David J Phillip
Now that the 2016-17 NFL season is over, I wanted to take some time to do a fun little exercise- the 10 best moments of the last 10 years for the New York football Giants. Because football seasons bleed over into a new calendar year, I will be looking at the 2007-08 season and the 2016-17 season, and all the ones in between. Let’s get right to it.
10. Odell Beckham Jr.’s One-Handed Catch
Yes, this came in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys on November 23, 2014. However, I included it here in the last spot because it is a forever moment. That catch by Odell Beckham Jr. will always be ranked among the very best catches in the history of professional football. And rightly so. Beckham was pulled from behind by cornerback Brandon Carr, causing him to fall backwards. Somehow, Beckham was still able to reach high enough with one hand to get three fingers on the ball. Miraculously, he held on with just those three fingers, and he fell into the end zone for a touchdown.
Did Cris Collinsworth overhype it a little bit right after it happened? Maybe, but it was still probably one of the ten best catches in NFL history. It was also the highlight of OBJ’s first three years in the league, a time that also featured unbelievable catches against the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins.
9. Beating the Cowboys Twice in 2016
This wasn’t a specific moment, but it was the highlight of the Giants’ 2016-17 season. The first win against their archrivals came in the season opener on September 11 in Dallas. After an offseason spending spree that saw the Giants try to improve a historically bad defense and the naming of Ben McAdoo as the new head coach, the Giants defeated the Cowboys in the first game of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott’s careers.
The defense did a great job against Dallas, as Prescott went 25-45 for 227 yards and Elliot only had 51 yards on 20 carries (although he did score a touchdown). In his first game as a Giant, corner Janoris Jenkins held Dez Bryant to one catch for eight yards. Odell Beckham Jr. had an uncharacteristically bad game (four catches for 73 yards), but rookie Sterling Shepard caught a touchdown. Down 19-13 in the fourth quarter, Eli Manning marched the team down the field and hit Victor Cruz for the game-winning touchdown. This was made even more special because it was Cruz’s first game in 700 days because of injuries. Terrance Williams’ refusal to run out of bounds on the last play saved the Giants from watching Dan Bailey take a shot at a field goal, and the Giants were 1-0.
Exactly three months later, the Giants hosted the Boys, winners of 11 straight. Trailing in the third quarter, Manning hit Beckham for what seemed to be a short gain. Surrounded by four defenders in the middle of the field, it appeared as though he had nowhere to go. But then he shifted into another gear, blowing by everybody and scoring a 61-yard touchdown. Down only 10-7 Prescott could not lead a similar comeback, in part because Bryant was once again turned into a non-factor by Jenkins. The pass rush, which had learned to play together by now, also helped with that. Bryant’s only catch of the night was fumbled and recovered by the Giants, and Dallas went quietly on their final possession.
The Giants not only kept their faint hopes of winning the division alive, they also got a second win over their rivals, at a time when no one else had been able to get one. The Giants’ season was ultimately doomed, as they lost in the Wild Card Round to the Green Bay Packers, but they are set up nicely for the future.
8. Beating the Patriots in New England in 2011
The Giants won their third game in a row to improve to 6-2 on the season, but this game was so memorable because of the memories it conjured and the foreshadowing effect it had. Trailing 13-10, Manning led the Giants on a comeback drive before hitting Mario Manningham for a go-ahead touchdown with 3:03 remaining. However, Tom Brady wanted to put Super Bowl XLII behind him, and he threw a go-ahead touchdown to tight end Rob Gronkowski with 96 seconds remaining in regulation. It was then that Manning led the Giants on a drive similar to the one in 2008 before throwing the game-winning touchdown to tight end Jake Ballard. The one-yard pass came with just 15 seconds left, and Brady had no time for another answer. The TD that won the Super Bowl in 2008 had come with 35 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, and Ballard wore the same number (85) as David Tyree, who’s helmet catch kept the hope alive on that fateful drive. It was also the Pats’ first home loss in 31 regular season games.
7. Winning Out in 2011
Following the win in New England, the 2011 Giants dropped four in a row before saving their season with a win in Dallas. They then laid an egg at home to the Redskins, dropping their record to 7-7. In order to make the playoffs, they were going to have to beat their state rivals, the New York Jets, and their archrivals, the Cowboys. And they did just that.
After arriving to MetLife Stadium to find that the Jets had covered their Super Bowl XLII logo with black curtains to get ready for their “home” game, the Giants went out and showed that they were the better team. Led by Victor Cruz’s 99-yard touchdown catch and Ahmad Bradshaw’s two scores, the Giants thumped Rex Ryan’s team and effectively ended their hopes of advancing to the postseason.
The next week, the Giants welcomed the Cowboys to New York, needing a win to extend their season. They got one by burying the Boys 31-14. Manning outplayed Tony Romo, throwing three touchdowns, including one to Cruz, who had six catches and 178 yards. Hakeem Nicks also caught a touchdown pass, the first of three straight games that he would have at least one. The next two helped the Giants blow past the Atlanta Falcons and Green Bay Packers in the first two rounds of the playoffs by a combined score of 61-22.
6. 2008 Divisional Round Win Over the Cowboys
The Cowboys had home field advantage throughout the playoffs after winning the NFC East. However, they were a little rusty coming off their first round bye, and they had ended the regular season 1-2. The Giants, who had gone 10-6 despite losing to the Cowboys twice to win a Wild Card spot before upsetting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round, came into Dallas not looking at themselves as underdogs. They also didn’t shoot themselves in the foot, thanks in part to head coach Tom Coughlin’s preaching of discipline. The Cowboys, on the other hand, committed 11 penalties for 84 yards. The two teams were tied at 14 at halftime, and at the end, Dallas continued to hinder their chances with penalties. Meanwhile, Brandon Jacobs’ score from one yard out put the G-Men up 21-17. Michael Strahan, who would retire after the season, led a rushing attack that sacked Tony Romo three times.
The win gave Big Blue a chance to go to the Super Bowl for the first time since losing Super Bowl XXXV to the Baltimore Ravens in 2001. It also stunned Dallas owner Jerry Jones, who admitted in January that he is still bothered by the loss.
5. Michael Strahan Becomes Franchise Sacks Leader
In Week 4 of the 2007 season, the Giant defense dominated their rivals the Philadelphia Eagles en route to a 16-3 win. Osi Umenyiora racked up six of their 12 sacks, but the biggest one came from Michael Strahan. The longtime Giant’s only sack of the game gave him 133.5 for his career, breaking Lawrence Taylor’s franchise record. Strahan would retire after the season with 141.5 career sacks, fifth on the all-time list at the time. Taylor, regarded by some as the best defensive player of all time, was in attendance. Now, sacks became an official statistic in 1982, Taylor’s second year. He supposedly had 9.5 sacks as a rookie, which would give him 142 sacks. But officially, Strahan passed one of the greatest players in NFL history that night. The record is a testament to his longevity and prowess, and he should be commended for spending his entire 15-year career with one team.
4. 2012 NFC Championship Game
This was one of the grittiest postseason games ever, a match-up of two teams so similar that it appeared as though the first team to make a mistake would lose. And that is exactly what ended up happening. Under rainy conditions, the Giants and San Francisco 49ers went toe-to-toe in a thrilling game. There were some big plays, including a 73-yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith to Vernon Davis in the first quarter and a 17-yard hookup between Manning and Manningham that gave the Giants a lead halfway through the fourth quarter. But for the most part, the defenses reigned supreme, and the game went to overtime. And that’s when a mistake was made.
Kyle Williams, who had already let a ball graze his knee in the fourth quarter to set up the Manningham score, was replacing the injured Ted Ginn Jr. Coach Jim Harbaugh sent him back out there to return the overtime punts. In a defensive stalemate, the game-winning score was set up by a standout special teams play. Rookie Jacquian Williams stuck out his hand and punched the football out of Williams’ hands, and his status as a goat was sealed. Already inside San Francisco territory, the Giants made Lawrence Tynes’ game-winning field goal a 31-yard chip shot. The win set up a second meeting with the Patriots in the Super Bowl in four years.
Eli Manning took a beating, but he kept getting up and battling. He threw the ball 58 times, completing 32 for 316 yards and two touchdowns. Manning proved that he was indeed elite after saying on The Michael Kay Show earlier in the year that he considered himself to be an elite quarterback. He had thrown for 4,933 yards and 29 touchdowns in the regular season, while leading all QBs with seven fourth quarter comebacks and eight game-winning drives.
3. 2008 NFC Championship Game
The game four years later gave the Giants and their fans deja vu, but the original was better. The conditions were worse, their opponent was better, and their win more improbable. The temperature in Green Bay was -1 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Giants were going up against a Packers team that had gone 13-3 and defeated the Giants 35-13 in Week 2. But this was a different Giant team, and a fiercely contested game ensued. Future Hall of Famer Brett Favre’s 90-yard TD to Donald Driver gave the Packers a 7-6 lead. Kevin Boss recovered a Brandon Jacobs fumble in the third quarter, and on the next play Jacobs ran it into the end zone for a 13-10 advantage. Similarly, Green Bay was gifted a third down conversion after a Sam Madison penalty; one play later, Favre found Donald Lee for a 12-yard score, and the lead belonged to Green Bay.
Both teams had missed opportunities as well. After Ahmad Bradshaw’s seven yard score put the Giants up 20-17, it looked like they might seal the victory after RW McQuarters picked off a Favre pass. Ryan Grant didn’t give up on the play, and he stripped McQuarters of the ball so it could be recovered by Mark Tauscher. Mason Crosby went on to tie the game with a field goal. Then, with four seconds left in regulation, Lawrence Tynes missed a 43-yard potential game-winner.
In overtime, the Packers won the coin toss, but the Giant defense came up big one more time. Corey Webster intercepted what would be Favre’s last pass with the Packers and returned it to the 34-yard line. The Giant offense didn’t go anywhere, so Tynes would have to hit from 47 yards out- and he did. The Giants, who had developed a reputation as road warriors, became just the third team ever to go to the Super Bowl by winning three road playoff games.
2. Tie- David Tyree’s Catch and Mario Manningham’s Catch
How could you pick one of these over the other? Both of these catches came on the eventual game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, and they were both made by guys that were third or fourth on the wide receiver depth chart for the Giants. They also both saw Manning make an incredible play. In Super Bowl XLII, Manning looked like he would be sacked, but he somehow got out of the sea of bodies and heaved a shot down the middle of the field. With Rodney Harrison draped all over him, Tyree pinned the football to his helmet and kept it there as he hit the ground. Four years later, Manningham’s grab jumpstarted the final drive by hauling in the 38-yard pass that immortalized him in football history. Manning threw a perfect pass along the sideline; if it wasn’t caught by his guy, it wasn’t going to be caught. Tyree’s catch saved the drive, while Manningham’s got it started. Manning made a more athletic play in 2008 and a better throw in 2012.
1. Tie- Super Bowl XLII Win and Super Bowl XLVI Win
The goal of every team every year is to win the Super Bowl. And the Giants did that twice this past decade. So, the final drive/celebration/parade of both Super Bowl XLII and XLVI are tied for the top spot. In 2008, Manning hit a wide open Plaxico Burress for the go-ahead touchdown with 35 second left. That was not nearly enough time for the previously unbeaten Patriots to come back, and the Giants pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history. The showdown in Glendale, Arizona is often ranked among the best Super Bowls, and for my money, it is the best one that has ever been played.
Four years later, the Giants were the first team to have a negative point differential to play in the big game, once again against New England. Another close and hotly contested battle ensued. Down, 17-14 in the fourth, Manning marched the G-Men down the field. Trying to wind down the clock, Ahmad Bradshaw fell into the end zone after discovering that no one was in his way. The Pats’ defense let him score to give Brady a chance. A Justin Tuck sack appeared to end it, but Brady completed a fourth down pass and got his team to their own 49 yard line. His Hail Mary was batted away by several Giant defenders as time expired. A fully healthy Gronkowski might’ve been able to come up with it, but a knee injury was hobbling him, and he actually had a quiet game.
Not only did the Giants prevent the Patriots from becoming the first team to go 19-0 in the 2007-08 season, but they have prevented the Brady and Bill Belichick led Patriots from going 7-for-7 in Super Bowls. They have beaten five other teams in the big game. Manning was named the MVP of both games, and Tom Coughlin became one of 13 head coaches to win multiple Super Bowls.