Monday, December 26, 2005

Washington 35-New Jersey 20: Separating Myth from Fact and the Ball from Burress

I grew up and live in Giants territory. I played Pop Warner football against Rutherford near the swamps where they later built Giants stadium. I hear and read the New York sports media every day, so I know how Giants fans think.

So, with that in mind, let me tell you what New York sports society thinks about the Redskins stomping on the Giants on Saturday. I’ll present a myth and follow it with a fact.

Myth: The Giants lost because the officials gave the game to the Redskins. I’m not kidding, many really believe this. I heard it at Christmas dinner the day after the game; I heard it on WFAN radio from Domingo (sp?) the anchor who was filling in for Mike and the Mad Dog, and it was written in the Star Ledger. So, let’s walk through four penalties (updated from three on 12-27) that are in question. I’ll try to list them in the priority that Giants fans feel are the most egregious.

First, there was a holding call on guard Chris Snee that erased a touchdown late in the fourth quarter when the Giants were losing by a score of 35 – 20. Giants’ fans do not think Snee held, probably because Butch Johnston said that it was a borderline call on the FOX broadcast.

Fact: Where do I begin? How about with Snee himself?
Snee: “If I happened to pull him down on the way down, if that’s what they saw, it’s a penalty.”

Okay, we've established that some ref saw Snee hold and that's why he threw the flag. Now, we have Snee himself stating that he might have pulled him down, and if he did (apparently he just can’t remember whether he did or not because defensive lineman fall down for no reason all of the time) AND—here is the important part—if they saw it, THEN it is a penalty.

Well, apparently the ref saw what anyone could clearly see on a replay, which I reviewed on TIVO. Snee was falling down, the Skins’ Renaldo Wynn was spinning away from Snee toward a wide-open shot at Manning, and Snee smartly grabbed the back of Wynn's jersey near the shoulder pads and pulled him down to keep his QB from getting killed. Regardless of what Butch Johnston said on the broadcast, they always call holding in the NFL when a defensive lineman’s jersey is pulled off of his shoulder pads and then he immediately falls down as if he were pulled. There is simply no other explanation for a lineman's jersey to come off of the shoulder pad.

Second, there was the roughing the passer call on Jackson on third and three on the Giants 48 yard line.

Fact: I don’t know if I would have thrown a flag, but I’ve seen much worse calls than that for roughing.

I agree that if Ramsey were a wide receiver who dropped a pass and then took that hit, they probably wouldn’t throw a flag. But, the NFL is all about protecting its quarterbacks and Jackson should know that. There were several clean hits that the Redskins put on opposing QBs this year that were called personal fouls when, unlike Jackson, there was absolutely no way for the defender to stop his momentum toward the QB.

In this case, the ref didn’t throw the flag because he thought the hit on Ramsey was particularly vicious. He threw it because Jackson took two more steps toward Ramsey after Ramsey released the ball and then hit Ramsey’s face mask with his helmet. The rule doesn’t say you have to hurt the QB in order for it to be roughing the passer. The rule says that if you can help it, you are not allowed to hit the QB after he releases the ball.

Also, Giants fans seemed to have forgotten that Ramsey converted that third down on a four-yard out to Moss. Yes, the ball moved 15-yards closer, but there were still 29-yards between the ball and the goal line. They just couldn’t stop Portis that day and they certainly didn’t stop him on that drive because Portis took three more handoffs for those 29 yards and touchdown.

Third, The illegal touch call on the Giants punt put the ball at the Washington twenty-yard line instead of the three. The player who made the illegal touch was pushed out of bounds.

Fact: Okay, he definitely was pushed out. I have searched hard to find the exact wording of that rule to no avail. I know that the intent is to keep a player from having an unfair advantage by using the out of bounds area of the field.

Two things struck me about that play. 1. the Giants player continued running out of bounds when no Redskins players were around him. I know that because Sean Taylor tried to dislodge his brain from his skull but whiffed and there was no one around him for his next five or six strides. Maybe the officials felt he should have made more of an effort to get back in bounds. But, 2. the bottom line is the Redskins' 7-minute, 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive would have been an 8-minute, 15-play, 97-yard touchdown drive because the Giants could not stop the Redskins on that series.

The last penalty that the Giants and their fans are bitching about is a non-call on Shawn Springs against Burress on fourth and two, down by FIFTEEN, with 5:20 left in the game.

Fact: All I can say is if the Giants want to get that call in the future Manning should throw the ball somewhere in the vicinity of the receiver. Springs gave everything he had to grab that ball—and he got closer to it than Burress—but he was still about four yards away from touching it. If there was contact, it was incidental as he was diving for an uncatchable ball, and that is not pass interference. By the way, that happened right in front of my seats and I saw the ref reach into his pocket for the flag before he came to his senses and stuffed it back in.

Fact: The overriding fact dispelling the myth that the refs cost the Giants the game is that the Redskins simply played better than the Giants. The Stats, and points, prove it.

The Redskins are simply a better team than the Giants. According to Matthew Futterman in yesterday’s Star Ledger, the Giants players were crying before the game that Burress should have gone to the Pro Bowl instead of Santana Moss. Apparently they don’t feel that way anymore according to Futterman—for good reason—because the most obvious difference in this game was that Moss made great plays and caught balls that hit his hands and Burress did not.

The less obvious difference is that the Redskins offensive linemen are better than the Giants defensive lineman. Chris Samuels, the only other Redskins player voted to the Pro Bowl as a starter, played better than Giants Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora—one of five Giants Pro Bowlers. Chris is a good lineman, but I think the Skins have two or three others at least as good who aren’t going to the Pro Bowl. Osi, by the way, had ZERO tackles and ZERO sacks against Samuels; that’s known as a shutout.

Need more differences? Brunell is twice the quarterback that Manning is now. Forget Manning’s pedigree and potential, Brunnell gets it done and has been there (Championship games) twice before. Eli might be there some day, but sober Giants fans would not make that prediction based on what they saw in the Giants’ last six games.

More? Portis is a better running back than Tiki Barber. Don’t get me wrong, Tiki is very good and I like him. And, I think he is having a better season than Portis overall. If he were on the Redskins I would buy his jersey. But, I wouldn’t trade them straight up.

Only two running backs in the history of the game have more rushing yards in their first four seasons than Clinton Portis, and Portis has achieved that after completely changing his running style from Denver’s slashing, zone-blocking rushing game to Gibbs’s smash-mouth, counter trey, between-the-tackles rushing game. Also, I have been surprised with other positive things that Portis does extremely well like picking up blitzers, delivering crunching blocks and swinging out for passes on check downs. I know Tiki does this well also, and both are great teammates and have been leaders, but Portis is the better rusher.

More? The Redskins tight ends are better than the Giants'. The Redskins tight ends have combined for fifteen touchdowns to the Giants' seven. Granted the tight end is more important to the Redskins offense than the Giants', but with all of the press and accolades that Shockey gets, you would never know that the Redskins have lapped the Giants' tight ends in TDs. They all go about their business quietly. And, Cooley, the quietest of them all, is straight up better than Shockey.

Finally, I don’t care how many Giants’ defenders are going to the Pro Bowl versus the Redskins’ none, the Redskins’ defense is simply better than the Giants’.

So, no, the refs didn’t cost the Giants the game. The Redskins cost the Giants the game. If your team loses by FIFTEEN and you’re complaining because your team didn’t get the chance to TIE the game on a bomb, extra point, second touchdown and two-point conversion—all with about six minutes left in the game when the other team converted 64% of it’s third downs, held the ball for 33:13 and your team couldn’t stop their offense from scoring 35-points in the first 54 minutes—you need a reality check.

Lost in all of that is that there were some pretty questionable calls on the Redskins, too.

Myth: The Giants didn’t bring their “A” game. They didn’t “play well.” They didn’t “tackle.”

Fact: The Giants knew exactly what was at stake and they couldn't get it done. The Giants knew they could have won the division if they beat the Redskins and they had a decent shot at a much-coveted bye in the first round of the playoffs with a win. They had plenty of incentive to win that game. The Giants didn’t have a let down. The Redskins knocked them down—and off—the line of scrimmage because the Redskins are a better team.

One of the things Giants coach Tom Coughlin cited as proof that they didn’t bring their “A” game was their failure to tackle on the Redskins first touchdown drive. Note to coach: When offensive lineman and H-backs knock your defensive players backwards before they get a chance to lay a finger on the guy with the ball, that is not poor tackling, that is great blocking. The Giants didn’t lose the game; the Redskins won it. You don’t need any more evidence than Moss’s 17-yard score on that first TD drive that Coughlin mentioned. Moss caught a screen and Cooley, Samuels, and Rabach put pancake blocks on three of the Giants trying to get to Moss, but they never got close enough to touch him. Redskins' guard Dockery kicked out and pushed the last potential Giants tackler backwards about ten yards into the end zone. Great blocking is not poor tackling. The Giants did their best on Saturday, but it wasn’t good enough.

In my next post, I'll write about where the Redskins stand in the conference, their playoff chances, and the playoffs. I am done writing about the Giants game, the Giants, and Giants' fans. I won't write on that topic again this year unless the Skins meet the Giants in the playoffs.


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