By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The 5-0 Patriots are going to host the 2-3 Giants on Thursday night. It’s going to be cold, wet, and windy as a rookie quarterback out of Duke (out of DUKE!) tries to lead an offense lacking its top four weapons against the NFL’s No. 1 defense.
Long story short: It might not be a great game.
That will be a break from the norm when it comes to the Patriots and Giants, two teams that have engaged in some unforgettable clashes over the past dozen years. Whether that was the Week 17 game in 2007 that secured the 16-0 record for New England, or the infamous Super Bowl played a month later, or the rare Patriots home loss in 2011, or the Super Bowl rematch later that year, these two teams have created some compelling chapters in the NFL’s history books.
And while the aforementioned meetings are quite well known, this sleepy Thursday offers the opportunity to recall one game involving these two teams that was riveting but perhaps not quite as well-remembered as all the rest.
It came in 2015, at a point in mid-November when the Patriots were 8-0, and the Giants … were not 8-0. They were 5-4, hanging on by a thread en route to finishing the year with a 6-10 record in what would be Tom Coughlin’s final year with the Giants.
One can’t help but wonder how differently that season might have gone had the Giants been able to come away with a win over New England.
Certainly, the Giants had more than a good chance of winning that game, and we can work backwards to show exactly how close they came. The game ended with an incredible kick from Stephen Gostkowski, a booming 54-yarder in the final seconds of the game to give the Patriots a 27-26 lead.
Eli Manning was nonplussed.
Working backward from that spot, we should note that the field goal attempt was only possible because Landon Collins dropped an easy pick a few minutes earlier, when Tom Brady kicked off the potential game-winning drive by badly underthrowing Aaron Dobson deep over the middle. Collins, just a rookie that year, had the ball in his hands but could not hold on as he crashed to the turf.
A pick there would have sealed a 26-24 Giants win, as the Patriots were out of timeouts. But New York almost overcame the miscue by forcing the Patriots into a fourth-and-10 just three plays later. A stop there, and the game once again could be won for the home team.
But Brady found Danny Amendola for a gain of 12 yards to keep the drive alive. It was the first of three catches on the drive for Amendola, who also had an 11-yard pickup on a second-and-10 and a 9-yard gain to get the Patriots into Gostkowski’s field goal range. Brady recognized that Trevin Wade would be blitzing off the left side of the line, so Amendola ran a quick hot route and then ran his way across the 40-yard line to give the Patriots a chance.
A quick spike and a Gostkowski field goal followed, leading to ecstasy on the visiting sideline.
Ah, but if we hit the rewind button once more, we’ll see that the Giants came about as close as humanly possible to taking a six-point lead rather than a two-point lead on their own scoring drive that preceded New England’s.
That drive had the Giants starting out at their own 3-yard line, and Manning completed five of seven passes for 72 yards to set the Giants up with a first-and-goal from the 5-yard line with 2:06 left in the game.
The Giants went for the kill on first down, with Eli throwing a quick fade to Odell Beckham Jr. in the left side of the end zone. In man coverage against Malcolm Butler, Beckham spun away from the cornerback and hauled in the pass. Touchdown.
Or was it?
The automatic review showed that a last-gasp swat by Butler knocked the ball out before Beckham had established full residence in the end zone.
Malcolm Butler, making a big-time play late in a game near the goal line. What else is new?
That play was but one of the many battles that went down between Beckham and Butler.
After the touchdown was reversed, the clock sat at 2:01, which was a massive break for the Patriots, who had just one timeout remaining. Up against the two-minute warning, the Giants ran a pass play, with Eli throwing incomplete to Dwayne Harris in the end zone. On third down, Manning smartly gave himself up in bounds for a sack that forced the Patriots to burn their final timeout.
Josh Brown kicked a 29-yard chip shot to give the Giants the lead.
Now, we’d be remiss if we failed to mention that the reason the game was so close at that point was because earlier in the fourth quarter, Rob Gronkowski hauled in the longest catch of his entire Hall of Fame career. It was a 76-yard touchdown that put the Patriots ahead by a single point, and it was accentuated by Brady pointing at somebody (probably Josh McDaniels) and shouting “Boom, mother [something].”
That long Gronkowski touchdown was different but also awfully similar to an earlier touchdown from Beckham.
Outside of that 87-yarder, Beckham was held to just 17 yards on three reception on his other 11 targets.
Anyways, the lead that Gronkowski established would have been extended by the Patriots if it hadn’t been for a goal-line interception thrown by Brady.
Russell Wilson, eat your heart out.
Going back to the big play theme, we can’t forget Danny Amendola’s 82-yard punt return, which should have been an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown, but, well …
The Patriots overcome that little stumble with a 1-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount. Excuse me, I misspoke — the Patriots overcame that stumble with an awesome 1-yard touchdown run by LeGarrette Blount:
The Patriots crawled away from that game with a 27-26 victory. It was a game where neither of these plays resulted in the Giants completing catches:
Their perfect 9-0 record was intact, but they lost Julian Edelman to a foot injury after the first quarter. That proved to be a huge loss, as the team went from scoring 34 points per game through the first nine weeks to scoring just 23 points per game over the final seven weeks. They lost in overtime in Denver, they lost in overtime to the Jets (after not taking the ball to start OT), and they infamously lost in Week 17 in Miami in the game that shall always be known only as The Steven Jackson Game.
As a result, the Patriots played the AFC title game on the road, in Denver. Jamie Collins got twirled twice by Owen Daniels, James White caught five of 16 targets, Brady threw two picks, and an incredible last-ditch effort by Brady and Gronkowski to tie the game late came up just short.
As such, the Patriots didn’t make the Super Bowl, and the disappointing end to a season that had undefeated potential through Thanksgiving weekend led to a number of moments from the 2015 season to kind of get washed away to history. That tends to happen.
But, thanks in large part to the sad state of the 2019 New York Giants, we were all gifted the opportunity to relive what was pound-for-pound one of the most exciting, partially forgotten football games of the Brady and Belichick era.