Looking back several seasons for relevant digitally dusty NFL stats is often a fruitless experience. Rosters, coaching staffs, and schemes are so fluid and change drastically on a year-to-year basis, so taking anything meaningful away from a game that was played even just two or three years ago is difficult.
But this year our football overlords have given us the convenience of two Super Bowl teams that already faced off earlier this season. It was a highly entertaining Week 9 game between the Giants and Patriots that featured three touchdowns in the final four minutes, and the Giants’ 24-20 win was highlighted by Eli Manning’s game-winning touchdown pass to Jake Ballard with 19 seconds left.
That Week 9 game will be referenced at least 87 times over the next two weeks, mostly because it’s a rare way to gauge two Super Bowl teams accurately using their current rosters, but also because writers are lazy.
Those 87 references will probably come from GLS alone, and indeed we already dropped one yesterday. So we thought we’d just get this over with and take a more in-depth look at what happened during that Week 9 game. And when we did that, two key elements that led to Giants’ win emerged.
Kevin Gilbride knows a good weakness
Overall Eli Manning’s numbers were far from impressive, as he finished with a rather pedestrian 250 passing yards, two touchdowns, one interception, and he completed only 51.3 percent of his passes, a ratio far below his season-long clip of 61.0.
But all season the Patriots’ secondary would eventually reach its tipping point if it was put under enough pressure. It’s easy to recognize this fact, as it’s knowledge available to anyone capable of reading a stats sheet after New England gave up 293.9 passing yards per game, and an incredible 79 passes for 20 yards or more. So even though the game’s first points didn’t come until nearly five minutes into the third quarter, it was a matter of Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride using his passing game to hammer away at New England’s feeble wall that would eventually break.
That happened, and it came in the form of penalties. Lengthy pass interference calls contributed to 14 points in the fourth quarter for New York, with the Giants scoring two of their three touchdowns on back-to-back drives with time winding down.
They did it with the aid of 55 free yards on massive mistakes by Kyle Arrington and Sergio Brown. That same poor secondary also allowed two 80-yard touchdown drives.
Tom Brady under pressure isn’t quite the same Tom Brady
The Giants only had two sacks (one apiece from Michael Boley and Jason Pierre-Paul), which is a little low by their standards after they averaged three per game. But one of those sacks was also a forced fumble, with Boley recovering one of just two fumbles lost by Brady this year.
Prior to the AFC Championship Game we looked at how Brady under pressure is a little less effective than the record-breaking Brady we’ve all come to know and love/loathe. It would take a row of Mack trucks to entirely crumble Brady, and he’s still an elite quarterback even while facing an elite pass rush.
But his effectiveness falls a notch or so, and we saw that in Week 9 with the Giants’ sustained pressure even though they only put Brady on the ground twice. Between his fumble and two picks, Brady turned the ball over three times.
Since 2009, Brady has 32 turnovers for an average of 1.5 per game, and he’s only had four games during that stretch when three of those turnovers came on the same Sunday. That puts the Giants in select company among Brady opponents, and his lack of comfort in the pocket during Week 9 also contributed to his 6.9 yards per pass attempt, which was nearly two yards lower than his season average (8.6).
Brady’s completion percentage dipped eight points lower than his season average too, and it was one of just five games this year that he completed less than 60 percent of his passes.