EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- You could look at this two ways. You could say the New York Giants are only down by four points at the half to the 11-0 Super Bowl champions Green Bay Packers and therefore have a chance to win it. Or you could say that things have gone about as well as they possibly could have gone for the Giants so far and they're still losing. But you guys know me. I'm an optimist. I'm looking at it the first way.
The first drive of the game, when they went to Ahmad Bradshaw twice and then downfield to Travis Beckum for that dazzling catch-and-run for the long touchdown, showed that the Giants have what it takes to hang with the Packers offensively. Everybody laughed when I wrote last week that the Giants have enough in the passing game to outscore Green Bay, but it's true. The Packers came into this game ranked third in the league in pass yards per game, and the Giants were fourth. That's not a mismatch, and with the Packers' defense banged up, there will be and have been plenty of opportunities for Eli Manning down the field.
They key is to avoid turnovers, since that's the food that sustains the Packer defense. Manning made a poor decision on the early second-quarter interception that Clay Matthews returned for a touchdown. You just can't allow the Packers to put points on the board while Aaron Rodgers is on the sideline. The second turnover wasn't really Manning's fault, as the pass protection broke down and Matthews walloped him from behind to force a fumble. And it didn't end up costing anything (except a chance to score more points) because the Packers missed the field goal with time running out in the first half.
But the offensive line remains a concern. It has been a major weakness all season for the Giants, and now it is very banged up. With left tackle Will Beatty already out indefinitely and David Diehl having moved from guard to tackle to replace him, center David Baas was a late scratch due to headaches. So Kevin Boothe moved from left guard to center and Mitch Petrus started at left guard. While the line has blocked surprisingly well in the run game for Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, they've been a mess in pass protection, and that's likely to cost the Giants as they'll have to throw to keep up with Rodgers and the Packers.
There is a chance they'll be able to do it, though. They've already intercepted Rodgers once, and their pass rush seems re-engergized and has been delivering hits on Rodgers all game long. If those hits add up and begin to rattle Rodgers into mistakes, the Giants might be able to keep this game close.
A couple more thoughts:
The main problem the Giants have with the Packers is that they can't cover everyone. Greg Jennings, their best receiver, is standing open by himself on the sideline in the first quarter. Donald Driver, their fifth-best receiver, is wide open in the end zone for a touchdown. Jermichael Finley, their huge and talented tight end, is a mismatch for anyone in their secondary. The Giants are playing with great energy, but might not have the personnel on defense that they need to stop the Packers. To be fair, though, no one in the league has this season.
The loss of running back James Starks, who left early in the game with an injury, hasn't seemed to affect the Packers, who have been able to use rookie Brandon Saine in the screen game and the run game with some success.
Chase Blackburn, re-signed just this last week because of the Osi Umenyiora injury, was the linebacker who made the interception of Rodgers. You could have gotten some good odds against that one a couple of days ago.