Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Report Cards

For years, Mike Sweatman has been properly recognized as one of the NFL's best and most effective special teams coaches. Pity that Giants head coach Tom Coughlin won't allow access to his staff, because there would be a ton of questions for Sweatman after Sunday's debacle, in which a punt and a kickoff were returned for touchdowns by the Vikings.

Add to that an interception return, and not only were all three Vikings touchdowns accounted for, but it became a piece of embarrassing history because never in the NFL had a team hit the "triple crown" that way in a single game.

Mewelde Moore took the punt back, 71 yards in the third quarter. The third quarter was also when Koren Robinson sprinted 86 yards for a touchdown with a kickoff. And in the second quarter, free safety Darren Sharper cut in front of wide receiver Plaxico Burress, who was double-teamed, stole an Eli Manning pass and went 92 yards -- with only Manning providing desperate and futile pursuit.

"That was poor," said Coughlin, the ersatz stand-in for Sweatman. "When you have wrapped your arms around a guy (see: rookie linebacker Chase Blackburn on Moore), you should be able to bring him down. How we can play like that with so much on the line is beyond me."

The Giants special teams -- granted, without star David Tyree, who missed his third game with an elbow injury that evidently is more serious than first announced -- allowed 158 yards on four kickoff returns, including the 86-yarder, and 87 yards on three punt returns, including the 71-yarder.

"Kick coverage guys were leaving their lanes," said one participant in the parade of errors. "The Vikings were making good blocks, and when they got just one block, we had vacated a lane, and that was all they needed."

Oddly, the Giants defense now has not allowed a touchdown in almost 14 quarters, or not since the early moments of the third quarter against Denver on Oct. 23. The non-touchdown string has reached 208 minutes, 26 seconds of playing time.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Giants had five turnovers against Minnesota (four Eli Manning interceptions and a fumble by Willie Ponder with the game's opening kickoff), and Manning took the blame for the picks. "Not one of them was somebody else's fault," he said. "It was all on me. Bad decisions, bad passes."

--On the other hand, the second-year quarterback Manning did throw a touchdown pass for the 10th consecutive game. He has tied Phil Simms (who did it twice) and Charlie Conerly and now has the team all-time record of 15, set by Y.A. Tittle (1962-64), in his sights.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--DT William Joseph will be out for at least a month with a dislocated right elbow. The arm will be put in a cast. Joseph had 19 tackles and two sacks for the season, and the 2003 first-round draft pick had finally started to play up to his pre-NFL reviews. In all likelihood, he will be replaced by veteran Fred Robbins, who has been in the rotation but not starting.

--DT Kenderick Allen and DE Justin Tuck, who were both out Sunday with injuries, could return to play this week, coach Tom Coughlin said.

--WR Amani Toomer caught his 40th career TD pass, and his six grabs moved his career reception mark to 499. But the records paled when viewed after a last-second defeat. "This one," he said, "just doesn't feel very good. It is going to burn for a while."

--P Jeff Feagles, who now has 1,404 career punts and is the only man in NFL history to surpass 1,400, was critical of his special teams. "We gave up two scores and the interception gives them a third, and that's the game right there. It's not like the end of the world, but we played like crap today."

--K Jay Feely, too, was down on his special teams. "The kickoff returns just kill you," he said. "It was a bad kick, bad coverage and we let them seize momentum with it. Special teams should be helping this team, but we cost our team the game instead."

Feely missed a chip-shot 28-yard field goal but he made two (48 and 35) and now has made 19 of 21 attempts. He has an overall point total of 84.

--RB Tiki Barber has seven TDs (six rushing, one receiving) and his career high is just 11 (2002). "Yeah, great, another record," he said. "We lost a game we definitely should have won. So I'm not thrilled with the prospect of another record."

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

REPORT CARD VS. VIKINGS

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- QB Eli Manning threw four interceptions, and not one of them could be blamed on someone other than himself. He badly miscalculated on the pick that turned into a 92-yard TD by FS Darren Sharper and freely admitted his culpability. On the other hand, it did not appear that WR Plaxico Burress was running crisp, sure routes. The team's leading receiver caught just three passes for 50 yards. RB Tiki Barber was the game's leading receiver with eight for 111 yards. Manning was sacked twice, but the O-line's chief fault was its penchant for penalties.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- Barber had 23 carries and gained 95 yards (giving him 855 for the season). But he accounted for all but 29 of the team's rushing total -- and QB Eli Manning was second with two scampers for 24 yards. Run-blocking, which has been outstanding so far, broke down. RG Chris Snee and C Shaun O'Hara were mainly at fault, and LT Luke Petitgout revisited his problems with false starts.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Vikings were limited to 144 passing yards, and QB Brad Johnson was sacked four times. The Giants had no interceptions but did knock down four Johnson attempts. Johnson was also sacked four times, twice by DE Osi Umenyiora (who added nine tackles). The crucial lapse of the game happened in the final seconds, when WR Travis Taylor caught an 11-yard pass and was allowed to run out of bounds. The clock showed 39 seconds left, and the Vikings were bereft of timeouts. It gave them the chance to set up three plays later for the winning field goal by Paul Edinger.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- In all, the Vikings gained 12 net rushing yards on 21 carries. It was as suffocating a rush-defense performance as the Giants have put together all season. MLB Antonio Pierce had 10 tackles. Combined with DEs Umenyiora and Michael Strahan, CB Curtis Deloatch and SS Gibril Wilson, that group accounted for 38 of the team's 58 tackles. The Vikings' "leading rusher" was Michael Bennett, who managed 16 yards on 19 carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- It was unsatisfactory from the moment Willie Ponder fumbled the opening kickoff to the coverage units that allowed both a punt and a kickoff to be returned for touchdowns. There were only five special teams tackles by the Giants all game. Chad Morton returned five punts for 93 yards, while Ponder took back four kickoffs for 81 yards. Jeff Feagles punted five times for a 42.6 average (and a 25.2 net). Jay Feely made two of three field-goal tries, missing the shortest (28 yards).

COACHING: D -- With nine penalties, lack of special teams preparation and general malaise that affected the passing game, the coaching staff should be sharply criticized. The final play of the game comes into question, since with no timeouts left and the Giants on their 40-yard line with 10 seconds remaining, head coach Tom Coughlin and/or offensive coordinator John Hufnagel decided to throw a short dump pass over the middle to Barber. All that did was run out the clock. The longer sideline pass, if completed, might have allowed two or three seconds for Feely to attempt a 50-plus-yarder to send the game into overtime.

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