Score one for the Irresistible Force
It's business as usual for the Giants running game as they improve to 9-1, and take command of the NFC playoff picture
The Baltimore Ravens came into today's game boasting the strongest rushing defense in the league, only allowing 65.4 yards per game. And as most expected, they extended their streak of not allowing a single running back in a game to gain 100 yards rushing to 29 games. But they certainly aren't happy about it. Ahamad Bradshaw - third from the top of the New York Giants RB totem pole - fell just short with 96 yards. And the only reason he didn't get the extra four was because the only thing left to do at that point was ask Eli Manning to take a knee at the Ravens' 16 yard line for the last two plays of the game to see zeros on the clock and secure the Giants 30-10 win at the Meadowlands.
The much anticipated showdown between the Giants running game and the brick wall known as the Ravens defense wasn't much of a showdown at all. In fact, I'd bet that Ray Lewis - who on his conference call with reporters earlier this week said, "The bottom line is that we stop the run. That is fact." and said of starting RB Brandon Jacobs, "I don’t care how big his size is, football is football" - is probably embarrased at his defense's performance this afternoon. That's not to say it wasn't the effort of the giants offensive line, or the will of Jacobs, Ward and Bradshaw to get every last inch of field available to them that made the difference in this matchup. The Giants - despite an 8-1 record and being defending Super Bowl champs - were the ones who had everything to prove today. No one expected them to rush for 207 yards. No one.
Two hundred seven yards.
Jacob's set the bar high on the Giants' first possession, running for 53 yards and the game's first touchdown. On his first touch of the game, Jacobs ran to the right and smacked into a wall of players, but spun 270 degrees around and shot out towards the left for 36 yards on what was the most vital play of the game. The importance of gaining nearly half the total average the Ravens allow per game - in just one busted play - was something they never seemed to recover from. On 1st down from the Ravens 10, Jacobs plowed through the middle of the line and banged a few bodies before getting tripped up at the 1-yard line. By the time he scored the first Giants' touchdown two plays later, the faces of the Ravens defense told the story. They were already worried about what to expect next. By the end of the first quarter, Jacobs obliterated that per game average with 11 carries, 72 yards and two touchdowns.
Ravens defensive end Trevor Price was quoted after the game as saying "When you do that against our defense, you have some confidence. It makes things easier. The way it happened was a fluke; We had him, but he bounced and went all the way to the other side. You don't think that a big back can run that fast, but he does". So much for not caring how big his size is.
Unfortunatley, the first quarter would be his last quarter; despite not appearing to have been hurt, Jacobs left the field and headed into the locker room with initial reports being that he was going in for x-rays. Later in the second quarter, it was said that Jacobs simply needed some re-taping. In any event, Jacobs stood cheerfully on the sidelines the rest of the game and handed the reigns over to Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. We should expect to hear something by Tuesday if Jacobs did, in fact, sustain an injury of some kind. Derrick Ward shouldered the load through the second and third quarters, gaining 41 yards on 11 carries. Ward's true impact was in the passing game when Baltimore started to put more pressure on Manning, catching 4 passes for 54 yards.
Eli Manning (13 of 23, 153 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) looked sharp in the ealry going with a nice 21-yard strike to Plaxico Burress that set up that first Jacobs score. The Ravens were able to defend nicely against the pass, and Manning had some trouble getitng the ball to his well covered receivers. Manning's only TD pass was a 1-yard toss to TE Darcy Johnson early in the 2nd quarter.The interception by Ray Lewis at the 1:51 mark of the second quarter was a brilliant play; Lewis floated in the underbelly of the Giants receiver routes and saw Manning was looking for TE Kevin Boss. Boss was running to the middle of the field from the right, so Lewis got down low and broke in front of the pass form the left.
The star of the game was Ahmad Bradshaw. 8 of his 9 carries - all in the fourth quarter - totaled just 19 yards. But that one carry... the one with 14:31 left in the game. The first play of the drive... the handoff he took from Manning at his own 19-yard line that ended on the Ravens 2 yard line. That was the carry. The Giants were leading 27-10 at that point, and there wasn't much proof that the Ravens were going to come back in this one. But after having given up 120 yards on the ground, Bradshaw's 77-yard sprint right up the middle of the field was the salt in the wound. On the play, Ray Lewis was directly in front of Bradshaw as he wiggled through two defenders in the backfield; Lewis over-pursued Bradshaw and was only able to wrap his left arm around his waist as he cut to his right. Bradshaw was at full steam and broke away from Lewis on his way to the other end of the field. The Giants could only muster a field goal on the drive, but it was the final plunge they needed to drive a steak through the heart of the best rushing defense in the NFL today.
Enough can't be said about the performance of Joe Flacco (20 of 33, 164 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT). While his stats won't indicate it, he showed great pocket presence and awareness of when to run the ball. The fact that Flacco was the teams leading rusher - accounting for 57 of the Ravens' 121 yards - says a lot about what he had to deal with in this game. He was sacked only one time and knocked down a few others, and of the two interceptions he threw one was not his fault; a nicely thrown ball on a crossing pattern by WR Derrick Mason bounced off his facemask and into the hands of Giants CB Aaron Ross, which Ross returned for a 50-yard touchdown. It was Ross' second interception of the game. They were also the first two interceptions Flacco had thrown since week 5 at Indianapolis. Despite the picks, Flacco had everything working against him today and yet he was the main reason the Ravens had a punchers' chance in the second half. His arm strength is unquestionable and his mobility is a terrific asset. Most impressive was his focus and demeanor in a critical game that was slipping away from him - he didn't look like a rookie.
For those seeking resolution to this week's overused paradox (I'm as guilty as anyone) promoting today's game as the "irresistible force" meeting the "immovable object", the answer was as clear as the season is long. And as always, we learn from this game as we have many others that there's no such thing as a sure thing. One thing is for sure - the Giants are for real. Most thought they hit their stride, that Manning finally matured and the team got a bit lucky in the playoffs. Most thought they defeated an over-confident, underachieving Patriots team with an injured quarterback in the Super Bowl. Many said they benefitted from weaker opponents earlier this season. Many felt they won in Pittsburgh because of a bad snap to an injured punter. Some argued that they beat Dallas because Romo was sidelined and the defense was depleted. Some contend they were lucky in Philadelphia after almost giving the game away, saved only by lousy play calling on Andy Reid's part.
In the days ahead, we might hear from a few that think the Ravens run defense simply had a bad game.
The Giants are 9-1. What else is there to say?
Another one bites the dust: Once again, the Giants were successful at stopping their opponents' leading rusher. Willis McGahee joins a distinguished list of backs this season such as Frank Gore, Marion Barber, Brian Westbrook and Clinton Portis. To appreciate the effectiveness of the Giants defense against these elite backs so far this season, look at the combined statistics of all five : 75 carries, 198 yards / 2.6 yards per carry / 0 touchdowns.
3 X 200 = 3-0: The Giants have rushed for over 200 yards in each of the last three games.
Corner-back in business: CB Aaron Ross' two interceptions were his first of the season. After a run of games where receivers were getting the better of him (beginning with Braylon Edwards in Cleveland, week 5) Ross' picks and his 50-yard touchdown should go a long way in rebuilding his confidence.
#372: Ravens Kicker Matt Stover set a record for consecutive PAT following Le'Ron McLain's 10-yard TD reception .
Health Kick: Lawrence Tynes was handed FG kicking responsibilities for the first time since returning from his leg injury. His first few kickoffs were short, as he was reaquainting himself with the swirling winds of the meadowlands. John Carney was deactivated for the game.
'You play to win the game' : This Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the "Miracle at the Meadowlands" or as Giants fans call it, "The Fumble". On November 19th 1978, the Giants were perfectly positioned to pull off a huge upset over the Philadelphia Eagles. With possession, a 17-12 lead and time running out, a simple kneel-down would have ended the game. Inexplicibly, Joe Pisarcik attempted to handoff to Larry Csonka. Pisarcik fumbled the ball, and an Eagles cornerback named Herman Edwards picked up the loose ball and ran 26 yards for the touchdown. Former linebacker Harry Carson still considers that the worst defeat he was ever a part of, and perhaps the worst in Giants franchise history. '"HEL-LO!"
statistical sources: sportsline.com, nfl.com / Trevor Pryce quote: cbs sports wire reports / Ray Lewis qoutes: nyg.scout.com