From home I was reminded of one of my most unpleasant live football experiences ever, watching New York throw away an easy win against Washington from frigid nosebleed seats at Giants Stadium on Dec. 16 last year. Having won three of their last four, the Giants were met with freezing rain and 20 mph winds on that evening, and they came out flat, their receivers dropping eight balls.
Three hundred fifty-six days later, with a game time temperature of 35 degrees and 21 mph winds, I saw the same thing. The Giants, winners of seven in a row, kept things close with two blocked field goals (one returned for a touchdown) but the offense couldn't sustain a long march until it was too late to matter. In all, six of their nine drives last week went six plays or fewer, including a trio of three-and-outs, and the receivers were largely to blame again.
Case in point: Down 3-0 early on, Eli rainbowed a deep strike to
If last week was, as I suspect, a simple matter of discipline, then the Giants will bounce back. Discipline is
As for the Cowboys, I think their loss at Pittsburgh stings a little worse, even beyond the obvious fact they needed a win more than the Giants did. Whereas the Giants played four quarters of up-and-down football, Dallas played three solid quarters and one lousy one. The latter scares me more, especially after the fallout between
New York's loss came down to a few individual lapses at the moment of execution, whether it be Pierce losing
Coughlin's task this week is to regain some focus.
Last week Plaxico's absence stood out to me on one crucial play in the first quarter: Facing second-and-five at Philadelphia's 32, Manning pass-faked at the line of scrimmage, which kept the corners on two wideouts, then he handed off to receiver
Another key element of the Giants' attack will be missing --
The Cowboys face some of the same questions.
Whoever goes, they're both gritty, pass-catching Brian Westbrook types, which has proven an effective weapon against the Giants. Romo's ability to keep plays alive rivals
Another reason Romo might be looking to his running backs out of the backfield:
Romo did nothing to kill his choker's reputation against Pittsburgh last week, and he laughed it off days later by saying, "If I play about eight years and we stink in December every year, maybe we can talk about it. But the first year you are just kind of running around with your head cut off, you don't really know what is going on." Not exactly what you want to hear from your quarterback. It'll take a strong effort against New York to shut people up.
"He's the one you have to focus on. You have to pay particular attention to their pass rushers, but if you get them blocked you can make some things happen down the field."
"When we played Dallas, we really spread them out and ran the ball well, so it opened up the passing game. We ran some play-action and we made some plays down the field."
Dallas has revenge on the mind -- for last January's playoff game; for a 35-14 Giants win in Week 9. That fact alone should keep the Cowboys nice and close well past halftime. After this week's media spectacle, Romo's bound to find Owens for points at least once against a Giants secondary that's allowed an uncharacteristic 263 passing yards per game since Nov. 23. But when that fourth quarter rolls around I'd simply rather have New York's backs -- running behind that powerful line, even if it's just Bradshaw and Ward, and against a defense that may be starting subs at both safety positions -- than Romo against the Giants' daring defensive backs. With all the in-fighting and miscommunication going on lately in Dallas, there are just too many chances for something to go bad.
Don't think for a second that the Giants, having wrapped up the division, will take this one lightly. They don't have any cakewalk games left this year, so Coughlin will have his defense all riled up with the goal of cementing a first round playoff bye while they still can. Back in September, no one could have imagined that Dallas could get knocked out of the playoff picture this early. The Giants won't blow the opportunity.