For the second time, the Patriots suffered a gut wrenching SB loss to Eli Manning and the N.Y. Giants. As was the case in 2007, this loss will mar what was otherwise a great season. I will now take on the unhappy task of summarizing the game, with the following grades:I. OFFENSE:
After gaining a 17-9 lead, this unit couldn't score a point in the final 26:20 of the game. The lack of a quality deep threat, and the obvious limitations of TE Rob Gronkowski really hurt the cause.1.) QB:
Many will blame this loss on Tom Brady. But, aside from the intentional grounding penalty he took in the end zone, which gift-wrapped two points for the Giants, and his seemingly obligatory interception, I thought he played pretty well. It was painfully obvious that Tom's chief weapon, TE Rob Gronkowski, was severely hampered by his high ankle sprain. That gave Tom only two receivers to look for...Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez. Brady would aim 22 of his 39 passes in their direction.
Though Tom was under some pressure, he was generally given ample time to throw. One of those times when pressured, he under-threw a prayer in the direction of the wounded Gronk, resulting in his aforementioned pick.
It appeared that Tom's main problem today was that he had no open receivers to throw to. Its' not easy having to consistently thread short passes over the middle to double covered receivers, through a maze of arms of huge lineman...as Tom had to do for most of the today. Again, unlike the Brady who spreads the ball around to multiple receivers, 22 of his 39 passes went to two men...again indicating that his other receivers weren't getting open.
Folks, despite his mistakes, Tom was just a play away from being named the SB MVP. That play occurred with 3:46 remaining in the game. The Patriots had a 17-15 lead, and were facing a 2nd and 11, from the Giants' 44 yard line. Brady dropped back, and uncorked a deep pass to an open Wes Welker, at the Giants' 21 yard line. Though his pass was a bit high and a bit behind Wes, it was a catchable ball, that Welker could have caught. Unfortunately, the ball clanked off his hands. This unfortunate incompletion would allow Eli Manning an opportunity to beat the Patriots again, with a closing 88 yard TD drive.
That heartache aside, Tom led the Patriots on a SB record 96 yard TD drive to open up the second half. During this drive, he set another SB record by completing 10 passes in 10 tries, accounting for 86 of the 96 yards.
For the game, Tom finished with 27 completions in 41 attempts, for 276 yards. Had Welker made that catch, Tom would have had 28 completions for 299 yards, two TDs and a pick...and would have had the opportunity to add on to those stats, continuing a drive from the N.Y. 21 yard line. What a difference one play can make!
Credit Tom for a good "get in the way type" block, to spring Welker on a 11 yard end around run. Finally, on the games' final play, Tom delivered as good a Hail Mary throw as can be made. It almost deflected into the arms of Rob Gronkowski, in the end zone:GRADE: B;
BJGE played okay, finishing with 44 yards on 10 carries. Though dependable, Benny is clearly limited by his lack of break-away ability. Though Danny Woodhead had his moments as a receiver, finishing with 4 catches for 42 yards and a TD, he only was able to muster 18 yards rushing, on 7 carries.
Folks, Tom Brady needs more help from his RBs, when facing the good teams with good defenses. One has to wonder what kind a damage a Corey Dillon type RB might have been able to inflict on the Giants' defense. Hopefully, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen will upgrade the RB stable. But, the jury is very much out on them:GRADE: C+;
A much better effort by the Big Uglies, than the one against the Giants four years ago. Still, Justin Tuck continued to haunt them. He registered two sacks, and three QB hits. Though Jason Pierre-Paul was held without a sack, he had two pass deflections, a QB hit, and a tackle for loss. In all, Tom was hit eight times, and eight is quite enough. But, when you consider that the Giants are the premiere pass-rushing team in the league, that's not too shabby. No OL is going to shut them completely down. The majority of the sacks and QB hits seemed to develop as a result of receivers not getting open, rather than missed assignments, or poor play.
The big guys may get criticized for not opening holes for the rushing attack. But, that's not the Patriots' game, and, as discussed above, they currently don't have a stud RB on the roster with breakaway ability, or one capable of wearing opposing defenses down:GRADE: B;
4.) TEs and WRs:
The Giants should give that no good Bernard Pollard an SB share for tonights' SB win. Gronk's much publicized high ankle sprain obviously limited him. When is the last time that we've seen Tom Brady target him just three (3) times? When have we seen him held to just two (2) catches, for 26 yards?
Perhaps the most telling Gronk play came in the 4th quarter, when the Giants were single covering him deep over the middle with MLB Chase Blackburn. Gronk normally eats LBs for lunch on such plays. But Blackburn was able to stay with him, and pick off the Brady prayer, thrown in Gronk's direction. Nor was Gronk able to provide much help via run blocking.
Aaron Hernandez made a valiant effort to carry the load himself. But, Gronk's ineffectiveness, along with the lack of a deep threat, made it hard for Hernandez to register his trademark YAC (yards after catch). He finished with eight hard-nosed receptions for 67 yards, and a TD. His TD reception capped off the above mentioned 96 yard Patriots' drive, to open the second half.
Poor Wes Welker. For the game, Wes caught seven of the eight passes thrown his way, for 60 yards. But oh...that one that got away: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/video-wes-welker-drop-probably-cost-patriots-super-032151155.html
Deion Branch chipped in with three catches for 45 yards, while Chad Ochocinco made his last catch in a Patriots' uniform, gaining 21 yards. It was the longest pass play of the day for the Pats.GRADE: C-; II. DEFENSE:
Once again, the "D" couldn't stop Eli Manning in the final few minutes, as he led his team on a game winning, 88 yard drive. There were no miraculous "helmet catch", or Eli sack escaping this time. It was simply great execution by a great QB, and a good set of WRs.
Time of possession heavily favored the G-men, who held the ball for 11:18 of the first quarter (thanks partially to the Brady intentional-grounding safety), 8:00 in the second quarter, 9:38 of the 3rd quarter, and 7:42 in the 4th quarter...for a whopping 37:05 to 22:55 time of possession advantage.
Credit the "D" for holding the N.Y. offense to FGs on a couple of second half drives. If, prior to this game, you knew that the Giants' offense would be held to 21 points, I dare say that most of you would have been delighted. Though the Pats lost against to Big Blue, there was a lot to like from the play of some of their young defensive players:1.) DL:
Unfortunately, Vince Wilfolk didn't repeat his super human performance of two weeks ago. He did draw a questionable holding penalty, which killed a N.Y. drive. Other than that, the Giants OL did a good job of keeping him in check.
But, DE Mark Anderson was another story. He continued his superlative late season play by registering five (5) tackles, three (3) of which were solos, and 1.5 sacks. Youngster Brandon Deaderick held his own, and also contributed a sack. Though RBs Brandon Jacobs (9 carries for 37 yards) and Ahmad Bradshaw (17 carries for 72 yards) were effective, they weren't dominant. It's hard to focus on the run, when playing against Eli Manning and his greyhounds:GRADE: B;
Brandon Spikes was outstanding. He, along with Jerod Mayo, registered a team high 11 tackles each, of which eight (8) were solos for each. It might have been Spikes' best game as a Patriot. His addition to the defense has added an element of toughness and physicality to the squad. He may evolve into a Ray Lewis type player.
Rob Ninkovich had his moments, with 4 tackles (3 solos), a half a sack, and two QB hits. He also appeared to do a nice job in coverage. But, his offside penalty with 13 minutes to play in the game was a major mistake. At that time, the Giants were facing a 3rd and 7, from their own 11 yard line. Manning threw an incomplete pass, which would have forced a punt, and likely given the Patriots great field position. But, the off-sides call gave Eli a second chance. He would convert on a 3rd and 2. This ended up costing the Patriots about 50 yards in field position:GRADE: B; 3.) SECONDARY:
Eli Manning's numbers were impressive, as he completed 30 of 40 passes for 296 yards, a TD, and no interceptions. He was deserving of the games' MVP award.
So, what can you say about a secondary that allows a 75% completion rate? When considering that the "D" allowed the high octane Giants' offense to score only two TDs, that's a pretty fair days work.
Unfortunately, todays' loss was a virtual replica of the regular season loss to the Giants, back in November. The offense only put up 16 points on that day, and only put up 17 today.
Hakeem Nicks got his catches and yards...finishing with 10 receptions for 109 yards. But, his longest play was only 19 yards. Patrick Chung led a good day of tackling by this unit. It shut down Victor Cruz (4 catches for 25 yards, and a TD), and limited the Giants' receivers YAC (yards after catch). Chung had 6 tackles (2 solos), and a couple of bruising hits. Devin McCourty added seven (7) tackles, and Sterling Moore had his moments. Kyle Arrington allowed himself to be bowled over by FB Henry Hynoski on a 13 yard play. But, other than that, this unit contained the Giants' receivers very well.
The key play of the Giants' game winning march came on a the initial play of that drive, when Manning hooked up with Mario Manningham on a 38 yard play. It moved the ball from the Giants' 12 yard line, to mid-field. On the play. it appeared that the Pats' had Manningham blanketed down the left sideline. But, Manning threw a perfect pass, and Manningham somehow caught it, while managing to keep his feet in bounds.
It was a case of good coverage being beaten by better execution. Take that huge play away, and Manning's stats would have read 29 of 40, for just 258 yards.
But, Manning and Manningham made the play...while Wes Welker couldn't come down with a quality catch, only seconds before. The Giants executing a key play in the clutch, while the Patriots could not, was the difference in this heart-breaking loss.GRADE: B;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS:
Despite playing in a dome, Stephen Goskowski was unable to drive the ball through the end zone, after the Pats had jumped out to a 17-9 3rd quarter lead. This resulted in a 35 yard kickoff return by rookie speedster, Jerrel Jernigan. This return gave the Giants good field position. They would subsequently convert it into a FG, cutting the Pats lead to 17-12.
Punter Zoltan Mesko did an okay job of punting...but the Patriots were hurt by three Steve Weatherford punts, which pinned them inside their own 10 yard line. One of which led to a safety on the Brady intentional grounding play.
Decent job of kick returning by Julian Edelman. But, no big plays on special teams didn't help the cause:GRADE: C;
Yes, this was a loss. But, I don't know what else BB and his staff could have done better. They contained the lethal Giants' passing attack, and all but shut down the dangerous Victor Cruz.
On offense, inability of Rob Gronkowski to Gronk on the Giants really hurt. The trio of Gronk, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker have camouflaged the Patriots' weakness at WR all season. But, with Gronk severely limited, it reared it's ugly head. With Gronk reduced to a decoy, the Giants were able to focus heavily on Hernandez and Welker...knowing that the Pats' passing attack had to go through them.
As I've mentioned repeatedly above, of Tom Brady's 39 passes, 22 of them were to Aaron and Wes. That's not Patriots' football...and that's not Tom Brady. Something major must be done to remedy this situation next season...as both Ochonoshow and Deion Branch need to be replaced.
The bottom line is that the Patriots played well in a losing cause. BB, Brady, and the defense put the team in position to win this game. Despite the inability of Gronk to Gronkulate, and the talent of the opposition, the Pats were, as they were four years ago, a play away from winning this game. Unfortunately, the Giants made the key play when needed, and the Patriots did not. That's why the G-men are sipping champagne tonight, while the Pats are swilling beer.
For the second time in four years, the Pats and we Pats' lovers must endure the gut-wrenching pain and frustration of knowing what might have been:GRADE: A;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME:
The above mentioned 38 yard Manning to Manningham completion, which set up the Giants' game winning score.VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME:
Eli Manning, for his clutch play, and error free performance. He was a deserving choice for the games' MVP.
Here are the game stats: http://espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=320205017
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome.
Congratulations to the World Champion N.Y. Giants, and their fans.
I also want to thank our New England Patriots for a gallant effort, albeit in a losing cause...and for a wonderful, exciting season. Despite this loss, the 2011 Patriots did themselves proud. They have nothing to be ashamed of.