When Odell Beckham, Jr. was suspended for one game following his actions against Carolina cornerback Josh Norman in the Giants' Week 15 loss to the Panthers, Tom Coughlin's team knew it would miss its star receiver.
It probably didn't realize how much. The Giants were absolutely smoked in a 49–17 laugher that wasn't as close as the score would indicate, and the G-Men had little to show without their primary playmaker. It's the most the Vikings have scored in a game since they beat the Coughlin-coached Jaguars in 1998.
Without Beckham on the field, and a skeleton crew of targets in his place, Eli Manning had his worst game of the 2015 season, completing 15 of 29 passes for 234 yards, one touchdown and three picks. The lone score Manning threw was to Rueben Randle, a 72-yard pass late in the third quarter, and that was a combination of blown coverage and bad tackling. Manning looked completely out of sorts, and his primary receivers didn't show the requisite talent to get things done. He completed 35.7% of passes to his receivers, per ESPN Stats & Info, his lowest total since 2012. That's an indictment of the depth presented to the roster by general manager Jerry Reese, and the 6-8 Giants, who haven't had a winning season since 2012, will have serious decisions to make once the season is done regarding the futures of Coughlin and Reese.
“I didn't see this coming,” Coughlin said after the rout. “Disappointed is not the word. It's just very difficult for me to explain it. We have one week to go. there's some soul searching that has to be done on everybody's part. Players, coaches, me.”
Indeed. On the other side of the coin, the newly hot Vikings have won two straight in fairly dominant fashion, they clinched their first playoff berth with this win, and in their Week 17 tiff with the Packers, they have a chance to claim the NFC North.
“It's awesome,” Bridgewater told NBC's Michele Tafoya after the game. “And it speaks a lot about this team—a group of guys who were determined all year long, and we faced some adversity, and the guys fought through it. I'm just happy for this team.”
Bridgewater, who has never seen his team win against the Packers through his two NFL seasons, sounded a bit more confident about the rematch. The Giants game was another example of the Vikings' belief that managing Bridgewater while relying on a strong run game and aggressive defense is the best way for them to go.
“We know there's a lot on the line,” he concluded. “We just have to approach this game as if it was another game. The guys have had the same intensity we had against the Arizona Cardinals these part two weeks, and it's showing. I'm looking forward to this game, and looking forward to my guys preparing this week, and having that same intensity and focus.”
The game against the Cardinals was actually a 23–20 loss, as Bridgewater suffered a sack and a fumble with five seconds left in the game, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner's playcalling was called into question. But the Vikings recovered decisively against the Bears last week, beating Chicago 38-17 as Bridgewater threw four touchdown passes and ran for another.
This time around, most of the running was done by Adrian Peterson, who re-took the league lead in rushing yards from Tampa Bay's Doug Martin with his 104 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. The Giants' leaky defense found Peterson hard to stop, even behind Minnesota's problematic offensive line, and backup running back Jerick McKinnon totaled 89 yards, and a touchdown of his own, on just seven carries. In this game, the Minnesota scoring was rounded out by Blair Walsh's five field goals, and a 35-yard pick-six from safety Harrison Smith with four minutes left in the first half.
The Vikings are one game away from the third seed, and a home game in the playoffs. The Giants, on the other hand, have dropped four of their last six games, with their once-solid command of the NFC East nothing but a memory. It's been a season of injuries, inefficiencies, and downright frustrating performances from coaches and players.
Minnesota was on point on this night, while Big Blue can only wait it out until after their Jan. 3 game against the Eagles to see where the dominoes fall.