Everyone knows the big stories and breakdowns by now; let’s look at some of the lesser factors that are still plenty important.
— Hakeem Nicks was New York’s second-best offensive player, collecting 10 catches for 109 yards on 13 targets. Many of those grabs came against solid coverage, plays where Nicks and Eli Manning had to be letter-perfect. The Patriots desperately need to find a player like Nicks, a rangy and physical wide receiver who can challenge the second and third levels. With all due respect to Victor Cruz, I’m sure I’ll have Nicks ranked higher for fantasy in 2012.
— The Giants put the ball on the ground three times but got away with it. Cruz’s red-zone fumble turned into a non-event, wiped out by a New England penalty. Nicks’s bobble was scooped up by an alert Henry Hynoski. If the Giants can’t land Ahmad Bradshaw‘s fumble deep in New York territory, the Patriots winning chances go through the roof.
— All year long it seems like we complain weekly about ticky-tack penalties, and then they mostly go away in the playoffs. Sure, there are less games to analyze in January and February (less potential for referee angst), and sure, a couple of the calls were debatable from Sunday (the Tom Brady grounding call, Kevin Boothe‘s holding flag, some others). But I don’t know any intelligent football fan who doesn’t prefer the hands-off approach that the league takes in the post-season. Let’s see more of this in the regular season.
— New York punter Steve Weatherford had another super game, dropping three kicks inside the 10-yard line (the first pin job set up the first score of the game, the ensuing safety). And if you go back two weeks, he had a fantastic hold on the game-winning field goal at San Francisco.
— Although Bill Belichick certainly made the right call to let the Giants score in the final minute – ensuring New England would see the ball again – the Patriots should have allowed the score on first down, not second down. Similarly, the Giants should have refused to take the touchdown, but that’s not the easiest thing to instill in an offensive player – it goes counter to every natural instinct he has.
— The hidden value of the Mario Manningham 38-yard catch is that the Patriots had to challenge it, and thus, wasted a time-out they desperately needed later. The Giants did what all smart teams do after the initial play, rushing to the line, forcing the Patriots to make their challenge decision without any substantial review time. The play was too close and too critical for Belichick to not challenge, but perhaps he would have kept the flag in-pocket if that post-play sequence flows differently.
— The early safety is the patron saint of anyone screwed in the square pool. It was fun to see some different numbers come into play for a change.