Welcome to Season 8, Episode 6 of the Unconventional Preview, a serious-yet-lighthearted, nostalgia-tinted look at the Patriots’ weekly matchup.
Even excluding the two Super Bowls That Shall Not Be Named, the Patriots and Giants have a history of playing compelling games, especially since they are not conference opponents and play infrequently (just 12 times, including the two lousy you-know-whats).
A couple of gems through the years:
DEC. 21, 1996:This one might have been the peak of the Drew Bledsoe experience: from uninspiring to unstoppable all in the span of 60 minutes. The Patriots overcame a sluggish first half and a 22-0 deficit to take a 23-22 win and lock up a first-round playoff bye.
Troy Brown made one of the most remarkable how-did-he-do-that? catches in Patriots lore, snagging a ball thrown well behind him while falling to the turf. Those mid-’90s teams have been pushed aside by history, but they were awfully fun at times.
DEC. 29, 2007: The Patriots fought off a feisty Giants team for a 38-35 win that secured the only 16-0 regular season in NFL history. The Patriots rallied from a 28-16 deficit, with Tom Brady finding Randy Moss for a 65-yard touchdown to take the lead for good early in the fourth quarter.
The TD was a single-season record 50th passing TD for Brady and 23d receiving TD for Moss. The teams never played again that season, from what I understand. Do not research this.
NOV. 15, 2015: Stephen Gostkowski, who made a lot of big kicks that for some reason we instantly forgot about, knocked home a 54-yarder with one second remaining to give the visiting Patriots a 27-26 win. This is the most recent time the teams have met.
It’s safe to say that Thursday’s meeting is not going to be added to this list of gems. The Giants are barely recognizable. Eli Manning is now an observer from the sideline, having lost his job to rookie Daniel Jones, his .500 career record being preserved while New York media types contort themselves to make a Hall of Fame case for him that should not exist at least until fellow two-time Super Bowl winner Jim Plunkett is inducted ahead of him.
The only Giant remaining from the last Super Bowl meeting (no flashbacks here on the result) is long snapper Zak DeOssie.
There are a couple of ex-Patriots (left tackle Nate Solder, backup lineman Jon Halapio) and a few of All-Name Team candidates (safety Jabrill Peppers, linebackers Tuzar Skipper and Oshane Ximines).
But there’s not much else, especially this week. Superstar running back Saquon Barkley is making fast progress on his recovery from a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 3 against the Buccaneers. He originally was expected to miss 4-8 weeks. There was some talk that he’d play this week, though it still seemed a long shot as of Tuesday. The Giants also could be without their top two receivers. Tight end Evan Engram (33 catches, 373 yards) reportedly has a sprained MCL, while receiver Sterling Shepard (25 catches, 267 yards) already has been ruled out with a concussion.
The 2-3 Giants would be shorthanded against the 5-0 Patriots even in good health.
With the possibility of playing without arguably their three best offensive players, they’re going to be overwhelmed.
Kick it off, Bailey, and let’s get it started . . .
Grievance of the week
Unless Brady somehow forgets that the Patriots are playing on Thursday rather than Sunday this week, he’s all but certain to surpass Peyton Manning for second all time on the NFL passing yardage list. He enters Thursday’s game with 71,923 passing yards, trailing Manning (71,940) by 17. (Curious to see how Little Brother Eli reacts on the sideline when Brady does it, ideally on an 11-yard completion to Julian Edelman on third and 10.) Brady is still 2,922 yards behind all-time leader Drew Brees, but that’s a worthy top three: Brees, Brady, Manning. All-timers, all of them.
It’s the order of the rest of this list that makes up my grievance. The statistical achievements of the greatest quarterbacks in history are being obscured by the numbers put up in this era of let-it-fly football. Consider:
■ The only quarterbacks in the top 10 in passing yardage whose careers ended before the turn of the century are Dan Marino (No. 5) and John Elway (No. 9). Warren Moon (No. 10) comes close to fitting the criteria, having retired after the 2000 season.
■ Dan Fouts, is the only one in the top 20 who retired in the ’80s. He’s 17th.
■ Fran Tarkenton (12) and Johnny Unitas (20, above) are the only ones in the top 20 who retired in the ’70s.
Meanwhile, the still-active quarterbacks who make the top 20 besides Brees and Brady are the trio from the 2004 draft (Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers occupy the Nos. 6-8 spots), Matt Ryan (11), and Aaron Rodgers (16th). And Matthew Stafford (21) and the never-elite Joe Flacco (22) are both approximately 1,000 yards from bouncing Joe Montana (19) and Unitas from the top 20.
There are advanced metrics that take factors of a given era into consideration , sort of the way OPS-plus and ERA-plus allow for comparison of baseball players over different generations. Pro-football-reference.com offers rate stats such as adjusted yards per attempt and adjusted net yards per attempt that account for the circumstance of specific eras.The problem is that the majority of fans probably won’t seek this out.
The NFL all-time passing leaders list has three brilliant players of this generation at the top, and they are worthy. But the list is top-heavy with modern players who are obscuring the feats of superior players that came before. And a world in which Joe Flacco passes Joe Montana in any meaningful statistic is a world that is unjust.
Three players I’ll be watching not named Tom Brady
Can’t decide what was more entertaining about Jones’s electric first start in Week 3, a come-from-behind 32-31 victory over the Buccaneers in which the rookie threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score as the Giants overcame a 28-10 halftime deficit. Was it New York fans and media immediately falling all over themselves to call him a savior and a superstar, barely five months after the Giants’ decision to take him with No. 6 overall pick was universally panned? Or was it that he temporarily shut up the Browns’ obnoxious and overrated second-year quarterback, Baker Mayfield, who had reacted to the Jones selection in an August “GQ’’ article this way: “I cannot believe the Giants took Daniel Jones. Blows my mind . . . Some people overthink it. That’s where people go wrong. They forget you’ve gotta win.’’ What the heck does a Browns player know about winning?
Jones picked up the nickname “Danny Dimes’’ after that win, “dimes’’ being lingo for his ability to throw strikes to his receivers. It also applies in some way to his matchup with the Patriots defense this week — he has about a 10 percent chance of having even temporary success.
Jones looks like he’s going to be a good quarterback, possibly a very good one, and one that more than justifies being the No. 6 selection. Bill Belichick, who had a predraft visit with him when he came out of Duke, seemed a believer when everyone else was a skeptic. But Jones has been less consistent lately. He’s thrown three interceptions over the last two games, and took four sacks in last week’s loss to the Vikings. The Patriots historically dismantle rookie quarterbacks during the Belichick era — they’re 12-0 at home against them in his 20 seasons as coach, with the most recent road loss to a rookie coming six years ago to Geno Smith and the Jets. Jones is going to look like every bit the rookie Thursday.
Just a quick nod of tribute here to an unsung Patriot who has been a true force on the defensive line in this, his third NFL season. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt in 2017, Butler is already approaching career highs in sacks with 2.5 (his previous high is 3), QB hits with 3 (career best: 4), and tackles with 11 (he had 19 as a rookie and 17 last year). He’s another Patriot defensive player having a superb season, and one who deserves a little more notice than he’s getting.
Solder was a very dependable protector of Brady’s blindside for six of his seven seasons with the Patriots. (He played right tackle as a rookie in 2011.) But since signing a five-year, $62 million deal with the Giants before the 2018 season — including $35 million in guarantees — he’s looked like another example of the Patriots parting ways with a quality player at just the right time. Solder played better as last season went on, but this year has been a disaster. He allowed a pair of sacks Sunday against the Vikings, raising his total on the season to five. He also picked up a pair of holding penalties. The Patriots, who have 24 sacks in five games, will find their way to Jones, and taking on Solder might be their most direct path to sacks and success.
Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins vs. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones
We know many of the football things Belichick likes. Left-footed punters (well, with rocket-legged rookie righty Jake Bailey being an exception). Finding cornerstone special teams players in the middle rounds of the draft. Pummeling the NYJ. And so on.
One thing he really likes? The exceptional linebacker group — including Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Pepper Johnson, and Gary Reasons — that he coached during his days as the Giants’ defensive coordinator, when he collected his first two Super Bowl rings (1986, ’90).
So he must be thrilled with the performance of Jamie Collins, the 29-year-old uber-athletic linebacker who returned to the Patriots this offseason after 2½ years of well-compensated purgatory in Cleveland. Belichick hasn’t made the comparison himself. But there’s no denying Collins has played with a havoc-wreaking style reminiscent of those vintage Giants linebackers since he’s returned.
In five games, he has 4.5 sacks and 3 interceptions, a pace of 14.5 sacks and 9.6 (might as well round up to 10) interceptions over 16 games. Obviously those paces are unsustainable, but it’s already a historically excellent performance for a Patriots linebacker. As intrepid colleague Christopher Price noted this week, he could be the first Patriot to have 4 sacks and 4 interceptions in a season since Vincent “The Undertaker’’ Brown in 1995. Only three Patriots have had at least 6 sacks and 2 interceptions in a season: Anthony Pleasant (2001), Mike Vrabel (2003), and Rob Ninkovich (2011). I would have guessed Rodney Harrison as a member of the club, but the closest he came was with 3 sacks and 3 picks in 2003.
Jones is mobile, but he’s been sacked nine times in his three starts. The Buccaneers got him five times in his first start, and the Vikings caught up to him four times last Sunday. Collins, whose burst through the line to get after the Redskins’ Colt McCoy Sunday was breathtaking, has the speed to chase down Jones. Here’s a hunch he will Thursday. The question is, how many times?
Prediction, or: Where have you gone Jeremy Shockey?
It’s not a matter of whether the Patriots will beat the Giants. It’s a matter of how. New York has the 23rd-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, allowing 130 yards per game. With Sony Michel coming off a 91-yard game against the Redskins in which he broke off several productive runs in the second half, this should be an opportunity to build upon that progress in the running game. But it also may be an opportunity to build more rapport in the passing game — the Giants are allowing 279.4 passing per game, fifth-worst in the league. That’s more yardage than the Patriots are allowing overall (238.4 per game). One prediction on something that will go the Giants’ way: Jones will throw the first passing touchdown allowed by the Patriots this year. It won’t nearly be enough.
Patriots 37, Giants 10.