The inactive list came out at 11:30 AM eastern time and on it were Michael Oher and Taylor Lewan of the Tennessee Titans. Nondescript names to casual fans, but as the starting offensive tackles for the Titans it meant that both backups would be pressed into starting roles. Having already lost Michael Roos for the season, the fourth and fifth options, Will Stivek and Byron Stingely would get the call. Tennessee also dressed only three wide receivers, Nate Washington, Derek Hagan, and Kris Durham. It was rare occasion in 2014 when the talent gap favored the Giants and the team took advantage, beating the Titans soundly, 36-7, snapping their seven game losing streak and, for a fleeting moment, brightening a dismal season.
The game was not all moonlight and roses as the Titans points came on an Eli Manning interception returned 23 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter by Marqueston Huff. The ill advised pass was intended for Larry Donnell on a third down when Manning moved to his left to escape pressure and floated the pass. Manning wanted to drop a touch pass over Huff to Donnell for the first down, but instead threw it directly to Huff who ran it back for the score. Although the score was 30-7 at the time, skeptics predicted another Giants second half collapse, but it did not materialize, and the team earned their 4th win of the season and 1st since early October.
The star of the game was again Odell Beckham who caught 11 of 15 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter that made the score 10-0 Giants. Fellow rookie Andre Williams, starting in place of the injured Rashad Jennings, added 131 yards and a touchdown of his own, on 24 carries. Jennings was used sparingly in the blowout, getting only 2 carries and 1 pass thrown in his direction. It was Williams show, and he ran hard and with purpose, showing growth and more patience than in his earlier starts.
New York dominated early, taking the opening kickoff and marching 78 yards in 14 plays before the drive stalled on the 2 yard line when Manning’s fade for Donnell fell incomplete in the back of end zone. After the defense forced a three and out on the Titans first drive, Manning engineered an all Beckham drive for the Giants first touchdown, hitting the receiver for gains of 50 and 7 yards before connecting on the 15 yard touchdown pass. Beckham dominated Titans top cornerback Jason McCourty, strengthening his case for Rookie of the Year honors.
After the team exchanged punts, Devon Kennard, another standout rookie, registered the first of his two sack on the day, jarring the ball loose, and defensive tackle Markus Kuhn picked it up and rumbled 26 yards down the left sideline for the touchdown, making the score 17-0 Giants and the rout was on.
Another defensive touchdown, an interception return by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was wiped off the scoreboard when Damontre Moore blocked a disinterested Titans quarterback Zack Mettenberger, drawing a flag. The interception stood, but the return was nullified. Moore’s lack of discipline is to blame for his low volume of snaps for the season. He jumped offsides on a 3rd and long last week against Jacksonville, and committed this thoughtless penalty taking points off the scoreboard. If not for multiple injuries, Moore would languish on the bench until the light bulb flips on for him.
Taking advantage of the Titans decimated offensive line, the Giants defense registered 8 sacks on the day and have 15 in the past two weeks, all coming against two of the most porous lines in the NFL. Tennessee gained just 207 yards on the day, including 61 yard rushing, with most of their offense coming when the outcome of the game was long decided. While a good result, it’s not an indication that the Giants defense is improved, but an indictment of the sorry state of the Titans, a team in much worse shape than the Giants.
Another black cloud on an otherwise sunny day was the Giants performance in the red zone. Converting only once in five drives, Josh Brown kicked four of his five field goals after drive stalled inside the Titans 20. Prior to this week, the Giants had been one of the leagues more effective teams, scoring touchdowns 2 out of every 3 trips into opponents red zone. The reliable Brown, who has missed only one field goal attempt on the season, bailed the Giants out.
Next week’s opponent, the Washington Redskins, were shut out yesterday by the St. Louis Rams, who the Giants play in two weeks, before closing out the season against the division leading Philadelphia Eagles. The Giants currently hold the 7th pick in the upcoming NFL draft, and Washington the 6th pick. A common topic of discussion among fans is should the Giants lost their remaining games to improve their draft position in 2015. While prevalent in fan thinking, that is so foreign to NFL player and coaches though processes that it never enters the equation. NFL team game plan and take the field with the intent to win every game from week 1 to week 17.
The competition for roster spots and coaching jobs is fierce and never ending. Starting with Black Monday, the day after the regular season concludes, coaching performance will be evaluated. Head coaches and entire staffs will be dismissed, hired, and adjusted. Team performance in these game reflects not only on the players, but on the position coaches that prepare them for the game. These men, if released from their contract will seek employment on those teams that hire new head coaches or coordinators for 2015.
The NFL draft is the main vehicle on which new talent enters the league. From the time a team is eliminated until the draft concludes on May 2, 2015, the primary focus of each NFL franchise will be evaluating their current roster and determining which players need to be upgraded or replaced. Every player drafted or signed as a free agent is intended to supplant one on the roster today. Player performance in these games will play a role in determining which positions the team drafts or signs as free agent to form their 2015 rosters. The player who is released or not re-signed stands to lose millions of dollars in earnings.
Consider these realities of NFL life when you talk of tanking games and putting that performance on game film. The decision to put a player deemed not ready to play in the NFL, which is apparently the case with Corey Washington, into a game, reflect poorly on Tom Coughlin, Ben McAdoo, and wide receivers coach Sean Ryan. A player seen as coasting through December may find himself jobless come March 11 when free agency opens.