The New York Giants came closer than anyone expected to knocking off the New England Patriots. Two inches to the left, one point, one hand off the ball, an eighth of a second... However you want to measure it, the Giants probably should have beaten the best team in the league.
But they didn't.
They were playing with house money, put it all in the middle of the table, and looked like they had the game in hand time and again.
It was a "good" loss that showed that the Giants were able to play, and beat, the best the NFL has to offer. But they couldn't come away with a much-needed victory, and lost in agonizing fashion.
So, let's see what we can learn from the snap counts and get a bit of input from Pro Football Focus.
The story of this game was the Giants' defense, but we'll start with the offense because I want to lodge a disagreement with PFF on the goat of the game.
I'm sure everyone called this, but John Jerry was the highest rated offensive lineman on the Giants with a +1.3
The lowest was left tackle Ereck Flowers, who has become PFF's weekly punching bag. He earned a -5.5 after giving up six QB hurries and a strip-sack. I won't quibble about the hurries. The Giants put Flowers on an island with the best pass rusher in the league, and he got beat. What I am going to argue with is knocking both Flowers and Eli for the sack/fumble.
With 9:02 to go in the third quarter, the Giants were knocking on the door with a first-and-10 from the Patriots' 16-yard line. Chandler Jones fired off the ball, ran through Flowers on his way to forcing an Eli Manning fumble. Or did he?
This is from the replay of the CBS broadcast:
Jones lead with that left hand, and appeared to plant it in Flowers' face mask (no pun intended) from the start of the play. I'm not going to criticize Flowers or Manning (who was graded as a -2.6 when under pressure) for a play that should have been called back and put the Giants in a 1st and goal situation, instead of giving the ball to the Patriots' offense.
For the rest of the offense, both Odell Beckham and Rueben Randle played nearly every snap against the Patriots, a good sign heading into the bye week for players who have battled nagging injuries throughout the year. Special teams ace and slot receiver Dwayne Harris played 51 snaps (68 percent), a role that might see an increase now the Victor Cruz will miss the rest of the regular season.
Will Tye is clearly the starting tight end, seeing 49 (65 percent) offensive snaps, however Cunningham figures well into the offensive game plan as well with 33 snaps (44 percent). What remains to be seen is what will happen to the two when -- or if -- Larry Donnell comes back from his neck injury.
Finally, after losing both Justin Pugh and Weston Richburg, the Giants clearly decided to go with their quicker running backs. Shane Vereen and Rashad Jennings saw 35 (47 percent) and 24 (32 percent) of the offensive snaps, respectively. Orleans Darkwa got 14 (19 percent) snaps, and one week after leading the Giants in yards per carry, Andre Williams only got two offensive snaps.
In a game that was supposed to be a runaway steamrolling of a blowout, the Giants' defense stood tall and had arguably their best performance all year.
Leading the way were defensive revelations Jason Pierre-Paul and Jasper Brinkley.
JPP was the Giants' highest graded player with a +4.8, after amassing 7 QB pressures (1 hit, 6 hurries) to go along with a batted pass (and a sack that was nullified by a penalty). Even more impressively, JPP played 63 snaps, 86 percent of the total defensive snaps. This is in his second week back, after playing three times the snaps many anticipated against Tampa Bay. In fact, JPP received the third most snaps of any defender behind Jonathan Casillas (72) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (68).
Brinkley had another stellar game, with a +4.1 despite missing 2 tackles. He lead the team in tackles with 12 total (9 solo, 3 assisted), a sack, and a forced fumble.
Overall, the Giants' pass rush was the best it has been all year, with 27 total pressures (3 sacks, 3 hits, 21 hurries), forcing 3 fumbles, an interception and very nearly two more. The Giants got some form of pressure on 62 percent of Brady's passing attempts. Despite losing John Hankins, the last two weeks the Giants have gotten pressure on an average of 58 percent of opposing passing attempts. Clearly the addition of Brinkley (44 snaps, 60 percent) and JPP has had an effect on the Giants' defense, as they have effectively tripled the amount of pressure they have generated since the Saints game (20 percent of passing plays).
For the first time all year, Damontre Moore passed Kerry Wynn in snap counts, getting 22 snaps to 20. Also, while it was widely speculated that Jay Bromley's role would increase in the wake of John Hankins' injury, he only received 25 snaps (34 percent). Makus Kuhn got 32 snaps (44 percent), and Cullen Jenkins got 45 (62 percent). After being promoted from the practice squad, mammoth nose tackle Montori Hughes was on the field for 11 snaps.