The New York Giants came close to once again knocking off the unbeaten New England Patriots on Sunday, but made just enough mistakes at critical times to allow the 9-0 Patriots to sneak out of MetLife Stadium with their unbeaten season intact.
Before we get to the "Kudos & Wet Willies" let's discuss the meaning of Sunday's loss just a bit. As I survey comments here and on social media there is a lot of talk about the positives of the game, about how well the Giants played in defeat, there are comparisons to the season-ending 38-25 loss to the Patriots in 2007 and the idea that perhaps the Giants can use the game as a springboard to reach the playoffs.
Yes, there are many positive things you can look at from Sunday. Yes, the Giants stood toe-to-toe with Goliath and showed they can play with the best teams in the league. You can't however, really compare Sunday's loss to the one in 2007. Why? When the Giants lost that 2007 game they had already qualified for the playoffs and the loss did not hurt them at all. It proved to them they could play with the mighty Pats.
The problem here, however, is that the Giants are in a fight for their playoff lives. They played valiantly, they nearly pulled off a monumental upset. They lost, however, surrendering a fourth-quarter lead and losing a game they could -- and probably should -- have won for the fourth time this season.
A moral victory wasn't enough for the Giants. Not this time. They had a great opportunity to put a "W" on the board, to stretch their NFC East lead, and couldn't close the deal. That, in reality, is the most important thing that happened on Sunday.
Now, for the "Kudos & Wet Willies."
Kudos to ...
Jasper Brinkley -- Who knew that the Giants had a real, honest-to-goodness NFL-caliber middle linebacker on their roster all along? The veteran Brinkley, playing full-time only because Jon Beason is on IR and Uani 'Unga has been out with a neck injury, posted a second straight terrific game on Sunday. He had 12 tackles, nine of them solo and one for a loss. He had a sack, a forced fumble and a hit on New England quarterback Tom Brady. Brinkley had a +4.1 Pro Football Focus score.
Robert Ayers -- The presence of Jason Pierre-Paul opposite him is a huge benefit for Ayers. The veteran defensive end is a complementary player, not a No. 1 defensive end. With JPP back and drawing extra attention throughout Sunday's game, Ayers excelled. He ended up with a strip-sack that unfortunately the Giants could not recover, a quarterback hit and a solid +3.8 Pro Football Focus score.
Trumaine McBride -- The veteran corner gave the Giants a chance, intercepting a Brady pass at the Giants' 1-yard line with the Patriots leading 24-23 and about to go in for a game-clinching touchdown. McBride cut in front of Brandon laFell on a slant and made a diving interception to keep the Giants' hopes alive.
Josh Brown -- Four more field goals, including a 53-yarder for the second straight week. Brown extended his franchise record to 27 straight field goals made, and is now second in Giants franchise history with eight field goals of 50 or more yards. Joe Danelo tops the list with nine.
Jason Pierre-Paul -- A really weird stat line for JPP, and a "Kudos" that I actually give tentatively. Pierre-Paul did not record a tackle or a sack on Sunday. He had his first sack of the season nullified by penalty. He had only one hit on Brady. He did, however, have six hurries and batted down a pass. He also occupied two or three blockers most of the day. He made an impact without really making any plays.
Wet Willies to ...
The catch rule -- When is a catch not a catch? Any time the completely screwy NFL catch rules get involved. Beckham caught the ball in the end zone on the Giants' final possession. Two hands on the ball with control. Two feet down in the end zone. The only place that isn't a catch is in the NFL rule book. By the rule, the proper call was made by replay officials, overturning the apparent touchdown.
The problem is the convoluted rule. How is it that a player has to become a runner in the end zone when he is already in the end zone and has no need to run anywhere? All a runner has to do is get the ball to the goal line and it's a touchdown no matter what else happens? How is it that the ground CAN'T cause a fumble but CAN cause an imcompletion? I don't get it. The Giants, by the way, aren't the only team complaining about the catch/non-catch rule today.
Only solution would be to go to two feet down with control making it a catch. No time frame of becoming runner. Lots of fumbles would result— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) November 16, 2015
Landon Collins -- No matter what else happened in this game -- the touchdown/non-touchdown, the missed second-half opportunities and mistakes by the Giants, whether you believe the Giants mismanaged the clock -- the rookie safety had this game in his hands and couldn't hold it.
Brady, under pressure from Jason Pierre-Paul and a blitzing Trevin Wade, throws a deep ball down the middle intended for Aaron Dobson. The ball is well short ad Collins is there for what should be an easy interception. Only, Collins leaps when he really doesn't need, falls awkwardly, bangs his head on the MetLife Stadium turf and drops the ball.
After the game, Collins repeatedly told reporters he was trained to "high-point" the ball, to go up and get it at the highest point possible. Unfortunately, doing that made this play much harder than it had to be. All the rookie safety needed to do here was settle under the ball and catch it. That happens, Giants win.
Ereck Flowers -- After the rookie left tackle allowed six hurries, a sack that led to a critical Eli Manning fumble that wiped out a scoring opportunity and posted a -5.5 PFF grade, he has to be here. Problem is, the "Wet Willie" really should go to the Giants as a whole for failing to help Flowers enough. What did they think was going to happen when they left Flowers singled up with Chandler Jones, who had 9.5 sacks entering the game? Exactly what did happen -- Jones ate the rookie's lunch. At times the Giants helped Flowers with a tight end, but not nearly often enough. I'm not blaming Flowers because what happened is exactly what should have happened with him going solo against one of the best pass rushing defensive ends in the business.
Kwillies to ...
Dwayne Harris -- With the exception of one play, Harris had a great day. Unfortunately, that one play led to an 82-yard Danny Amendola punt return that gave life to a New England team down 20-10, its biggest deficit of the season. Harris is a terrific special teams player, but by waving his arms as though he was going to let a Brad Wing punt bounce around the 10-yard line Amendola got Harris to run past him, possibly looking to try to play the anticipated bounce. That never came, though, as Amendola fielded the punt and, with Harris out of the play, took off.
Otherwise, Harris was outstanding. He had six catches for 82 yards, including a 30-yarder and an 18-yarder that set the Giants up at the New England 5-yard line on their final drive, and a brilliant toe-dragging 1-yard touchdown catch. He added a 17-yard punt return. He just didn't make the one special teams play that could have kept the reeling Patriots down and allowed some doubt to creep in for the Giants.
Odell Beckham Jr. -- Had an electrifying 87-yard touchdown catch on the Giants' first possession, but then New England basically took Beckham out of the rest of the game, blanketing him with a safety over the top. Like Collins, Beckham had the game in his hands but couldn't maintain the game winning catch. Yes, the convoluted rule is the biggest culprit on the final touchdown/non-touchdown, but after getting the second foot down in the end zone Beckham seems to think the play is over and leaves the ball exposed for Malcolm Butler of the Patriots, who knocks it out. Beckham said after the game that Butler's play "was just a case of playing the play longer than the opponent." By the current rule Beckham didn't finish the process, and the Giants didn't finish the game. That overshadows his 104-yard receiving effort.