Steve Wyche reports from the Giants-Cardinals game. Check back later for his complete column:
GLENDALE, Ariz. — There already were arguments that the New York Giants were the best team in the NFL. With previously unbeaten Tennessee losing — to the Giants’ co-stadium tenants, the Jets — and the Giants knocking off host Arizona, 37-29, on Sunday, the arguments gained even more support.
Down offensive starters Brandon Jacobs (knee) and Plaxico Burress (hamstring), New York’s offense didn’t miss a step. Neither did its defense, which effectively limited wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin and steadily dialed up pressure on Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner.
It steadily enforced its will on the Cardinals in the same manner they’ve worn down all comers — except for Cleveland, of all teams.
It was the Giants’ sixth straight victory and fifth consecutive over a quality foe. Lying in the wake of New York’s surge: Pittsburgh, Dallas, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Arizona. Washington, Philadelphia and Dallas — NFC East rivals — are up next and none, unless the Giants lapse, seem up to the task of beating a team that has gutsy and effective backups like Domenik Hickson, Derrick Ward and Steve Smith, let alone a fully-stocked starting lineup.
Arizona on Sunday hoped to wrap up its first division title (NFC West) since 1975, which it didn’t but will soon. It also wanted to show it was worthy of being mentioned with the NFL’s elite. While the Cards gamely showed themselves as an up-and-coming team, they aren’t quite ready at this point. Miami and Dallas are the two truly credible victories on their docket. The rest came over Buffalo and weak NFC West opponents.
The Cardinals have to regroup quickly to face off against the unraveling Eagles in Philadelphia Thursday night. They don’t know if they’ll be facing Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb at quarterback, but they have a few in-house things to get in order first.
The chatter in New York, meanwhile, will almost certainly begin to include talk of a Giants-Jets Super Bowl — the NFL version of a subway series. With the Jets (8-3) as hot as any team and convincingly beating Tennessee, it’s hard not to at least flirt with the possibility.
As for the Giants’ victory over Arizona, quarterback Eli Manning efficiently took apart the Cardinals, mainly on intermediate routes. Smith, Hickson and tight end Kevin Boss, often broke free as Manning found holes in areas vacated by defenders covering other receivers or on blitzes. The offensive line gave Manning all the time he needed and provided the needed muscle when New York decided to run.
The game was loaded with special teams firepower as both teams racked up major return yards on kickoffs. The Cardinals also took the kicking game to a new level at the end of the first half. The coaching staff, clearly well versed on the rules, had Neil Rackers attempt a 68-yard field goal, using a kickoff formation that negated a rush but allowed the Giants to set up the defense like a normal kickoff return.
The only difference between the attempt and a kickoff was that Rackers couldn’t use a tee. The curiosity of the bizarre set was quickly lost when Rackers squibbed the kick and the Giants answered with a short return as time expired. New York took a 17-12 halftime lead, with a botched extra point attempt by the Cardinals also factoring into the affect of the kicking game.