EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** Something old and something new has resulted in a late-season resurgence for something blue – the Giants.
Eli Manning (let's say he's older, not old) and perhaps the best rookie class in team history have led the Giants to three consecutive victories, the latest a 37-27 decision over the Rams in St. Louis.
Manning had one of the best games of his illustrious 11-year career, backed up by big-time performances from draft choices Odell Beckham Jr. (eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns) and Andre Williams (26 carries for 110 yards), plus contributions from several other first-year pros, including two undrafted players, Kerry Wynn and Orleans Darkwa.
Manning's 148.8 passer rating was the highest for a full game in his 177-game career (including postseason games). He completed 25 of 32 passes for 391 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
"I think his focus was laser-like," coach Tom Coughlin said today. "I think he was very, very, much tuned in only into what was going on, on the field. He was as focused and as zoomed in on what he was looking for in this game as any game we seen this year. He prepares himself extremely well, he does that for every game. I thought his ability to get us into the right runs, his ability to check versus pressure, his ability to stand in the pocket and make plays, all of those things were there yesterday afternoon. He obviously played very, very, well."
Following the game, Manning preferred to talk about his younger teammates. Beckham continues to go where no rookie has previously ventured. His 79 receptions are the most ever for a NFL player in his first 11 games and he holds the Giants rookie records for catches, yards (1,120) and receiving touchdowns (11). And Beckham still has one game to play, the season finale this Sunday vs. Philadelphia.
The team's leading rusher is also a rookie, Williams, whose second 100-yard game boosted his season total to 678 yards.
"I don't think you expect them to play the role they've been playing, and Andre carrying the load in the backfield and being our feature back and Odell making the plays he's making at receiver," Manning said. "But it's good to see. In the second half of the season, we kind of talk about our rookies no longer being rookies. They have gone through some growing pains and gone through some things and they've got to raise their level of play. Those guys certainly have. (Left guard) Weston Richburg, I'm kind of throwing him in that mix as well. They're young guys that have come and played well for us."
Williams thought he would share the rushing load with Rashad Jennings. But the veteran has missed five games and been limited in others with knee and ankle injuries. So now Williams has a chance to be the first rookie to lead the team in rushing since Joe Montgomery 15 years ago.
"That was not something that I posted as a goal, to lead the team in rushing," Williams said. "I was really concentrating on just learning the system and being able to contribute in any way I could. Circumstances played out where I was getting the majority of snaps on Sunday and I've been having success thus far."
Beckham, Richburg and Williams were all selected in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft, so they were expected to contribute as rookies, though perhaps not this spectacularly. The same can't be said of Wynn, a rookie from agent from Richmond. He was inactive for the first 11 games. But in the four games he's played, he has 13 tackles (10 solo) and 1.5 sacks. Yesterday, he had a sack, an interception, a fumble recovery and three solo tackles.
"Kerry has been with us a long time, all through training camp,' Coughlin said. "He impressed us all the way. Much of that was you never hear the guy say much; he just plays hard. He loves to play. He has a unique ability, in my opinion, to be in the right spot at the right time. That is what he displayed yesterday. It is a dream for a defensive lineman to have an interception and also to have that late fumble recovery. I was very nervous even then with two minutes to go. He did come up with that as well. He played solid for us in there. His presence is felt. He holds his gap. He is a powerful young man and he is just going to keep on getting better as he goes along."
The Giants signed Darkwa off the Miami Dolphins' practice squad on Nov. 12, after Michael Cox fractured his leg at Seattle three days earlier. Against the Rams, Darkwa rushed four times for 21 yards, including a 12-yarder for his first NFL touchdown, and forced Benny Cunningham to fumble on a kickoff return. The ball was recovered by Nat Berhe – another rookie – leading to a Giants touchdown.
"Here is a young man who impressed us very much right away when he came to us," Coughlin said. "I would continue to check with Craig Johnson, our running backs coach, about what do you think about (Darkwa) and how is he doing. He picked things up very fast. I think the level of confidence was recognized by the fact that he was inserted many times in the game (yesterday) on third down against a team that has a very, very complicated pressure and blitz package and he was able to go in and help us in that regard as well. Those two guys (Wynn and Darkwa) have made nice contributions, as have a number of young guys."
For all the outstanding contributions the rookies have made, Manning and Coughlin continue to lead the way. Yesterday, the coach and quarterback teamed up for the 166th time in the regular season, the third-highest total for a quarterback/head coach duo in NFL history. Coughlin is extremely appreciative of the longevity and success of that partnership.
"We have been at this a long time," Coughlin said. "I do enjoy the opportunity to work with a young man of his quality and he has been the same type of individual through anything that has been thrown at him. The idea that we can start with that basis, the fact that he is the quarterback, and he has been able to play for as many years and as many starts as he has, it is a heck of a starting point. Literally, and I said this along the way many years ago, you can throw whatever you want at him. We did it when he was a rookie, you remember back to the Dallas win when he checked to the run and we scored…to win that game. It is the idea that there is a tremendous amount of faith and trust that we have in him and the way that he has accepted the challenge of the new offense and has responded. I think it is a great plus for everybody around him, too. There is no question that it is a wonderful starting point."
Now Coughlin wants Manning and the youngsters to bring the season to a successful conclusion.
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