The Giants entered this game with hope. A victory put their record at 4-4, two games out of the division lead, one game off the wild card. Dallas and Philadelphia stumbled in the past two weeks, making them seem vincible, and salvaging the season was withing their grasp. The game started out promising, with an aggressive Giants defense slowing down the Colts offense in the first quarter, limiting the NFL’s fastest starting offense to a field goal. Unfortunately, the Giants offense couldn’t get in gear, and was unable to run, plagued by dropped passes, poor route running, and spotty pass protection, saw the game slip away.
It was a costly loss for the Giants as well, with Prince Amukamara suffering a torn biceps muscle. Requiring surgery to repair, the cornerback will be lost for the season, another blow to an already razor thin secondary. Rookie offensive lineman Weston Richburg was also carted off with an ankle injury, severity unknown.
There were a scant few bright spots for the Giants, with Robert Ayers having an outstanding game, pressuring Colts quarterback Andrew Luck early and often. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, still battling hamstring and back injuries was forced into service more than the team would have preferred, and played well. And rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham was outstanding, catching 8 of 11 passes thrown his way for 156 yards. Eli Manning, despite having a mediocre night and getting minimal help from his wide receivers and offensive line, did not throw an interception. He did fumble in the third quarter when hit on the blind side on a sack by rookie linebacker Jonathan Newsome.
The Giants won the coin toss and opted to receive the opening kickoff. Michael Cox returned the kick out to the Giants 33 yard line and Manning found Larry Donnell for 14, putting the ball near midfield. The drive stalled when Beckham couldn’t pull down an under thrown pass and Manning’s third down pass, where he appeared to panic despite having plenty of time in the pocket, floated incomplete in the middle of the field. Steve Weatherford’s punt pinned the Colts in at their own 12 yard line.
Indianapolis’ game plan was clear from the outset, as Luck used short passes to pick the Giants defense apart. The Giants countered with pressure, blitzing frequently and from all angles. Despite driving from their own 12 to the Giants 31, an all out blitz caused Luck to throw off target, former Giant Hakeem Nicks couldn’t haul it in, and the Colts settled for a 48 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal and a 3-0 lead. The Giants pressure seemed to initially unnerve Luck, who was off target early in the game, but the Giants offense was unable to take advantage of the defense’s success.
Preston Parker, who had shown some promise at wide receiver in earlier games, displayed the qualities that caused him to fall out of favor in Tampa Bay running poor routes across the middle and seeming jittery about taking hits. Rueben Randle’s issue with running incorrect routes appeared to re-emerge in this game as passes in his direction were off target on multiple occasions. Parker caught just 1 of 6 passes for 7 yards and Randle 4 of 11 for 49, not numbers that will sustain drives or build confidence between quarterback and wide receiver.
The Colts clung to their field goal lead as the first quarter expired, and early in the second quarter, the Colts took over at their own 32. A face mask penalty on Devon Kennard put the ball near mid field when the first bizarre sequence of the night went against the Giants. Tight end Coby Fleener caught a pass down the side line in front of the Giants bench and appeared to bobble it as he went to the ground. As Tom Coughlin dug into his sock to pull out the challenge flag, Luck went rapid no huddle to get a play off before the Giants could challenge. The Giants defense was momentarily and inexcusably paralyzed by the rapid sequence and failed to cover Fleener, who caught a quick pass from Luck and ran 32 yards for a touchdown.
In addition to not getting the challenge flag out before the snap, a rare instance where Coughlin is out coached, Fewell didn’t have the defense prepared for this situation. Jameel McClain should have gotten the Giants to respond the Colts fast snap and made a call for the defense. The absence of captain Jon Beason and transition to McClain in a larger and permanent role for 2014 was partly responsible, but it’s not an excuse for a professional defense being utterly unprepared and out maneuvered twice on the same play.
It was questionable whether the first Fleener catch would have been overturned, but it was worthy of review as the ball came out when the tight end hit the ground. Coughlin will likely move where he keeps the challenge flag as a result of the wardrobe malfunction resulting from it’s placement in his sock. Most coaches keep it in their back pocket.
After exchanging punts, the Giants put together their only solid drive of the first half, with Manning finding Beckham across the middle for 19 yards and Williams breaking off a 9 yard run around right end to move the ball from their 35 to the Colts 20. Back to back incompletions to Randle and Parker stopped the drive in it’s tracks and Josh Brown cut the Colts lead to 10-3. Manning overthrew Parker and Randle dropped a spot on pass on third down. The Giants defense started to show wear as the Colts twice drove into Giants territory, but were forced to settle for field goals of 31 and 48 yards, extending their lead to 16-3.
The loss of Amukamara, combined with the Colts adjustments to the Giants blitzes and the utter lack of offensive cohesion were starting to take their toll. With 32 second left in the half, Ayers forced a Luck fumble near mid field, but the Giants were unable to recover, another in a series of almosts and what-ifs in this game. Had the ball been recovered and Manning been able to cut the lead to 16-10 going into half time, it’s possible the momentum would have shifted. But another failure to make a big play when the opportunity arose kept the game slanted securely in the Colts favor as the second quarter expired.
Indianapolis received the second half kickoff and picked up where they left off, marching down the field and shredding the Giants defense for 84 yard in 5 plays, capping the drive with a 31 pass to T.Y. Hilton, who wrestled the ball away from Rodgers-Cromartie who appeared to have intercepted it. Rodgers-Cromartie had the ball in his hands, but couldn’t pull it down and Hilton ripped it away from him and put it away before the two hit the ground for the touchdown, giving the Colts a commanding 23-3 lead.
There was another missed opportunity on the Colts touchdown drive, as Luck missed a hand off to tight end Dwayne Allen on a third and 1, and the ball bounced free on the turf. Former Giants Ahmad Bradshaw not only recovered the fumble, but managed to run for 13 yards and a first down against a woefully non reactionary Giants defense.
Had they recovered the fumble or merely made the tackle in the backfield, the Hilton touchdown would not have occurred and Vinatieri would have tacked on another field goal.
The Giants responded with an 84 yard drive of their own, using only 5 plays, including an electrifying 59 yard catch and run by Beckham, to cut the lead to 23-10. On a 3rd and 10 from the Colts 25, Williams caught a short pass, broke an arm tackle attempt by linebacker Henoc Muamba and rumbled 24 yards too the 1 yard line. He finished the drive with a 1 yard plunge for the touchdown on the next play.
The glimmer of hope offered by the Giants touchdown was squelched by the sequence that took place over the next 4:28 in the game. Luck drove the Colts 80 yard in 8 plays, exploiting the Giants soft middle defense by completing passes to tight ends Fleener and Allen and wide receiver Reggie Wayne. The dazed and gassed Giants defense then allowed Wayne to catch an 8 yard pass and run 32 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown, giving the Colts a 30-10 lead. Jayron Hosley lined up opposite Wayne, trailed him by 3 yards, and made an attempt at a diving tackle that did not disrupt the veteran wide receiver’s dash to the end zone.
On the second play of the ensuing drive, Manning was sacked by Newsome, who beat Will Beatty to the outside, and the ball was jarred from his hand as he was trying to throw it. Safety Sergio Brown returned it to the Giants 4 yard line and Luck found an uncovered Allen for the two plays later as the Giants defense was zeroed in on Bradshaw, intent on not allowing their former teammate to score against them. There was no Giants defender within 5 yards of Allen who caught his 7th touchdown pass in 9 games. The competitive portion of the game was over as the Colts lead 37-10.
In the fourth quarter, Manning twice drove the Giants down the field against soft Indianapolis coverage for touchdowns to Donnell and rookie wide receiver Corey Washington, who saw some rare snaps on offense. Vinatieri added another field goal, this on for 43 yards, making the final 40-24 Indianapolis. With 2:29 left, Beckham came up half a yard short on a 4th and 10, snuffing out any hope of a miracle rally. The game was not as close as the final score would indicate.
Washington, the preseason sensation, caught 4 of 6 passes for 48 yards and the touchdown, and looked impressive in limited action. Given the poor performance by Parker, it’s time to give the rookie his shot at the third receiver job and some on the job training to see if he can make a splash and spark the offense with his height and speed.
Beckham’s performance has elevated him to number one receiver status for the Giants, a role that Randle has assumed when Victor Cruz was lost for the season with a knee injury. Randle has shown unequivocally that he is not a number one receiver and was effectively taken out of the game by top Colts cornerback Vontae Davis. Starting next week, opponents will shift coverage to blanket Beckham and provide Randle more opportunities to make plays, assuming he is in sync with Manning.
The Giants travel to Seattle for a short turnaround contest with the Seahawks. While they are still firmly entrenched in the race for the NFC East and the NFC Wild Card, this team did not look like a playoff contender or mid season integrated team that is hitting it’s stride. Injuries are robbing the roster of talent week by week, and the 2014 season is slipping away before our very eyes.
Seats are growing warmer under both Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin as the team is not only losing, but looking less and less competitive as the season progresses. The saving grace for the two may be the infusion of young talent from the 2014 draft, Reese’s best since the fabled 2007 draft that powered the Super Bowl 42 victory, and the mounting injuries. Competing in the National Football League is virtually impossible if opponents have a significant talent advantage every week.
Michael Strahan received his Hall of Fame ring at halftime of last night’s game and was inducted into the Giants ring of honor. Almost one hundred former Giants, including Hall of Famers Harry Carson, Lawrence Taylor, and Frank Gifford turned out to support the wildly popular Strahan, and it was thought that the presence of so many Giants greats would inspire the team. For a while, it appeared to have inspired the defense, but without support from the offense, they wore down and gave up 443 yards and 40 points.
The Seahawks are one of the teams ahead of the Giants in the Wild Card race, and they trail NFC West leading Arizona by 2 games. A loss will decimate the Giants chances at securing one of the two Wild Card spots and with losses to Dallas and Philadelphia already, the tiebreakers are not looking favorable for them.