The Giants’ offensive linemen are typical of their species in the NFL. They don’t care for attention. They want to go to work, do their job, get up the next day and repeat the process. Their reaction to be an alleged crisis is to strap on their pads and helmets and work harder in the trenches.
So it was last weekend. On Saturday – less than two weeks after left tackle Will Beatty was lost for the season after undergoing surgery for a detached retina - Stacy Andrews, one of the line’s top reserves and a player who figured significantly in the offensive plan for the game Sunday against Green Bay, was hospitalized. He was diagnosed with blood clots in both lungs and is out for the season.
Soon after arriving at the stadium, they learned center David Baas wouldn’t play because he was suffering from intense headaches. Kevin Boothe, who had practiced all week at left guard, slid over to center. Second-year pro Mitch Petrus, who had played briefly in just one game this season, stepped in at guard. The only two available reserves were Jim Cordle, a first-year pro with little experience (who assumed Andrews’ roles), and rookie James Brewer, who was in uniform for the first time since the preseason.
To the outside world, it seemed the line was in a chaotic state. To the linemen, it was simply another day at the office.
“I think we’re a close group but I think at the end of the day, the fact is we had no choice,” Boothe said today. “Green Bay wasn’t going to hold the game up for us. So we knew we had to play, we had to make the best of the situation, and we fought, we just didn’t come out on the right end of it.”
“You can’t worry about it,” right tackle Kareem McKenzie said. “At that point you have to play the game, it doesn’t matter who’s down, who’s up, you gotta go out there and put your best foot forward. And make sure that whoever is out there that we’re all on the same page and we can go out there and move the ball effectively.”
The Giants did that, though they lost to the undefeated Packers, 38-35, on a 31-yard Mason Crosby field goal as time expired. But the newly-configured line was impressive. The Giants gained 447 yards, their third-highest total of the season. They rushed for 100 yards and Eli Manning threw for 347 and was sacked only once, for zero yards.
Baas’ status remains uncertain as he continues to undergo tests to determine the origin of his neck and head pain, so the same line configuration that played against Green Bay figures to start again Sunday night, when the Giants visit the Dallas Cowboys in a crucial NFC East game. The winner will walk off the field in first place in the division.
With the Giants playing vital games every week, Petrus has risen from anonymity to a very important player. A 2010 fifth-round draft choice from Arkansas, he received unanimous favorable reviews for his work in the Green Bay game.
“He played his heart out,” Boothe said. “He was disappointed we didn’t get the win, but he did everything we needed him to do out there and he gave us a shot.”
“He did a great job - fantastic job,” McKenzie said. “To go out there and play all of a sudden, not having dressed, not even one to dress I think it was, he did a great job.”
Less than two hours before the game, offensive line coach Pat Flaherty told his players about the lineup changes. Boothe, the Giants’ most versatile lineman, had started two games at center for Baas this season. He has earned the respect of the entire team and coaching staff.
“I’ve spoken highly of Kevin for years,” right guard Chris Snee said. “I think he deserves to be a starter in this league, and he plays like a top flight starter when he’s in there. So I have the utmost respect for him, and it’s tough to move around. He does it so easily. Few guys can do that.”
“I don’t know what time it was (when Flaherty talked to them), but it doesn’t really matter,” Boothe said. “It could have been the first play of the game, something could have happened and I had to move over. Things happen. It’s unfortunate, but we were able to shuffle the line and get some guys in there.”
Petrus practices with the team every day, but he had virtually no resume when it came to game action. That didn’t prevent Snee from reacting with a veteran lineman’s stoicism when informed of the changes.
“What are you going to do?” Snee said. “Get all worked up about it when you have a game to play? But we have guys that can play. Mitch has wanted an opportunity, he got one and he played well.”
In the first 11 games of the season, Petrus was inactive eight times and suited up but did not play in two other games. As he traveled to the stadium Sunday, he had no idea if he’d be in uniform, much less start.
“I rode with Chris Snee, we had a good talk. I didn’t know,” Petrus said. “I really didn’t have a clue, but you never know, you’re always one play away, so you gotta be ready. And they were excited for me when I got the call, they knew, so they were like, ‘Just calm down, focus, you’ll be alright.’ I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll work on being calm.’”
Petrus comes across as a hyper, excitable, high-energy player. On Sunday, he had to quickly focus and get ready to play an entire game against the likes of B.J. Raji, Green Bay’s 337-pound nose tackle.
“First start in the NFL, you better be excited. If you’re not, something’s wrong with you,” Petrus said. “I was definitely excited. They just said, ‘Don’t waste your energy.’ I like being excited, but you have to be focused. You have to focus your energy. You can’t be everywhere, so it wasn’t hard for me. But the guys wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to be spastic, I guess.
“I could have gotten nervous. I wanted this opportunity, I wanted to make the most of it. You can always get nervous, I didn’t think about it, it’s not an option. I’ve studied all week. It just happened that my number got called, so I was ready to make the most of it.”
David Diehl, who played left guard last season, played tackle next to Petrus.
“I think Mitch did a great job of stepping in and playing at guard,” Diehl said. “I think Jim Cordle did a great job of stepping in and playing blocking tight end, and Kevin Boothe did a great job stepping in at center. It’s great to have a veteran like Kevin who can play the three different positions inside. And Mitch wasn’t even sure if he was dressing before the game and here he goes, starting in the game, and he did a great job. I just tried to communicate with him in the huddle so you’re not doing that at the line of scrimmage and getting him on the same page on the sidelines and talking through things with him, but he responded well.
“Mitch is obviously an energetic guy, he’s a guy who plays with a lot of energy and excitement, but he did a tremendous job, and most importantly with those guys in there, there wasn’t a drop off. We didn’t change our offense, we didn’t change our game plan, we ran what we wanted to going into the game, and they did a great job for us.”
Even though they’ll have a full week to practice together, this week arguably brings a greater challenge for the offensive linemen. Dallas is tied with the Houston Texans for the NFL lead with 35 sacks. Outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware is the league’s individual leader with 15.0. Another backer, Anthony Spencer, has 6.0. Jay Ratliff, Jason Hatcher and Kenyon Coleman comprise a strong front in Dallas’ 3-4 defense.
“They’re good,” Snee said. “They have been for years, and at times they’ve given us problems. So it’s tough when you have five guys that can rush the passer as well as they can. It locks you up one on one at times. You just have to win those matchups.”
They’ll need to do that Sunday if the Giants are to beat the Cowboys and move into first place.
*Baas continues to be sidelined with neck/intense headaches issues, and neither Coach Tom Coughlin nor Baas wants to elaborate until more information is available.
“It’s much more serious than a headache, obviously,” Coughlin said. “(The migraine-like headache) was the thing that he brought to the medical people on Sunday. There’s a lot more to it than that. He continues to - as a matter of fact, he’s having tests even today. He spent most of the last couple of days doing tests. And a lot of that is to try to eliminate things as well. I really don’t have any information other than that.”
Baas, one of nine Giants players who did not practice today, briefly spoke with reporters in the locker room.
“All that I really have to say is that I have had neck issues,” Baas said. “I have been dealing with it pretty much all season. These issues have stemmed into migraine issues and now we are getting a lot of tests done, some evaluations and we will let the medical staff handle all of that and make the right decision. I really want to play football, but my health is very important to me. They will make the best decision.
“The neck issue has been new and like I said, I am just trying to push through it. I am trying to deal with it and the migraine type headaches are new and it is something that is unexpected. I just have to deal with it. We have to deal with it and we have to do what is right for this team and the medical staff is going to make that decision and make the right one.”
Baas is a seven-year veteran and first-year Giant. Prior to coming here, he was with the San Francisco 49ers and in the previous five seasons missed only one game, none in the last three years. This season, he missed the Oct. 9 game against Seattle with a burner, the Nov. 6 game at New England with a knee injury and the Packers game.
Baas was asked about the possibility of missing the rest of the season.
“I am not thinking about that at all,” he said. “What I am thinking about is this week and I am going to do everything that they want me to do as far as tests and getting stuff checked out and looked at. I am going to be here for meetings and whatever I can as far as getting treatment and go from there.
“We are just still talking to the doctors and figuring out what’s going on.”
*Safety Kenny Phillips also missed practice because of a sprained knee suffered against the Packers, but he believes he has a good chance to be on the field in Cowboys Stadium.
“Honestly, I really do,” Phillips said. “Like I said, I haven’t been told otherwise, so until they tell me, I’m practicing and preparing like I’m going to play.”
Phillips said he tested the knee by doing some work on the sideline as the team practiced.
“It felt pretty good,” he said. “Nothing is torn, which is a great thing, so just like I say, (it’s) kind of day-to-day.”
Although he’s trying to stay positive, Phillips knows exactly how he’ll feel if he has to miss the showdown with Dallas.
“The frustration will set in, because I definitely want to be out there,” Phillips said. “Especially because this time of the season is when you play important games. I just want to be a part of it. No one ever wants to miss a game. I definitely don’t.”
*Also missing practice were running backs Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) and Brandon Jacobs (hamstring), defensive linemen Osi Umenyiora (knee) and Dave Tollefson (knee), linebackers Michael Boley (hamstring), Mark Herzlich (ankle) and Spencer Paysinger (hamstring).
Cornerback Prince Amukamara (back) and wide receiver Mario Manningham (knee) were limited.
“(Amukamara’s back) has been an issue with him from time-to-time,” Coughlin said. “Actually, as soon as he came back onto the field (after recovering from his broken foot) that started to be an issue. He does have some issues there, but he manages to play with it and we need him to contribute X amount of snaps every game.”
*Dallas also had several players miss practice, including Ware (neck), guard Kyle Kosier (foot), wide receiver Laurent Robinson (shoulder), tight end Martellus Bennett (ribs), nose tackle Josh Brent (knee), safety Danny McCray (ankle), running back Phillip Tanner (hamstring) and backup quarterback Jon Kitna (back).