…Absolutely loved the opening drive of the game by New England. OC Josh McDaniels' play-calling was a wonderful mix of runs and passes out of various formations and personnel packages. I also liked how it ate up nearly 8-and-a-half minutes off the clock.
…The drive ended in Tom Brady's touchdown pass to TE Scott Chandler, and it came out of a unique personnel package that the Patriots employed on consecutive plays. On 1st-and-goal from the NYG 2, New England sent backup o-lineman Chris Barker into the game. He was just promoted from the practice squad a day earlier. He came in at right tackle. Bryan Stork, who started at that position, slid over to left guard, where starter Shaq Mason, the rookie, had been. Mason reported as eligible to Ed Hochuli's officiating crew and moved into the backfield to serve as RB LeGarrette Blount's blocking fullback. New England also used all three of its tight ends. Scott Chandler line up next to Barker with his hand on the ground, as did Michael Williams next to tackle Cam Fleming on the left. Rob Gronkowski was left of Williams with his hands on his knees. Brady was under center and took the snap, wheeled, and handed off to Blount, who picked up a yard. McDaniels kept this same grouping on the field for the next play and they lined up virtually the same way. Only this time, Gronk was on the right where Chandler had been, with his hand on the ground, and Chandler was in Gronk's spot on the left flank, also with a hand on the ground. Pre-snap, though, Chandler motioned to the right end next to Gronk. It still had all the earmarks of a short-yardage running play, and Brady sold it as such with a play-action fake to Blount. Most of the Giants bit on the fake and came up to focus on Blount. Gronk ran a slant to the left along the goal line, while Chandler released into the end zone and cut across to the left near the back of the paint. He had safety Landon Collins trailing him, but Chandler was able to get open in a hole between LB Mark Herzlich and S Craig Dahl. Brady made a relatively easy throw to him for the score.
…The Giants obviously responded quickly, just two plays from scrimmage later, when QB Eli Manning hit WR Odell Beckham Jr. on an 87-yard touchdown pass. CB Malcolm Butler was covering Beckham tightly at the line of scrimmage, with safety Devin McCourty playing deep in the secondary. Beckham made a move to the outside on Butler, who remained with him stride-for-stride. Manning floated a pass to him that was a bit overthrown, but Beckham reached out and grabbed it with his fingertips. He should have been drilled right then and there by McCourty, but the safety took a horrible angle of pursuit, coming in too fast and shallow, and basically ran right across the front of Beckham. In so doing, he got in Butler's way, which slowed him down and gave Beckham a chance to separate from his defenders. Fast as Butler is, he couldn't catch Beckham, who was off to the races. It all came down to McCourty on this play. A sharper angle and he'd have walloped Beckham for a relatively modest gain or even an incomplete pass.
…The most troubling outcome of the game, from a Patriots perspective, came on the final play of the opening quarter, when Julian Edelman injured his left foot. It's reportedly broken and he's undergoing surgery today. Media reports indicate he could be back, though, in time for the playoffs. On the play in question, Edelman was in the left slot and ran an 8-yard out-pattern on 3rd-an-4 from the NYG 26. After making the catch, he spun out of the grasp of Dahl, but was wrapped up around the waist by LB Jasper Brinkley. It's hard to tell exactly at what point Edelman broke the bone. It could have been when he planted hard to brace himself for the tackle, or when Brinkley spun him around and Edelman's feet got tangled underneath the defender. Whatever the case, Edelman knew instantly that something was wrong. The team can only hope now that his surgery is a successful one and that he can return before season's end.
…Brady was sacked for the first of three times versus New York on a 3rd-and-4 from the NYG 8. He was in the shotgun with James White to his right, wideouts two to each side. The Giants rushed four, but dropped one of their down lineman into coverage while a 'backer came blitzing from Brady's right. White and RG Josh Kline picked up this blitzer, but for some reason, Brady stepped up in the pocket and ran right into the back of Kline. He also stumbled on his center, rookie David Andrews, who'd be shoved back and to the ground. So, it looked like Brady caused his own sack by choosing to try to run where he did.
…The Patriots got a sack back on the Giants on the ensuing drive. New York had a 1st-and-10 from the NE 16 when Manning took the shotgun snap. Beforehand, DE Chandler Jones was standing up opposite rookie left tackle Ereck Flowers. Jones was half-turned to the outside, as if he was considering covering the slot receiver, but at the snap, Jones put a speed rush on Flowers. The rookie tried to shove Jones down from the head and shoulder area, but Jones had effectively ducked under and kept his legs moving forward. Jones used his leverage to toss Flowers to the ground just as Jones arrived at Manning and swiped with his right arm down on Manning's exposed throwing arm. The ball came loose and rookie CB Justin Coleman swooped in for the recovery. More and more of Jones' sacks are coming from spectacular individual moves by him, whereas in the past, he relied much more on help from his teammates. This was a great example of Jones doing it all himself. He now has 10.5 sacks on the season.
…The offensive pass interference call against Gronkowski was questionable at best. There was no question he made contact with the Giants defender, but it looked like that player just stopped backpedaling and Gronk was still running forward full speed. It also occurred within five yards of the line of scrimmage, when contact is normally allowable. The call wiped out Gronk's first-down pickup catch on 3rd-and-8. Patriots punted two plays later.
…Amendola was called on the next series for illegal motion, and it was a more deserving call than Gronk's earlier one. Amendola was motioning from the outside to the inside, then when he quickly went back to the outside, he squared his shoulders toward the line of scrimmage and leaned forward ever so slightly, which is a violation. Flag was warranted.
…Coleman gave up a TD to WR Dwayne Harris just before halftime when the rookie corner tripped in pursuit of Harris on a corner route. The play happened on 2nd-and-goal, with Harris in the slot. Coleman either stubbed his foot in the turf or got tangled up with Harris. Looked more like the former, because Harris never broke stride and did a fantastic job of concentrating on the football, making the catch with one foot clearly in bounds, and dragging his second foot to complete the reception. Tough break for Coleman.
…Safety Patrick Chung's PI against Shane Vereen was suspect. Both men were making a play for the ball and have an equal right to go up in the air for it. Tough call there for Chung.
…Even more questionable was Butler's PI on Beckham a few plays later. I'm not even sure, after watching it several times, that Butler every even touched Beckham. Two mystifying calls by Hochuli's crew there.
…In a game full of exciting and consequential plays, this next one was maybe the most amazing. New York punted to Danny Amendola, who waved his arms in front of him in an X pattern to alert his teammates to stay away. Returners often do this to indicate they're not going to field the ball and to be alert for a bouncing ball. However, Amendola chose to catch the ball at the last moment near the sideline at the 10-yard line, which fooled the first Giants defender in the area. That player, Harris (the WR) ran past Amendola, thinking the ball was going to bounce. Amendola then elude the next defender coming in from the left, Orleans Darkwa, and cut across the field to that side along the 20. The Patriots return team then sprang into action, alertly improvising to pick up blocks on the unscripted return. Herzlich was one of seven Giants giving chase and was closest to Amendola before LB Eric Martin delivered a crushing blow from the right side. Herzlich was out of the picture now. Former Patriots linebacker James Morris was next in line, but safety Nate Ebner came into the area at the same angle and wiped him out as well. By now, Amendola was at the 36, on the opposite sideline, and looking like he was in the clear. Both of those blocks by Martin and Ebner were legal. The punter, Brad Wing, then became the next man in blue to be a threat, and Matthew Slater took him out, but with a block that was perilously close to be a block in the back, which would have nullified the whole play. He shoved Wing from the back of the left arm/shoulder as Wing dove for Amendola, and Hochuli's crew kept their flags tucked in their pockets. Amendola kept his balance and tiptoed down the sideline as Dahl came flying in toward his midsection, but Amendola shook him off and continued around the Giants' 30. At this point, he looked safe to get to the end zone because he had three teammates behind him and no Giants in the area. However, for some reason, Duron Harmon thought Darkwa was a threat to chase Amendola down from behind and cut across the other two Patriots. In the process, he grazed Amendola's back, and that light contact was enough to trip Amendola up. Amendola still could have gotten up and run, but by that point, two other Giants arrived to keep him down. Amendola probably should have kept his straight line along the hash marks instead of turning toward the numbers, and Harmon probably didn't need to overpursue the way he did, or else the play would have been Amendola's first-ever NFL punt return for a touchdown. As it was, it still turned out to be a remarkable effort by his blockers to make the 82-yard return happen without drawing a penalty flag.
…Blount finished the job a few plays later in what was the same basic formation as in the first quarter touchdown pass to Chandler. Brady handed off twice in a run this time to Blount from the same spot on the field, in the same end, and Blount followed his blockers, Mason at fullback included, on the first attempt. He did so again the second time, but also lunged over them to break the plane of the goal line.
…CB Rashaan Melvin's PI was a legit one. Perhaps the only legit PI on New England all night. He shoved the intended receiver, Myles White, in the facemask before the ball arrived. Hard to argue that one.
…Brady's next sack was also a fumble, and it came on the first play of the final quarter, and it was a direct result of Blount not picking up the Giants' blitz. New England was showing run with their formation: Brady under center, Blout deep behind him, the o-line in three-point stances. At the snap, Brady quickly play-faked to Blount, whose job was then to take on the blitzing Brinkley. However, Blount completely whiffed and Brinkley blew past him. Meanwhile, Stork, at right tackle, also whiffed on his block of LDE Robert Ayers Jr. Brinkley over-pursued Brady and wound up behind him, but Blount had gotten spun around and didn't even notice Ayers bearing down on Brady from the right side. Brady tried to unload a pass downfield, but Brinkley chopped down on his arm and knocked the ball free just as Ayers crunched Brady from the side. Had Blount been able to do his job on the initial blitz, this play would likely not have resulted in a turnover.
…Gronkowski's 76-yard touchdown catch-and-run from Brady was gorgeous. New England started in a tight formation, Amendola flanked to the right on the inside of the numbers, LaFell flanked left just outside the hash marks. Blount was offset to Brady's left in the backfield just four yards behind Fleming at left tackle. Gronk came in motion from the end of the line on the right side and settled inside the hash marks. From under center, Brady dropped back and looked initially to Amendola running an out-and-up. This froze deep safety Dahl, who was cheating toward Amendola's side. Former Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather was assigned to cover Gronk down the seam, but he was playing outside technique, meaning he was turned with his back angled toward the middle of the field, because Gronk ran a great route that looked like he was going to go toward the sideline. Instead, Gronk cut back to the middle and up the seam. Meriweather got spun around as Gronk made his move, and Dahl came over to assist. Brady placed the ball right between the two defenders, and as Gronkowski spun his body clockwise to make the catch, Dahl dove for his midsection, missed, and tripped up Meriweather. Gronk was now free and clear as he kept his balance and raced to the end zone. Beautifully drawn up and executed.
…Brady's third and final sack was again of the strip-sack variety, and this time it was all Stork's mistake. However, the substitute tackle and erstwhile starting center made amends by recovering the fumble. Ayers simply put a speed rush on Stork and he wasn't ready for it. Ayers was suddenly in the backfield and Brady didn't see it coming. Thankfully, Stork didn't give up and kept pursuing Ayers. When the ball came free, Stork chased after it and dove on it just as two Giants were about to pounce. Overall, Stork has done a decent job playing out of position at tackle. This was one of his few miscues.
…LaFell came very close to dropping that deep ball from Brady. LaFell had to slow up just a bit to make the over-the-shoulder catch, but the ball hit his shoulder pads at first and nearly squirted through his arms, but LaFell was quick to react and secure it with one arm.
…A good call by the Hochuli crew to nullify Blount's would-be TD run on that same drive. Andrews grabbed hold of the leg of DT Cullen Jenkins and took him down, otherwise Jenkins might have gotten to Blount in the backfield. As it was, he nearly got a hand on Blount as the back darted out of the backfield. Proper call to bring the play back.
…LaFell took the blame for Brady's interception at the goal line because, as he said afterward, he got "too happy" when he saw he was open and turned his route up into the end zone rather than continuing at a slight angle across the goal line. Brady threw to where he expected LaFell to be, in front of defender Trumaine McBride, but by altering his route the way he did, LaFell put McBride in front of him and the cornerback was right in the path of the football.
…Really impressed with Butler's overall ability to shadow Beckham one-on-one all evening. Emblematic of that was his great hustle on the overturned Beckham touchdown catch, which Butler swatted away at the very last moment. Hochuli reviewed the play and correctly reversed his crew's initial call of a touchdown because Beckham never had possession long enough with both feet on the ground. And all because Butler didn't give up on the play. He was in Beckham's face all game, and were it not for the mistake by McCourty on the 87-yard TD to Beckham earlier, Butler limited his opponent to just 17 yards. This was Butler best performance, start to finish, as a pro.
…Overall, the Patriots got very decent coverage from all their corners. Manning's receivers, at times, just made some outstanding catches over the defenders. Hard to fault any of the New England secondary for those. This might, in fact, have been the best coverage I've seen from the Patriots all season, Manning's seemingly high passing total aside.
…Also liked how the front seven, minus an ill Jamie Collins, managed to bottle up New York's running game. As a team, the Giants gained just 80 yards total on the ground. After an inconsistent start to the season in this department, the Patriots have gotten much more stout up front, thanks in part to the arrival of Akiem Hicks and the improved play of rookie Malcom Brown alongside veteran Alan Branch.