You can look at the 5-0 Giants' 44-7 win over the Raiders in two ways.
The first is, they dusted a third straight bum. No fooling around. Just plain old blew their doors in. Or, they faced during the week their first major, potentially devestating piece of adversity in Eli Manning's uncertain game status, survived it, and actually seemed to thrive under it.
Either way, they set themselves up nicely for the rest of the schedule, which starts this week at 4-0 New Orleans. They go in with the momentum of having beaten three straight NFL have-nots by a whopping average of 24 points. The Saints are perfectly capable of deadening such rolls, but the Giants could not have put themselves in better position to overcome a strong team. And, no, I don't think Manning will suffer any stage fright in his hometown debut in the Superdome.
If a report card can be used as a weapon against the Saints, the Giants have a nuclear one this week.
The grades are in.
QUARTERBACK: Can't say enough about Manning. He had that injured heel heavily taped outside his shoe and supported by orthotics inside it. Whatever pain he felt, he hid well as Manning went 8-of-10 for 173 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. I'm not big on passer ratings, but that did get him a perfect 158.3 rating; not bad for a kid with a sore foot. He threw a beautiful deep ball to Steve Smith for 43 yards. And he engineered four straight touchdown drives in his five total series. David Carr took over before the two-minute warning before intermission and looked solid in scrambling for one touchdown and producing two field goal drives. The Giants have thrown one interception in the last four games. GRADE: A.
RUNNING BACKS: Really starting to wonder about Brandon Jacobs. The trainers had to check his ankle in the first half, and it was obvious Ahmad Bradshaw would be the most effective ballcarrier against the Raiders. Still, can't argue with the choice. Bradshaw finished with 11 carries for 110 yards and two touchdowns, and had four runs of 16 yards or better. Jacobs still had 21 carries, but for 67 yards and no touchdowns. Can't argue with the overall result of 220 yards in 41 carries. It kept the heat off Manning and kept the clock moving. And Gartrell Johnson added five carries for 16 yards to keep the fourth-quarter clock going. GRADE: A.
RECEIVERS: Steve Smith had his usual big catch, a 43-yarder that set up the Giants' second touchdown, but rookie Hakeem Nicks was the real star with four catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. He's really starting to come into his own, running better routes and catching the ball more consistently. He got open in the end zone for Manning, and would have had a long completion for Carr had his sideline awareness been a little better. Bradshaw's 55-yard catch-and-run off a screen was perfectly executed right down to the downfield blocking. Darcy Johnson did a nice job filling in at starter for injured tight end Kevin Boss, and rookie Travis Beckum continued his progress upward. GRADE: A.
OFFENSIVE LINE: That bunch, especially Rich Seubert and Chris Snee, blew holes in the Raiders' defensive interior all day. Most impressive was the blocking on Bradshaw's second touchdown run, a 19-yard cutback up the middle where nary a Raider laid a hand on him. RT Kareem McKenzie picked up an uncharacteristic personal foul. But C Shaun O'Hara got that back later when he coaxed Tommy Kelly into belting him upside the head in front of the referee. McKenzie probably got a Tom Coughlin lecture on keeping one's head in the midst of a blowout win. The pass protection didn't allow a sack, and the Raiders only had one unpenalized hit on Manning and Carr. They have now allowed just two sacks over the last four games. Happiness to them is a clean quarterback's uniform. They did lose points on getting Jacobs pulled down from behind on a missed bad back-side block on third-and-goal run from the 1 on the first possession. GRADE: B+.
DEFENSIVE LINE: They did everything, from pummeling clueless JaMarcus Russell with four of the Giants' six total sacks, to holding the Raiders running game to 60 yards and a touchdown. Justin Tuck had another monster game with six tackles, two sacks, and a fumble recovery. Reserve end Dave Tollefson made the most of a free shot when he planted Russell in the fourth quarter. Perhaps the biggest disappointment there was Osi Umenyiora, who finished with just two tackles, one hit on Russell, and a fumble recovery. He seems to get lost during games for no reason. That he was going up against inexperienced tackle Mario Henderson made it worse. Given the collective effort, though, that's more of a nitpick on the player than a criticism of the unit, however. GRADE: A.
LINEBACKERS: Antonio Pierce recovered a fumble. Chase Blackburn tied with Pierce with a team-high eight tackles. Clint Sintim got his first action of the season and contributed four tackles. The group as a whole did a good job clogging up the middle on Justin Fargas and Michael Bush. GRADE: B.
SECONDARY: Those who wanted to see two or three interceptions from this group were left unsatisfied, but don't blame the DBs. RUSSELL COULDN'T GET HIS PASSES CLOSE ENOUGH TO BE PICKED OFF!!!! Russell finished 8-for-13 for 100 yards, a perfectly harmless day. But the secondary was hardly idle. Terrell Thomas, taking steps every game to make the injured Aaron Ross seem superfluous, caused a turnover on a beautiful corner blitz that set up Manning's fourth touchdown drive. Thomas also broke up a deep throw to Louis Murphy that would have gone for a touchdown, and made four tackles. And safety C.C. Brown would have had a caused fumble, recovery, and touchdown had an official held the whistle on Justin Fargas' forward progress at the Giants' 5. Corey Webster's stats (one tackle) don't represent the level he's playing at, since quarterbacks are avoiding him like the swine flu. S Michael Johnson added a sack on an early third-and-6. GRADE: A.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The good news is that Lawrence Tynes was 3-for-3 in field goals, including one from that pesky 25-yard range. Also, Jonathan Goff had a great game picking up for injured Bryan Kehl with four special teams tackles. The bad news was Sinorice Moss. If not for his blown punt return, the Giants would have recorded a second shutout in four games. Instead, his non-handling of the bouncing ball led to a recovery at the 15 and the Raiders' only score of the game. He only did slightly better on the ensuing kickoff, when he had to frantically dive on a squibbing ball that seemed to mesmorize him. He did contribute a special teams tackle, however. GRADE: B.
COACHING: Good thinking by Coughlin to get Manning out of there when he did. Scoring early and leaving no doubt in the outcome before the half was out allowed him to pull the quarterback for safe-keeping before intermission. Despite the score, the best accolades for OC Kevin Gilbride and DC Bill Sheridan is silence, since it doesn't take much to gameplan against a Division 1-AA squad. Oh, and for those who question the goal line calls on the first possession, they were okay. Jacobs seemed to be running well enough to warrant three straight carries inside the 5. GRADE: A.
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