"It wasn't the prettiest game," rookie linebacker Bryan Kehl understated after his first professional start.
If we've learned nothing else in all our years of covering NFL football, it's that nothing is guaranteed. There are no sure things. Just ask Dallas. Yes, all the fans and media thought the Giants should be able to handle the talent-starved 49ers with relative ease, but the Giants certainly didn't. Not a chance.
"We were able to hang in there and find a way to win the game and I am happy about that," Tom Coughlin said.
Of course he is. With the Cowboys getting blown out of St. Louis by the Rams, Big Blue now has what amounts to a two-game lead over the team that everyone predicted was going to win it all. To say the wheels are coming off for the Boys from Big D would be inaccurate. Their tires are already in a ditch on the side of some one-lane Texas road.
Barry Cofield, who not only turned in a key sack, but added his ‘don't tase me, bro' post-sack dance against the Niners, admitted after the game that Dallas had the most talent in the league. Talent doesn't win football games. Team-oriented football does. Winning the turnover battle does. Playing disciplined football does (well, the Giants got a lucky break on that one – oops, was that another penalty flag fluttering through the East Rutherford air?)
Having talented depth doesn't hurt either. You surely noticed that Big Blue lined up without perhaps its most important defensive player, as Antonio Pierce couldn't fight off the affects of his quad injury. And Gerris Wilkinson, who was playing very well when he got injured – again – was unable to suit up as well. Take two starters, including a Pro Bowler, out of the mix? No problem. Not on this team. Just insert Chase Blackburn and Bryan Kehl.
"I think both those kids played well," Coughlin said. "They had to play well. Obviously we did a decent job with the run. We did give up a couple big plays and there were times when we didn't have a lot of pressure, but overall they played well."
Blackburn stepped in making the defensive calls and all he did was lead the entire team in tackles. To say the Giants didn't miss Pierce isn't a knock on number 58; it's a tribute to the talent level and commitment of Blackburn.
"I think everybody around here knows how good Chase is," Justin Tuck said. "He just happens to be behind a pretty good linebacker."
Kehl proved to be a pretty good linebacker in his own right. He posted three stops and didn't seem to make many mental errors at all.
"I felt great," Kehl said. "Let's go play a couple more quarters. I think I did pretty well."
As did the New York coaching staff a week after coordinators Kevin Gilbride and Steve Spagnuolo didn't exactly have their best efforts in Cleveland. Yes, we know the players play the games, but we've gotten so used to the coordinators putting the troops in the right position to make the right play that it sticks out like a sore thumb when it doesn't occur.
Offensively the Giants realized that they ran the ball better out of the shotgun formation. So they stuck with it, continuing to do just well enough on the ground to bleed the clock and win the game.
Defensively, you just knew the Niners offense was going to attack with three-step drops; after all, that was how the Browns were so successful in moving the ball against Big Blue. But this time around, the Giants made the necessary adjustments and made it an awful long game for J.T. O'Sullivan. Actually, even though the official game time was listed as ‘3:09,' it seemed like an awful long game for everybody, what with the 4,184 penalty flags throughout the contest.
And with the Giants front four getting enough pass rush on its own, it allowed the rest of the defense to drop back some and create more traffic for O'Sullivan and Co.
Add it all up and you have a win, which is the only thing Coughlin's crew set out to accomplish.
"Anytime you are 5-1, it is good in this league," Coughlin said.
Coughlin grew upset during his post-game press conference when a couple writers asked about the flare-up he and Plaxico Burress had on the sideline after Plax was flagged 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing a bogus offensive pass interference penalty. Coughlin, understandably, wanted the focus to remain on New York's win.
But when the team's star player, fresh off a one-game suspension, barks at the coach and then appears to ignore the coach's reply, it sure is going to raise a few eyebrows.
"That is between Plaxico and I," Coughlin said. "We talked about it at the half. You've got a major competitor who was upset about some things. Unfortunately the penalty did occur, but he understands it and we all understand it."
When asked again about the exchange with Burress, Coughlin shot back and then exited stage left; press conference officially over.
"If you are going make a big deal about that, how about talking about the win?" he asked. "How about winning the game and talking about that?"
We just did. The Giants are 5-1 and heading to Pittsburgh having apparently righted the ship before any further damage from the Browns debacle could occur. <
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