By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Well that was not what anybody could have predicted.
The Giants and Patriots went back-and-forth, each enduring massive swings of momentum, and the game wasn’t decided until the final second.
That one will give everybody a lot to talk about in the next week. For now, let’s go through Four Ups and Four Downs from the Patriots’ 27-26 win.
The kicker out of Memphis is in his ninth NFL season, yet for various reasons, he’s never authored a “signature moment,” so to speak. Until now.
With just six seconds left on the clock, and with the Patriots trailing by two points, Gostkowski took the field needing to make a 54-yard field goal to win the game and keep the perfect season alive.
After the Giants called timeout to try to ice him, Gostkowski stepped up and got his thunderous right leg behind the ball, which narrowly stayed inside the left upright with plenty of power behind it.
It was quite the kick, to say the very least.
On the season, Gostkowski is now 21-for-21 on field goals. None have been bigger or more impressive than that one.
After losing Julian Edelman to injury in the first half, the Patriots offense went flat. They needed a spark.
Up stepped Danny Amendola.
The 5-foot-11 Amendola caught Brad Wing’s punt at his own 11 near the right sideline. He eluded two tackles before planting his foot and running straight across the entire field. He caught a couple of key blocks from Eric Martin and Nate Ebner, and he stretched it all the way up the left sideline. He had daylight, but Duron Harmon accidentally bumped him, causing him to hit the deck inside the 10-yard line.
Nevertheless, LeGarrette Blount was in the end zone three plays later, and the Patriots cut the Giants’ lead to 20-17 midway through the third quarter. Amendola’s long punt return provided a much-needed spark for a Patriots team that was in trouble.
And later, when the Patriots trailed by two in the final minutes, Amendola got open and caught a pass for 12 yards on a fourth-and-10, and on a second-and-10 from the New York 45-yard line, Amendola made another catch and fought for a few extra yards to get the ball to the 36-yard line before Gostkowski’s kick.
“Did I throw it to Danny? Did he catch it? Danny caught it? Yeah, he always makes big plays,” Brady said after the win. “He’s a great player for us, and he always comes up big when we need him. It was a great play by Danny.”
Gostkowski also made sure to give Amendola credit after the win.
“It’s just all about the team here though,” the kicker said. “Amendola’s punt return, Tom getting us into field goal range, Joe [Cardona] snapping, Ryan [Allen] holding, the guys blocking. It’s fun, and we all get to celebrate together as a team. That’s what they preach, and that’s what we do around here. It’s fun, especially to beat a good team like the Giants on the road, and we get to fly home happy.”
Likewise, when the Patriots needed a big play, Rob Gronkowski was more than happy to make it.
The hulking tight end has taken on an enhanced role in helping the injured and inexperienced offensive line, so his statistics have not been eye-popping in recent weeks. That was until the Patriots decided to send Gronkowski streaking up the left seam early in the fourth quarter.
Tom Brady waited patiently for Gronkowski to run free and delivered a strike to the tight end. Almost simultaneous with the catch, Gronkowski took a hit from safety Craig Dahl. Gronkowski made Dahl look like a Pop Warner player, sending Dahl bouncing away and into the Giants’ other safety, Brandon Meriweather. With Dahl taking out Meriweather like a bowling ball, Gronkowski had nothing but green space in front of him, and he jaunted into the end zone.
When he got there, he had a 76-yard touchdown reception, the longest of his career, and the Patriots had a lead.
The Giants had a chance to really put a nail in the coffin, after Jasper Brinkley knocked the ball out of Brady’s hands and the Giants recovered on the New England 30-yard line. Already leading by six points and already in field-goal range, the Giants had a chance to open up a big lead in the fourth quarter.
After offsetting penalties, Rob Ninkovich came streaking off the left end like a bat out of hell on first-and-10, and he caught Eli Manning dead in his tracks. Ninkovich took Manning down for a loss of 13 yards, pushing the Giants out of field-goal range. The Giants had to punt, and Gronkowski scored that 76-yard touchdown shortly thereafter.
The end of that game was thrilling, but the drama may have been sucked out if not for Rob Ninkovich.
Bonus: Malcolm Butler
The cornerback got kind of a raw deal on the Giants’ opening drive, when he had decent coverage on Odell Beckham Jr. but allowed a reception up the right sideline for what should have been a gain of about 25 yards. But Devin McCourty took a bad angle and took Butler out of the play, allowing Beckham to spring free for 87 yards.
But from that point forward, Butler kept Beckham in check, limiting him to three receptions for 17 yards after that. (He was also penalized for pass interference on a play when he didn’t actually touch Beckham.) Butler also made the game-saving play by knocking the ball out of Beckham’s hands on the play that was initially ruled a touchdown but was overturned on replay review. Butler was brash and in Beckham’s face for most of the day, and he backed it up.
Look, 334 yards and a pair of touchdowns is not bad, and Brady’s poise on the final drive is a rare commodity that very few quarterbacks in the history of the game have ever possessed.
But the one place a quarterback can never, ever throw an interception is at the goal line. It is such a back-breaking throw, and it takes points off the boards. In Sunday’s game, it very nearly cost the Patriots a win. Instead of taking an eight-point lead with roughly six minutes to play, the Patriots were forced to play defense, leading by just one, on the road.
And this end-zone interception was a bad one. If you don’t believe me, ask Brady for his opinion.
“It was just a bad throw,” Brady said. “Just a terrible throw.”
Was there a communication issue?
“It was a terrible throw,” he reiterated.
Though the New England defense held the Giants to just a field goal, Brady very nearly gave the game away on the first play of the ensuing drive, throwing a pass that was basically caught by safety Landon Collins. But by some stroke of fortune, Collins dropped the ball, allowing the Patriots to conduct their game-winning drive.
Brady’s internal clock was also a bit off, as he twice coughed up the football after hanging on a bit too long — the second time in particular.
As always, there was plenty of positives mixed in there for Brady. But it’s rare that he makes passes that actively hurt the Patriots’ chances of winning games, and that happened on Sunday against the Giants.
Many sports talk shows and columns over the past couple of weeks have focused on which five Patriots players are most indispensable, not counting Tom Brady. On Sunday, Julian Edelman definitively proved that he is on that short list.
The receiver was making play after play in the early going, catching four passes for 53 yards, but on his final catch, Jasper Brinkley rolled over Edelman’s left ankle. The receiver hobbled to the sideline, and he didn’t return.
The Patriots’ offense struggled mightily without Edelman, and it had to have been a pretty rough injury to keep him off the field. If he is indeed out for an extended period of time or, worst-case scenario, the rest of the year, then expectations may have to shift just a bit. The Patriots may still be the NFL’s best team without him, but their margin of error would drop significantly without their most elusive play-maker.
Devin McCourty/Duron Harmon
The point of football, when you don’t have the football, is to tackle the man with the football. The objective is never to tackle the man without the football, and it’s never to tackle a man who is on your team.
Yet twice on Sunday, Patriots safeties accidentally took down teammates. The first — when McCourty misread the pass to Beckham — proved very costly immediately, as it left the entire field open for the receiver to score. The second — when Duron Harmon clipped Amendola on that long punt return — didn’t prove damaging, but it was a mistake that could have turned a touchdown into a field goal.
They were mistakes, but potentially critical mistakes.
It’s unfair to single out the team’s fourth cornerback as a bad performer, but Melvin’s play was tough to watch at times on Sunday.
He entered the game after Justin Coleman struggled, and he didn’t fare any better. He got called for an 18-yard pass interference penalty when he caught Myles White with an accidental jab to the throat/face area, and the Giants finished that drive with a field goal. And on the Giants’ final drive, Melvin got burned badly twice. First, Melvin bit when Dwayne Harris broke toward the post before cutting back toward the corner, and Harris came down with a 30-yard reception. Two plays later, Melvin got left behind Harris again, and the receiver came down with the ball at the New England 5-yard line.
Butler was good, and so was Logan Ryan, but the Patriots’ lack of depth at corner sure showed up against the Giants.
Bonus: Ed Hochuli’s Officiating Crew
Every week, Ed Hochuli’s crew botches at least a half-dozen calls. That was the case again on Sunday. Everyone used to love the guy because he had 20-inch pythons and loved to flex, but he and his crew have been bad for years. The NFL might want to look into that.