EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Coming off of an embarrassing 21-point loss in New Orleans, the New York Giants needed to return home looking sharp, focused, and ready to take care of business against the visiting Arizona Cardinals at Giants Stadium on Sunday night.
Instead, the Giants played as if they hadn’t practiced at all after being humbled by the Saints last week. Of course, they had practiced since then, but it certainly didn’t show in their uncharacteristic, mistake-filled, sloppy 24-17 loss to Arizona. Not even the added incentive of wanting to perform well in front of several key members of the Giants’ 1986 championship team, who were honored shortly before kickoff, helped the Giants in a matchup of the past two NFC champions.
Although the Cardinals committed two turnovers and seven penalties for 60 yards, the Giants turned the ball over four times, had seven penalties of their own (for 30 yards, including a few during some key moments in the second half). Most of all, they were hurt by a poor punting game which gave Arizona good field position more times than the Giants’ defense was able to make stops.
The game didn’t start out that way for New York. The opening quarter, which included the first of three Cardinals’ interceptions of Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning (19-37, 243 yards, 1 TD, 3 INT) ended in a scoreless tie, thanks to an Arizona turnover on the game’s first drive. The Cardinals drove 39 yards on the first three plays from scrimmage, but a fumble by running back Tim Hightower was recovered at the Giants’ 27 yard-line by safety Michael Johnson, who ironically played his college football at the University of Arizona.
On the Cardinals’ first possession of the second quarter, New York forced Arizona’s second turnover, which resulted in the Giants getting on the scoreboard first. Cornerback Terrell Thomas intercepted Cardinals’ quarterback Kurt Warner (20-36, 231 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) at the Arizona 42 yard-line, and returned the ball 13 yards to the Cardinals’ 29.
From there, the Giants only needed three plays to score, as Brandon Jacobs ran 25 yards on first down to the Arizona 4 yard-line, before powering his way into the end zone on a 4-yard touchdown run two plays later, putting the Giants up 7-0, with 13:28 left in the first half.
Behind Jacobs’ game-high 76 yards on 13 carries, New York ran for 107 yards against the NFL’s top rushing defense, which came into the game allowing just 56 rushing yards per game.
Yet, the Giants opted pass 11 more times than they rushed, mostly because they were playing catch-up for much of the second half, and because the Cardinals dared Manning to throw, keeping eight players in the box, defensively.
After Jacobs’ touchdown, the defenses took over for a while as each team traded a pair of three-and-outs.
However, Giants punter Jeff Feagles, who was booed repeatedly by the Giants Stadium crowd of 78,299 for struggling all night to just a 34.4 average on 7 punts, set up Arizona’s first touchdown with a short 33-yard punt, out of bounds, to the Arizona 46-yard line.
Feagles, whose longest kick of the night was 44 yards, slightly less than the 44.3 average for Cardinals’ punter Ben Graham on 8 punts, continually overcompensated while angling the ball out of bounds in an effort to avoid big returns by dangerous kick returner Steve Breaston. That strategy backfired, as Feagles’ punts gave Warner and Arizona’s offense a short field for two key Cardinals’ scoring drives.
A 33-yard punt out of bounds at the Giants’ 46-yard line led to a 7-play, 46-yard drive in 3:09, which ended with a 13-yard touchdown run — the first in the career of rookie running back Beanie Wells — tying the score 7-7, with 4:18 remaining in the opening half.
Just 2:09 later, the Giants responded on a fluke touchdown by a rookie of their own, Hakeem Nicks, who alertly scored for the fourth straight game. Arizona cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who earlier, made a great first-quarter interception in the Cardinals’ end zone, taking a would-be touchdown away from Giants’ wide receiver Domenic Hixon, deflected the ball 15 yards downfield on a 3rd-and-8 pass intended for wide receiver Mario Manningham. Nicks came seemingly out of nowhere, covering a lot of ground quickly. He caught the ball in stride at the Cardinals’ 28-yard line and ran untouched into the end zone, putting the Giants ahead 14-7, with 2:09 left in the first half.
Warner then drove the Cardinals 51 yards in just 5 plays and 1:54, but the New York defense held Arizona to a Neil Rackers 30-yard field goal 15 seconds before halftime.
Taking a 14-10 lead into the locker room, history was on the Giants’ side, as Big Blue had a 15-game winning streak when leading at the half. That streak, of course, came to an end on Sunday night.
The second half started with another Giants’ three-and-out, and yet another short punt by Feagles, this time, only 35 yards to the Arizona 45 yard-line.
Warner made quick work of that opportunity, finding arguably the league’s best receiver, Larry Fitzgerald, first for 29 yards, on the second play of a 7-play, 55-yard drive to the Giants’ 29. Two plays later, Warner hit Fitzgerald, who led all receivers with 6 catches for 83 yards, for a 27-yard gain to the New York 7. After stopping Wells twice, the Giants let Hightower score from a yard out, putting Arizona ahead to stay, 17-14, with 10:19 left in the third quarter.
On the next possession, one of three Arizona sacks led to another three-and-out, and a 30-yard Feagles’ punt, to the Giants’ 48 yard-line. However, a 15-yard chop block penalty against the Cardinals helped the New York defense force an Arizona punt.
But, the Giants continued to hurt themselves with mistakes. A delay of game penalty on 3rd-and-2 was followed by Manning’s second interception deep in New York’s own territory, giving Arizona the ball at the Giants’ 20.
Again, Warner and the Cardinals took advantage, needing just three plays to go ahead 24-14, with 2:32 to go in the third quarter, on a quick Warner 6-yard shovel pass up the middle to running back Jason Wright.
The Giants then drove from their own 24 yard-line to the Arizona 46, aided by a roughing the passer penalty against Manning, but the drive stalled when instead of staying short or going with the run to pick up a first down, Manning threw incomplete, deep up the left sideline for Manningham on 3rd-and-2 when the Arizona defense again came up to press.
The Giants forced a three-and-out and drove 10 plays, 42 yards, in 4:57, to the Arizona 4-yard line. But, then the opposite wrong decision was made. On what should have likely been a passing down, New York, on 3rd-and-3, ran Jacobs, who only got two yards. The Giants settled for a 20-yard field goal from kicker Lawrence Tynes on 4th-and-1, trimming the Cardinals’ lead to 24-17, with 8:14 left in the game.
The kick turned out to be the Giants’ only points of the second half for an offense that struggled on first and second downs throughout the game, which set up a bunch of third-and-longs.
Starting right tackle Kareem McKenzie was out after suffering a groin injury last week in New Orleans. Rookie second-round draft pick William Beatty took his place, making his first professional start, thus ending the NFL’s longest streak of consecutive games with the same starting offensive line, at 38 games.
A bit out of sync due to a change after such a long period of consistency, the Giants’ offensive line had trouble combating Arizona’s defensive blitzing schemes, which were designed to both rattle Manning and slow the Giants’ ground attack. As a result, four times during the first half, and three more in the second half, New York faced third down and double digit yardage to go for first downs.
After forcing an Arizona punt, the Giants were on the move when Manning connected with tight end Kevin Boss on a 25-yard completion to their own 42-yard line. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw then ran off left tackle for 14 more yards into Cardinal territory, but fighting for a little extra yardage, he fumbled at the Arizona 44.
Again, the Giants’ defense held, giving its offense another shot, and it looked as though Manning, one of the best two-minute drill quarterbacks in the league, might yet help the Giants’ overcome their myriad of mistakes.
New York took over at its own 9-yard line after a 43-yard Graham punt. A false start penalty on Beatty moved the Giants back to their own 5 before a personal foul penalty on Bradshaw moved the ball back to the 1.
But, two plays later, Giants’ leading wide receiver Steve Smith then made a great catch on 3rd-and-15, reaching back between two defenders for a 34-yard gain to the New York 38.
Two Manning completions and a couple of Jacobs runs brought the ball to the Arizona 39 with 1:15 left. However, with the Giants seemingly driving to force overtime, one final error by New York finally sealed the game for the Cardinals. On 2nd-and-10, Manning tried to force a ball into Smith who was double covered near the right sideline. Safety Antrel Rolle caught Manning’s third interception of the contest, fighting Smith for the ball, coming down with it just inside the near sideline, at the Arizona 22 yard-line, with 1:08 left in the game. Burning two timeouts earlier in the half, the Giants couldn’t get the ball back.
The final result has each team going in opposite directions. The Giants, whose NFC East lead is down to just a half-game over both Dallas and Philadelphia (where New York heads on Sunday), lost for the second straight week after starting the season 5-0. Meanwhile, Arizona won for the third straight time after starting 1-2. The Cardinals’ victory moved them into sole possession of first place in the NFC West, a game ahead of San Francisco, losers of two straight games. The win marked the first time that Arizona won back-to-back road games since 2001, and it was only the Cardinals’ third victory in its 18th and final visit to Giants Stadium barring a repeat Cardinals-Giants playoff matchup. The current Giants Stadium will be demolished after this season making way for the Giants and Jets to move into their new Meadowlands Stadium next year.