It was ugly all the way around but the Patriots will gladly take the 17-6 win over the Giants on a wet and dismal day at Gillette Stadium.
On a day when Tom Brady was only 1 of 10 passing for 7 yards in the first half, New England managed to gut out a win with its defense holding New York every time it had a sniff of the end zone while intercepting Giants quarterback Kerry Collins four times.
"The defense played unbelievable football," Patriots guard Damien Woody said. "I mean we stunk it up out there on offense in the first half and we were still up 7-3. So the defense went out there and played a great game, but sometimes you are going to have games like that where one side of the ball is going to carry the other side."
While the New England offense converted only 1 of 11 third down tries and gained only 220 yards, 129 of them were on the ground. Despite that effort, however, it was the Giants that time and again, looked poised to do damage but on each occasion, the Patriots defense rose up with either a sack, tackle for loss or interception.
The Patriots defense spent the better part of the day on the field, but according to newly elected defensive captain Rodney Harrison the unit didn't wear down and refused to give in.
"You bend but don't break," Harrison said. "I mean it wasn't like it was 90 degrees outside. They were moving the ball down the field, but we just kept preaching, 'Do not let them in the end zone.' If they scored three points, we feel like our offense can put up some points. Just don't let them in the end zone. That was big for us."
New England squandered an opportunity to jump on the Giants early on. On the first play from scrimmage, Kerry Collins pass was tipped at the line by Richard Seymour and the ball fluttered into the hands of Tyrone Poole who took it 13 yards to the Giants 28. A holding call on Joe Andruzzi during the Patriots series knocked them 10 yards back and two incomplete throws later, Vinatieri was brought on for a 42-yard field goal that he missed.
Instead of taking advantage of the turnover, New England gave the ball back to the Giants as if it never happened.
Then, instead of enjoying the do-over, the Giants did it again. This time it was the second play from scrimmage and Poole was again involved. On a corner blitz, he hit Tiki Barber in the backfield and lodged the ball loose. Matt Chatham scooped it up and went the distance for the score.
"I just scooped it up and scored," Chatham said humbly. "I mean usually I think I kick that ball around, but I was fortunate, got the ball and ran it in."
The Giants came right back with Barber running efficiently and Collins throwing well, a 27-yard pass to Marcellus Rivers and a 23-yarder to Shockey to show for it. But once down on the Patriots 3, Barber was hit for a 2-yard loss and then Collins missed on two throws. The second actually had a wide-open Barber slipping after eluding the mis-matched McGinest in coverage. New York came away with the three points to cut the Patriots lead to 7-3.
From that point in the game, the Giants offense had the most success although it wasn't until 10:45 of the second quarter when it finally had a chance to put more points on the board. After a pass interference penalty on Harrison on third and 2 extended the drive, Barber caught a pass for 8 yards down to the Patriots 23. A holding call moved the Giants back and then good coverage forced Collins to run for 4 yards. Brett Conway came on for the 47-yard field goal attempt but the ball was wide to the right.
With New England's offense dropping passes, committing penalties or overall just stuck in the mud, the Giants seemed poised to take the lead. With 2:45 left in the half, New York found itself third and 9 at the Patriots 22 after converting three previous third downs in a drive that started on the New York 29. Collins dropped back and Seymour had his second play of the day that resulted in a turnover. This time, he got a piece of Collins arm and Harrison came up with the ball.
"We knew they had some receivers in Shockey and [Amani] Toomer at the skill positions that were a good threat so I thought it was up to us defensively, especially up front to get pressure on Collins and not allow him to sit back there all day," Seymour said. "We were rushing three. We had some guys covering those guys. They did great job back there and we were able to make some plays."
The play had New England on their own 15 but Brady (1 for 10 passing in the first half for 7 yards), could not get his team going and three plays later, the Patriots were punting once again. Amazingly, New England had only one first down throughout the entire first half with just over 8 minutes of possession yet were winning to this point.
The Giants had a last chance to score as the half ran out. Asante Samuel made a nice play on Ike Hilliard to break up a third and 15 pass from Collins and Conway missed another field goal attempt, this one a 49-yarder.
While New England must have been frustrated by its lack of offensive production, the Giants must have been that much more frustrated knowing they had several chances to take the lead but came away trailing after 30 minutes.
A completely different Patriots offense began the second half. With Kevin Faulk in the game for Mike Cloud, suddenly New England's running game took off with jaunts of 10, 3 and 23. David Patten and Troy Brown held on to a couple passes and Vinatieri knocked home a 28-yard field goal. Perhaps being first and 10 at the Giants 14 New England would have liked more, but with the way things went in the first half, the home team had to be encouraged with the 10-3 lead.
After stopping the Giants, the offense followed up its last drive with its first touchdown of the game. A huge 21-yard pass to David Givens converted a third and 16 from deep in Patriots territory. With Faulk continuing his running ways Brady was given more room to pass and he took advantage of Patten in single coverage down the left sideline for a 39-yard hook-up. On the play, the Giants tried to challenge whether or not Patten had both feet in bounds, but Belichick and staff alertly called for a quick snap and Brady kept for 2 yards, not giving time for Giants coach Jim Fassel to pull out his red bean bag.
From the Giants 16 it was Bethel Johnson with a 15-yard catch and Cloud in for the score, his third in two games as a Patriot.
Down 17-3, the Giants continued to use their multitude of offensive weapons and were driving as the third quarter ended. Barber began the drive with a 9-yard run and Collins hit Shockey, Amani Toomer, Jim Finn and Rivers. Down at the Patriots 11, it seemed the Giants were finally ready to introduce themselves to the end zone but on second and 3, Seymour came up big again with a 5-yard sack of Collins. After an incomplete over the middle, all New York could manage was three points.
"We try to have that attitude, the bend but don't break attitude," Roman Phifer said. "I mean we play against talented teams. They are going to make plays, but when we get down to the red zone we try to get stingy and we try to limit them to field goals or nothing at all. We were able to do that the last couple of games."
This was to be the storyline for the game as the Giants followed the drive by holding the Patriots to three and out and again mounted a drive downfield once they took over. Collins (35 of 59, 314 yards) was throwing the ball all over the field until he got down to the Patriots 26. Once there, two incompletes brought about a fourth and 6. With Conway just signed off the street for the injured kicker Matt Bryant, New York felt better about going for the first down rather than trying the field goal. Like it did all day, the Patriots defense tightened when threatened. This time, it was Harrison picking off Collins on the Giants fourth turnover of the game.
Trailing 17-6, New York drove into the Patriots half of the field as the fourth quarter reached the five-minute mark. A helmet to helmet hit by Dan Klecko on Collins negated a sack and the 15 yards brought the Giants to the Patriots 40. On the next play, Chatham broke through with a clean sack of Collins. Six yards later, the Giants were faced with a fourth and 7 and no other choice but to go for the first down. Good coverage by the Patriots ended the drive and New England took over at their own 37.
A last New York drive ended in another Collins interception, his fourth. On third and 10 from the Patriots 31, Antwan Harris got his hands on the ball but missed. The deflection went Eugene Wilson's way and he held on to end the Giants last chance.
On the day, the Patriots defense held Barber to only 71 yards on the ground while Faulk had 87 on 14 carries and Cloud another 23 on 9 tries.
Shockey led all receivers with 8 catches for 80 yards. The Patriots top receiver was Patten with 3 grabs for 55 yards.
Brady was 8 of 21 passing for 112 yards, all but 7 of them coming in the second half.
At 4-2, New England will travel to Miami to face the tough Dolphins defense.
"I am not sure what our record is down in Miami but whatever it is…since I've been here we haven't won down there and we are trying to erase that," Seymour said. "I think the only way we are going to do that is to have a good week of practice. Pay for it in practice. Put the win on layaway. Pay for it and then go pick it up on Sunday."
"Our whole theme right now is just to try to be consistent," Woody said. "We are still building toward that. There are a lot of things we need to work on, but hey we are 4-2 right now with critical game next week in Miami. So we have a big one this week."