Sunday, December 9, 2012
Rapid Reaction: Giants 52, Saints 27
By Dan Graziano
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A few thoughts on the New York Giants' 52-27 shootout victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
What it means: That the Giants are still in first place in the NFC East and in control of their own playoff destiny. Earlier in the day, the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys each came up with last-second victories to ensure that they would remain no more than one game back with three to go. So a loss would have dropped the Giants into a three-way tie for the division against teams that hold most of the tiebreaker advantages over them. With the win, the Giants stay one game in front and ensure that they can still win their second straight division title by winning the remainder of their games.
Super Stevie: Giants safety Stevie Brown, filling in once again for injured starter Kenny Phillips, forced a fumble and had two interceptions of Saints quarterback Drew Brees. He now has seven interceptions for the season, an incredible number for a player who was an afterthought when training camp started. The Giants' defense overall functions best when a healthy Phillips is playing safety, but what Brown has given them in Phillips' place has been like oxygen to a defense that's survived on its ability to generate turnovers.
Running game: Until the final 10 minutes of the game, the Giants didn't do much in the run game against a Saints defense that came into the game as the worst run defense in the league. Part of the problem was an early knee injury sustained by starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who came back into the game on and off but ceded significant carries to rookie David Wilson. The Giants moved the ball through the air in this one and couldn't get a rhythm going in the run game. It's something on which they've been working for nearly two full seasons now, and the Giants remain frustrated that they can't get this aspect of their offense together.
Rookie buzz: Wilson returned a kickoff for a touchdown, the first time in his career he's done that, and had an overall stellar day on kick returns. He also ran for a 52-yard garbage-time touchdown with a little more than five minutes left in the game to pad the Giants' rushing totals. He's been a speedy, explosive playmaker all year in the return game, and if Bradshaw isn't able to go next week, the Giants likely will feel fine about elevating Wilson to the starting role. It's possible he's coming on at just the right time.
Eli's humming: Giants quarterback Eli Manning had some shaky moments, and his two interceptions helped the Saints hang around for a while. But he was more good than bad in this one, throwing touchdown passes to four different receivers and moving the ball effectively when he needed to. The drive that led to a Domenik Hixon touchdown at the tail end of the first half was vintage Manning and gave the Giants a big boost with an eight-point halftime lead instead of a one-pointer.
Something to work on: The Giants' defense still looks too leaky at times, and this was the second week in a row they got gashed in the run game. They entered the game ranked 22nd in the league in total defense but tied for third in turnover differential, which has been the key to any success they've had on defense. We've seen teams win championships with this kind of bend-don't-break-but-force-turnovers defense. The Saints of three years ago were a stellar example, in fact. But with their playoff spot still not secured, the Giants would do well to find more consistency in the area of actually stopping teams from gaining yards over the coming weeks.
Injury update: Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara left the game in the fourth quarter with a hamstring injury, which obviously bears watching. Amukamara has been the Giants' best cornerback this year, and during his brief NFL career he has not so far shown himself to be a quick healer.
What's next: The Giants travel to face the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. The Falcons are 11-2 and the clear front-runners for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs, though they did lose to Carolina on Sunday and have wobbled a bit of late. They are 6-0 at home this year and 32-7 at the Georgia Dome over the past five seasons.