NFC East: Giants-Browns
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
So much for the Giants running away with the NFC East. From the start, you could tell the Browns had more energy than the Giants. I thought the score late in the first half would give New York some momentum, but Eli Manning came back and threw an interception.
He'd done a superb job of limiting his mistakes in the first four games, but he had a miserable night against a pedestrian secondary. Even after all the mistakes, the Giants had a chance to get back in the game in the fourth quarter but the Browns' defense kept making big plays in the red zone.
Tom Coughlin said after the game that he didn't see this coming. The defense didn't put enough pressure on Derek Anderson, giving time to make plays downfield to Braylon Edwards. I was startled to see a graphic late in the game that the Giants didn't force a single punt in the game. This is one of the best defenses in football, but they were dominated by the Browns' offensive line Monday.
Cleveland did a great job of committing to the running game and Jamal Lewis finished with 88 yards on 21 carries. The running game opened up the play-action pass and Edwards finished with five catches and 154 yards.
The Giants thrive on sacks, but they were shut out Monday. The Browns used a lot of three-step drops in the first half to keep them off balance. The Browns couldn't afford to fall to 1-4, and they turned that desperation into a positive.
Overall, it was a pretty rough weekend for the NFC East. The Giants will host the 49ers next Sunday, so they should be able to improve to 5-1. Something tells me they won't get caught looking past San Francisco.
The New York Giants can't stand prosperity. The Super Bowl parade through the Canyon of Heroes had barely ended when adversity came knocking again.
One of the intriguing subplots to the Giants' remarkable Super Bowl run was the fact that quarterback Eli Manning flourished without Pro Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey in the huddle. The Giants dismissed this as purely coincidental in public, but behind closed doors, they realized that Shockey's immense talent was no longer a match for his immaturity.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Giants coach Tom Coughlin has kept the team focused on putting the team first -- with the help of a few t-shirts.|
As the Giants (4-0) prepare to take the national stage against the Browns on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," they've been dealing with more adversity. The problem for the Browns, apparently one of the league's most confident 1-3 teams, is that the Giants seem to function best when they are faced with distractions.
Over the past couple of seasons, they've dealt with Tiki Barber's long goodbye, Michael Strahan's indecision, Coughlin's job status, Osi Umenyiora's season-ending knee injury, and most recently, the suspension of star receiver Plaxico Burress.
So what gives? Why does this team seem to be at its best when the distractions mount?
"Sometimes adversity can be a good thing," defensive end Justin Tuck told me via phone Saturday. "Adversity makes you lean on the guy next to you even more. When Plaxico was suspended, we just leaned on [Domenik] Hixon a little more. It's almost uncanny with some of our guys. We have strong pipes when it comes to handling pressure. And we don't bust our pipes.
Tuck embodies the team concept that Coughlin preaches. He's very respectful of what Strahan accomplished, but he was unfazed by the prospect of replacing him. And he didn't flinch when the team's lone Pro Bowler from last season's Super Bowl team, Umenyiora, went down with the knee injury.
"I knew we had a lot of talented players around us," he said. "You put some of those guys on other teams and they would be marquee names."
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
I just spoke with Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, and he's not taking the bait on the trash talk coming from the Cleveland Browns' locker room. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that a Browns defensive player said that 270-pound running back Brandon Jacobs will start "tip-toeing" if he gets hit in the mouth. Folks, this is one of the most confident 1-3 teams I've encountered. Here's what Tuck had to say:
"Honestly, we don't pay attention to that crap," he said. "We've got a huge running back and a great offensive line that is helping us lead the country in rushing. I don't fault the guy for saying something, because he's probably trying to rile up his teammates. But we don't pay any mind to that stuff."
My column on the Giants will appear on the blog at some point Sunday. Until then, have a wonderful weekend.
The New York Giants were kind enough to forward a transcript of Eli Manning's phone conference from Wednesday Here's the transcript in its entirety. Oh, and it's with the reporters who cover the Browns on a regular basis.
You guys talked about coming out strong the next season after the Super Bowl. Is this about as good as you could have imagined things going so far?
Yeah, I would say so. We are 4-0, we feel like we are playing pretty good football, we are finding ways to win close games, and then I think we are playing consistent football and that was kind of our goal coming in. Avoid the bad plays, avoid the mistakes, and that is what we are doing. We are playing smart football and we have obviously worked hard and worked at becoming a better team. We still have a long season left, we still have a lot of games to play, and it starts this week on Monday night at Cleveland versus a good team. We know we have to keep going and keep this determination, keep the work ethic in check, and make sure we are doing all the right things to prepare ourselves for every game.
Do you think the work you guys put in is the biggest key?
I think we have always worked hard. I think it is just a matter of just trying to continue to work and don't get satisfied with where we were as a team last year knowing that we can become a better team. I think looking at the things we did not do as well and in looking at the reasons why we were playing well at the end of the season, it was because we just eliminated the mistakes and that is what we are doing. We are not having the penalties, we are not having the turnovers, we don't have many negative plays, we are in good down and distances, we are not forcing things, and we are able to just play within ourselves, and our defense is obviously playing outstanding football. We are not forced into bad situations and hopefully we can keep that up.
Hasn't your offense evolved into more than just avoiding bad plays and instead you are on the attack and you expect big plays? This isn't a defensive offense?
No, and the thing is we have always had the ability to make big plays and we have always made big plays, but sometimes we had so many negative plays where we had penalties or we had just some bad football being played at times where the big plays kind of cancelled out the too many bad plays we had. It is just a matter of, hey, let's just play consistent football, let's play smart, let's just kind of do what we are supposed to do and naturally those big plays will happen. We have athletes; we have good players, so those things are going to happen and we take advantage of those long runs or the long pass, but let's not hurt ourselves also with the bad plays and try to force things when they are not there. If you have a play called for a deep ball and they are not in the right coverage, don't sit there and hold the ball forever to wait for something to maybe come up. Then you are putting the pressure on your offensive line and you are forcing something to happen. I am going to throw to my check-down or I am going to check out of this play to a run and kind of wait for the right opportunity for that deep play to come.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Gregg Easterbrook made the argument that Giants quarterback Eli Manning is on pace to surpass his more heralded brother, Peyton. Easterbrook also points out that he once attended the same Super Bowl party in Miami as Peyton and Eli, and says Eli looked miserable. For the record, I attended that party and thought Eli was having a wonderful time.
Four games into his fifth season, Eli is 44-30 as a starter and has a Super Bowl ring," writes Easterbrook. "At the same point in his career, Peyton was 35-35 and had not won a postseason game. In terms of passing stats, the two players are approximately the same. In terms of leadership, Eli won the Super Bowl in his fourth season with a team whose personnel was so undistinguished, not one of the 16 sets of expert predictions ESPN.com ran before the 2007 season even had the Giants making the playoffs, let alone winning the Super Bowl.
On Sunday, both Manning brothers recorded monster wins, and both played well. Eli achieved close to perfection -- he was 19-of-25 for 267 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. His perfect passing made who-dat backup receiver Domenik Hixon look like a star, and his leadership skills inspired the who-dat Giants offensive line -- quick, how many of them can you name without peeking? -- to play like the New England offensive line of 2007. Stretching back to last season, the Giants have won eight straight games, and this season's 127-49 scoring margin over their opponents is spectacular. If football stays popular for a thousand years, Eli's escape from four tacklers on that last-minute Super Bowl scoring drive will always be one of the sport's signature plays. Peyton is great, and a near-lock for Canton. Eli may be bound for the same place, with his bust in a slightly nicer corner.
I'm not sure if wins over the Texans and Seahawks should rank as "monster" victories, but it's interesting to see that Eli is ahead of his brother's pace. Of course, Eli was surrounded by better players than Peyton early in his career.
By the way, it's nice to see that our start-up blog is getting some attention from the Star-Ledger. Who cares if they don't know how to spell my name. King, Judge, Moseley ... only the big names, folks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
Bob Glauber did a nice job of mocking Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress in his column Tuesday. If you haven't discovered Bob's entertaining "What about Bob?" blog, you're not alone. The newspaper's Web site has done a nice job of burying Bob's and Tom Rock's blogs. But that's for another day.
Here's a portion of what Glauber wrote this morning:
I apologize in advance, dear reader, but I won't be writing today.
My intention was to weigh in on Giants receiver Plaxico Burress' return from a one-game suspension, but I'm just too busy. I had to pick up my younger daughter from soccer practice, because she wouldn't have been able to get home otherwise. I hope you understand. And I hope the boss understands, although I didn't call in to let him know I wouldn't be writing, because ... well ... because it was really important that I pick up my daughter ... and I really don't care what the boss thinks, anyway.
Of course, Bob didn't follow through with his threat to skip Tuesday's column, although the paper actually thought it was a good idea. Just kidding. Bob's been very sensitive since I highlighted one of Gary Myers' columns a couple of weeks ago.
I'm planning to place a call to GM Jerry Reese's office tomorrow. If anyone has a question for Jerry, now's the time to weigh in. I'm planning to write a column for Thursday about how Tom Coughlin and his players almost seem to feed off adversity. Instead of using Plaxico's absence as an excuse, the Giants rallied around it.