December 21st, 2015

G-men

Win One, Lose One

The Jets won on Saturday night, defeating (and eliminating) the Dallas Cowboys.

The Giants lost on Sunday morning, going down to the undefeated Carolina Panthers.

Saturday's high was followed by Sunday's low. Life in the NFL is never dull, I will give you that. Life is magical... but full of pain.

Saturday's game was not all thrills and cheers, however, and Sunday's was not all gloom and doom (though it ended that way). Truth be told, Gang Green's 19-16 win over Dallas was a lot closer than it should have been. The Cowboys, without Tony Romo, have been a shell of themselves this season. The Jets should have rolled right over them, especially since the 'Boys were playing with their third-string quarterback, and soon replaced him with their fourth-stringer, a kid who had never thrown a pass in the NFL before. The kid threw three interceptions, yet somehow moved Dallas as well, and kept them in the game till the end.

(One has to wonder whatever happened to Matt Cassell, the ineffective third-stringer he replaced. Cassell was pretty good just a few years back, when he filled in for an injured Tom Brady for the Patriots, but since moving on via free agency he just seems to get worse and worse).

Anyway... the Jets should have crushed Dallas in a laugher. But at least they hung on and won, and thereby kept their playoff hopes alive. At 9-5, they are tied with the Chiefs and the Steelers, and two of those three teams will get a wild card slot. Unfortunately, New York has the toughest schedule and the worst tie-breakers of the three, so their chances are slim... and pretty much gone if they lose to the Patriots next week (unless Johnny Football somehow manages to upset either KC or Pittsburgh, and I'm not holding my breath). But at least Todd Bowles will finish with a winning record in his first year as coach, whatever happens.

Which brings us to Sunday, and Big Blue's 38-35 loss to Carolina.

That had to be one of the strangest games I have ever seen in half a century of watching pro football. The first quarter and the fourth quarter featured some pretty exciting football, but in between came the second and third quarters, which were nightmares for any Giants fan.

The G-Men left two touchdowns on the field in the first half. On the fourth play of the game, Eli Manning hit Odell Beckham Junior in stride for what should have been a 52-yard touchdown... but Odell dropped the ball. And early in the second quarter, Cam Newton threw what should have been a certain pick-six right at Giants CB Dominque Rogers-Cromartie... who dropped the ball. Turn those two drops into catches, the Giants have a 21-7 lead midway into the second quarter, and we have a whole different ballgame

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Sadly, the drops were dropped. The game was tight right up until Giants RB Rashad Jennings fumbled in the second quarter. That seemed to change momentum. Suddenly the Giants could not do anything right, and the Panthers could not do anything wrong. Cam and his crew shredded New York's defense (worst in the NFL), and the score mounted. 14 -7. 21 - 7. 28 - 7. 35 - 7. By that time, I was feeling suicidal, Cam Newton was on the sideline icing his knee, and Troy Aikman was suggesting that it might be time for Carolina to pull him out and let his backup finish the blowout.

Not so fast. With twenty minutes left in the game, late in the third quarter, Eli and the Giants woke up, and started fighting back. A nice drive ended in a touchdown pass to tight end Will Tye made in 35 -14. Then Rashad Jennings broke through the middle for a long run and it was 35 - 21. Carolina drove back and seemed to be about to make it a three-score game again, but the field goal attempt was blocked by Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, and a few plays later Eli hit Shane Vereen and it was 35 -28 and we had a game again, and I was screaming just as loud as the crowd at MetLife Stadium. Especially when the Panthers went three-and-out, with JPP blocking Cam's third-down pass with his "club" (the massive cast on his mangled hand). Then came another drive, but Carolina stiffened and it came down to a fourth-down play in the Red Zone... and Eli hit Odell Beckham Junior for the tying score. 35 - 35.

That was one of the most amazing comebacks I have ever seen a football game. Offhand, the only games that compare are the "Midnight Miracle" of last decade, when the Jets rallied on Monday Night Football to defeat the Dolphins, and that long-ago playoff reversal where Frank Reich led the Buffalo Bills back against the Houston Oilers.

I have to say, I am proud of the way of the Giants fought back. Most teams would have packed it in at 35 - 7. The comeback is a credit to Tom Coughlin, and the fighting spirit of Big Blue. And I want to single out three players, who screwed up early and made up for it later. Rashad Jennings lost the fumble early on that started the Carolina scoring spree... but his gutsy breakaway TD run in the fourth quarter ignited the comeback. DRC dropped the pick-six in the second quarter... but blocked the field goal in the fourth that really got things rolling. And Odell dropped the 52-yard touchdown in the first quarter... but caught the tying fourth-down touchdown at the end, when everything was on the line, and set things up before that with a long catch-and-run to get the Giants to the red zone.

Of course, in the end all the heroics came to naught. The Giants tied the game, but they left Cam Newton almost two minutes, and the worst defense in the NFL (unsurprisingly) failed to hold him. Boom boom zoom, down the field came Carolina, and with seconds left a field goal made it 38 - 25, and all the G-Men had for their efforts was another agonizing fourth quarter loss. Their fifth of season, I believe. Yes, technically they are still in contention for the NFC East title... but don't believe it. It's over.

Still... that rally was one for the ages. I wish we had capped it with a fairytale ending, but it was nice while it lasted.

Congrats to the Panthers, and especially Cam Newton. He's this year's MVP for sure.

((I have not addressed the war between Odell Beckham Junior and Josh Norman. I will, but in a separate blog post. Save your comments for that one. I do not want discussion of that issue to overshadow a great game)..
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G-men

The Rumble in the Meadowlands

The New York Giants and the Carolina Panthers played a great game yesterday in the Meadowlands, a game for the ages that ended with a 38-35 victory by the unbeaten Panthers. After an amazing Giants comeback, the Panthers won on a classic two-minute drive led by Carolina's MVP Cam Newton, setting up the winning field goal as time expired.

Sadly, all that is being overshadowed by an uglier aspect of the game, the fighting between Giant wideout Odell Beckham Junior and Panther cornerback Josh Norman. The matchup between these two outstanding players had been hyped all week, and once the game began, they did indeed get into it... but not in the way that anyone wanted. Instead we got fighting during and between plays, shoves and slaps and punches and grabs and late hits, a body slam, an ankle grab, all climaxing in a helmet-to-helmet blow that many believe should have led to an ejection. The Beckham/ Norman stuff dominated last night's postgame shows, and was still the number one discussion this morning.

There is no need for me to repeat what everyone else is saying. A lot of the commentators were calling for Odell Beckham to be suspended for his actions during the game, and in particular for that helmet-to-helmet hit. This afternoon they got what they wanted. The NFL has suspended Beckham for one game. (He will likely appeal the suspension. Everyone appeals their suspensions).

I am not going to argue with that. The NFL had good reason to outlaw helmet-to-helmet hits. Using the helmet as a weapon is dangerous. It can lead to concussions, and in some cases to far worse injuries. Beckham should not have done that. The refs probably should have ejected him for that. (He did draw a 15 yard penalty for unnecessary roughness, one of three he received for the night). Many commentators said that Beckham "lost it" during the first half of the Panthers game, and they are not wrong. He let his temper, get the best of him. He lost control. Beckham had no catches in the first half of the game (the first time that has ever happened to him), but he must have been in a dozen scuffles with Norman. It hurt his team -- the three penalties alone cost the Giants 45 yards, not to mention that all this made their most dangerous receiver a non-factor. It was stupid. He should have known better. He should have controlled himself.

So I am not defending Odell Beckham Junior. Can't. Won't. The helmet-to-helmet hit, in particular, was indefensible. Much as I hate to say it, he should have been expelled yesterday, and the one-game suspension is justified.

BUT...

Something else needs to be said as well.

JOSH NORMAN STARTED IT.

ODB let himself be provoked, and that's bad. But it was Norman who initiated the ugliness, and we should not lose sight of that. He is not the innocent victim here, and his postgame comments reek of hypocrisy. ODB went way too far, agreed, but the dirty stuff began with Norman.

On the fourth play of the game, Beckham blew past Norman downfield, and Eli Manning hit him in stride for what would have been a 52-yard TD... if the ball had not bounced off Odell's hands. "My bad," ODB gestured after the play, taking responsibilty for the error. Some talking heads said afterwards that it was that drop that made Beckham so angry and led to what followed.

But that's wrong. It was Norman who most impacted by that pass, not Beckham. After a week of hype about this great match-up, he had allowed ODB to burn him on the first series for what would have been a humiliating touchdown. Plainly, that near miss pissed him off... because ON THE VERY NEXT PLAY, he grabbed ODB and bodyslammed him to the ground. There was no flag, even though a ref was right on top of them. (Picking up a player and slamming him to the ground is also against NFL rules). A couple plays later, Norman fouled ODB again, running into his back and knocking him down. That time ODB struck back and blows were exchanged. But Norman's came first.

But don't take my word for it. Here's the two plays in question.



There were numerous other exchanges between the two players after that. In some cases both of them were in the wrong, shoving and slapping each other. In others, Beckham was to blame, as when he grabbed Norman's ankle after making his first catch of the day. But all these, it has to be noted, came well AFTER Norman started the fighting with these two early plays.

This morning on FIRST TAKE Stephen A Smith and Skip Bayless agreed that Beckham should be suspended for his actions yesterday. I can't disagree. But Bayless also said that the officiating crew should also be suspended, and boy, do I agree with that. Most of this ugliness could have been avoided with stronger officiating. Yes, Beckham should have been ejected for the helmet-to-helmet hit. (Instead he and Norman were both given unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, offsetting). But that was way too late.

Norman should have been given a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for bodyslamming Odell to the ground in the fifth play of the game, as seen above. The ref was right there, and did nothing. Norman should have been given a second penalty when he ran into Odell in the second play on the clip; in that case, ODB should also have been penalized, for his reaction. But no penalties were called on either player in that case.

The officials could have nipped this one in the bud. A few fifteen yarders on Norman early on, and he might have cleaned up his act, and in which case ODB might not have felt the need to take matters into his own hands. But when the refs turned a blind eye to Norman's dirty play...

There is NO excuse for the helmet-to-helmet hit, I will say again. But let's take a look at that one too... and please, watch the entire clip, especially the tight angle on Norman and ODB at the end...



All the sports shows have been showing the helmet-to-helmet blow. Very few have shown what went before it. Beckham and Norman are well away from the action when the play begins. ODB is running his route, and Norman is covering him, when it becomes clear the play is a run, not a pass. As Beckham streaks past, Norman breaks off coverage and moves toward the runner... but not before he gives Beckham a SLAP in the back of the head as he flies by. Completely unprovoked, a blindside blow to the head, not even to break up a play or a pass (no ball is the air)... just a little extra bit of gratuitous nastiness. After which ODB loses it, and comes streaking after Norman to deliver the helmet hit that has gotten him suspended.

Yes, he went way too far in retaliation. But make no mistake, it WAS retaliation. Even on this play, Norman started it.

No one covered themselves with glory yesterday at the Meadowlands (except Cam Newton and Eli Manning). Tom Coughlin should have pulled Odell and sat him down for a while, beyond a doubt. And Ron Rivera should have pulled Norman and sat HIM down. The refs could have ejected ODB, and maybe they should have ejected Norman too. They should CERTAINLY have flagged Norman for the initial inciting incidents. Both players deserve blame for their actions, and they should both get fined.

But it must be said, Odell displayed far more class in his postgame interview than Norman did in his. "The second man always gets caught," ODB said. Never was that more true than yesterday, in the Meadowlands. Norman, meanwhile, was saying that fans would see "what kind of player" ODB was. Norman needs to look in the mirror; the world saw what kind of player he was too.

((It has also come out that before the game some of the Panthers were taunting Beckham with gay slurs and homophobic insults. We're also hearing some strange stories about baseball bats. C'mon, Panthers. You're a great team, you're 14-0, you may be on your way to a Super Bowl. Take a lesson from your quarterback, and show a little class.))
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