Sunday, December 19, 2010

Put Your Fours Up

A lot of football teams raise four fingers between the third and fourth quarters. Each might have slightly different terminology, but they all center around the same basic concepts: winning time, finish, leave it all on the field, etc. The fourth quarter is where games get won and lost, especially in the National Football League.

Today the New York Giants played the single worst fourth quarter I can ever remember seeing. They did not put their fours up.

Considering the opposition and the magnitude of the game, the first half was probably the Giants' best first half of the entire season. Despite being without Steve Smith - one of their most reliable players on either side of the football - this was the most healthy the Giants had been as a team in weeks. They dominated the Eagles in virtually every way imaginable on their way to a 24-3 halftime lead. That score held until just under the 4 minute mark in the 3rd quarter, when a Giants turnover deep in their own territory lead to the Eagles first touchdown of the day, making it 24-10. Holding the Eagles to 10 points in the first 41+ minutes of football isn't just a huge effort, but it should spell a win.

Indeed, fear not as the Giants were able to answer strongly with a touchdown of their own to stretch the lead back to 31-10 with just over 8 minutes to go in the 4th. There was nothing Philly could do to shake them. It looked like it was going to be a statement win, the first signature victory in the new stadium.

The last 8:17 of this game is almost impossible to explain. It pretty much has to be for a team to average a touchdown every 2 minutes and 4 seconds not just against one of the best defenses in the NFL, but a top 10 offense as well. Surely, even if the defense faltered there is no way the offense would give a team that much opportunity to score, right? And even if the offense gave them a number of chances there is no way the defense wouldn't get at least as many stops as they needed to win with that kind of cushion, right?

Wrong and wrong. They had what was seemingly their first defensive breakdown all day, missing a tackle and allowing Brent Celek to get free for a 65 yard touchdown. Then they were inexplicably totally exposed to an onside kick. I mean, down 14 with 7:28 to go, the thought was in my head that maybe they would try something. I'm not suggesting to line up for it if they don't, but you have to at least be prepared enough that the ball can't hang up in the air for as long as it did without a Giant even being in the area. Good execution, but you can't let that happen. Defense still had a chance to stop them, couldn't do it. Up 7, the offense showed the beginnings of an answer, driving all the way to the Philadelphia 40, but didn't to what it needed to get into range to make it a two score game again. Even still, a good punt gave the Eagles an 88 yard field with 3:01 to play. At home, the Giants needed one stop and the game was probably over. Instead Vick, who the Giants did a great job on all game to this point, ran for 53 yards on two plays. EVEN STILL, the Giants got the ball back, tie game, with all 3 timeouts, at their 36 yard line after a good return. They get 30-35 or so yards and they have a very makable field goal to make all of this meaningless. Instead they go 3 and out and leave time on the clock. Then, of course, with Jackson back to return the kick, all they need to do is kick the ball out of bounds and they are probably going to overtime, where they could regroup and again try to make all of this meaningless. Instead the punt goes almost right to Jackson and, despite bobbling it initially, he returns it for a game winning touchdown with no time on the clock.

A lot has been and will continue to be said about the punt not going out of bounds. And don't get me wrong, that is inexplicable. Dodge was told to kick the ball out of bounds and he didn't. But the Giants should have never gotten to that point. The Eagles scored 28 points in the last 7:28, and outscored the Giants 35-7 over the final 18:56. They had a ton of chances to close the game and didn't do it. The punt situation was a complete embarrassment and should have given them the chance to go to overtime, but they should have closed the door long before that. It's not an excuse for the punt, just a reminder that all of the attention should not be on that despite it being the most dramatic mistake at the end of the game.

This was yet another lesson that, especially in football, you don't completely change your gameplan with a lead. Particularly in a game like that has this many important implications. The Giants scored at will through the air in the first half, and got decidedly more conservative with their play calling in the second half. I'm not sure if the defense was tired from the short week, was worn down from their effort in keeping all of Philly's big play machines under wraps for the first 3 quarters, just got reckless schematically, some combination of these or something else, but it certainly seemed like all of the above. It's one thing for a defense to play above it's head for 3 quarters and finally give in. It's an entirely different thing for a defense this good to be that dominant for more than 3 quarters and out of nowhere start giving up big easy play after big easy play. Over, and over, and over again. The offense disappeared, the defense disappeared, and special teams had two key breakdowns. If any one of these things in any one of the three areas of the game doesn't happen, the Giants win the game. All three things happened at once, and now the Giants, despite still controlling their own destiny, do not have an easy road with away games at Green Bay and Washington to close the season. It should have been a lot easier, but it wasn't because the Giants had one of the worst 4th quarters you can put together. Honestly, a team tried to play that poorly it wouldn't be easy to accomplish. Complete and utter meltdown in every phase of the game at the most important time of the game.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

PF

I'm not qualified to talk about Giants football (but then again, I'm not qualified to talk about much of the stuff I do on this space), so instead I'm going to talk about the NBA.

We had some back and forth last spring about the ebb and flow of the quality of the NBA over the past two decades or so. I argued that aesthetically the old Knicks teams were awful and that fans agreed with that as ratings dropped at the same rate that scoring did. You vehemently disagreed.

Now, you've watched the Knicks all year. You especially watched the Celtics/Knicks game last week. Wasn't that better than watching Anthony Mason and PJ Brown trade bricks in an 81-76 Heat win? I'm sure you'll tell me that you don't care how your team gets to 50 wins, as long as they do it, but I can't imagine that you really believe that after watching what the Knicks have done this year. They aren't just good. They are entertaining. They are fun. 118-116 and 81-76 both go into the loss column. But that doesn't make them the same.

--the Gunn

PF said...

after yesterday, i'm not sure i'm ready to dive into this discussion, but i'll take a shot.

i'm in the middle. first, i think my argument was a bit more multifaceted. my main beef wasn't necessarily one way or the other on style of play (although i did have an opinion) as much as it was the notion that the knicks were solely responsible for this league-wide trend. they certainly weren't the first team to play that way (look at the eastern conference in the late 80s, lead by the pistons), and there were a lot of teams playing a lot of other brands of basketball (i don't think anyone is ever going to confuse jordan's bulls, hakeem's rockets, or stockton/malone's jazz as playing the same way the knicks did). and let's remember, those were the defining teams of the 90's, not the knicks. they had consistently good teams but ultimately made it to two finals (the second of which they essentially played 4 guards because ewing was hurt, a totally different style of play than the first with sprewell and houston getting out in transition) but never won anything. it was really the knicks, heat, and to a lesser extent pacers slugging it out in their own little world. this wasn't a prevailing theme in the nba - jordan was - and i'd argue that the drama that knicks/pacers and knicks/heat offered nicely supplemented the main stories/teams in the nba at that time. at least i'd be interested if two teams i didn't root for were going down to the last minute in every game and getting in fights every other, no matter how much/little they were scoring. this was really my main point, that the knicks weren't solely responsible and certainly this wasn't a league wide trend. jordan was driving the nba, not the knicks.

PF said...

second, are the knicks exciting? sure. is the nba more popular now for the average fan than it would be if there were less household names and less scoring? yes. was the knicks/celtics game a lot of fun to watch? without question. but as great as that game was offensively, it was an exercise in defensive futility. at one point, in the 4th quarter of all times, the two teams combined to score on something like 20 out of 22 possessions. and while that's exciting, i want to see some defense. somebody foul somebody if you can't stop them. maybe i'm old school in this regard, but i'm willing to sacrifice a little bit of offensive excitement to really see people dig in on defense. this may not pander to the masses from a ratings perspective, but that's what i want to see. the knicks can't stop anybody and that ultimately gives them a very real ceiling. just as the 90's knicks had a ceiling because despite the way they dominated the defensive end of the floor and the backboards they didn't consistently have players besides ewing that could get them baskets at winning time. so for me it's less about excitement and more about striking a balance on both ends of the floor that results in the most winning.

i love the excitement around the nba right now, i really do. i'd rather have the average fan be into it than not because it's good for the league. but the nba as a whole is weaker in my eyes right now than it was in the 90's. maybe i'm biased, because that was the era i grew up in, and i had the pleasure of watching jordan. but it has absolutely nothing to do with the knicks. if you swapped the knicks now with the knicks then it wouldn't change my point of view. and that's because the knicks didn't define what i loved so much about the nba during that period. the bulls and jazz did. you had teams with mega-talents that were completely proficient on the offensive end of the floor, but really dug in and played hard and got stops. there was a balance to those teams, balance that the knicks lacked then and still lack now, albeit in different ways. i look around the nba now and, despite the excitement, there isn't enough hard-nosed and defensive minded play. i'm not saying guys don't play extremely hard - they do. but i don't see enough teams that can score on you and then are going to turn around and really pride themselves in stopping you. to me that's what the 90's was all about, and therefore in my opinion that was the best basketball i've seen in my lifetime.

PF said...

so i guess to summarize, i don't see why we can't have both. why we can't have a balance between the 90's knicks and the offensive minded play in the nba today? i don't think either of those things are bad. i enjoyed watching the 90's knicks and i enjoy watching the game today. but together they are even better. and in my eyes those things were teamed up on those elite teams in the 90's, and that's why i loved the nba so much during that time, not necessarily because of the knicks, although as i mentioned for me those teams were really exciting because of the drama they created, especially in the playoffs.

Anonymous said...

PF

I'm with you about the balance, and honestly, I think we're closer to that point than most people realize. This is not the 80's reincarnate. And it's not 1998, either. A prime example is the Celtics/Knicks. That game, while the score was high (118-116) was not nearly the shoot-out that it would have been 20 years ago (I specifically remember the Celtics winning a playoff game against New York by a score of 157-128). Moreover, you mention that it was an exhibition of defensive futility, but I disagree on that point--the Celtics are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They give up the second fewest points in the league at just under 92 a game. That's great defense. The thing with that game last week that seems to get lost in this discussion is that both teams just really executed on offense. They moved the ball. Individuals made great and/or difficult shots. When you play that style of offense you will be successful against even the best defenses and that's exactly what we saw with the C's/Knicks.

--the Gunn

PF said...

i'm not disparaging the celtics defensively overall. they are one of the best defensive teams in the league. and i agree that both teams made plays and made shots and that counteracts even the best defensive efforts. but neither of those teams took refuse to be scored on mentalities in my opinion. and i think that is a prevailing theme in the nba. there are some very capable defensive teams out there, and they show it from time to time, especially later in the season. but it's all about offense. these guys are all friends with each other and they don't consistently get after each other on the defensive end. which again is not a style i have an issue with or don't enjoy. i just prefer a brand of basketball where teams really dig in and play hard nosed to get stops. whether we saw that in the knicks/celtics game last week or not, we definitely don't see it across the nba to the extent we did in the 90's, and that was something i enjoyed. i agree we are moving back towards that balanced direction, but i don't think we are there yet. i don't think the nba now is what it was in the 90's. and maybe that's not a fair comparison because of jordan. outside of jordan, there is no doubt that this is the most superstar talent that has been in the league in one time since jordan's era, and that's exciting. now i think it's just about taking that next step and really getting teams to mix it up on the defense end on a consistent basis. just my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Pat,

Tough loss yesterday. The Raiders have lost some tough ones during my time as a fan but yesterday was especially brutal since the Giants are supposed to be good. Philly has a ton of speed- personally I think they are too inconsistent to win the Superbowl.

Big game tonight in the NBA- Mavs/Heat. We'll see if Dirk and co show up on the road.


Bandi