Each year, week five of the NFL season exposes which team is a legitimate contender vs which will be wallowing in self pity for the next ten months. Yesterday at the Meadowlands was no exception, as the New York Giants were exposed as pretenders in spite of three victories against a single loss going into the game.
Squeakers over a bad Arizona Cardinal team a week following an equally unimpressive win over an unimpressive Eagles team, the Giants needed to make a statement against their third crappy team in a row. This time it was the Seattle Seahawks, who two weeks prior had been mutilated 24-0 by the Pittsburg Steelers before losing to a decent Atlanta Falcon team off a missed last-second field goal last week in Seattle.
A perfect time to excel, especially when the Seahawk’s starting quarterback Tavaris Jackson, a Vikings cast-off and bad one at that, went down in the third quarter with a shoulder injury while trying to stretch an 11 yard run into 12. A move that had head coach Pete Carroll still muttering and complaining in the post-game.
But when backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst (who?) came in and looked like a metamorphosis of Peyton Manning, mid-way through the third quarter, the vaunted Giant defense looked more like something you might find at an average high school. Whitehurst absolutely tore apart the Giants, giving the sluggish Seahawk offense exactly what they needed as they blew away New York’s squad of soon-to-be waivered has-beens.
Seattle started the game with an Oregon Duck lookalike effort featuring no huddles and a confused New York contingent, that ultimately yielded seven points in under three minutes. Not-to-worry, as the Giants answered with their own quick seven play drive as Eli Manning nailed Jake Ballard in the end zone to tie things up.
And after the Seahawks floundered and punted, New York decided to bequeath the Seahawks the ball and the game, with a generous gift on their own 17 when Manning was sacked and fumbled. But two plays later Seattle returned the favor and fumbled back to the Giants, who put together a pathetic three and out before a two play Seattle scoring drive which landed the visitors a quick 14-7 lead with three minutes left in the first.
It could have easily been a four touchdown lead had things broken differently. As was, the Giants floundered again, Seattle put together their best drive of the day, a 12 play beauty that consumed almost six minutes off the clock and could have all but ended the game right there, had they not coughed up the ball again at the Giant’s two yard line.
Really ugly football followed for the rest of the half, until Manning finally woke up the crowd with a bomb to Hakeem Nicks down the right side, followed by a quick TD strike to tie things up at 14 with only seconds remaining in the half.
With FOX announcers Thom Brennaman and Troy Aikman carrying on about how surprising it was for Seattle to be tied at halftime with the mighty New York Giants, things were about to get a bit nutty. It started when Seattle’s starting quarterback got nailed trying to stretch a run and left the game.
Following a pretty punt to end the same drive that was downed at the five yard line, Seattle’s Anthony Hargrove nailed New York’s DJ Ware in the end zone on the right side on a first and 10. Hargrove had slipped around the line unnoticed and Ware had no chance at going anywhere other than to the end zone carpet, and Seattle had a 16-14 lead from a improbable safety.
Several punts later Seattle kicked a 51 yard field goal seconds into the final period to take a 9-14 lead, but it was short-lived when the Giants got their first real break of the game. Manning dropped back and threw a sideling bomb to Victor Cruz, which was batted straight up in the air by Seattle’s cornerback Richard Sherman.
But sometimes luck dictates the day, and on this play Cruz won the lottery when the ball fell right into this hands with nothing but an open field in front of him. What should have been a routine incomplete pass turned out to be a 68 yard TD strike and the first New York Giant lead of the day, 22-19 with just over 12 minutes left in the game.
Cruz, and unrecruited out of high school and undrafted into the NFL, demonstrated why with a cheesy shuffle dance following the score that deserved a clothesline cheap shot from anyone nearby (including his own teammates)
But Seattle came right back after the kickoff sailed into the end zone thanks to that dopey rule change moving kickoffs up five yards. Whitehurst hit Doug Baldwin on a perfectly executed screen play for a quick 20 yards, but followed it with a no-huddle mess that resulted in another punt.
Three plays later Seattle’s Walter Thurmund, demonstrating skills learned while pummeling Pac10 opponents at Oregon, stripped Manning of the ball when Manning was distracted while fighting for additional yardage.
Seattle had the ball on the New York 25, which they did nothing with, but it was close enough to salvage a 43 yard field goal to tie the game at 22 with ten minutes left. Whitehurst looked terrible, missing receivers by dozens of yards for no particular reason, while newly acquired wide receiver Sidney Rice didn’t bother looking back and missed a sure catch on the following play to force a punt.
At which the Giants answered with their own seven play 80 yard drive, with Manning absolutely picking apart the Seattle defense. In fact the Giants singed the Seattle defense with three big gainers in a row, and had the ball with a first and goal. But when Tight End Jake Ballard got whistled for a knuckeheaded false start, the Giants never recovered.
Manning threw the next short pass into a huddle for no apparent reason, and the Giants would end up settling for a field goal to take a disappointing 25-22 lead. But the drive only consumed a couple minutes off the clock.
Still with seven minutes left and a three point lead, things appeared to be going the Giant’s way with a revved up home crowd and all the momentum. Seattle, back in their no huddle scheme, struck quick when Whitehurst hit Doug Baldwin for a quick 22 yard gain to the Seattle 42.
But the Giants looked like they had the drive stopped until managed to throw a miracle to Doug Baldwin on a 3rd & 7 for another first down to the Giant’s 47. Followed by what turned out to be the game-ender. Whitehurst found a wide open Doug Baldwin on blown coverage for touchdown and a 29-25 lead that would prove fatal.
The Giants Defensive End Osi Umenyiora gambled and came rushing in as Seattle faked a screen pass, which also got every single Giant defensive back to bite on the play, thereby leaving Baldwin all my his lonesome with nothing but open field in front of him.
Two-and-a-half minutes left, and the Giants needed to make something happen. Manning hit Ware for a quick 22 yards, then drilled Manningham to get to their own 44 yard line. But when Manning threw to Victor Cruz in the red zone, Cruz almost made a spectacular one-handed catch at the five yard line, only to have Seattle’s Brandon Browner grab what looked like a Cruz handoff, and raced 95 yards for Seahawk touchdown with just over a minute left.
The second freak play of the day involving Mr Cruz, only this time it turned out catastrophic to the Giant effort. What should have been a 32-29 lead with no time left, ended up being a 36-25 Seahawk lead with no chance for a comeback. And when Kam Chancellor intercepted Manning’s pass for the 8th turnover of the day in this slopfest, it was lights out for the Giants.
The Seattle Seahawks, who looked so lethargic and uninspired against the Steelers two weeks prior, had just managed to march into the New York palace and snatch a win that few believed possible. The Giants hence left looking like a pretender, while the Seahawks head into a bye week with new-found reason for optimism.
The youngest team in the league, lead by the greatest cheerleading coach since perhaps the great Vince Lombardi of the Packers a century ago.
Who woulda thought?