Three thoughts (along with reaction from players involved) after reviewing the Giants' winning drive late in the fourth quarter of New England's 24-20 loss Sunday at Gillette Stadium (Fox screenshots below):
1. Ballard made a pretty ridiculous catch
It's hard not to make a David Tyree reference here (even if the degree of difficulty was far less). Still, considering the Giants were facing 3rd-and-10 from their own 39, that's a heck of a pitch and catch. Patriots linebacker Tracy White -- untested as he may have been on defense -- had solid coverage underneath Ballard, while safety Patrick Chung couldn't believe he whiffed on the ball (he probably should have tried to put a hit on the tight end, but initially anticipated the ball sailing high).
Said Giants quarterback Eli Manning: "They were playing man underneath, with two safeties high, and we really hadn’t thrown anything to [Ballard] down the middle and so he got even with the guy and he’s just a big target. You try to put it in a spot where he can make the catch, put it up high and get it into his hands. Sometimes they get their hands up after the ball hits them, or the safety can come and hit it out, but Ballard is a big sucker and make a big catch."
Even White simply shrugged and noted, "I had him covered. It was just a good catch and a good pass."
2. Manning made a key audible before pass interference penalty
Sensing a blitz, Manning appeared to audible both the pass protection and the receiver routes on maybe the game's most important play. It also seems like he spotted Sergio Brown in the game for Chung and made a decision to test him immediately by sending Victor Cruz on a go route. But even Manning admitted the Giants got a little lucky there.
"Really, it was a fortunate situation that they were showing a blitz, checked the protection and ran out," said Manning. "Some of the guys didn’t quite get all of the route check and so really it’s just the throw away -– to put it somewhere in the Victor Cruz area -– but throw it away and say, ‘Hey we’re screwed up here.’ It wasn’t a good situation. Fortunately, [Brown] held Victor and we got the ball down at the 1-yard line. So we were really pretty fortunate right there."
Brown suggested he was surprised to be flagged on the play, but it's nearly impossible to suggest he didn't run into Cruz.
3. Ihedigbo/Carter should have chipped Ballard on TD grab
White admitted he got caught playing the run on the 3rd-and-goal play that resulted in a Giants touchdown, though replays show he actually did a decent job recovering and forced Manning to deliver a quality pass to generate the winning score. That said, both defensive end Andre Carter and safety James Ihedigbo had a chance to disrupt Ballard at the line and they did little more than give him a one-armed love tap. Knowing a run in that situation was far less likely than the pass, both players should have made more of an effort to prevent Ballard from getting into his route.
Some will lament how injuries kept Gary Guyton and Brandon Spikes off the field for the final play of the drive, but it's hard to say they would have made much of a difference considering Ballard's free release.
“The offensive line pinched and I ended up getting off quick and breaking it out because I knew I had to get separation from the linebacker," said Ballard. "As soon as I turned around, Eli threw it and it was there, I was just concentrating really hard to make sure I caught the ball.”