’re in business at midfield.

Tiki gets 9, then a couple for another first down. We face a 3rd and 5 on the next set, and Eli hits Shockey for 6 and the first. Staying with the pass, Eli hits Toomer on a slant for 12 -- Amani’s good at catching those low balls where he sort of knifes under it with his lean body. 1st and 10 at the Charger 14, and Tiki bursts for 9, bringing up 2nd and 1 at the SD 5, where he is stopped for no gain on the next play.

3rd and 1, and here comes Brandon Jacobs, trotting on the field with a swagger. One of the announcers notes that he’s become something of a folk hero in the Meadowlands, a remark that speaks to our futility in short yardage situations these past few years. Jacobs has so far changed all that by converting all of his 3rd and shorts, but this time he gets stacked up by the Chargers, who were obviously keying onto him, and is stopped four inches shy of the marker. The announcers point out that Jacobs runs high, and at 6’4”, presents tacklers with a big target of a set of legs to take aim at. After the first couple of weeks, the league appears to be figuring this out, and it will be important for Colonel Tom to utilize Jacobs in less predictable situations and in less predictable ways. Jacobs looks like he has the speed to turn corners and the instincts to pick holes; why not spell Tiki with Jacobs and not generic Giants RB # 34, who happens to be named Derrick Ward?

But anyway, 4th and inches, and of course Colonel Tom “takes the points on the road,” a decision that is predictably concurred with by the idiots in the broadcast booth. Obviously, we were all disappointed that Coughlin didn’t go for it, and for obvious reasons; too obvious, in fact, to address here. But did you really expect us to go for it then? And it’s not like Colonel Tom is worse in this regard than most NFL coaches. Well, what can you say? Young Eli’s nerves appear to be just fine, and its 3-0 Giants.

Feely’s ensuing kickoff is fielded by the speedy, 5’6” Darren Sproles, who somehow gets himself shot out of a cannon to the San Diego 35. What an awesome player Darren Sproles must be to have on your team. San Diego’s offense trots out, a potent group led by superstar RB LaDainian Tomlinson. San Diego came out of nowhere last year and they still kinda carry the stigma from their good defense/plodding offense teams of the early ‘90s, but they ranked 10th in the NFL in yards last year and 3rd in points scored. In addition to Tomlinson, they have Pro-Bowl Tight End Antonio Gates, as well as Drew Brees, who ranks among the most underrated players in the game. Brees threw 27 touchdowns to only 7 interceptions last year, for 3,159 yards and a stellar 65.5 completion percentage. The guy isn’t just solid; he’s a big-time asset at QB. The Giants defense figures to have a pretty good shot at stopping Tomlinson and the run, though. We completely shut down the Cardinals running game -- which after their first three games doesn’t seem to have really said much -- but we also bottled up the dangerous Deuce McAllister in Week 2. Our defensive tackle rotation of Joseph, Clancy, Robbins, and Allen have stuffed the oppositions guards and freed our linebackers, who have done an excellent job shooting the gaps and making sure tackles. This Chargers offense is good, but has yet to get untracked this year, and I like our chances.

But the Chargers first three plays go for 19, 9, and 13, which, very quickly, brings them to 1st and 10 at our 24. So much for our 80-yard march for a Field Goal, as the Chargers are already in range. Two plays later, on a big third and three from the NYG 17, Brees hits receiver Eric Parker on a 9-yard slant in front of Curtis Deloach, who, for as much as I liked him in the preseason, has really looked bad this year. 1st and goal from the NYG 8, and Tomlinson darts and twists down to the 1, before easily plunging in on the next play. Kaeding hits the PAT, and we’re down 7-3.

Willie Ponder is getting much love from television commentators, which is interesting for us Giants fans who saw a small, obscure #87 returning kicks as the very picture of our Special Teams futility and inability to come up with impact players. But the sixth round draft pick out of Southeast Missouri State has proven us wrong, and I think it’s fair to say that Ron Dixon is the poor man’s Willie Ponder. Chris Berman even has a funny routine for him, making, “Hhmmm…. Hhhmmm [like, pondering]” sounds before breaking out with: “Willie Ponder, down to the….” In this case, Ponder hits a seam and streaks up the sideline before getting slowed up by the Kicker Kaeding, and shoved out of bounds at the Giant 42.

But after hitting Shockey for a first down, we can’t pick up another one, and Feagles hits another nice one to the San Diego 11, brought back by Sproles to the 15. The Chargers take over and immediately start marching, with Brees hitting the ageless Keenan McCardell for 12 on the first play. On the play after the next, Tomlinson for 8 and a first down, and then Tomlinson for 9, and after another play, Tomlinson around the bend for 28. First and 10 from the NYG 15, and Brees hits Keenan McCardell, working on Curtis Deloach. 14-3 and the Giants don’t know what hit them.

I suppose now would be a good time to gush over LaDainian Tomlinson, or as the announcers have started to call him, much to my chagrin and to that of all Giants fans who are by now very nervous and irritable like me, “LT.” Tomlinson pretty much embodies the Platonic ideal of the Running Back form. He is 5’10”, 220 lbs, with thick legs, arms, chest, and of course, neck. Even without his speed, quickness, elusiveness, vision, desire, and savvy, his frame alone would qualify him as a pretty fair power back. What struck me most as I was watching Tomlinson is his incredibly low center of gravity. He is one of those freakish athletes who naturally moves with his knees bent at an extreme angle, with his ass about a foot off the ground, making it relatively easy for him to break off a sudden cut, or powerfully explode through a hole or a tackle. These amazing legs – or knees – give Tomlinson his ungodly juke and lateral quickness, and also his excellent acceleration; he hits full speed quicker than the other 21 guys and leaves linebackers in his wake. And once he gets going, once he hits the outside, he has excellent pure speed for a running back, as those famous highlights of him at TCU, clad in # 5, running free against Baylor or UTEP attest to. He is also a smooth receiver out of the backfield, blessed with a great pair of hands and an instinct for good patterns.



Combine all of these qualities into one man, and you’ve got the best running back in football by a wide margin. Really, who is even close? You also have the consensus # Fantasy draft pick for leagues that weigh QB TDs and RB TDs differently, a fact that was referenced in that really funny ESPN Fantasy commercial. The Giants haven’t seen a guy like this before.

Kaeding kicks, Ponder returns, we get a holding, get it on our 19 and go three and out, the crowd taking it up a notch, giving the Chargers the ball back at their 38. A resurgent Charger offense lines up and immediately starts whupping ass, yet again. Brees to Gates for 15, and two plays later, Brees to Gates for 12. It appears we don’t have an answer for this guy either. Then Brees hits Keenan McCardell for 27 yards in front of Will Peterson. The Cardinals receivers and Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth are one thing, but Keenan McCardell? What’s with these guys. 1st and goal at the three, and Tomlinson takes it in. 21-3 Chargers, at 9:39 in the second quarter; we’re getting taken to school.

A bouncing Kaeding kick is fielded by Vishante Shiancoe at the Giants 30, who gets it out the 35. At least we have decent field position. We hit a big 3rd and 4 completion to Burress, and on the next set, catch a huge break when Terrence Kiel, who’s been getting soundly beaten by Shockey all day long, gets called for a Defensive Holding Penalty, which gives us the first at our 43. But an offensive pass interference on Shockey (bullshit call, actually) and a delay of game, sandwiching a Tiki run, brings us to 2nd and 22. But Tiki lofts a bomb in the middle of the field, and Tim Carter makes a play on it, coming down with it for a big 44 yard gain at the San Diego 15. Big play. This Tim Carter is a tantalizing player: always good when he plays, but always injured. He’s one of those athletes whose lean, tight muscular frames seems to guarantee injury, guys like Nomar Garciaparra and Cliff Floyd, who are too knotted with muscle for their own good. These guys are great, but watching them, it’s never a surprise when they get injured. A key component of being an elite athlete is having otherwordly flexibility; if the average guy stepped out on an NBA court, they’d get injured within two quarters.

A defensive holding and a 5 yard completion to the disappointing Shiancoe take us down to the San Diego 5, where Eli lofts a timing pattern to Burress who beats Quentin Jammer in the one-on-one, crisply snatching it out of the air for the Touchdown. Beautiful, and we’re back in it, sort of. 21-10 Chargers, with 3:34 in the half.


But the Chargers get the ball back and appear to be continuing with the business of easily marching the ball downfield on us. On 2nd and 8, Drew Brees swings one out to Tomlinson for 9. At this point it seems hard to imagine how we’re ever gonna stop this offense. With the dangerous Antonio Gates, our safeties must respect the pass, and with Tomlinson hurting us with the run, our linebackers have to be ready to shoot the gaps inside the tackle box. This leaves the swing pass to Tomlinson wide open, which the Chargers have apparently realized. And the next play looks like more of the same, with Brees swinging it out to Tomlinson, who seems poised to juke and hop his way to a successful first down gain. But Nick Greisen, a Giant since around the first Bush administration, pops the ball loose, and Carlos Emmons pounces on it, and it’s our ball at the Chargers 34, and we might make a game of this after all!

On first and 10, Eli throws one high to a streaking Shockey on a seam pattern. Shockey does a full-extension leap and gets absolutely crunched by the Chargers’ helping safety, but he holds onto the rock at eh Chargers 4. He’s a little slow to get up, but he’s okay. Then we line up 4-wide, and Eli hits David Tyree, the least likely of those 4, on a little out for the score. Feely puts in the PAT and its 21-17 Chargers, right at about the two minute mark.


And we’re not done. The Chargers appear to be in shock, and are in no shape to pull off their two minute drill. Two incomplete passes and a three yard gain and the Chargers are forced to punt, but a good boot by them puts us back at our 20, with 1:23 on the clock.

But this might just be our day: Eli shows good scrambling instincts by making a tough 4 yards on 3rd and 3, barreling headfirst for the necessary yardage. Ya gotta love when the quarterback eschews the slide. Two plays later and we’re faced with a 3rd and 10, but Colonel Tom pulls out a draw play, and Tiki scampers for 27 yards, displaying his uncanny ability to find open spaces. 1st and 10 at the SD 42, with 23 seconds left and no timeouts, and Eli hits Toomer for 25, putting it at the SD 17 with 15 seconds left. A Dave Diehl false start takes us back to the 22, and Colonel Tom decides to call in the Field Goal unit with those 15 seconds left. Why, I do not know. I really do not know. Why take the pressure off? At 40 yards, the Field Goal isn’t even guaranteed! C’mon, Colonel Tom! What the fuck’s the deal with you? But Feely drills it from 40, and we’ve (almost) crawled all the way back. What a gut check, what a ballsy effort, and the slate is wiped clean for the second half. At halftime, 21-20 Chargers.

And then, as darkness envelops Jack Murphy Stadium in the cool San Diego evening, we get annihilated. There’s really no other way to describe it; we got our asses completely handed to us on the way to being outscored 21-3 in the second half.

The onslaught began with a couple of trick plays, a reverse to Eric Parker and then a beautifully executed halfback pass from Tomlinson to McCardell. 28-20.


Then, we botch a potential big break of a reverse when David Tyree carelessly fumbles a the exchange; he had plenty of blockers and plenty of running room ahead of him, but by the time he is able to get a handle on the ball, he can only manage to get back within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage. On the next play, a pressing Eli, sensing the rapidly shifting momentum, gets picked off across the middle by a streaking David Florence, who easily takes it to the house, high stepping in Eli’s face as he takes it across the goal line. 28- -- no wait, there’s a flag, and its offsetting penalties, and although theirs happened to be a ticky-tac roughing the passer call that had nothing to do with the interception, 3rd down is to be repeated, and the Giants are granted a reprieve.

But it doesn’t matter. We can’t move the ball, and its Tomlinson, Gates, penalty on us, Sproles for 21, and on 3rd and 13 from the NYG 14, Brees hits Gates for a 14-yard TD. 35-20, with 3 minutes left in the third quarter. The SD crowd is up, the Charges are celebrating, and the Giants look lost.

But our stonefaced and courageous QB leads us back on the next drive, and despite the fact that we lost the game, and despite the defense’s abominable showing, this game might go into Giants annals as the game that Eli Manning came of age. Oh, let me tell you, it was sweet to watch Eli assume a commanding mien in that “hostile environment!” It was on this drive that Eli was at his best: On 3rd and 11 at our 30, Eli bounces about the pocket amidst a pass rush to hit Plaxico across the middle for a 17-yard First Down. Two plays later, on 3rd and 9, Eli calmly hits Plax again, this time for 13. Then on 3rd and 12 from the San Diego 41, Eli, having nobody open, takes off down the middle of the field, diving, not sliding across the 29 for a first down, his second clutch 1st down scramble of the game. What an asset it is to have guys that can do this. Then, on 3rd and 10 from the Charger 29, Eli buys himself some time and hits David Tyree for 18 yards and the first.

First and ten from the SD 11, and we’re in business. The Chargers dominated the first quarter, we the second, they the third. Perhaps this seemingly see-saw track meet isn’t lost after all. But no, we stall horribly, and are faced with 4th and 9 from the 10. Colonel Tom settles for 3, Feely hits it, and with 12:18 on the clock, we are down by 12.

Then Darren Sproles brings the ensuing kickoff all the way back to our 39, almost immediately nullifying our Field Goal, which took us a good 6 minutes to earn. Tomlinson for 4, 10, and 8, then bowling ball Lorenzo Neal for a rare, reward-carry for 9. On the play after the next, Tomlinson delivers the coup d’grace. 42-23 Chargers.

Eli, however is still the beating heart of this Giants team, and on the next drive, he brings us all the way down to the SD 21, with 7:06 remaining, going to show that if we had been able to stop the Chargers just a couple of times, Eli and the offense were perfectly capable of winning this game for us. But we die another death when David Tyree fumbles at the San Diego 10, and on the next play, Tomlinson bounces an off-tackle outside and streaks down the sideline, finally bumped out after a 62 yard gain, giving him 192 yards for the day on 21 carries, averaging a staggering 9.1 yards per. His work is done for the day, and from here on out, we are treated to numerous shots of a playful Tomlinson on the sidelines, joking around with teammates and coaches, soaking up good vibes like a High School All-Stater who knows that he’s gonna get some quality ass at the post-game party. LT my ass, though.

Plays later, Kaeding kicks a 44 yarder to close out the scoring with 4 minutes left. 45-23 Chargers.

And that, fellow Giants fans, is called a reality check. San Diego’s a good team, and at 0-2, was desperate and dangerous. The Giants had cruised along the first couple of weeks with the help of excellent special teams and sloppy play by the opposition. But these Chargers weren’t fucking around, and we’re gonna have to play much better if we’re serious about being an upper tier team, which at this point, I still think we can be.

Our defense, obviously, is a major cause for concern, having been marched on by San Diego to the tune of 485 yards. This comes on the heels of our giving up 422 yards to the Saints, a statistic which is somewhat misleading given that some of these yards were gained with the outcome of the game in hand, but still…

Our secondary is a major issue, and ya gotta think that it won’t be too long before we see Corey Webster manning one of the corner spots, hopefully for many years to come. But it wasn’t just the corners. Our linebackers and safeties got lit up by Gates, so there is cause for concern in those areas as well. And our run defense sure crashed down to Earth, didn’t it! Jesus. But Tomlinson was so good, so quick and jumpy, that it seemed that even if we did get penetration or win our individual battles, he was able to find open space and create one-on-one matchups, which he invariably won. We need to get better.

But Eli Manning. Eli Manning. I had been telling people that Eli was “right on schedule,” and I believed it, and I still would describe his progress in this way. But this game afforded a glimpse into what Eli can become, and, we Giants fans hope, what he will become. He was decisive and determined, his throws consistently good. As I mentioned before, a particularly encouraging aspect of his performance was his pocket presence, his ability to buy time for himself without taking his attention off of his receivers. This can’t be taught, and it proves that, just as Ernie Accorsi told us, this kid has it. The trouncing aside, we can only hope that in the future, we will think of this as this as the game that Eli Manning showed us what he can do. I’m looking forward to seeing it all unfold. 2-1 and back to the Meadowlands, with a huge test coming up against the Rams.

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