Fantastic Football: They Might Be Giants (Week 5)

Welcome back to Fantastic Football, my ongoing Let’s Play of Madden NFL 2002 on the PlayStation 2. After taking a break last week for finals, we’re back with the Vandals as they head to New Jersey to face off against the New York Giants. You know, I just finished final exams for quantum mechanics and linear algebra, and I’d rather do that again than go to New Jersey. Sorry New Jersey, but your entire state is basically a single giant Superfund site.

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(The image quality on this one, and the next few ones, is probably going to be even worse, because I’ve moved locations and am using a different TV, and the lighting is really bad for some reason. Sorry!)

Our Vandals are favored over the Giants by Madden, although I’m not so certain. Look at the rating on those defensive backs. 99! That’s not going to be good news for Peyton and his receiving corps. We might be relying on Alstott and Garner to pickup yards this time around, and that’s not good, because I am terrible at controlling running backs. I don’t know why, but any time I try to sprint or juke or basically do anything but move the analog stick, the runner just comes to a dead stop. No idea why, if anybody knows what’s wrong with this seventeen year old game, let me know.

Anyways, hopefully the Vandals will be able to pull through despite my control issues. Let’s find out!

The Game

The Giants win the coin toss and opt to receive. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team opt to kickoff, and I’m not entirely certain why you’d do it.

The kickoff return does not go well for the Vandals, as the Giants get the ball to their 37.

And then things go really well.

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On 3rd and 7, on only the third play from scrimmage, Kurt Warner takes just a little bit too long in the pocket, and Orpheus Roye (#90) manages to force a fumble. He grabs the ball and runs it all the way back to the 1-yard-line. I imagine that if I was able to actually make players sprint, it would have been a touchdown.

And then the Giants’ defense gets to show that they are giants in more than just name. After three plays, the Vandals have lost 7 yards and are sitting at 4th and 8. Hugh Mann reluctantly orders Matt Stover onto the field to take the field goal.

It’s good. 3-0.

After the kickoff, the Giants are back at their own 31. Following a penalty-filled drive featuring three 3rd downs without a single 1st down, the Giants are forced to punt on 4th and 12 from their 29.

The Vandals get the ball at their own 48, and Hugh Mann decides to probe the true strength of the Giants’ defense. As it turns out, even the best defensive backs in the world are no match for Tony Gonzalez, and a series of short passes manage to move the Vandals up the field. A deep pass to Shannon Sharpe puts the Vandals in the red zone, and a long pass to Terry Glenn puts them back at the 1. Charlie Garner dives through the wall of giant men to take it in for six points, and suddenly things are looking up for the Vandals.

After the kick, the score is 10-0.

The Giants start the next drive at their 32, and then they steamroll down the field. After 7 plays, they’ve pushed their way to the 1 yard line. Despite an impressive rally from the Vandals’ defense that manages to push the Giants back to 3rd and 8, Kurt Warner makes a short pass to Terance Mathis for the touchdown. After the kick, the score is 10-7.

The Vandals get the ball at their 21, and after a back and forth drive involving an incomplete pass, a 6 yard sack, and a 14 yard pass, the Vandals punt it away on 4th and 2 at their 29.

The Giants get the ball at their 41, and Kurt Warner gets sacked immediately. For as good as these defenses supposedly are, there are a lot of sacks happening; I think this might just be part of Madden’s general tendency to inflate everything in unsimulated games, including scores. I don’t know why, but the out-of-the-box settings for this game really seem to favor high-scoring football.

The Giants are forced to punt it away, and the Vandals get it back at their 30. And then they’re forced to punt it away from their 30. Turns out those Giants cornerbacks are everything they’re cracked up to be, and they’ve gotten wise to my strategy.

The Giants get the ball back at their 40. They punt it back from their 44.

This might go on for a while, folks.

Or not. Peyton manages to drive the Vandals up the field to the 27 before the Giants manage to force a 4th down. Matt Stover comes on to try the field goal.

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One of these days Matt. One of these days we’ll make the long shot. But not today.

The Giants take advantage of the turnover to drive down the field into the Vandals’ red zone. The first quarter ends with the Giants at 1st and goal on the 4, with the score 10-7.

The second quarter opens with a Giants touchdown.

It’s 14-10 after the kick.

The Vandals get the ball back on their own 18. After a pass to Sharpe and a series of runs by Garner, the Vandals are at 4th and inches on their own 44. Hugh Mann tells them to go for it.

It doesn’t work. (And I learn, much to my frustration, that Madden does not allow me to use Challenge Play after viewing an instant replay, which is absolute bullshit, because garner absolutely did manage to get across the 1st down line.)

Two plays later, and the Giants score again. After the point, the score is 21-10.

The Vandals get the ball back at their own 24. Peyton manages to throw the Vandals downfield, finding his targets despite the efforts of the Giants’ cornerbacks.

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Until this happens. Goddammit Peyton.

The Giants get the ball back at their own 31. The Giants push forwards once again, but this time, the Vandals manage to stop them at the 50. They punt on 4th down, and the Vandals get the ball back at their own 25.

Seemingly determined to make up for the last disastrous drive, Peyton makes 3 completions in 3 plays, propelling the Vandals all the way up the field to the Giants’ 2. On 1st and goal, Garner runs it in for a touchdown. Stover boots it in to bring the score to 21-17.

The kickoff puts the Giants at their own 21. James Stewart picks up 19 yards on the first play from scrimmage after breaking 4 consecutive tackles, because the Vandals are still terrible at stopping runners. After another run puts them at the Vandals’ 48, Kurt Warner fakes a handoff before throwing a pass to Patrick Jeffers, who runs it in for a touchdown.

Not enjoying this trip to New Jersey so far. The score is 28-17 after the kick.

The Vandals start their next drive from the 19. It ends with them punting on 4th down from their 37. No, I don’t want to talk about it.

The punt puts the Giants on their own 32. They punt it back from their own 49. They coffin-corner it and the Vandals start on their own 2, because this game wasn’t already bad enough.

Peyton manages to move the Vandals up to their 21, but the Giants manage to stop the drive there. Kyle Richardson punts it back to the Giants’ 40, and they run it forwards to the Vandals’ 46.

Kurt Warner propels the Giants forwards to the edge of the red zone, but the Vandals aren’t done yet. The defense manages to push the Giants back to the 23, and then hold them there. On 4th and 13, the Giants attempt the field goal.

It’s good. The score is 31-17.

The kickoff results in a touchback, and the Vandals line-up at the 20.  They have just under 2 minutes left in the half. If they can score here, they’ll start the next half with possession, putting them in a position to potentially tie the game.

After three plays, the Vandals are at 4th and 2 on their own 28. Hugh Mann decides to risk it, and tells Peyton to hand the ball off to Garner.

(Guys, I’m gonna be honest here, I fucked this up. Garner had a perfect opening to pickup the first down, and I… I accidentally hit the dive button a yard away from it. I’m a big stupid idiot, I know, but it’s EA’s fault for even including a dive button on offensive plays. Why the fuck would anyone ever intentionally press that button? Might as well as just include a forfeit button while we’re at it.)

The Giants get the ball at the 29, and with it, probably the entire football game.

The Vandals fall back on their blitzkrieg defense, and it manages to fail spectacularly. Not only does Kurt Warner manage to evade the blitz, he also runs to pickup the first down at the 19. The Vandals fight valiantly, but the Giants manage to end the drive in a touchdown after three more plays. They make the point, and the score is now 38-17.

There is still a minute left in the first half.

The Vandals start their last drive of the half at their own 14. There are 51 seconds left.

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Sigh. Should I even ask how the hell he managed to catch a football from behind with the palm of his hand? No, no I should not.

With 5 seconds left in the half, the Giants score a field goal. Sure, why not.

The score is 41 to 17.

With 2 seconds left in the half, and the ball on their own 23, the Vandals call for a hail Mary.

You were expecting that to work? I wasn’t, and in this cruel world, a cynic is rarely disappointed. The half ends 41-17.

The Vandals start the second half with possession, starting their drive at their 25. It ends, 4th and 16, at their own 38. They punt.

The Giants get the ball at their 31. They punt on 4th and 22 from their own 33. I’ll let you try to imagine the circumstances that led to that.

The Vandals get the ball at their 34. AND THEN PEYTON THROWS ANOTHER GODDAMN INTERCEPTION.

Maybe I shouldn’t be mad at the poor digital soul. Maybe it’s my fault for forcing him to throw deep into heavy coverage by what might be the best cornerbacks in the game. Maybe I should learn how to run with the ball.

But I won’t, because I am a big dumb idiot and I will keep trying to throw that football as long as there are receivers who can catch it.

The Giants get the ball back at their 45.

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I quit. I officially give up. There is no possible way for me to win this football game, and that knowledge is dreadful. I jumped out into settings and gave control of the Vandals to the CPU. This is now a game with no human involvement whatsoever.

Maybe the Vandals, left to their own devices, will manage to surprise me.

The score is 48 to 17. There are 26 minutes left in the game.

The Vandals start their first computer-controlled drive from the 24. And, it turns out, computer-controlled Vandals are even worse than when I’m holding the keys. Their drive ends in a punt without a first down. The Giants get the ball back at their 28, because the computer is still way better at kicking than I will ever be.

On defense, the Vandals do appear to perform much better when chaperoned by the game’s own AI. They hold the Giants in the backfield, forcing them to punt from the 42. The Vandals get the ball at their 19.

This time around, computer!Vandals seem to be doing well for themselves. While they still favor a pass-heavy offense, Peyton seems to be much better than I am about choosing his targets, which I guess makes sense. Pretty soon, the Vandals have the ball sitting on the Giants’ 1. Garner runs it in for a touchdown, and after Stover boots in the point, the score is 48-24.

Good job fellas, you just need to do that four more times in the next… 20 minutes. And you can’t let the Giants score at all.

Good luck!

The kickoff results in a touchback. At this point, I’m pretty sure the CPU is just trying to show off how much better at kicking it is.

Unfortunately for the Vandals, any improvement in their offense seems to have been offset by a decline in their defense. The Giants push up the field, meeting only token resistance, ending with another touchdown to push the lead even further out of reach. After the point, the score is 55-24. There are 16 minutes left in the game.

(You might be able to tell that I’ve kind of checked out at this point. Let me tell you something, watching a football game where the winner is basically guaranteed before the second half is not very fun, especially if you’re not the winner.)

The Vandals start their next drive from the 18, and manage to make it to the Giants’ 49 before the quarter ends. They make it to the 11 yard line, and then go for it on 4th and 1. It’s a turnover on downs, because ever for the computer, that will never ever work.

The Vandals manage to hold the Giants inside their own red zone, forcing them to punt from their own 10. The Vandals get it back at the Giants’ 45. There are 11 minutes left in the game, and they are down 4 touchdowns and a field goal.

Peyton, guided by the computer, manages to throw the Vandals up the field for a touchdown. With 9:43 left on the clock, the score is 55-31.

The Giants get the kickoff to their 23. Faced with an impenetrable yellowish-black wall, they end up punting on 4th and 5 from their 28. The Vandals get the ball at the 28 on the other side of the field. There is 7:55 left on the clock.

I looked away for a moment, and looked back just in time to see this.

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Yes, that is a Giants touchdown. No, I don’t know how they got the ball back, I can only assume it was a turnover on downs. Yes, the score is 62-31 now. No, I don’t think there is any way for the Vandals to win. Yes, I would really like this game to be over now. No, I am not enjoying this trip to New Jersey.

The Vandals get the ball back at their 25, with 6:37 left on the clock. I don’t know why they even bother to line up–

Literally as I typed that sentence, I watched Shannon Sharpe fumble a catch on the first play from scrimmage, allowing the Giants to recover it at the Vandals’ 38. I didn’t think it could get any worse, and then it did.

Fortunately — if anything resembling fortune is left for the Vandals — the defense manages to keep the Giants from advancing with the ball, and on 4th and 10, they try for the field goal.

I take some small pleasure in watching it bounce ridiculously short of the goalposts and tumble out the back of the end zone.

With 5 minutes left, the Vandals get the ball back at their own 44. Computer!Peyton seems to have run into the same issue I had with the Giants’ cornerbacks, as I watch him throw 3 incomplete passes in a row. They punt, and the ball bounces into the end zone for a touchback.

By this point, I’ve become so detached from the outcome of the game that I can only muster mild disappointment as I watch the Giants race back down the field with the football and into field goal range. When they make the field goal to bring the score to 65-31, I just sigh.

I had thought that I had managed to forge the Vandals into an unstoppable football machine, but I should have known that there’s no such thing on the gridiron. Just as I feared when looking at the pre-game analysis, the Giants’ defense is just too good, and the Vandals’ isn’t good enough. At the end of the day, the best offense really is a good defense.

With 1:37 left on the clock, the Vandals score what will likely be their last touchdown of the game. Stover kicks the extra point, and the score is 65-38. They attempt an onside kick, but only succeed in giving the Giants the ball at their 44.

The Giants, for their part, do the merciful thing, and kill the clock.

And finally, the game is over. The final score is 65-38.

New Jersey is a terrible state.

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