Things were unfolding perfectly for the Giants to get their first win. Carson Palmer tested his shoulder and was unable to start, giving the call the Drew Stanton, who hadn’t started a game or thrown a regular season pass, since week 10 of the 2014 season. The Giants pass rush re-emerged, and the offense seemed to be starting to come together.
Leading in the fourth quarter, the game was theirs for the taking, but special team errors turned the tide, and ultimately cost the Giants the game, as the Cardinals prevailed 25-14, before a sorely disappointed Metlife crowd.
The loss may be a costly one as Jon Beason left the game in the third quarter with an injury to the same toe he broke in June. Nickel cornerback Walter Thurmond has been lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle that will require surgery. Jayron Hosley, who’s drug suspension is subject to commutation due to the new agreement between the league and players association, and free agent Terrell Thomas, the former Giant, are names being bantered about to replace Thurmond. The extent of Beason’s injury has not yet been released to the media.
The Cardinals received the opening kickoff and came out firing against a Giants defense expecting them to run, as Stanton completed his first pass to Michael Floyd for 19 yards down the right sidelines. Prince Amukamara was covering. Another completion, on a third down, to Larry Fitzgerald between three Giants defenders, put the ball in Giants territory. Andre Ellington carried the ball wide, something he did well throughout the game, for a 22 yard game, setting up the Cardinals with a first and 10 on the Giants 14 yard line. A incompletion, and a Jason Pierre-Paul sack, brought up third and 17 on the Giants 29, and the Big Blue defense seemed poised to hold Arizona to a field goal attempt.
The crowd was on their feet, cheering loudly in support of the Giants defense, and drowning out the whistle stopping play on the delay of game penalty. Jameel McClain reacted to the snap of the ball closed on the quarterback and tried to hold up, but bumped him and Stanton fell to the ground, drawing a flag for unnecessary roughness, giving the Cardinals a a first down back at the Giants, and new life on the drive. A highly questionable illegal contact penalty, where Fitzgerald appeared to run through Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, put the ball at the Giants 9, and two plays later Jonathan Dwyer burst through the right side of the line for the touchdown and a 7-0 Cardinals lead.
Quintin Demps took the kickoff from 8 yards deep in the end zone out to the Giants 22 yard line and Eli Manning brought the Giants offense out for the first time. Manning started the game hot, completing his first four passes, to four different receiver, and driving the team to the Arizona 30 yard line. On a third and 8, the Cardinals blitzed both cornerback Jerraud Powers and linebacker Larry Foote. Rashad Jennings missed on his pickup attempt of Foote, and Larry Donnell did not chip Powers allowing him to come into the backfield untouched. Manning threw a hurried pass that hit guard John Jerry on the shoulder and bounced to Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho, who tipped it in the air and pulled it down for the interception.
A Robert Ayers sack on the first play following the interception put the Cardinals in a hole, and it looked as if the Giants would escape without damage, but on third and 14, Ellington scampered around right end, beating Ayers and Amukamara to the edge, gaining 15 yards and getting the first down. Dwyer followed with a 20 yard run that he bounced outside to the right, badly fooling Amukamara, putting the ball at the Giants 39. On third and 10, an incompletion to Ellington appeared to stop Arizona, but an illegal contact penalty on Amukamara, who bear hugged Floyd as he came off the line of scrimmage, extended the drive. The Giants defense held and Chandler Cantanzaro kicked a 49 yard field goal to extend the Cardinals lead to 10-0 as the first quarter wound down.
Demps took the ball 5 yards deep in the end zone and only got as far as the Giants 16. Two quick completions and an Arizona penalty moved the ball to the Giants 44 with it appeared that a strip sack set the Cardinals up with excellent field position. The officiating crew bailed them out with a highly questionable illegal contact penalty on Powers that allowed the Giants to retain possession of the ball. While the foul was called on Powers, it appeared safety Deon Bucannon held Donnell more flagrantly than Powers tap of Victor Cruz.
On the sack, Calais Campbell blew past Weston Richburg, and had an unobstructed path the Manning. The Giants failed to capitalize on the break, as Manning was sacked again on third and 7, when safety Rashad Johnson wasn’t picked up on a delayed blitz. and Steve Weatherford punted for the first time, pinning the Cardinals in at their own 9 yard line.
After holding Arizona to minimal gains on first and second down, John Brown made a diving catch of Stanton catch for a 20 yard gain on third down on a play where Beason just missed sacking the Cardinals quarterback. Arizona managed one more first down, but field position was affected, and Drew Butler’s punt put the ball on the Giants 10 yard line.
Starting with three Jennings runs the took the team out the shadow of their own goal post, Manning then completed passes to Rueben Randle for 13, Donnell for 11, and a 27 yard yard strike to Cruz on a third and 11, to move the Giants deep into Arizona territory as the two minute warning was called. When play resumed, Manning continued drive, hitting Cruz for the third time on the drive, this time for 7 yards, threaded into double coverage, and setting up a second and 3 on the Arizona 7. Manning then floated the ball into the right corner of the end zone to Randle, who made a one handed catch over Cardinals superstar Patrick Peterson for the touchdown. The 13 play, 90 yard drive took 7:13 and cut the Cardinals lead to 10-7.
A holding penalty put the ball at the Arizona 10, and with three timeouts, it appeared the Giants might get one more chance in the first half, but Stanton found tight end John Carlson on a play action pass for 32 yards down the middle of the field, allowing the Cardinals, who had only one time out left to run out the clock and preserve their 3 point lead.
Despite their defensive breakdowns and sloppy defensive play on third down, the Giants trailed at the half by only a field goal and would get the ball to start the third quarter. Manning was sharp, completing 12 of 14 passes for 135 yards, with the touchdown and the tipped interception. It appeared the Giants had weathered the early storm and were in position to take over this game with a strong second half.
The early part of the third quarter was dominated by the defenses at the teams exchanged punts. The Giants appeared to make a big play on special teams when Jennings partially blocked a Butler punt, but an illegal hands to the face penalty on Demps wiped out the field position advantage. Tom Coughlin complained vehemently about the penalty, which was not shown on the game broadcast.
A personal foul on Justin Pugh on the Giants first offensive drive of the second half, called by umpire Mark Pellis, number 131, was shown, however, and Pugh was penalized for being shoved. He did not strike back, nor physically react, and unless it was a verbal offense, it appeared to be a phantom call.
Another opportunity for a big special teams play was missed when Weatherford dropped a punt inside the five yard line and Zack Bowman was in perfect position to down it but turned the wrong way and allowed the ball to roll into the end zone for a touchback. The Giants defense was swarming to the football and a Mathias Kiwanuka sack forced a punt and the Giants took possession of the ball with 6:40 remaining in the third quarter.
Rookie Andre Williams carried the ball twice, gaining 6 yards, and Manning found Donnell for 13 over the middle before a holding penalty on J.D Walton appeared to halt the drive. Completions of 15 yards to Jennings and 14 yards to Cruz, got the Giants out of the 1st and 20 hole and gave them a first down at the Cardinals 26 yard line. Manning then looked for Cruz in the end zone and Peterson tried to climb over him to make a play on the ball, drawing a flag from back judge Perry Paganelli.
The defensive pass interference penalty gave the Giants a first down and goal at the 1 yard line and after Jennings was stuffed on run off right tackle, Manning found tight end Daniel Fells across the middle for the one yard touchdown. Offensive lineman Dallas Reynolds, who was a slot receiver in a goal to go situation last week, ran a pass pattern on the scoring play. The drive covered 74 yards in 8 plays and took 4:37 off the clock and gave the Giants their first lead of the season, at 14-10.
The Cardinals answered with a 13 play, 74 yard drive drive for a field goal, that was assisted by three point of emphasis penalties on the Giants secondary. While penalties are part of the game, and two of the calls, on Rodgers-Cromartie and Mark Herzlich appeared legitimate, the proliferation of flags for minor contact that doesn’t influence the trajectory of the receiver or impact the play is threatening the integrity of the game. On John Parry’s crew, thought to be one of the better officiating teams coming into the game, the over enthusiastic penalizing machine was Field Judge Jon Lucivansky, number 89, who lines up on the deep right hand side of the field and monitors the secondary. While not qualified to comment on his work in other games, it is fair to say that in yesterday’s Cardinals/Giants game, Lucivansky was incompetent, committing the cardinal sin for an official, throwing flags for inappropriate penalties, and missing others, influencing the game with his officiating. The 37 yard Cardinal field goal cut the Giants lead to 14-13 with 11:38 remaining in the game.
Following a three and out on which Victor Cruz has the first of three dropped passes that plagued him in the fourth quarter, Weatherford lined up to punt and the sequence of special teams blunders that followed turned the game to Arizona’s favor and dropped the Giants to 0-2. Weatherford hit a line drive punt to Ted Ginn, but Zack Bowman was on him in coverage. Bowman was unable to make the tackle, and once Ginn broke free, he went down the Giants sideline for a 71 yard touchdown. No Giant was close to touching him after Bowman’s second special teams blunder of the afternoon. Dwyer wasn’t close on a two point conversion run, and the Cardinals jumped out in front 19-14.
The sloppy special teams work was not over for the Giants, as Demps again took the ball from his own end zone, and failing to secure it, dropped it without provocation, giving the Cardinals a gift first down at the Giants 21 yard line. The Giant defense rallied and held Arizona to a 32 yard field goal and kept the game within one score, at 22-14, the the Giants margin of error was nil.
Manning rallied the Giants, driving them 63 yards from their own 20 to the Cardinals 17 before Rashad Jennings lost the football when he hit the ground without being touched. Upon review, John Parry ruled it a fumble and the Cardinals took over, effectively ending any realistic chance the Giants had of tying the game. Using their timeouts and stopping the Cardinals at their own 40 after they gained one first down, the Giants had two final desperation possessions. One ended with them losing the ball on downs at their own 19 and gave the Cardinals a 33 yard field goal that closed out scoring, at Cardinals 25, Giants 14. Nine of the eleven point margin of victory was a direct result of special teams errors.
On the play before the Jennings fumble, a pass for Preston Parker in the end zone fell incomplete when he was tripped up by Peterson. No flag was thrown, and while none was warranted, based on the officiating standard set in this game, it absolutely should have been penalized. Inconsistent officiating is worse than bad officiating and this non-call directly changed the outcome of the game.
Manning threw a second interception the team’s last drive, but overall had a good game, completing 26 of 39 passes for 277 yards and 2 touchdowns. One interception came on a ball that hit Jerry when he was under immense pressure, and the other when the outcome of the game was long decided. The Giants passing offense made significant progress in the second game. If the progress continues week to week, we should see a better product within a few games. The Cardinals have a solid secondary, therefore the performance cannot be dismissed as the product of going against a poor defense.
The rushing offense was no more effective yesterday then last Monday, gaining just 81 yards on 27 carries for an average of 3.0 yards per carry. As practice time is limited, one can assume that the time has been spent on the passing offense to the detriment of the run game. That trend needs to change, as this team can’t win without a strong ground attack.
On defense, the pass rush showed up, as Stanton was sacked 4 times on 33 drop backs. One concerning trend was the ability of the Cardinals to attack the edges as both Ellington and Dwyer had long gains outside. The Giants defensive ends failed to set the edge and the cornerbacks run support was weak.
Donnell was a bright spot for the offense, catching 7 of 9 passes thrown his way for 81 yards. His blocking is sub standard and needs to improve before he can be considered a full time tight end, but his progress since the beginning of training camp is promising.
As bright as Donnell’s performance was, Cruz’s was equally disappointing. Commenting during the week leading up to the game that he needed to have the ball thrown to him in order for the offense to click, Cruz was given his wish, and failed to perform in critical situation. He dropped two passes that hit him in the hands in the fourth quarter and failed to pull down another that was high, but catchable. When a player speaks out publicly about his self importance, he needs to step up and Cruz failed to do so. It was put up or shut up time in the fourth quarter and he failed to put up, so this week needs to be a quiet one for number 80.
The Giants overcame the adversity of uneven officiating, an early turnover, and some missed special teams opportunities to put themselves in position to win this game. Their sloppy special teams, and four turnovers are surefire ways to lose a game in the NFL. There is talent on this team, and it’s starting to come together, but it may be too little, too late if performances like these continue.
Coughlin used the word “Nightmare” for the second consecutive week to describe the Giants performance, this time specifically referencing the fourth quarter. He did cite improvement and progress made by the team in the past week, but noted that “No one wants to hear that, they only want to hear about wins and losses.”
Citing a lack of turnovers, nothing from the return game, and a lack of creating opportunities, Coughlin said the only response is to, “Bear down, work your ass off, and run around like a crazy man.” He said the Giants had “Every opportunity to win this game, let it slip, and have no one to blame but ourselves.” He would not put blame on any one player or play, saying, “When you’re not accomplishing a lot, every play is a critical play.”
Coughlin was also complimentary of the home crowd, calling us “Into it, responding well on the third downs.” He noted a disturbing trend for the Giants defense, giving up easy conversions on third and long.
Next up is J.J. Watt and the 2-0 Houston Texans. The offensive line best be ready.
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