Giants CB Aaron Ross intercepts a pass in last season's 'Battle at the Meadowlands.' The Giants won the game 35-24 (JI Photo).
As Brett Favre trotted onto Lambeau Field’s frozen tundra last January, a trip to Super Bowl XLII stared the legendary quarterback in the face. All was set for an illustrious return to football’s greatest stage, but a brick wall defense turned the icy evening into a nightmare for the future Hall of Famer, just as it had for so many other quarterbacks before him.
Soon after Favre’s pass floated into Corey Webster’s grasp and Lawrence Tynes booted away the Packers’ championship hopes with his 47-yard field goal in overtime, Favre’s 16-year odyssey in Green Bay ended.
“As I’ve said all along, they deserved it. Not only in our game, the way they played throughout the playoffs,” Favre said last Tuesday of the Giants' win in the NFC Championship game. “Believe me, I wanted to win the game but I give them a tremendous amount of credit and respect. But that’s over and done with.”
After a rollercoaster ride that saw Favre retire then return to football just four months later, the legendary quarterback discovered his new home. Tomorrow Favre will face the New York Giants again, but this time as a member of the Jets.
“It’s a new year. A lot of things have changed,” Favre said. “It’s a preseason game for us. I’m not thinking about the past.”
Each time the quarterback drops back to pass against the Giants, the painful image of his ill-advised throw to Webster will grow more distant. Just how much the quarterback has the opportunity to do so remains uncertain.
“It’s really going to depend on how many plays we have offensively and how long the [Giants’] first group is in,” head coach Eric Mangini said. “It’s really hard to say at this point.”
While Favre admits he would “love to play the whole game,” keeping the 38-year old gunslinger fresh remains a priority with the season opener against Miami fast approaching. He knows the extent of his playing time may be determined by the success, or lack thereof, that he finds against one of the league’s premier defenses.
“We’re going to be smart about it. Whatever Eric [Mangini] wants to do. We haven’t really talked about it. You’d like to go in and play, like the other night, maybe get some more plays and be as successful,” Favre explained. “But, what if you’re not? Do you keep trying to gain that success and in the process something bad happens? I don’t know. I think it’s kind of a touchy situation.”
In 2007, the Giants' defense made its name on harassing quarterbacks, en route to a stunning Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. Led by Osi Umenyiora (13 sacks), Justin Tuck (ten) and Michael Strahan (nine), the Giants brought down opposing quarterbacks a league-leading 53 times. Although Strahan recently ended his 16-year career, Mathias Kiwanuka returns to the Giants’ defensive line rotation. Kiwanuka got off to a solid start in 2007, recording 4.5 sacks in the team’s first ten games, but a broken leg in a Week 11 win over the Detroit Lions shelved him for the rest of the season.
Last Monday, the Giants defense looked to be in mid-season form, as they battered Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson, before the Giants' backups replaced the starters late in the first half with a 30-3 lead. Umenyiora drove Anderson into the Giants Stadium turf, leaving the signal-caller with a concussion.
Favre turned on the television and saw the giant lead, which surely did not leave him eager to face Big Blue.
“When I turned it on it was 30-3. That wasn’t good,” Favre said with a laugh.
There’s no doubt in Mangini’s mind that facing the Giants’ sack-happy defense will serve as a good barometer for Gang Green’s revamped offensive line. With defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo calling the plays, the Giants' defense attacks at all angles.
“There are multiple looks and ways that they pressure, and then when they just bring the four down guys, they can cause problems too. There’s going to be blocking their four and then blocking the different combinations from the secondary and linebackers that they’re going to have to adjust to," Mangini said.
Tomorrow night will hold an added importance for the Jets as just one game sits on the schedule-Thursday at the Philadephia Eagles-before the preseason officially wraps up and the games begin to count. With the final preseason game usually reserved for the backups, guard Damien Woody knows the starters must step up against the Giants.
“We want to do all the same things right," Woody said. "This game is going to be as close to a regular season procedure as possible. We really want to go out there and make a statement this game.”
What remains certain is once Favre begins firing passes around the gridiron against the Giants' defense, he will be reminded of why he returned to football.
“Wanting to come back for one play to me is obviously the wrong reason to come back,” Favre explained. “The only reason I came back is I wanted to play.”
Jets ‘O’ vs. Giants ‘D’
All eyes will be on Favre, as he continues to adjust to the Jets’ offense. Mangini insists that the number of plays Favre knows has not doubled since the Redskins game last Saturday, but by changing formations, shifts and motions, the Jets can present various looks. “You could easily turn 30 [plays] into 90 just by how you get to the play. The concepts I wouldn’t say have doubled. It’s going to be incremental each week,” Mangini said.
While Favre is slowly growing more comfortable with his new playbook, expect the Giants' defense to create havoc in the backfield. The Jets’ offensive line will be greatly tested, but with the Giants featuring so many different blitz packages, protecting Favre will be difficult.
Jets ‘D’ vs. Giants ‘O’
While the Giants’ defense created all the noise on the field in 2007, their offense often went overlooked. After quarterback Eli Manning capped off last season with a stunning upset of the 18-0 Patriots, much will be expected of the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player. Manning looked to be in top form last week against the Browns, as he was 4-for-7 for 52 yards and two touchdowns. However, with all of his offensive weapons banged up, the Jets will get the best of this battle. Wide receivers Steve Smith (groin/hamstring), Amani Toomer (knee) Mario Manningham (quad) all should be available to play. Wide receivers Plaxico Burress (ankle) and David Tyree (knee) will likely sit out.
Special Teams Battle
Both special teams units made noise last week. Unfortunately for the Jets, it was Mike Nugent’s 23-yard attempt bouncing off the left upright that rung through the Meadowlands. For the Giants, Domenik Hixon returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown. However, as much as Nugent struggled in the loss to Washington, the Giants' kicking situation remains in shambles. With Tynes (knee) out again, Josh Huston will kick this week. Huston was 5-for-5 on extra points last week, but missed his lone field goal attempt, a 42-yarder.
Key to Victory
With tomorrow being the third preseason game, expect the starters to see action into the second half. As the Jets face the Giants’ fierce pass rush and the Giants’ receiving core remains banged up, a close contest should come down to who can run the ball best. As both teams learned in different fashion last week, one or two big plays can change the final outcome.
The Jets face their toughest test this preseason and the Giants defense will be just a step better. Expect Big Blue to pressure Favre and force him into a few mistakes. The Jets struggled last week to stop a Washington running game (22 carries, 181 yards) that was minus Clinton Portis. Tomorrow, the duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw will find the holes again.
Giants 27, Jets 21