At a perfect 5-0, the New York Giants have begun 2009 on the right foot.
However, it was a certain right foot — or more specifically, a right heel — which concerned the Giants most on Sunday.
That is, the sore right heel of Giants’ star quarterback Eli Manning, who made his 83rd consecutive start.
As if following a script that Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin couldn’t have written better himself, Manning tossed two touchdown passes while leading New York to touchdowns on each of its first four offensive possessions.
The fast start allowed Coughlin to pull and rest Manning for precautionary reasons before halftime, with the Giants very comfortably ahead of the woeful Oakland Raiders at The Meadowlands on Sunday.
Manning said, “It was just a… team domination from the start, and it gave us a big lead, and that’s what we wanted to do.”
Big Blue wasted no time in sending a clear message to the rest of the National Football League that with their offensive leader of sound health, the Giants intend to remain a legitimate Super Bowl contender this season.
On the first play from scrimmage in the Giants’ 44-7 rout of Oakland, Manning took a normal drop from under center, made a routine plant on the right heel that he injured in the Giants’ win in Kansas City last week, and off a play-action fake, completed a solid pass to tight end Darcy Johnson for a 9-yard gain.
As Johnson was tackled, 79,012 fans in attendance plus millions of other Giants’ fans watching on television or listening on the radio, breathed a collective sigh of relief.
With Manning’s plantar fasciitis question apparently answered on the game’s initial play, the Giants used more than half of the first quarter during a 14-play, 77-yard game-opening drive which took 8:03, to grab a 7-0 lead. Manning completed four passes to four different receivers in five attempts, for 36 yards on the drive, immediately quelling any doubts about the condition of his heel.
Manning later confirmed that he felt fine, saying “It felt great during the game, it felt like I could do everything, run the offense… I could do everything we had to do.”
New York capped the possession with a 4th-and-1 touchdown plunge by running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who led the Giants’ rushing attack with a game-high 110 yards on just 11 carries. Coughlin evaluated Bradshaw’s performance with high praise, saying, “He’s run the ball very tough, very physical, he makes a lot of people miss. He had a very, very good game.”
For further convincing, after an Oakland three-and-out, Manning began the Giants’ next possession placing the ball over the shoulder of Raiders’ cornerback, seven-year pro Chris Johnson, hitting wide receiver Steve Smith, who led all receivers with 70 yards on three catches, for a 43-yard pass to the Oakland 36 yard-line. Bradshaw then finished the three-play, 79-yard drive, which took only 1:37, with a rush of 17 yards, before going untouched on a 19-yard touchdown run, putting the Giants up 14-0 with 3:15 left in the first quarter.
After another Raider three-and-out, Bradshaw turned a Manning screen pass on third-and-24 into a 55-yard romp to the Oakland 30 yard-line on the final play of the opening quarter, a period in which the New York outgained Oakland 219-18 while controlling the ball for 11:07 to the Raiders’ 3:53.
On the next play, Manning threw a nice 30-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mario Manningham in the far right corner of the end zone, giving the Giants a 21-0 lead just seven seconds into the second quarter.
Only three plays later, the Giants got the ball back on the first of three Oakland fumbles, all by quarterback Jamarcus Russell, who was just 8 of 13 for 100 yards. Cornerback Terrell Thomas sacked Russell, the first of six New York sacks, forcing the ball loose. Defensive end Justin Tuck recovered at the Raiders’ 13 yard-line. After two rushes, Manning threw a 3rd-and-6, nine-yard bullet in the end zone to wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (4 receptions, 49 yards) for the rookie’s second career touchdown (Nicks made his first career touchdown reception last week). The Giants led 28-0 with 12:37 remaining in the half, and the rout was on.
The Raiders’ only points came on only their fourth touchdown of the season — as many touchdowns as the Giants had in Sunday’s game alone, to that point –- after Sinorice Moss fumbled a punt which Oakland recovered at the New York 15 yard-line. Running back Michael Bush cut the Giants’ lead to 28-7 on a 5-yard touchdown run with 2:19 to go in the first half after it appeared that the Raiders got a break when a Giants’ fumble recovery was negated on a questionable forward progress ruling on the previous play.
At that point, having completed 8 of his 10 passes for 173 yards (49 more than the total yards Oakland managed for the game), Manning was lifted for the remainder of the day in favor of backup David Carr.
Russell’s second fumble set up a Lawrence Tynes 25-yard field goal with two seconds left in the half, as the Giants took a 31-7 lead into the break.
On the Giants’ opening possession of the third quarter, Carr capped a six-play, 53 yard drive with a 12-yard run into the near left corner of the end zone, for a 38-7 Giants’ advantage with 10:01 left in the third quarter.
Tynes added a 33-yard field goal with 6:52 left in the third, and closed the scoring with 11:38 remaining in the game on a 37-yard kick.
The Giants’ dominance of the Raiders was of an equal opportunity variety for both the running and passing games. New York, which outgained Oakland 483-124 yards overall, held advantages of 220-64 on the ground and 263-64 through the air.
The win marks the third time the Giants have started a season 5-0. The previous times, they lost in the 1941 NFL championship game, and the 1990 Giants won Super Bowl XXV.
In a showdown of arguably the top two teams in the NFL right now, the Giants, who have beaten up on a soft schedule of Tampa Bay (0-5), Kansas City (0-5) and Oakland (1-4) over the past three weeks, will travel to New Orleans to face the 4-0 Saints on Sunday, at 1:00pm EST.
Though Sunday’s game will foremost be a big regular season matchup with possible big playoff seeding implications, it will also be an emotional homecoming for Manning, who was born in New Orleans. For the first time ever, Manning will be playing in The Superdome, where his father, Archie Manning, a former two-time pro-bowl selection who still makes his home in New Orleans, played for the Saints from 1971-1982.