Posted: 3 a.m.
E. RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Was it the beginning of something special or just another trip on the treadmill to nowhere?
"We have to make more plays, but we did get better as a team, I know that," said right guard Bobbie Williams after Sunday's 26-23 overtime loss here to the defending Super Bowl champs.
Was it just another example of how inexperience and a youth movement equals defeat or did Giants Stadium see the unveiling of a future elite secondary?
How close to ending a 0-2 skid with a road victory that would have turned the tide in their city the other way?
"The things we've been talking about: improving on third down, running the football, defending the run and don't give up an explosive play in the passing game and make some on ours," said head coach Marvin Lewis. "I think in some of those areas I know we improved today. We've just got to keep churning and keep getting it done."
With Deltha O'Neal in New England and Johnathan Joseph inactive with a sprained ankle, second-year player David Jones made his first NFL start in his 10th game and rookie free agent Simeon Castille became the third cornerback in his third NFL game.
With Leon Hall playing his finest game as a pro in his 13th start and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer putting as much heat as possible without getting a sack on Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, the young secondary didn't melt down until the finish and the Bengals defense gave the smashmouth Giants everything they wanted when it stuffed them on New York's first four third downs and six of the first eight.
The Pounder, 260-pound Brandon Jacobs, could manage just 2.5 yards per his 14 carries after coming into the game with a 5.8 average. Three of the kids in the secondary were among the four leading tacklers (which it was said O'Neal wouldn't do) and Rashad Jeanty started at SAM linebacker after being demoted to a backup role last week and responded with six tackles.
"We wanted to stop the run and make them one-dimensional," said safety Marvin White, echoing Zimmer's mantra.
Giants coach Tom Coughlin noted the extra man in the box.
"They defended (the run) well, give them credit," Coughlin said. "Their scheme was such that it ended up being a lot of eight-man fronts with one side being heavy contain alignment and the other side being a pressure side. Again, give them credit for that. Probably our better runs ended up going straight up more than anything else today."
Wide receiver Plaxico Burress, the Pro Bowler who caught the Super Bowl's winning pass, had just one catch for eight yards going into overtime. Amani Toomer, the Giants all-time leading receiver, had two catches for 13 yards before New York's final three drives of the game.
But Burress beat Hall down the left sideline for a 28-yard pass in the OT and two plays later Toomer bolted behind the secondary for another big chunk of 31 yards to the Bengals 7 that sealed the winning field goal from John Carney two plays later.
But maybe the most telling difference between the two teams on this day was the sack stat. In their last 18 regular-season games before Sunday, the Giants had rung up 60 sacks. In their last 34 regular-season games, the Bengals had 62. And on Sunday, the Giants beat the Bengals, 6-0.
"That would have been a big statement if we'd been able to pull out a win with those young guys back there," said White, himself just a second-year player making his sixth start. "They stepped up and made some plays."
But not enough. White said that Toomer took off on that wheel route against man coverage. It was unclear who had Toomer, but White said Manning's pump-fake and motioning Burress caused some confusion because White thought it was going to Burress, "(Manning's) go-to-guy."
There was some debate if Toomer came down in-bounds, but the refs didn't think it was close enough for a replay and immediately marked the ball even though many Bengals thought it should have been reviewed.
Whether more experience back there could have prevented it, who knows? The secondary has had some busted plays like that with veterans back there, too, and Manning has been doing this against everybody lately, including the sainted Patriots.
"They had a good plan. They tried to gang up on (Burress) and do some blitzes and roll it to both sides," Manning said. "It made it tough at times. When teams are doing a lot of blitzing like that, you're going to get them with a few plays and they're going to get you with some plays also. That's kind of the way it goes. We hit enough big plays and good plays to get the win, so that was a great job by our guys just hanging in there tough, never getting frustrated and keep playing."
"It was just a streak. You have to make the play. I need to finish it off," Hall said. "As a corner in that situation, you have to make a judgment call. Do you just turn around and make the play? And if not, then you've just got to play his hands. If you turn around when you're not supposed to, he could have caught it and kept on going. You never know."
The kids had their moments, but also their trials. On the Giants' first touchdown drive, David Jones was called for pass interference on a huge third-and-seven, although it seemed Burress simply ran into him and fell down. Also in that drive, Castille picked up the first of his two illegal contact penalties.
Late in the game, when right end Antwan Odom appeared to hit Manning's arm and deflect a pass, at least three Bengals had a shot to pick off the wounded duck.
"That's the kind of play you can't leave out there on the field," White said. "In this type of game against that type of team, you have to make those types of plays; I should have made that play. That could have got us off the field."
But the play that summed it came on the third snap of the fourth quarter and the Giants looking at a third-and-14 from their 49 in a 13-13 game. They worked a screen to wide receiver Steve Smith and when Castille and Jones couldn't get off their blocks, Smith made the first down by a yard.
The closest guy that came to hitting him was Zimmer as he hurled his call sheets to the ground in disgust as Smith crossed the stick in front of him and the Giants used the life to kick a go-ahead field goal.
The Bengals hope the intensity and anger bubble into next week.
"We've got the Cleveland Browns coming in next week and the best way to get this taste out of our mouths is to get ready to play them," Bobbie Williams said.
"There's no moral victories. We're a good team. We haven't shown it in these three games," said wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. "All you can do is fight. Your back is up against the wall. You can curl up and get beat up or you come out and fight. I'm coming out to fight. I'd like to think everybody else is too. I think we played hard, but at the end of the day they made a couple of more plays than we did."