E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Don’t worry. These aren’t the same New York Giants who beat you in those two Super Bowls.
Um, yes they are.
Yes, the Patriots have been hit hard with the injury bug, and got hit again on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. With Julian Edelman lost for the game with an ankle injury on the final play of the first quarter, with the offensive line having to exist with center Brian Stork playing right tackle, with Jamie Collins still out with some bug he has had for the last two weeks, the Patriots were definitely shorthanded as they had to face the one NFL team that absolutely has the blueprint to beat them.
A bizarre chain of events in the last six minutes, where the Patriots seemingly had the Giants put away but instead nearly turned into the other way around, needed a 54-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with one second left to give the undefeated Patriots a 27-26 win over the Giants. The game came down to an unlikely end zone pick by Tom Brady, a touchdown by the Giants that was reversed, bad play calling that followed, and Brady atoning for the interception by looking like his Super Bowl XXXVI self.
It was a breathtaking finish, and it was perhaps the most important kick of Gostkowski’s career. Seemingly still in the shadows of his predecessor, Adam Vinatieri, Gostkowski had never been called upon to make this important of a kick in his career, and with the game on the line, he made the 54-yard game winner by just getting the long kick inside the left upright. The ball had some draw on it, but not enough to break the hearts of Patriot Nation.
Up to this point, the game was nip and tuck. The Giants looked anything like the worst defensive team in football. The Patriots did their best with whomever was healthy enough to play.
The Patriots took up the first 8:12 of the game to go up 7-0, but two plays later, Odell Beckham Jr. beat Malcolm Butler deep up the right sideline for an 87-yard touchdown. Butler put the clamps on Beckham the rest of the day, three catches for 17 yards thereafter.
Phil Simms of CBS scolded the Giants for winning the coin toss and giving the Patriots the ball to begin the game. Patriot fans knew better. Eli Manning threw a one-yard touchdown pass to Dwayne Harris with nine seconds left in the first half, then began the second half with a 38-yard field goal by Josh Brown to give the Giants a 10-0 double pump. Just like the Patriots do when they defer the coin toss. Somehow, you knew Tom Coughlin and Manning would pull it off.
It was 20-10 Giants at that time, but two huge plays would help the Patriots get a 24-23 lead midway through the fourth quarter. After an exchange of three and outs, the Giants punted and Danny Amendola returned the punt 82 yards and might have had a touchdown but was tripped up at the seven-yard line by Duron Harmon. LeGarrette Blount ran it in from one yard out to make it 20-17.
Two possessions and a lost Brady fumble later, it was 23-17 Giants. On their second possession of the fourth quarter, Brady would find Rob Gronkowski on a seam route. Gronkowski made the catch with both Craig Dahl and former Patriot Brandon Meriweather in the area. Gronk rumbled 76 yards for the touchdown to give the Patriots a 24-23 lead. A three and out gave the Patriots the ball back, and Brady drove the Patriots to the Giant one-yard line with 7:09 left.
Blount ran around right end for an apparent touchdown, but David Andrews was called for holding. First and goal at the 11, and Brady gets sacked by Jason Pierre-Paul, but the Giants were flagged for illegal use of hands (referee Ed Hochuli did not say who). First and goal at the six, two plays later Brady tried to hit Brandon LaFell on a quick left slant in the end zone. Trumaine McBride undercut the route and made a ghastly interception. Manning got the ball back at the three.
Before you can utter “John Elway The Drive”, here were the Giants at the Patriot five-yard line with 2:06 left and the Patriots down to one timeout. Manning drops back on first down and lofts a lob pass to the left side, and Beckham made a juggling catch with Butler defending. The call was touchdown. The play had to go to review.
Patriot fans should have been begging for the touchdown to stand, because Brady would have had over two minutes left and one timeout plus the two-minute warning to get a touchdown to win. But the pass was ruled incomplete on replay.
Instead of falling on the ball or running the ball to bleed clock, Manning instead threw two more incomplete passes. The clock stoppages helped the Patriots as precious time was conserved. On second down, Manning tried to hit Harris in the right corner of the end zone but did not see Beckham wide open over the middle in the end zone. Brown would kick a 29-yard field goal to give the Giants the lead with 1:47 left.
It was the 1:47 that mattered most. The two incompletions gave Brady plenty of time to get Gostkowski into range. The drive started ominously, as Brady floated a lob over the middle that Landon Collins seemingly caught for a game-sealing pick, but juggled the ball as he hit the ground and the pass was incomplete. On fourth and ten at the 20, Brady was able to hit Amendola over the middle for 12 yards thanks mostly to former Patriot Jonathan Casillas dropping too deep in zone coverage.
Amendola picked up the slack for the injured Edelman and hauled in passes of 12, 10 and 10 yards to get the Patriots to the 36 with six seconds left. Gostkowski came in, and after the Giants called their final timeout to ice him, nailed the 54-yard field goal to give the Patriots the lead with one second left. The ensuing kickoff was a little hairy with four laterals and two fumbles, but Beckham took one of them and stepped out of bounds to end the game.
The key to this win by the Patriots was those two incomplete passes by Manning following the touchdown disallowed on replay. The Giants did the Patriots a huge favor by not running clock. Giving Brady a few seconds instead of 1:47 to get the field goal attempt was much more favorable to the Giants than what they did.
Brady finished 26 of 42 passing for 334 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 92.8 rating. Manning was a little better, fearlessly riddling the Patriots for 24 of 44 passing for 361 yards, two touchdowns and a 96.9 rating. Amendola led the Patriots with ten catches, Gronkowski led in yards with 113. Harris had the most Giant catches with six, and Beckham had the most yards with 104, but 87 of them were on that first catch. Blount had 66 yards rushing, most of them in the first half.
With Denver losing again on Sunday (and Eli’s brother getting benched for throwing four picks), the Patriots can now afford a loss at Denver if they beat Buffalo at home next Monday night. Cincinnati plays tomorrow night against Houston. The Patriots stay in good standing in the conference, if the good people of southern Ohio don’t complain too loudly.
Too bad Gostkowski wasn’t trusted to hit that 49-yarder eight years ago. Guess we finally know now that he is the real deal.
More Patriots News Headlines: