Friday, January 27, 2012

Giants: Critical Plays

Generally when a team makes the playoffs, there are a number of big plays and big games that contributed to their season. It is rare that you can point to a few plays that, if they went the other way, would have prevented the team from advancing. But with the Giants this year, having squeezed into the playoffs by the narrowest of margins, not securing that playoff bid until the last game of the season, you really may be able to list a few plays that made the difference. For me, the block by JPP of the potential game tying FG in the first Cowboys game and the 99 yard run by Cruz made the entire season. Surely there were other big plays, but particularly those plays in those games, games that the Giants had to have and those plays being ones that fundamentally reversed the flow or determined the outcome of the game deserve to be highlighted.

The play by Cruz was incredible. Jets were controlling the game, leading 7-3. They were doing a great job defensively against the Giants offense and there was no real hope that it was going to get better from the Giants perspective. Giants were backed up on their own 1, with not much time left in the half, facing 3rd and 10. A stop there by the Jets, might mean that they get the ball back in great field position and can move in for another score before halftime. That would have given them a 7 or 11 point lead and lots of momentum heading into the second half. Cruz comes up with that big play, giving the Giants the lead, changing the momentum and leaving the Jets completely dazed for the second half. It changed the way the game was played also, with the Jets abandoning their running game and letting Sanchez put the ball up in the air some 60 times. This play changed that game and changed both the Jets season as well as the Giants season at the same time. Only the winner of that game had a realistic chance of making the playoffs and that one play simultaneously reversed the fortunes for both. It was the biggest play of the year for the Giants and may have been the biggest single regular season play in NFL history.

If you're looking for an early season play that was both a harbinger of things to come and set up the Giants offense with confidence, propelling them to a productive season, the 75 yard catch and run by Victor Cruz (aka Cruuuuuuuuz) against the Eagles way back in week 3 was the big play. Nobody expected the Giants to be able to contend with the Philadelphia Dream Team Eagles. Giants looked terrible in a week one loss to the Redskins and did not look too much better in the week 2 victory against the Rams, requiring a defensive TD on a boneheaded error by the Rams to win. Giants were ahead 7-0 in the first quarter but when Cruz caught a little sideline pass, made someone miss, broke a tackle and streamed down the sidelines for a score, he trumpeted his arrival on the scene and let the world know that he could be a productive WR. Later, with the Giants behind 16-14 in the fourth quarter, Cruz out-jumped Asomugha at the goal line for another score, one that put them ahead permanently. Even though that second TD was important, I am highlighting the first one as Cruz's big statement play.

As much as I love Cruz, you can't ignore the skill of the guy on the other end of those throws. Eli and Cruz have great communication, read the defenses the same way (one exception last week early in 49ers game) and have great chemistry. Let's not forget the other important point - Eli's ball placement has been superb this year. Throwing it high, low or middle as the situation demands and hitting Cruz in perfect stride, so he does not have to reach or bend for the ball and is able to make a move and make people miss, leading to some big plays after the catch.

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