It speaks to the bizarre effect sports have on someone that the game I was ready to write off as a loss at 12:59 this afternoon is now a game I’m ticked off we didn’t win. I suppose I should be taking comfort in the fact that we went toe to toe with the defending Super Bowl champions in their own place. But going into the fourth quarter with a fourteen-point lead changes expectations somewhat.
It also seemed to skew the team’s perception, because they sure did act like they were up by a lot more than that. They were way too happy to just come out and run the ball and hope it would somehow make time move faster or something. I’m all for milking the clock when the game is out of hand and the other team needs to score quickly and often to get back into it. But fourteen points isn’t out of hand, especially with the way the Giants were moving the ball when Eli Manning wasn’t turning it over. Their offense was far too effective for the Bucs to think they could just keep handing it off and throw their defense back out with such a short breather. And that took its toll, as they gave up 28 points in the final quarter, seemingly forgetting how to put pressure on the quarterback or cover anybody deep.
Besides, you know what’s better than a fourteen-point lead? A twenty-one-point lead. And a twenty-eight-point lead is even better than that. The best way to hold a lead is to build it. Make it harder and harder for the other team to mount a comeback. Force their offense out of certain things, making them easier to defend. Instill your team with a killer instinct that surfaces before you try knocking the ball loose from a quarterback taking a knee.
Speaking of that, Tom Coughlin’s objections aside, this wasn’t a case of the Giants being up by two or three scores and showing mercy. The Bucs were a touchdown and extra point away from tying the game, and while it was an unlikely outcome, the Giants of all teams should know that strange things can happen on the final snap of the game. Play to the whistle and block for your quarterback, even if you know he’s taking a knee.
It’s not like we were going to get to him anyway. After getting good consistent pressure last week against Carolina, the Bucs couldn’t harass Manning at all. Even the blitz wasn’t working; they could have run guys in from off the bench to rush the passer and Manning would have had all day to throw. It’s probably that the Giants have a better offensive line than the Panthers do — how else do you explain a guy who’s fourth on the Giants depth chart rushing for 71 yards? — but that same Panthers team busted out with 219 yards on the ground this week. I guess the Saints defense is just that much worse than ours right now.
Still, we weren’t going to go 16-0, and if this had been last season, that final score would have been 41-13. This team has some fight in it now. I just want to see them unleash Josh Freeman a little more, and I want to see them get that glint in their eye when they have the chance to put a game away. The Cowboys aren’t going to be looking to do us any favors when we go to Dallas next week.