November 15, 2004 Edition > Section: Sports
Giants and Jets Moving Backward
BY SEAN LAHMAN
Months from now when the time comes to evaluate the Giants' 2004 season, we will point to yesterday's loss in Arizona as the turning point. It was a game the Giants should have won, a game in which they dominated early, and a game that ultimately showed that this team hasn't come as far as we might like to believe.
On their first two possessions, the Giants looked like Super Bowl contenders. Their offensive line was having its way with Arizona's front seven, and the Giants used their potent ground game to set up some intermediate length passes and two quick touchdowns. In short, they looked unstoppable on two straight 80-yard drives.
After that quick start, they looked and played like the 2003 Giants, a team bent on self-destruction and unable to avoid the litany of mistakes that would eventually hand a victory to the opposing team. The Giants offense only managed one drive of more than 25 yards the rest of the way, and that drive ended with a blocked field goal.
The Cardinals' blitz was relentless in the second half, and tackles Luke Petitgout and David Diehl struggled to contain the pressure coming from the outside. Still, quarterback Kurt Warner did nothing to adjust and seemed incapable of doing much more than hanging on to the ball and avoiding injury.
Tiki Barber ended the day with 108 yards, but managed only 28 yards on nine carries in the second half. Because the passing game wasn't working, the Cardinals could commit defenders to stopping Barber and put the burden on Warner to make big plays in order for the Giants to win. Warner has done a good job of protecting leads this year, but when the pressure is on him to produce points, he's simply not up to the job.
The Giants defense played well for most of the day; they held the Cardinals to 178 yards of total offense. Despite the absence of Michael Strahan, they got good pressure on quarterback Josh McCown and held him to 90 passing yards on the afternoon. They also held Emmitt Smith to 3.5 yards per carry.
Yet the defense was not immune from the Giants' self-destructive tendencies, committing several huge penalties. Three in particular helped keep Arizona scoring drives alive - a roughing-the-passer penalty on Carlos Emmons, and flags for pass interference and illegal use of hands thrown against Will Peterson. Despite those miscues, Big Blue still held their opponents to 17 points, and as head coach Tom Coughlin said after the game, when your defense does that you ought to be able to win. The fact remains, however, that the Giants have not won a game this season when their defense has given up more than 14 points.
After starting the season with a 4-1 record, the Giants emerged from their bye week to lose three of four games. In each of the three losses, the team jumped to an early lead against an inferior opponent, only to come unglued and lose the game because of their own mistakes.
Making matters worse, the Giants now embark on an extremely tough stretch of their schedule, with four of their next five opponents likely heading to the postseason. It starts with home games against the 7-2 Falcons and the 7-1 Eagles over the next two weeks. With a 5-4 record, the Giants' own playoff hopes are beginning to fade.
The Jets' 20-17 loss to the Ravens yesterday was eerily similar to the Giants game. The Jets jumped out to a quick lead only to lose all of their momentum and blow a game that they could have won. Unlike their NFC brethren, though, the Jets still have reason to believe they can contend for a postseason berth.
Playing without quarterback Chad Pennington for the first time this year, the Jets didn't seem to lose a beat when forced to turn to backup Quincy Carter. From the outset yesterday, they relied on the same offensive strategies that have worked for them this year, running a steady diet of draws and misdirection plays with Curtis Martin. Against the super-aggressive Ravens defense, that strategy was effective and helped the Jets build an early 14-0 lead. The ground game set up the play-action passing game, and Carter's 47-yard pass to Santana Moss had the Jets in the red zone, threatening to put the game out of reach before halftime.
The momentum changed completely when the Jets abandoned their smash-mouth running game and tried to get cute. On a halfback option play, LaMont Jordan lofted a pass into a sea of Ravens defenders. Safety Ed Reed made the interception and returned it 78 yards, setting up a touchdown pass by Kyle Boller that drew the Ravens to within a touchdown.
The Ravens would score 17 unanswered points, taking the lead in the fourth quarter. The Jets' offense disappeared in the second half, as the offensive line struggled to get the same kind of push at the line of scrimmage. They finally got things moving late in the fourth quarter, when they put together a 52-yard drive that left them with a 3rd-and-goal from the Baltimore 3-yard line with eight seconds left.
The crowd booed when the Jets elected to kick a field goal rather than running another play. It's easy to point a finger at the poor clock management in that last series and say the Jets squandered a chance to win the game late. But the reality is that they played poorly throughout the second half of a game they should have won.
The Jets offense punted on their first five possessions of the second half, totaling just 28 yards of offense. Curtis Martin had 14 carries after halftime and was held to three yards or less 11 times. The Jets won the coin toss to start overtime, but twice went three-and-out, giving the Ravens the ball near midfield each time. In that situation, Baltimore's game-winning field goal was inevitable.
After back-to-back losses, the Jets have a chance to rebound with three straight games against teams with losing records (Browns, Cardinals, Texans). The Jets don't need Carter to throw touchdown passes to win; Pennington threw only nine in his eight starts. The Jets win because of their defense and their running game, and as long as they continue to do those things well, they'll survive Pennington's absence.