The Giants looked extremely impressive coming back to the site of their Super Bowl victory, and squeaked one out against the Cards. The Giants dominance on special teams was a key factor in the Giants coming away victorious. Domenik Hixon had 200 return yards, and his returns of 83 and 68 yards set up two first half scores. On the other hand, the Cards’ special teams were abysmal. Besides the return yards, there were also many other costly errors.
For example, Ralph Brown had the ball in his hands after an onside kick that could have given his team a chance to tie it up, but he let it bounce of his hands. Also, Hixon shouldn’t have even been given a chance to return it 83 yards, but he got it because of an offside penalty on Matt Ware, which forced them to re-kick it to Hixon. Aside from special teams this was a very close game, and the Cardinals definitely showed that they are a very good football team in front of a national audience.
After forcing a punt on the Giants first possession, Kurt Warner drove his team 63 yards down the field, taking almost 7 minutes off the clock, but they only came away with a field goal. It looked like Larry Fitzgerald was going to haul in a pass for the score, but Giants’ rookie free safety, Kenny Phillips, made a great play knocking the ball out of Fitzgerald’s hands.
It was then Eli Manning’s turn to take his team on a big drive, going 62 yards, and taking over 6 minutes off the clock, all culminating in Derrick Ward one yard touchdown run. Ward was filling in for the injured Brandon Jacobs, and he did an admirable job, with 100 combined yards and a touchdown. On the Cards next possession, they managed to get in the endzone, courtesy of a 4 yard Tim Hightower run. After the teams traded field goals, it was time for another huge Domenik Hixon return, which gave the Giants the ball at the Arizona 17 yard line.
Even with the short field the Giants took almost 3 minutes off the clock, and Amani Toomer caught a 12 yard Eli Manning pass for a big score before the half. Of note, the Cardinals tried a rare ‘free kick’ from 68 yards, that Neil Rackers ending up shanking.
The second half began with what I believe was the key play in the game. On the Cards opening drive, Justin Tuck forced a Warner fumble that was recovered by Mathias Kiwanuka in Arizona territory. The Giants, as great teams do, capitalized on the turnover by way of a two yard touchdown catch by fullback Madison Hedgecock. The touchdown put the Giants up 24-12 because of a botched extra point attempt on the Cardinals touchdown.
Although the game was not over at this point, it put New York convincingly ahead, and seemed to deflate the Cardinals and the home crowd. Warner would lead the Cardinals on a 92 yard touchdown drive to make it a 5 point game, but the Giants would answer with a touchdown drive of their own. On the Cardinals next drive, Kurt Warner would turn the ball over again with a pick to rookie corner Terrell Thomas. The Giants would turn the pick into more points, with journeyman John Carney knocking another field goal through.
Just as it looked like the game was over, Warner took his team on another touchdown drive, which put them down by only one score. Even though there was 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter, head coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to try an onside kick. Neil Rackers executed it perfectly, and everything went according to plan except for the recovery, where Ralph Brown could not make the play, even though he had both hands on it and no one around him. The Cardinals desperately needed a stop, but the Giants got into field goal range, and John Carney made the clutch kick to put the Giants up by two scores and basically put the game on ice.
Things don’t get any easier for the Giants, as all of their remaining games are against either divisional opponents or teams in the playoff hunt. The Cardinals only need one win in their remaining 5 games to clinch the NFC West. This could have been a huge statement game for the Cards, and even though they didn’t when, they showed the rest of the conference that they are among the elite teams in the NFC, and can hang with the other top teams. They now face a tough trip to Philadelphia in which they will have to adjust to the different time zone against a struggling Eagles team.