The local football apocalypse took place on Saturday, and the world didn't end, but the game was the biggest story of the week. Ok, Christmas and celebrating the birth of our Lord may have exceeded the happening in East Rutherford, New Jersey -- but only slightly. The New York Jets used a picture of a bloody Eli Manning from the 2010 preseason game on the cover of their playbook last week, which turned out to be appropriate, just not in the way the Jets were hoping. The Jets did cut up Manning's face in the August game of a year ago, but it was the New York Giants who won that game, and the star was Victor Cruz, who caught three touchdown passes. In this year's game, which boosted the Giants' playoff chances, but hindered the Jets', Cruz made the play that turned the tide for Big Blue in their 29-14 victory. His 99-yard touchdown catch-and-run not only got the Giants out of a big third-down hole but it gave his team a lead they never relinquished. So like that day over a year ago, the Giants won again and Cruz was the star of the game.
While Darrelle Revis and his island stood alone in doing his job for the Jets (well, David Harris was pretty good, too), for much of the season the Giants have had a Manning Island on offense and a Pierre-Paul Island on defense, though they mean different things than Gang Green's version. Manning has had to deal with no running game, receivers dropping passes and a subpar offensive line, standing out on his own to win games by himself. While Jason Pierre-Paul has been the lone outstanding defensive player for the Giants. But they both finally had help in Saturday's battle, with Cruz and Ahmad Bradshaw accounting for three touchdowns, and Justin Tuck, Jacquian Williams, Chris Canty and just about all the other defenders assisting Pierre-Paul to make Mark Sanchez's day miserable.
It was not a well-played game by either team, as both made numerous mistakes. For the Giants: 12 men on the field and throwing the ball with a 13-point lead in the fourth quarter led to both of the Jets' touchdowns, and though it didn't hurt them, what was Chase Blackburn thinking when he tried to pick up a punt and almost gave the Jets the ball? And in an ongoing theme for the Giants, their receivers dropped a number of passes and ran the wrong routes resulting in incomplete passes and a lack of third-down conversions. For the Jets, they committed 10 penalties for 95 yards, fumbled the ball away at the Giants' one-yard line, Sanchez threw a pair of interceptions and a safety helped to put the game out of reach.
But the Giants made the big plays when they had to (hello, Cruz and Brandon Jacobs), they were tougher than the Jets, with Jacobs bowling over Kyle Wilson and Bradshaw steamrolling Brodney Poole, and they made the necessary adjustments that the Jets didn't make (read: Brian Schottenheimer). Much to Rex Ryan's chagrin, the big brother won once again, foiling the Jet coach's plan of tri-state domination. Neither team is free and clear yet, though, as the Giants have to beat the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night (for a preview of that game, go here) and the Jets will need to defeat the Miami Dolphins (for a preview of that game, go here) and get a whole lot of help as well.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
The Perfect Christmas Present: When Kevin Garnett had the ball with four seconds left in Sunday's Christmas spectacular, it was uh-oh time. Here we go again. We've seen this movie before. But when the ball clanked off the rim, that may have signaled the beginning of a new era. Maybe it really is time for a New York Knicks resurgence (and the decline of the Boston Celtics). The Knicks put an exclamation point on the start of the season, with their dramatic 106-104 opening-day victory, though they almost turned it into a funhouse-mirror version of their 1985 Christmas miracle comeback. They were up by 17 at one point in the game, then down by 10 in the third quarter, but Carmelo Anthony jumped off the bench and saved the day with his all-around stellar game (37 points, 17 in the fourth quarter, eight rebounds and game-winning free throws). And this quote from him after the win may be the best omen yet: "Where we are going to succeed is me making other guys better." An old-fashioned team-first, defense-first concept is what they need to succeed, and if their stars like Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire are onboard, then good things could happen. (Stoudemire was thinking team- and employee-first, when he threw a Christmas breakfast party for every Garden employee who had to come into work on the holiday.) Tyson Chandler made his Knick debut and tried to bring some D with him - he blocked six shots along with blocking the lane at the end of the game. The Knicks only allowed 17 points in the fourth quarter, blocked a total of 11 shots and they made two big stops in the waning seconds, so there are at least some whispers of defense to begin the season, if not roars.
The Other Two Games: But on Wednesday, the excitement of a nationally televised home opener wore off and reality and a lack of chemistry set in for the Knicks, in their 92-78 loss to the Golden State Warriors. The offense couldn't click, Chandler was in foul trouble all game long and they blew a six-point halftime lead with another third-quarter debacle. All their flaws showed up in this game, and their stars couldn't save them. And in Thursday's loss to the Lakers, it was more of the same. And injuries are beginning to pile up, with Stoudemire spraining his ankle, and Iman Shumpert and Jared Jeffries already out (though they picked up Jeremy Lin). Chandler's early assessment of the team: "Everything is just difficult for us right now. We've just got to make things easier than they've been." And Mike D'Antoni called the Knicks "awful." So much for the Christmas-day optimism.
See Above: When the New Jersey Nets began their season against the Washington Wizards on Monday and the first 12 minutes were over, it was looking like the Nets were in for a long season. But 36 minutes later, after Deron Williams took over the game (with the help of the forever-to-be-booed-on-the-road Kris Humphries), New Jersey was 1-0. But then they played their next two games (didn't we just say that about the Knicks?). With fans chanting for Dwight Howard in the home opener, the Nets were completely shellacked by the Atlanta Hawks, 106-70, with Williams only totaling one lousy assist in the game. The good news: Humphries was cheered by the hometown fans. At least somebody likes the poor guy. On Thursday, the Nets got to see Howard in person and he completely dominated them, grabbing 24 rebounds, as the Magic won 94-78. MarShon Brooks did score 17 points for the Nets as a consolation prize.
Warming Up for the Winter Classic: The New York Rangers got ready for Monday's marquee matchup in Philadelphia this past week with a 4-2 victory over the Flyers and a 3-0 win over the New York Islanders but on Wednesday they fell to the Capitals, 4-1, with turnovers and un-Ranger-like play dooming them. The key to the Blueshirts' success this season has been their ability to avoid losing streaks, so now they get another chance to do just that, with one more game (in Florida) to be played before the Jan. 2nd outdoor extravaganza. And in good news, Marc Staal has been practicing with contact, so we may see him yet this season.
Getting Better in the Third: If the Knicks are having third-quarter problems, the third period has been bedeviling the New Jersey Devils. They're 8-1 in shootouts this season, and 10-1 in extra-time games, but unfortunately, they've had to pile up points that way mainly to cover up for their last-period meltdowns. It happened again on Friday, when they blew a lead to the Capitals but won in the shootout. They lost in regulation to the Hurricanes on Monday, with the rare occurence of Ilya Kovalchuk scoring into his own empty net. But on Wednesday, they solved their third-period troubles by holding a two-goal lead and beating the Sabres, 3-1, with Petr Sykora netting two goals.
We're Not Gonna Take It: All three periods have been troubling the New York Islanders lately, as they lost on Friday to the Maple Leafs, 5-3, and on Monday to the Rangers, 3-0, making that three losses in a row and a 2-6-1 record in their last nine games. But on Thursday, they played their best overall game in ages, responding physically and on the scoreboard, in defeating the Flames, 3-1. Evgeni Nabokov was outstandiing in goal, and after Kyle Okposo was hammered into the boards, Matt Moulson and the rest of his teammates stood up for Okposo with a melee that rallied their team. John Tavares scored the eventual game-winner in the third period, and the Islanders head into their New Year's Eve game on a positive note.
Battle of the Big Mouths: Just because the Giants-Jets game ended didn't mean the talking did, too. The two biggest mouths in New York football, Rex Ryan and Brandon Jacobs, kept right on going with the chatter. Jacobs: "Rex Ryan is a very disrespectful bastard. The Jets have a big-mouthed, big-bellied coach that talks too much." And: "I wasn't talking to him . . . He just came out of nowhere and started at me . . . I know he told me, ‘Shut the F up. Wait til we win the Super Bowl.' And I told him I'll punch him in his face." Ryan: "We had a private conversation. That's all I'll leave it as. Whatever. He doesn't like me. I respect him but I could care less about him." We'll let the one guy who never boasts, brags or makes embarrassing statements have the last word, and that's Tom Coughlin: "We won the game, that's the message."
Going to Hawaii: Manning, Pierre-Paul, Revis, Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson were all named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday. Joe McKnight, Harris and Cruz certainly played well enough to make the team as well, but they were chosen as alternates, as were Chris Snee and Brandon Moore. So a few of those guys will most likely end making the trip to Honolulu, as a handful of replacements always end up going.
Strange but True: Here are a few stories one doesn't hear every day in the world of sports. R.A. Dickey has been planning for a long time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in January to raise money for a charity, but the New York Mets sent a letter to his agent strongly suggesting that he shouldn't go, even going as far as threatening to void his contract if the knuckleballer suffers a mountain-climbing injury. Dickey's going anyway, though there's no truth to the rumor that the Mets have also suggested that Dickey bring Jason Bay along with him. And Alex Rodriguez went all the way to Germany, at the suggestion of Kobe Bryant, not to climb a mountain, but for an experimental treatment called Orthokine, which took blood from A-Rod's arm, spun it around and shot it into his bum knee and left shoulder. With Bartolo Colon's stem-cell surgery and other blood-spinning procedures, we'll hear this type of story more and more. A-Rod did get permission from MLB and the New York Yankees, just to make sure everything was on the up and up. Finally, the Yankees signed 36-year-old lefty Hideki Okajima to a minor league contract.
And that's the New York week that was.