Some football games become lopsided when one team comes out sharp, the other comes out sluggish or unprepared and a handful of big plays cause the game to be over before it begins. Recent examples in Giants history include the Seattle home game last year, or the 2000 NFC Championship game against the Vikings.
A less common occurrence is a game like yesterday's when one team methodically thrashes another play-for-play. The Bucs didn't have a lot of blown coverages or catastrophic turnovers; rather, the Giants eleven were just better than the Bucs' a remarkably high percentage of the time.
After Lawrence Tynes' missed field goal towards the end of the first half, Bucs coach Raheem Morris was caught by Fox cameras mouthing something like, "One play! One fucking play!" to his squad. He was basically saying that it would only take one play for the Bucs to get back into the game. He was right -- the score was only 14-0 at the time, and the Bucs were getting the ball to start the second half. But the Giants wouldn't let that happen. They wouldn't let the Bucs be better than them for one fucking play.
What's to like:
The defense: Pretty obvious here. 86 total yards (the least the Giants have allowed since 1983), with the first Bucs first down coming 10 minutes into the third quarter. How much of this was the Giants excellence, and how much the Bucs' ineptitude? This question has no answer, but don't forget that Tampa Bay had averaged more than 20 points and 400 yards going into this game. Why didn't Dallas or Buffalo have such an easy time shutting them down?
Apportioning credit to various players seems silly. Is it possible that anybody on this defense didn't play very well?
The offensive line: Eli was not sacked and was hit only twice. We ran for 226 yards, and averaged 4.6 per even though we were running out the clock for most of the game. So ... yeah.
The red-zone offense: Three-for-five, which temporarily allays concerns about this area.
Steve Smith: Is he a "nice player" -- such a backhanded compliment -- or an elite possession receiver? Last year, I wrote a blog entry heralding Smith as an under-appreciated gem. I wrote it after the Giants sixth game, when Smith had caught an amazing 84 percent of the passes thrown his way. As the season went on, Smith's production slipped a little, but he still wound up with a 70 percent catch rate, one of the best in the league and in the company of players like Wes Welker, Anquan Boldin, and Anthony Gonzalez. Coming into yesterday's game, he had caught 76 percent of the passes thrown his way -- I'm not sure how many times he was targeted yesterday, but I would venture to say his percentage didn't decline during a seven-catch performance.
On another note, the Steve Smith - Amani Toomer comparisons are a little silly, despite the uncanny resemblance between his touchdown yesterday and Toomer's in the 2007 playoff game. At his best, Toomer was a good vertical threat, and Smith will never be able to stretch the field like that. It was only later in his career that Toomer adapted into a possession guy, but one not as good as Smith is now.
Mario Manningham: The profile of Manningham is quickly emerging: He's very good at getting separation and he's dangerous in space with the ball in hands, but his hands might not be the greatest. That's okay: You don't need to have great hands to be an elite wide receiver (see: Terrell Owens). It has only been three games, but I think Manningham and Smith are pretty close to answering the pre-season questions about the wide receiver position. They probably won't continue at their current pace, but the Giants won't be hurting at the position.
Fred Robbins: This past summer, I ran into one of the Giants beat writers at a Mets game, and inquired into the state of Fred Robbins' knee. It had just been learned that Robbins had underwent microfracture surgery, which explained the acquisition of Chris Canty and Rocky Bernard.
"I think you've seen the best you're gonna see from Fred Robbins," the writer said.
After yesterday, it seems the writer -- who, I might add, is my favorite beat writer and does an excellent job -- was wrong. Robbins was at his best yesterday, showing the surprising quickness for such a big man that made him so good early last year. Hopefully, Canty will come back and make an impact so the Giants can keep Big Fred and the rest of the tackle rotation fresh.
Ahmad Bradshaw: Bradshaw has long been the best running back on the roster. For proof, note that he had 4.3 yards per carry during the 2007 postseason to Brandon Jacobs' 3.2. Any disparaging characterizations that he's a mere "change-of-pace" back should have been dispelled when he carried Ty Warren on his back in Super Bowl XLII. If they weren't, perhaps running through Chris Hovan's tackle on his 38-yarder yesterday made the point definitively.
This isn't a question of who should be "the starter." Jacobs has his uses and isn't nearly as bad as he's looked this year -- when he gets to the second-level with a head of steam, there's nobody better. But if the distribution of carries has long favored Jacobs, it should favor Bradshaw now. Give Coughlin credit for identifying his best back yesterday and riding the hot hand. Any concerns that Bradshaw might wear down should be offset by the fact that he's playing his best football right now. He's a weapon the Giants cannot afford not to waste.
Bradshaw is the classic guy whose football attributes exceed his "measureables." He clocked a 4.55 in the 40, but his acceleration is the best for a Giants running back since Joe Morris (another guy whose small stature kept him on the bench for far too long). And while he might be not be as strong as bigger guys in a non-football context, his hard-running style -- a product of his acceleration and instinct for knowing when to gather his power -- makes him extremely difficult to bring down.
Hard-core Giants fans have known about this guy for a while. It won't be long until the rest of the league gets the memo: Ahmad Bradsahw - and not Brandon Jacobs -- is the Giants best back and one of the best backs in the league.
Eli Manning: There was a time not long ago -- say, after the Minnesota or Washington home games in late 2007 -- when it seemed like Eli was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Watching Eli's fluttering, inaccurate passes, unsteady pocket-presence, and sad, goofy countenance made Giants fans long for even a merely adequate quarterback. Someone like Byron Leftwich, maybe.
Eli will always have his critics: Before the 2007 playoff run, people said his performance didn't justify his draft status and the king's ransom the Giants gave up for him. Now, Eli-haters are yapping about his big contract, (as if the Giants had any alternative). Maybe he's not an "elite" quarterback, but hey, maybe he is right now. Either way, we can agree that he's good now and he seems to be getting better.
What's not to like:
Injuries to Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie: No word on their statuses yet, but losing these two for any length of time would obviously be a big problem. McKenzie seems like a bigger concern right now because he was carted off the field; Seubert's was an aggravation of a prior shoulder injury.
If one or both of them don't play next week, it would snap a streak of two consecutive seasons (2007 - 2008) in which all five offensive linemen started every game. The Jets share the same streak, but those teams are the only two in the past five seasons who have had their linemen start every game for two straight seasons.
Coming into this year, it seemed extremely unlikely the Giants would be so lucky again. Maybe they're paying the piper now. If McKenzie misses time, he will be replaced by William Beatty, a promising second-round pick with good athletic ability but without McKenzie's bulk in the running game.
Update: Good news, reports Mike Garafolo of the Star-Ledger:
Starting offensive linemen Kareem McKenzie (knee sprain) and Rich Seubert (sore shoulder) both came out of Sunday's win against Tampa Bay early with injuries. But don't count the unit's consecutive start streak over yet.
Coach Tom Coughlin said Monday he is hoping the team's starting right tackle and left guard will be back to practice Wednesday. McKenzie hurt his knee during Sunday's game, while Seubert's shoulder is a nagging issue that Coughlin said he'll "strengthen, and he'll be ready to go."
Lawrence Tynes: That's three games, two missed chip-shots. The Letterman appearance notwithstanding, Tynes was never a "hero" in the minds of Giants fans. After that Green Bay NFC Championship game, we could have killed him for missing the two makeable field goals that allowed the game to go to overtime.