NFC East: Kevin Boss

Eagles' top plays: Miracle II

July, 9, 2014
DeSean JacksonDrew Hallowell/Philadelphia Eagles/Getty Images
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This is the last of three plays nominated as the most memorable play in team history. In the previous two days, we featured the first Miracle at the Meadowlands against the Giants in 1978 and Wilbert Montgomery's touchdown in the 1980 NFC Championship Game. Please vote for your choice as the Eagles' most memorable play.

Score: Eagles 38, Giants 31
Date: Dec. 19, 2010 Site: New Giants Stadium

When Kevin Boss scored on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning, the New York Giants had a 31-10 lead with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter. That gave the Giants, according to the formula, a 100 percent win probability for that game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

When Michael Vick hit tight end Brent Celek for a 65-yard touchdown a couple of minutes later, the Giants’ win probability stayed at 99.9 percent. When Vick ran 4 yards for a touchdown with 5:32 left in the fourth quarter, the Giants still had a 97.8 percent chance to win the game. Even after Vick tied it with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin with 1:16 to play, the Giants had the ball with a chance to win. But two incomplete passes and a sack later, New York had to punt with 14 seconds left.


Which is the most memorable play in Eagles' history?


Discuss (Total votes: 35,685)

You get the point. The Giants had the game in the bag. The Eagles came back from 100 percent dead in the water and won it thanks to what was quickly dubbed Miracle of the New Meadowlands, for the new Giants stadium had just opened across the parking lot from the site of Herman Edwards' 1978 miracle fumble recovery.

This time around, the winning play itself was almost as improbable as the three-touchdown spree that set it up. Giants punter Matt Dodge was kicking from his own 29-yard line. All he had to do was avoid Eagles return man DeSean Jackson. Instead, Dodge kicked it right to Jackson, who fumbled the punt, picked it up at his own 35-yard line and started to run. He didn’t stop until he was approaching the goal line, where Jackson changed his course of approach to make sure the clock ran down to zero before he crossed the line.

"I was thinking to myself, like, 'They're not going to kick it to me,'" Jackson said. "I was thinking he was going to kick it out of bounds. But it got to me. From there, I just used my instincts and my speed to get into the end zone."

The 65-yard return ended a 28-point Eagles comeback rally and gave them a tiebreaker edge on the Giants for the NFC East title. That meant Jackson’s return contributed to the last of Eagles coach Andy Reid’s nine playoff appearances with the team.

An era was ending, but it was delayed by Jackson’s improbable return and the Eagles’ statistically impossible comeback.

The awkward part of New York Giants GM Jerry Reese's pre-draft news conference Thursday came when a reporter asked him about tight end. The exchange went like this:
Q: Historically, this team has relied on the tight end quite a bit. Would you be comfortable moving forward with the guys you have on your roster right now?

Reese: Historically we've relied on our tight end?

Q: Well, they've had a prominent role.

Reese: Really?

Q: I seem to remember tight ends catching important passes.

Reese: Yeah, well, we think we've got some tight ends that can catch some important passes. But "prominent role"? We want all of our positions to be prominent roles. I'm not sure if our tight ends have had prominent roles in the past. But we want a competent tight end. We think we've got a couple of young tight ends who have been here for a couple of years who we want to develop, and we'll continue to look as we move forward.
[+] EnlargeBrandon Myers
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsIn his one season with the Giants, Brandon Myers caught 47 passes for 522 yards.
I have been on the other end of that exchange in the past. I've been the one who asked Reese a question that posited a certain level of significance for the tight end position and had him reject the premise. Obviously, this does not show Reese at his most polite, but he views this idea that the Giants' offense has relied on a tight end as an especially irksome misperception. And the numbers support his side of it:

  • Brandon Myers' 47 receptions in 2013 were the second-most in a single season by a Giants tight end since Jeremy Shockey caught 57 passes in 2007.
  • Since 2007, the Giants have employed four different starting tight ends -- Kevin Boss from 2008-10, Jake Ballard in 2011, Martellus Bennett in 2012 and Myers last year.
  • Over that six-year stretch, the Giants' leading tight end has averaged 42 receptions for 539 yards and five touchdowns per year, with Bennett's 55 catches and 626 yards in 2012 and Boss' six touchdowns in 2008 the high-water marks in those categories.

Reese is not shy about telling people he thinks he can find a tight end who can catch 42 passes every year, and this is the basis on which he rejects a characterization such as "prominent role." Yes, he could be nicer about making the point, but the Giants' offense has not, in point of fact, relied on the tight end. Shockey was an exceptional case -- an exceptional talent the Giants deemed worthy of a first-round pick. And Bennett's athleticism allowed them to use him a bit more than they've used other guys after they were able to get him on the cheap prior to the 2012 season.

But the thing to remember about Bennett and Shockey is that both were excellent and willing blockers at the position. Bennett's as good a run-blocking tight end as there is in the NFL right now, and the Giants had him on the field a lot for that reason. That his size and speed enabled him to be a slightly bigger factor in the passing game than some of his predecessors were was a bonus, and the Giants were fortunate that he wasn't in demand that year due to the perception that he was a huge disappointment in Dallas. Once he played well for them, he parlayed that into a big free-agent deal with the Bears, and the Giants made no effort to spend to keep him.

So the point to be taken from this is not that the Giants don't like the tight end position but that it's not a position on which they feel compelled to spend major resources. Other than that 2002 first-round pick they spent on Shockey, they've consistently sought cheap solutions at tight end, viewing whoever plays it as replaceable from year to year. They want guys who can block, and if those guys can catch the ball, so much the better.

For that reason, it's easy to convince yourself that they won't be taking North Carolina's Eric Ebron with the No. 12 pick in the first round next week. Ebron may be an exceptional talent as a receiver, and the tight end position leaguewide may have evolved to the point where it's worth spending a No. 12 overall pick to get one who can be a difference-maker in the passing game. But Reese insisted Thursday that the arrival of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has not changed the way the Giants evaluate offensive players. And while Shockey was the No. 14 overall pick in that 2002 draft, it's vital to remember that Shockey was a good blocker in addition to a great pass-catcher. Ebron is a pass-catcher only. He'd be a liability as a blocker. So the comparison doesn't necessarily fit.

The Giants could find a tight end such as Jace Amaro or Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second round if they really feel they need one, but it's possible they don't feel that way. They have 2012 fourth-round pick Adrien Robinson still on the roster and have been eager for some time to see him on the field more. They resisted putting Robinson on injured reserve all last year because they believed he had something to offer if he ever got healthy (which he finally did, only to injure himself again on the opening kickoff of the Week 16 game in Detroit). They signed blocking tight end Kellen Davis and Daniel Fells for depth at the position, and Larry Donnell has been a strong enough special-teams performer to earn more practice reps and show what he can do. That's the group Reese has, and he swears he doesn't feel the need to upgrade it in the draft. If their pick comes around and the best player still on their board plays tight end, sure, they could take him. But Reese isn't hunting for some huge solution at the position next week.

The question is whether he's right. I personally think the Giants would benefit from having a more permanent solution at this position than they've employed over the past four years. I think the way the league is going, it's more important than it used to be to have a big-time weapon at that position who can split out wide and bust matchups in the secondary. But I don't run the Giants. Jerry Reese does. And he and the Giants do things their way, and they believe in it. You can respect someone's conviction even if your opinion differs from theirs. Reese thinks he's OK at tight end -- or at least that he will be. And it's clear when he's asked about it that he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.
You don't even have to wait for an invitation, though I do tend to tweet a few out toward the end of the week. You can always submit a question for the Twitter mailbag just by posting it on Twitter with the hashtag #nfceastmail. Once a week I sort through them and come up with something a little bit like this.

This one is for New York Giants fans in a panic about tight end, even though the team changes tight ends every year and always seems to get the same production out of whoever they bring in. Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News reports that the Giants are bringing in Raiders free-agent tight end Brandon Myers, who caught 79 passes for 806 yards and four touchdowns in his breakout 2012 season in Oakland.

Myers would certainly be a capable replacement for Martellus Bennett, who signed with the Bears as a free agent after one season with the Giants. He would also be the Giants' fourth starting tight end in four years, following Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard and Bennett. The Giants generally tend to look for tight ends who can help as run-blockers first, as they rely on their wide receivers to carry the load in the passing game, but there's little doubt that Myers' ability as a receiver could help the offense.

The Giants appear to be busy this weekend, as they have reportedly signed a one-year deal with former Cowboys linebacker Dan Connor and also reportedly added wide receiver Louis Murphy. Connor spent just one season in Dallas before being cut last week and didn't make much of an impact, being beaten out for playing time by Bruce Carter. Murphy is a 24-year-old speedster who hasn't been a very good NFL receiver to this point, and my guess would be that the Giants are thinking he might be able to help them as a punt returner.
It appears as though tight end Martellus Bennett's stay with the New York Giants has lasted just one season. According to, Bennett has agreed in principle on an unrestricted free-agent deal with the Chicago Bears.

The Giants signed Bennett away from the Dallas Cowboys last year because they saw him as a young, talented, physical player who could certainly help them as a run-blocker and hopefully help in the passing game as a receiver. He played well, and likely exceeded expectations in the passing game, but tight end is not a position on which the Giants like to spend significant resources. So when Bennett decided he wanted to test the open market, the Giants decided to let him do that and move on without him. The Giants are likely to go with their fourth different starting tight end in as many years now, but they tend to cite the past production of Kevin Boss, Jake Ballard and Bennett as proof that quarterback Eli Manning can get sufficient production out of the tight end position no matter who's in there.

I'd expect the Giants to find a tight end on the free-agent market or maybe in the draft, but I wouldn't expect a big-money deal for a free agent or a first-round tight end. Again, this isn't one of the positions on which the Giants like to spend significant resources.

The Giants also have agreed on a one-year contract with cornerback Aaron Ross, who played the first five years of his career with the Giants and won two Super Bowls before leaving last year as a free agent for Jacksonville. The Jaguars released Ross a couple of days ago and he returns home to bolster the Giants' cornerback corps behind Corey Webster and Prince Amukamara.
Thoughtful piece here from Paul Schwartz, with the help of former New York Giants tackle Luke Petitgout, on the Giants' preference for parting ways with players before those players lose their effectiveness. At the end of the week in which the Giants cut two-time Super Bowl-winning running back Ahmad Bradshaw, as well as linebacker Michael Boley and defensive tackle Chris Canty, Petitgout remembers his own experience and sees it reflected in what's going on now:
“The Giants are a family,’’ Petitgout said. “It’s something tough to accept, like when a girlfriend dumps you. They know when your time is up. Some guys may buck the trend and have a good couple years after that but if you’ve been there a long time, they know your medical history, they know your aches and pains, they usually make the right decision. I basically had a time bomb in my back and when I went to Tampa it went off. The Giants knew what they were doing.’’
[+] EnlargeAhmad Bradshaw
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants parted ways this week with Ahmad Bradshaw, who was their leading rusher the past three seasons.
It cannot have been easy for GM Jerry Reese to say goodbye to Bradshaw, who played through significant pain to help deliver the team's Super Bowl title last year. But between Bradshaw's salary and the chronic foot injuries that kept him from practicing during the week or playing at full strength on Sundays, the Giants believed it was the right thing to do. It's not the first time they've cut a player while he was still an effective producer for them, and if Bradshaw's best days are behind him, it won't be the first time the Giants cut a still-productive player just in time:
Reese is rarely wrong. As a former scout, his eye for talent isn’t confined to youngsters. Steve Smith and Kevin Boss haven’t done a thing and haven’t stayed healthy. He traded away Jeremy Shockey. He did not re-sign Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward or Amani Toomer. He cut Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie. He didn’t think Antonio Pierce's neck was sound enough to continue playing. He passed on bringing back Plaxico Burress. In the same purge that caught Petitgout, Reese also jettisoned Carlos Emmons and LaVar Arrington. Did any of these players prove Reese wrong?

Pretty amazing list. Combine this idea with what we wrote about here Thursday -- the Giants' organizational belief in developing young players in their system so they're ready to take over when it's time for the veterans to go -- and it's easy to see that Reese has a definite plan and is sticking to it. Will it work? No way to know. If the Giants are in something of a rebuild mode, they're going to need many of their young players to be as good as the team thought they'd be when it drafted them. And not even Reese, with all of his track record, can predict how players are going to play. The point is, even as things change with the Giants and people come and go, it's still easy to see the consistency with which they operate, and it has served them well.
ALBANY, N.Y. -- I have lots of stuff still in the notebook from my time at New York Giants training camp. Our "Camp Confidential" on the Giants should roll out at some point today, and I have more stories and notes planned on the Giants for the early part of this week, even while I'm at Eagles and Redskins camp. But a lot of people -- Giants fans as well as Dallas Cowboys fans -- are asking about tight end Martellus Bennett, the former Cowboy who signed with the Giants at the start of free agency. So I thought a post on him was in order. This is what Giants GM Jerry Reese told me Saturday afternoon when I asked him about Bennett:
"I think he's going to really help our run game, because he's a tremendous blocker. We think he could be a good receiver, but what he gives us as a receiver is going to be a bonus. We think he can really help us get our run game going, because he's the blocking tight end that we haven't had. Jake [Ballard] was an okay blocker, Bear [Pascoe] has been an okay blocker. But Martellus could be a dominating blocker, and that's what we haven't had, really for a while. We haven't had a dominating guy since, like, Howard Cross."

Bennett's problem in Dallas was running his routes and holding onto the ball, but he always graded out as an excellent blocker. So it sounds as though the Giants did their homework here. And as Reese pointed out, it's not as though the Giants have been relying on their tight end as a huge part of the passing game the past few years anyway:
"We've had some young guys really do good jobs for us. Kevin Boss caught like 35, 45 balls. Then you get Jake in, he catches 35, 45 balls. Somebody else will do that. That's not a staple in our offense, the tight end. I think our offense is more receiver-oriented and back-oriented. Henry Hynoski caught a bunch of passes last year out of the backfield, our fullback. So there's different ways to skin a cat."

So now you know why the Giants signed Bennett and what they expect of him. As I said, much more to come.

Weekend mailbag: Good to be back

July, 21, 2012
It's been two weeks since I looked through the mailbag. That's two weeks during which I had the audacity to believe I was a decent human being who was okay at his job. Thanks for bringing me back to earth. Here are some of your printable submissions.

Daniel from San Antonio writes that "no one cares about the gap between Jerry Jones' perception and anything else" and "The fact is, it doesn't matter how much Jones loves Tony Romo" and "Romo is over-rated by Jones and under-rated by fans. The truth is not so much in-between the two, but rather found in this statement: Tony Romo is good enough to keep the Dallas Cowboys on the better side of mediocre." Daniel also writes a bunch of other stuff in a fairly long mailbag entry that basically indicates the usual about how he knows the Cowboys can't and won't ever win with Romo, because like so many of you, Daniel can see the future.

Dan Graziano: Daniel, the fact is that Jones' opinion of Romo matters considerably more than does that of any disgruntled fan, because Jones, and not the fans, will decide who plays quarterback for the Cowboys. There's nothing you can do about that, even if you think you're right and Jerry's wrong, because it's his team and, quite frankly, not yours. And while you can certainly poke holes in any number of decisions Jones has made during his time as Cowboys owner, in this case he's wise enough to know what he has, and how impossible it would be to upgrade. Romo isn't Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or even Eli Manning, but he's one of the best quarterbacks in the league and a good sight better than anyone the Cowboys could conceivably get to replace him. Only five teams can have a top-five quarterback. It's not so bad to have to settle for a top-10 one.

Evan in Hawaii asks what chance I think New York Giants rookies David Wilson, Rueben Randle and Adrian Robinson have to have "the same level of rookie impact" that Ahmad Bradshaw, Steve Smith and Kevin Boss had in 2007.

DG: Good question, Evan. I'll take them case-by-case. In 2007, Bradshaw ran for just 190 yards on 23 carries and caught two passes for 12 yards in the regular season. He was the No. 3 running back behind Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward and actually also finished behind Reuben Droughns in carries and yards. He had just six carries prior to Week 15, when he ran for 151 yards on 17 carries, and he of course was a big weapon for the Giants in the postseason. So I would guess that Wilson is more of a factor for the Giants this regular season than Bradshaw was in 2007. He's got a chance to be the No. 2 back behind Bradshaw, and the competition standing in his way is not as imposing as it was for Bradshaw in his rookie year. Steve Smith in 2007 caught eight passes for 63 yards, which doesn't sound like much but actually placed him third among Giants wide receivers in both of those categories. That team was a run-heavy offense that didn't run a lot of three-wide-receiver looks. The pass-catchers were Amani Toomer, Plaxico Burress and the tight ends (which we'll get to next). Smith did catch 14 passes in the postseason, but was more or less a non-factor. In 2012, the Giants are a pass-first offense who don't have much at the tight end position and run a lot of three-wide sets. If Randle plays well in training camp, he should be able to beat out the incumbents and become a No. 3 wide receiver who gets the looks Mario Manningham got this year -- a lot more than Smith got as a rookie. As for Robinson, he was drafted as a project tight end and they think he can help down the road. I can't see him being as much of a factor as Boss was when he replaced Jeremy Shockey late in 2007 and the Giants were throwing to the tight end a lot.

Ed from Washington, D.C. wants to know if the Washington Redskins plan to cut Chris Cooley and, if so, would the Giants be interested in picking him up?

DG: I think the only reasons Cooley would get cut is if he were not (a) healthy, (b) willing to accept a reduced role in the offense or (c) willing to take a pay cut. Given Cooley's well documented feelings about the Redskins, I can't imagine (b) or (c) being a problem, so that leaves (a). And if he's not healthy, I doubt the Giants would snatch him up.

And finally, I wanted to run this one from Tony from Woodbridge, Va. in its entirety. I promise you that I have copied and pasted this directly from my mailbag and not changed as much as one single letter or punctuation mark in Tony's entry. Enjoy:

Dan:You are turly stupid. Your comments about Michael Vick are just plain dumb. He is suppose to lead his team and I think that's just what he was doing when he made that comment. Do you even have a football background. It's funny how someone who has more than likely never played the game have so much to say. Play the game first and then you can make you little stupid comments.

DG: Thanks, Tony. That is turly one of the most insightful bits of feedback I have yet to receive. I will do my best to heed you advice and write my blog posts the way I am suppose to. I appreciate that someone like yourself have the time to offer such sage advice.

Until next week, folks. I turly can't wait.
The NFL has announced that 15 teams have been awarded a total of 32 compensatory picks in next month's draft. The New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys are two of those teams, each picking up an additional pick at the end of the fourth round as a result of their 2011 free-agent activity.

The Giants now have the 36th pick in the first round (131st pick overall) because they lost free agents Barry Cofield, Steve Smith and Kevin Boss last offseason and signed David Baas and Steve Weatherford. The Cowboys get the 40th pick in the fourth round (135th overall) because they lost Stephen Bowen and Sam Hurd in free agency and signed Abram Elam.

Not every free agent is deemed to have compensatory-pick value, based on the league's formula that takes into account salary, playing time and postseason honors. But if the overall value, according to that formula, of compensatory free agents lost in a given offseason outweighs the value of compensatory free agents signed, teams are compensation with these additional picks. The placement of the picks is determined by the formula as well.

The Eagles and Redskins do not get compensatory picks, because the overall value of the free agents they signed in 2011 is deemed by the formula to be equal to or greater than the overall value of the free agents they lost.

Breakfast links: The day has come

March, 13, 2012
Morning. The new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET, and while two of our teams may have less to spend than they initially thought, it promises to be an interesting day on which speculation finally begins converting to reality. No longer must we wonder what our teams will do once free agency begins. Today, we get to watch and see.

At this hour, it is still technically not yet the new league year. So one last time, our links are in order of this past year's division standings. Tomorrow, they'll be alphabetical again.

New York Giants

Old friend Kevin Boss has been released by the Raiders. Lots of people were asking, in the wake of this news, whether this meant he'd come back to the Giants. It makes perfect sense to me. Boss knows the system. The Giants need a tight end. He's not likely to cost anything near what he cost last year. He probably regrets leaving. Why not? If he's healthy, the Giants need to at least look at it.

Free-agent running back Mike Tolbert says he wants to be the guy to replace Brandon Jacobs in New York. I say it's a great fit. Tolbert is a different kind of back than Ahmad Bradshaw is. He's used to being in a committee situation and apparently wouldn't mind being in one again. He's good enough to be an every-down guy if and when Bradshaw has to miss a game. Tolbert and Michael Bush, two starter-quality free agents who have been operating in running back committees, make the most sense as Jacobs replacements if the Giants can afford them. The question now for Tolbert is how much he expects to make. They're right up against the salary cap, which is why Jacobs is gone in the first place.

Philadelphia Eagles

Rich Hofmann wonders if free agency will be the time when the Eagles, who should be feeling a sense of urgency about the coming season, start to show it. I don't think that's how the Eagles roll. And while they might make a signing or two (Rich raises the London Fletcher possibility we discussed here last week), they're not likely to go nuts the way they did a year ago. Those players are all still there, or the good ones are at least, and they believe they'll perform better in Year 2.

The Eagles did take care of restricted free agent Antonio Dixon on Monday, tendering him at second-round level. If any team wants to sign him to an offer sheet, the Eagles will have seven days to match the offer or receive a second-round pick from the team that wants him. Basically means he's not likely to go anywhere.

Dallas Cowboys

Jean-Jacques Taylor writes that the salary-cap sanctions against the Cowboys show that Jerry Jones doesn't wield the same power he used to in an NFL that's become a Roger Goodell dictatorship. I don't think that's what happened here. It wasn't Goodell who pushed for these sanctions, but rather the other owners. And it does bear mentioning that the new chairman of the NFL Management Council, which issued the sanctions, is Giants owner John Mara. Jones and the Redskins' Dan Snyder likely flaunted the 2010 guidelines because they saw that they constituted illegal collusion and figured the NFL would have to admit to such if it ever wanted to call them on it. They just didn't count on the NFL getting its union to go along with the punishment, which effectively cut off their avenue for complaint.

Todd Archer explains what you really want to know if you're a Cowboys fan -- why the sanctions announced Monday don't necessarily kill the Cowboys' plans to use free agency to fill the many holes on their roster.

Washington Redskins

Regardless of the sanctions, the Redskins still need to be active and intelligent in free agency, according to Mike Jones and Mark Maske, who run down some of the Skins' potential moves. One name that popped on the market late Monday is that of right tackle Eric Winston, who was released by the Houston Texans in a surprise move and should be one of the Redskins' first phone calls this afternoon.

Dan Daly writes that the sanctions are a disgrace, and that the Redskins were negligent for allowing them to happen. Strong take, but again, I'm not sure I agree. The Redskins broke no rule whatsoever. They simply acted in a way that upset their competitors. Unfortunately for them, the NFL is a business in which their competitors have the ability to band together and punish them for behavior they don't like. I guess the Redskins should have known that, but (a) it strikes me as having been worth a shot and (b) they have so much cap room this year that it's unlikely to matter too much anyway.

Giants regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 9
Preseason Power Ranking: 15

[+] EnlargeVictor Cruz
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireVictor Cruz had a breakout season for the Giants in 2011.
Biggest surprise: Second-year wide receiver Victor Cruz. One of the big questions back in training camp was how the Giants would replace key passing-game targets Steve Smith and Kevin Boss, who had left in free agency. Quarterback Eli Manning even expressed his concern on that very subject. But Cruz had been working with Manning during the lockout and was ready to burst onto the scene more brilliantly than anyone could have expected. He caught 82 passes, nine for touchdowns, and set a Giants team record with 1,536 receiving yards -- a figure that ranked third-best in the NFL. He surpassed Hakeem Nicks as the team's best big-play threat and helped the Giants be able to basically ignore a down year from Mario Manningham.

Biggest disappointment: Has to be a run game that ranked 32nd in the NFL. People want to point out that it seems to have gotten better in recent weeks with both running backs -- Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs -- finally healthy together. But all season, the problem with the Giants' run game was not the backs but rather a poor run-blocking offensive line. Things did get better once Will Beatty got hurt, David Diehl moved to left tackle and the surprising Kevin Boothe got into the mix. But these Giants are more a passing team than ever, and have been unable to put games away on the ground with very few exceptions.

Biggest need: Even if cornerback Terrell Thomas and middle linebacker Jonathan Goff come back from the season-ending injuries they suffered in preseason, the Giants will need to beef up in the secondary and linebacking corps. Just too many coverage problems this year. No matter how good the pass rush is, you need to be able to cover opposing receivers or you're going to keep being vulnerable to the big play.

Team MVP: Manning. With no run game to speak of, a shaky offensive line and a leaky defense for much of the year, Manning elevated the Giants over and over again in games they seemed to have no business winning. His five fourth-quarter comebacks are as big a reason as any that they're still playing. Manning finished the season with 4,933 passing yards, which ranked fourth in the league in this pass-happy season, and established himself as one of the best clutch quarterbacks in the league.

Down with JPP: A close second in that team MVP race is second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who had 16.5 sacks, won the first Cowboys game almost by himself and kept the pass rush viable in spite of injuries to Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. He's the Victor Cruz of the Giants' defense.
Victor CruzWilliam Perlman/The Star-Ledger/US Presswire"It's been an amazing ride," Victor Cruz said of his breakout season and the Giants' division title.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Tell me you saw Victor Cruz coming, and I'll call you a liar to your face. Sure you might have thought he'd turn into a good receiver with Eli Manning throwing him the ball in a pass-happy New York Giants offense. But no way did you see 82 catches, 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns. No one did. Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin didn't dream those numbers for Cruz in their wildest, most hopeful dreams.

But what they did see was talent, and a chance to develop that talent. And that is what the Giants do. They stay the course. In an era that demands instant gratification, instant success, the Giants preach and exercise patience as the best way to get better. Cruz's breakout season began last summer, when he showed up for every lockout workout Manning called and worked with his quarterback on every detail he could process. It crescendoed with a 99-yard touchdown catch in Week 16 and a 74-yard touchdown catch in Week 17 against the Cowboys -- two huge plays that keyed two huge victories and a surprise division title. The fact that an undrafted second-year wide receiver who didn't catch a pass last season was so central to that effort is nothing short of vindication for a franchise determined to do things its own way.

"It's about having a very good organization -- an organization that believes in their guys," veteran left tackle David Diehl said. "If you're here, you're a Giant. You're here because they want you here. And everybody here is going to work to make sure you become as good as you can possibly be."

This was the offseason, remember, in which the Eagles loaded up and the Giants did nothing. Philadelphia's free-agent frenzy was the story of the league in August, and it pushed the Eagles to the top of the preseason prediction lists for the NFC East. The Giants did nearly nothing, and in fact lost players to free agency. They let a couple of prime Manning targets walk out the door and declined to replace them, and they got roasted for it, here and in many other places. They did not know that guys like Cruz and Jason Pierre-Paul were going to blow the NFL's doors off in 2011, but they knew they had those players, didn't have the ones who left or got hurt, and that the best chance they had to make something of the season was to work as hard as possible with the guys on the roster.

"A realistic goal for me was just to get a catch in a real game that mattered, in a real game that counted," Cruz said, looking back over his season to the expectations with which it began. "Due to some injuries, I was able to come in and play a significant role. It's been an amazing ride. It's been a roller coaster for me. But I'm excited that we're here, we won our division and we're going to the playoffs."

The Giants needed some external things to happen to make this possible. They needed the Eagles and Cowboys to blow a bunch of fourth-quarter leads, helping make this the first full season in history in which the NFC East could be won with fewer than 10 victories. But at the end of a season that could easily have slipped away while they were losing four straight to some of the league's best teams, the Giants stiffened up.

"It's one thing to be regarded for your toughness," Coughlin said. "But also to play tough in important and big games. I like that our guys rallied around and did that."

Few did it better than Cruz, who had five touchdown catches this season longer than 65 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he had three catches this season on which he gained at least 60 yards after the catch, including Sunday night's big touchdown. He's a quarterback's dream -- a receiver you can trust not only to catch the ball in a big spot but to make the absolute most of it once he does.

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger/US PresswireThe emergence of Jason Pierre-Paul has helped the Giants overcome injuries.
"He just keeps doing it, and thank god he does," Coughlin said. "I'm cheering for him, doing cartwheels on the sidelines as he's running by. Just a heck of a game and a heck of a season by the kid."

Cruz is the emblem of what the Giants have just pulled off -- a player who has developed quickly and brilliantly thanks to the coaching and the environment provided by one of the league's proudest and most stable franchises. They could have traded Osi Umenyiora out of spite when he threw his tantrum, called the general manager a liar and sat out training-camp practices. They didn't, and there was Umenyiora, wrecking things for the Cowboys on Sunday night in the biggest game of the season. They lost left tackle Will Beatty in the second half of the season, center David Baas for crucial games, and they were able to patch it together by moving Diehl back out to tackle and getting big performances from guys like Kevin Boothe and Mitch Petrus. Steve Smith and Kevin Boss leave? Mario Manningham struggles? No problem, because Cruz turned out to be a superstar. Umenyiora and Justin Tuck struggled with injuries all year, but Pierre-Paul made up for it by becoming one of the most fearsome pass-rushers in the league.

"You know coming in that there are going to be injuries, that things are going to happen to make it tough on you," Diehl said. "But when you play here, you really believe everybody on that roster has a chance to make a play that helps you win a game. Or in this case, a division."

Yeah, nobody saw Victor Cruz coming. Not even the Giants -- not to this extent. But that's not the point. The Giants exist and sustain themselves on the belief that someone is coming -- that someone is going to step forward and perform in a way that leads them to great things. They're willing to believe it can be someone different every week, but the point is that they always believe they have enough in their own locker room to get it done. This year, they turned out to be right.

Breakfast links: Manning getting comfy

September, 29, 2011
A little groggy this morning. Was up late watching baseball, which ... wow. But I know you gotta have your links.

Dallas Cowboys

Jason Garrett says Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson is "arguably the best player in the National Football League," and Johnson is a main focus of Dallas' preparation for Sunday's game. Practice squad receiver Andre Holmes is 6-foot-5, same height as Johnson, and the Cowboys are using him this week in practice to try to simulate Johnson's ability to out-jump defenders for the ball, especially in the end zone.

I'd thought, if Dan Bailey could kick the ball into the end zone Sunday with David Buehler on the shelf, the Cowboys could cut Buehler, get down to one kicker and pick up a roster spot. But Jerry Jones says it's not happening, and Buehler's in no danger of losing his job.

New York Giants

Eli Manning admits it took him a while to develop rhythm and a comfort level with the Giants' offense this season as he adjusted to life without Steve Smith and Kevin Boss. But since the second quarter of the Rams game, he's looked like a different guy, and he thinks the key was to stay patient. He'll have to stay as patient going forward as he was Sunday in Philadelphia, where he waited for his shot at big plays and then hit them. Eli gets in trouble when he tries to force a big play.

Sam Borden's got a look at the Giants' goal-line defense, which was another key to the win Sunday and represents the kind of thing in which they'll need to and should be able to rely on as the year goes along.

Philadelphia Eagles

Michael Vick sounds like a different guy than he did Sunday, saying things like, "I'm tired of letting my guys down" and promising to do whatever he can to finish games from here on out. Phil Sheridan wonders if NFL players lean too much toward trying to tough out injuries. He may have a point, but it's doubtful that's going to affect Vick as much was watching Tony Romo on Monday night apparently did.

The Eagles are making another switch at linebacker, in case you didn't hear, sending Casey Matthews to the bench and replacing him at the weak side with fellow rookie Brian Rolle, who says he'd like to get a chance to cover 49ers tight end Vernon Davis on Sunday. Well, hey, you might as well find out how good you are right away, huh?

Washington Redskins

Sick of all the praise Romo's getting for toughing out that victory over the Redskins on Monday? Well, Brian Orakpo's right there with you. "I mean, they tried to make it seem like the guy was hospitalized the night before the game," said Orakpo, who left the same game with what the team said were cramps. Orakpo's point seems to be that Romo played the way Romo always does, but I guess I'd counter by saying people reacted the same way people always react to Romo's performances, be they good or bad. Over. People always over-react to Romo.

DeAngelo Hall has thought about it, and he's not as upset as he was Monday about the decision to zero-blitz Romo on third-and-21 Monday night in Dallas. Says he'd have done the same thing if he were faced with the same situation in Madden. That's got to be nice for Jim Haslett to know.
Good morning in the East. It is the day before the start of the NFL's regular season, and four days before the start of play in our favorite division. It is raining, still, and I think the old man next door just got home with two giraffes and two hippos. But as far as I know, no one in East Rutherford has torn a knee ligament yet today. So we hit the links.

Dallas Cowboys

One of the things's Todd Archer is wondering this week is whether size was the main reason the Cowboys brought in reserve offensive lineman Derrick Dockery. Rookie left guard Bill Nagy has played well, but Dockery has at least 25 pounds on him, and Nagy did on occasion get overpowered by big interior defensive linemen in the preseason. Nagy may need time to get stronger before he can be a regular starter in the league, and Dockery could be the fallback if that progress doesn't happen quickly enough.

Clarence Hill says Dez Bryant's rookie contract might not be sufficient to help him overcome his personal financial problems. Sheesh. Not sure what you do about that. Tough to believe an NFL team would re-work a guy's contract just because he can't pay his bills. Dez is going to have to perform if that's to be his solution.

New York Giants

Sure, they could bring in a veteran like Kawika Mitchell to add to their depth. But if the Giants are going to replace injured linebackers Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim, they're most likely going to do it with rookies.

Jake Ballard did the Giants a favor at cutdown time last year, and they did right by him. Now, with Kevin Boss gone off to Oakland and Travis Beckum yet to impress as his replacement, Ballard is listed as the starting tight end on this week's depth chart. He has a chance to win the job because no one else has yet.

Philadelphia Eagles

Former Eagle Terrell Owens says that, if he were DeSean Jackson, he wouldn't play Sunday without a new contract. The Eagles and their fans are surely glad, in this case, that Jackson is not Owens, as they need him to play Sunday. In turn, Jackson hopes the Eagles reward his decision by continuing to work on the new contract he wants.

Meet Eagles left guard Evan Mathis, who thinks he may have helped himself get that starting job through the use of Twitter.

Washington Redskins

Lots of mystery surrounding the health status of Redskins safety LaRon Landry, who doesn't look as if he'll be playing Sunday when the team opens the season against the Giants. Should be interesting to hear Landry address some of these details he's been hinting about on Twitter.

And lots of opportunity for the large group of receivers remaining on the Redskins' roster after cutdown day. It will be interesting to see if the Redskins have another move or two up their sleeves, because at least three of the wide receivers they kept aren't special-teamers, and I'm pretty sure they intend to run the ball a lot.

Have a lovely day.

Observation deck: Giants-Bears

August, 22, 2011
Observations from the Giants 41-13 preseason victory over the Chicago Bears on "Monday Night Football":

We preach all the time that preseason games don't matter, but so few people really take it to heart. Fans like to hang on every play, to wonder whether or not it matters that Eli Manning doesn't look sharp, or to try and figure out whether or not Brandon Jacobs deserves more carries than Ahmad Bradshaw. But in the end, there are no accurate judgments to be made off of these games and the only thing that actually matters in any of them is that nobody gets seriously hurt.

And that's why, regardless of the final score or the potentially very encouraging way the rest of the team played during the game itself, Monday night's victory over the Bears was a disaster for the New York Giants.

Shortly before halftime, Giants starting cornerback Terrell Thomas collided with Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul and limped off the field. At halftime, Giants coach Tom Coughlin revealed to ESPN's Suzy Kolber than Thomas had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and would miss the entire season.

[+] EnlargeNew York Giants Terrell Thomas
AP Photo/Bill KostrounNew York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas has a torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and will miss the entire season.
This is devastating news, first and foremost, for Thomas, one of the very good guys and leaders on the Giants' roster and a player who has one year left before free agency. Thoughts go out to him, and best wishes for a speedy recovery.

But it's also awful news for the Giants, who earlier this preseason lost cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Bruce Johnson to major injuries (and later in this game saw Brian Witherspoon carted off with a knee injury). Amukamara is out for at least a couple of months, Johnson for the year and now a team that was already struggling for depth at cornerback has lost one of its starters. They've gone from hoping Aaron Ross could be a reliable No. 3 corner and play as their extra defensive back in passing situations to hoping Ross can be a reliable starter and probably using safety Deon Grant in that role as they did last year. The Giants weren't deep to begin with, and they came out of their second preseason game with a major hole on the roster and in the starting lineup.

So that's all that matters from this game, period. But if you want to know what else I saw that might have a chance to matter down the road if by some coincidence regular-season developments jive with preseason performance in specific areas, here you go.

1. On the bright side, Ross looked very good. He knocked down two Jay Cutler passes intended for Roy Williams on third down early in the game. He made another play on a receiver later to prevent a touchdown (though he may have pushed off on that coverage). He made a nice tackle on Marion Barber behind the line of scrimmage in the third quarter. You could do worse than Ross as a fill-in cornerback when one of your starters gets hurt, and it's encouraging that he played well. But again, the Giants were figuring on Ross as their third corner, not one of their top two.

2. Oh, and X-rays on William Beatty's foot were negative. Which is a good thing. Beatty didn't have to take on Julius Peppers all night as we expected, since the Bears moved Peppers over to the other side to terrorize Kareem McKenzie and the Giants' overmatched tight ends. Beatty looked better overall in this game, holding his own and keeping his man off the quarterback, though he still looks a little grabby to me. You don't like to see a left tackle reaching quite as much as Beatty does to try and prevent the edge rush. He's got to do a better job of getting his whole body in front of his guy, or he's going to be a walking holding penalty.

3. Giants' special teams looked better. Devin Thomas is really showing his speed and athleticism on kick returns. Matt Dodge and Steve Weatherford both bombed huge punts all night. There was good kick coverage, including a big tackle by receiver Victor Cruz as he continues to work to try and secure a spot in the receiving corps. Jerrel Jernigan doesn't show much on punt returns, but the Giants had so many problems on special teams last year that if they can get it down to just one, Coughlin is going to be ecstatic.

4. How did those receivers keep getting open between Corey Webster and Kenny Phillips? It happened twice in the first half, and Cutler hit it for a big gain each time. It looked as though the receiver got by Webster and Phillips didn't get over in time to help. There are three possibilities that I can see: 1. Webster let his man go by him without making sure he had the safety help; 2. Phillips was supposed to help but was slow getting over; 3. Phillips went with the tight end up the seam after the tight end got by middle linebacker Jonathan Goff, which would kind of lead back to (1.) though with some blame to be shared by Goff. Either way, I'm certain it'll be discussed in detail in meetings this week. The Giants will obviously need mistake-free play from Webster and Phillips with as vital a piece as Thomas now missing from the secondary.

5. Victor Cruz, preseason wonder. Domenik Hixon had the big touchdown catch, but I really believe the Giants are trying to bring Hixon along slowly as he's coming back from his knee injury. And if that's the case, it opens up opportunities for guys like Cruz to get more reps at wide receiver. Cruz lined up with the starters in the team's three-receiver sets at the start of the game, and he did a lot of good, athletic, impressive things, just like he did last year in the preseason. As long as he keeps contributing on special teams, he's a good bet to make the roster. And if he does and Hixon is still being babied come the regular season, Cruz should get a serious chance to show whether or not his preseason success can carry into the regular season this time.

6. Some notes on the sure things. Manning looked fine, though I wouldn't put him in John Beck's class as a preseason quarterback. (Easy, folks... I kid because I love...) Brandon Jacobs looked especially spry on his touchdown run. And how about Justin Tuck's downfield tackle on Matt Forte? Tuck's a beast, but I couldn't help thinking a linebacker or a safety should have made that unnecessary. Overall, the Giants' defense looked very good, especially when it came time to keep the Bears out of the end zone in goal-line situations. Mark Herzlich's interception on the fourth-down play late in the fourth quarter was the most fun of the stops.

7. Still could use a tight end. Not that this is a Priority No. 1 at this point, but Travis Beckum and Bear Pascoe have been fully underwhelming at a key position for the Giants' passing game. We saw Manning audible at the line a few times and look to check it down, but with Steve Smith in Philadelphia and Kevin Boss in Oakland, he's still looking for reliable options to serve as safety valves. There was a third-down throw on which he and Mario Manningham couldn't connect that made you think he missed Smith. But two more preseason games to go and work still to be done, as is the case with every team.