The New York Giants traveled to Denver feeling appropriately thankful on Thanksgiving.
How could they not, after finally ending a four-game losing streak with an overtime win over Atlanta last week and licking their chops, thinking of feasting on a Denver Broncos team that was on a bad four-game slide of its own?
After an embarrassing 26-6 loss in Denver however, the Giants (6-5) will be most grateful if they can simply remain a legitimate contender in the NFC playoff race by the time the December holidays arrive.
If that happens, Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin might be thanking any player on his team who could help prevent another performance as dreadful as the one he witnessed at Invesco Field at Mile High on Thursday night.
“We didn’t have any tempo and we didn’t make any plays,” Coughlin said. “We keep talking about winning the physical battle and controlling the line of scrimmage. We thought this would be the night and it wasn’t.
That was the understatement of the evening for Giants fans who probably wished Big Blue could have at least swapped places with one of the NFL teams which played its game earlier in the day. Seeing their team get physically dominated in the trenches the way it did in a Thanksgiving nightcap must have made it tough for Giants supporters to keep down their turkey and all of the trimmings.
The Giants managed just a pair of Lawrence Tynes field goals against a Broncos squad that allowed between 27 and 32 points in each of its previous four games.
New York tight end Kevin Boss (two receptions for 22 yards), who caught two key touchdown passes last week, said “We really wanted this one. We needed this one. We felt like we were starting to play our type of ball again [after last week] and for whatever reason we just came out here and laid an egg. We never got into a rhythm and we were just flat.”
Offensively, that was true right from the start, as the Giants stumbled out of the gate, with their six first-half possessions resulting in five punts and a fumble, going an anemic three-and-out on four occasions.
Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning (24-40, 230 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT), who threw for a career-high 384 yards and three touchdowns only four days prior, was routinely pressured as the Giants’ ineffective offensive line let the floodgates open on its often unprotected quarterback.
Although New York made the final statistics respectable — the Broncos outgained the Giants 373-267 and finished with just six more first downs (21-15) — the first half numbers, which set the tone for the rest of the game, told the real story, as the Giants could get very little going offensively and didn’t make enough defensive stops early on, to stay in the game.
Denver (7-4) held a huge advantage (213-38) in total yards (including 149-9 net yards through the air), had twelve first downs to New York’s three, and limited Manning to just six completions in thirteen attempts, for 28 yards in the opening two quarters.
A frustrated Osi Umenyiora was seen scolding his teammates on the sideline during the first as the defensive end seemed to be, like many Giants this season, left without answers as to why his team can often look so good at some points, and during others, as bad as it showed against the Broncos, this season.
After punting on its first possession of the game, Denver drove deep into New York territory on its next two trips, but settled for field goals each time. The first, a 26-yarder from Matt Prater, gave the Broncos a 3-0 lead with 2:28 left in the first quarter. Prater then made it 6-0, Denver, from 32 yards out, with 10:46 remaining in the opening half.
The Broncos would score on their next two possessions though, to take control of the game. A fumble by Giants’ running back Danny Ware was recovered at the New York 38-yard line by safety Brian Dawkins (who used to plague the Giants for years as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles before coming to Denver this season).
The Broncos took advantage quickly, needing just four plays to find the end zone, as Denver wide receiver Brandon Marshall (team-high 6 catches for a game-high 86 yards) made a nice leaping, one-hand grab on a pass from quarterback Kyle Orton (18-28, 245 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) for a 28-yard gain. Three plays later, rookie running back Knowshon Moreno (Ware‘s fellow Georgia alum, who racked up a game-high 88 yards on 19 carries), scored on a one-yard touchdown plunge to put the Broncos comfortably ahead, 13-0, with 7:17 left in the half.
A 15-yard facemask penalty on Giants’ cornerback Corey Webster put Denver in field goal range on the Broncos next possession, allowing Prater to connect again, on a 47-yard field goal, 3:28 before halftime, to give Denver 16-0 lead, a margin the Broncos would take into the locker room.
The Giants showed signs of getting back in the game on both sides of the ball in the third quarter. They held Denver scoreless in the period and mounted scoring drives the first two times they touched the ball in the quarter.
But, each of those possessions ended in field goals (third-quarter kicks of 39 and 52 yards from Tynes) rather than touchdowns, something that Coughlin pointed to as the last blown chances for the Giants to come away victorious. “We came away with field goals rather than touchdowns.” he said, “Which could have given us some gas un our tank… and a chance to win.”
The Giants went quietly in the final quarter after Tynes’ second field goal trimmed the Broncos’ lead to 16-6 with 31 second remaining in the third period.
Denver took the ensuing possession 64 yards, finishing a nine-play drive in 5:16 on a 17-yard touchdown pass from Orton to wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who caught a pass wide open over the middle and scored untouched, to put the Broncos up 23-6, with 10:15 left in the game.
Prater closed the scoring, finishing his perfect night with his fourth field goal, a 24-yarder, with 5:02 remaining.
History has been traditionally unkind to NFL road teams traveling on a short week, distances of at least as long as the Giants’ trip to Denver. However, Coughlin didn’t blame the schedule makers. He said his team’s meetings, preparation, and organization during the week were all fine. He simply concluded, “We played very poorly tonight, there was no excuse for it… no short week, none of that stuff… We just did not play well.”
Coughlin came back to losing the battle at the line of scrimmage, particularly losing the battle with the running game on each side of the ball. “That’s where football starts,’ he said. “Stopping the run and running the ball.”
That issue for the Giants was evident by the play calling. Although New York had a slightly higher yards per carry average (3.6 to 3.5), the Broncos, who were in control, were able to rush the ball 40 times (for 138 yards) out of 68 offensive plays. In sharp contrast, the Giants, playing catchup, were forced to abandon their running game earlier than they had originally planned, rushing just 16 times in 56 offensive plays.
The loss was a big missed opportunity for New York, which could have been playing Dallas (8-3, Thanksgiving Day winners over Oakland) for first place in the NFC East at home next week.
Giants’ running back Brandon Jacobs said of his team’s overall effort, “We didn’t want it bad enough.” He remains optimistic though, despite the Giants’ fifth loss in six games, saying, “We’ve got a lot of talent and we know at some point it’s going to pick up. We’ve got to really get our engine going for the next couple of weeks.”
They still may, but as Coughlin alluded to, the Giants must now hope there’s enough gas in the tank for that engine to get them where they’d still like to go.