Eli Manning of the New York Giants runs the ball against the Atlanta Falcons during their NFC Wild Card Playoff game at MetLife Stadium on January 8, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
It is another feel-good Monday morning for New York Giants fans after Sunday's 24-2 shellacking of the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC Wild-Card Playoff game on Sunday. Let's get right to our traditional 'Kudos & Wet Willies' review, which will be long on the 'Kudos' and short on the 'WWs.'
Kudos To ...
Perry Fewell: I think it is safe to say that you won't hear any more talk about the Giants defensive coordinator deserving to lose his job. Whether desperation caused the change or not is impossible to tell, but Fewell has changed his approach with this group the past three weeks and the results have been dramatic. Of course it helps to have some key players healthy, but the Giants have simplified their coverage schemes, gotten away from the three-man pass rush they had been using far too often and have played championship caliber defense in recent weeks. Fewell's work, and the Giants' recent success, might catapult him back into the conversation for a head-coaching job. If Brian Schottenheimer can get interviews, there is no reason Fewell can't.
The Giants Defensive Line: This group is the key to the Giants' defense, and collectively this was a tremendous game for that unit.
Jason Pierre-Paul was tremendous as usual, with eight tackles. Chris Canty was a force at one tackle, single-handedly blowing up one of Atlanta's fourth-and-short efforts. Linval Joseph blew up the other one. Rocky Bernard had a sack and a pass defensed. Justin Tuck had four tackles and lots of pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan. Osi Umenyiora did what he does best with a sack and a couple of pressures on Ryan.
Eli Manning: What more is there to say about this guy? As I wrote at SB Nation New York, if you don't get the fact that Manning is a great quarterback by now then you never will. He was 23-of-32 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and a passer rating of 129.3. His 14-yard third-and-two scramble with the Giants down 2-0 got the crowd -- and Brandon Jaconbs charged up. It shifted the momentum of the game, and the Giants never looked back.
The Giants Offensive Line: This 'Kudos' is sure to raise some eyebrows. Without doubt there was a mixed bag of work from the offensive line on Sunday, especially early in the game when Manning was under immense pressure nearly every time he dropped back. There were also four holding penalties. Somewhere along the way, though, the Giants established control of the line of scrimmage and ended up with a season-best 172 yards rushing.
Hakeem Nicks: When it's all said and done, Nicks is still the Giants' No. 1 receiver and he had a brilliant game Sunday. Victor Cruz had a quiet game, and Nicks did a great Cruz impersonation on his 72-yard catch-and-run, adding a little 'Dirty Bird' dance. His four-yard touchdown was a great catch on a ball slightly behind him. Basically, that catch is the same one Jake Ballard could not make earlier in the game. Nicks finished with six catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.
Mario Manningham: With Cruz not really a factor Sunday, Manningham stepped up. His 27-yard touchdown came on a gorgeous throw from Manning, and his four-catch, 68-yard day was a reminder of how dangerous Manningham can be.
Brandon Jacobs: After Manning's 14-yard run it was like Jacobs came out of a deep sleep. He started running through people -- and past people. He finished with 92 yards on 14 carries, including a season-high 34-yard run. His most impressive run, though, had to be the fourth-and-one run that enabled the Giants to score their first touchdown. Jacobs could easily have been stopped for a loss by Atlanta's Curtis Lofton, but he spun off him and earned that first down on his own.
Ahmad Bradshaw: His numbers (14 carries, 63 yards) were not as impressive as Jacobs', but his hard running was just as vital. Bradshaw had a 30-yard run and five pass receptions.
Tom Coughlin: The old coach pushed all the right buttons on Sunday. A fourth-down decision to go for it that worked. A timeout that led to a penalty on Atlanta. Coughlin's resolve is a big part of the reason why the Giants are in position to do something special, and he deserves to stay on as coach of the Giants as long as he wants.
Lawrence Tynes: He missed a 32-yard field goal late in the game, but that might have been the worst snap of Zak DeOssie's career -- high, wobbly thing that looked like it got snapped by a high school kid -- so I'm not pinning that one on the kicker. Tynes' kickoffs were tremendous on Sunday. He had two touchbacks, drove two other kicks deep into the end zone and turned Eric Weems, Atlanta's dangerous returner, into a non-factor on kickoffs.
Steve Weatherford: The Giants' punter did the same thing to Weems on punt returns. He hit five punts for a 45.8-yard average, dropped three punts out of bounds and surrendered zero return yards.
Wet Willies To ...
Will Blackmon: The Giants are awful when it comes to returning punts. Blackmon returned five on Sunday for 28 total yards, an average of 5.6 yards per return. He had room to make something happen on at least two of those returns, and simply could not get it done. At least he did not fumble or muff any punts.
The Officiating: It ended up not mattering, but this was an oddly called game. This crew had trouble spotting the ball all day, and not giving Hakeem Nicks a first down on his 11-yard catch they ruled as a nine-yard catch was so ridiculous that Eli Manning walked up to the line and admitted he ran a play assuming it was first down, not third down. There were four holds called on the Giants, at least three of which were phantom holds. There was the non-call on Hakeem Nicks at the goal line when he got mugged by an Atlanta defensive back. None of it changed the outcome in the end, but these guys have to be better than that when it's win-or-go-home for the teams involved.