- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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SEATTLE -- The Giants had the false starts. The Seahawks had the big finish. Advantage, Seattle.
In perhaps the strangest game of the season, the Seahawks beat the Giants in overtime Sunday 24-21 even though they were outplayed, outhustled and outgained by a Giants team that is better than most folks on the West Coast imagined. From the look of these two teams, they will be meeting in the playoffs again, and from the Seahawks' perspective, the game had better be played in Seattle.
During Chuck Knox's reign as Seahawks coach in the 1980s, he emphasized the concept of "the 12th man," trying to implore Seattle fans to be loud in the Kingdome. Seattle's current home, Qwest Field, is open air, but the Seahawks fans were so loud their cheers drowned out cadence on the Giants' offense and their breath might have toyed with the kicking of Jay Feely.
The Giants had 11 false starts. That's right, 11. Left tackle Luke Petitgout had five. Left guard David Diehl was whistled for three. Special teamer Frank Walker committed back-to-back false starts on a second-quarter punt. And if that wasn't strange enough, Feely missed three straight field-goal attempts that would have given the Giants their eighth win -- a 40-yard attempt in the final seconds of regulation and 54- and 45-yarders in overtime.
"That was a gut-wrenching way to lose a game," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team had 16 penalties for 114 yards. "Obviously, the effort is there. We played hard. We have to clean up the penalties and all the sloppiness."
Or perhaps utilize some hand signals and silent counts.
"A lot of times, I couldn't hear anything," Diehl said. "I was right next to Eli [Manning] and I couldn't hear him."
This is a young Giants offense under Manning and the unit needs to learn to deal with these things better. Manning and the offense gained 490 yards on 84 plays and put Feely in position three times to win the game. The Giants' defense stuffed the league's best team on first down (8.84 yards per play on first down heading into the game) and made the day tough for Seahawks offensive stars Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander.
But it's starting to become apparent that the Seahawks are the NFC's -- dare I say -- regular-season team of destiny. The Seahawks scored 10 points in a 40-second period late in the fourth quarter to beat the Cowboys at home in Week 7. Last Sunday, they won by stopping the 49ers on a two-point conversion with 28 seconds left. On Sunday, it's hard to say how the Seahawks won except to say destiny must be involved.
"We're going to believe that; we'll take that word [destiny]," said Alexander, who finished with 110 yards on 31 carries. "I do believe that this is our year. We've been playing every game as though our backs are against the wall, and that's the attitude you've got to have. You almost have to be desperate and not take losing as an option. You know, the kicker missed three field goals to give us a shot."
The Seahawks are 9-2 and have a one-game lead over the Bears and Panthers for the NFC's best record. But whether Seattle is the best team in the conference at the moment doesn't mean anything. The Seahawks are lucky and they are good, even though against the Giants they weren't the best team on the field.
Manning, who has only won once away from Giants Stadium in his short career, completed 29 of 53 passes for 344 yards and two touchdowns. In the fourth quarter, he looked like brother Peyton in some regards. After Hasselbeck drove the Seahawks 80 yards in 13 plays, capped by Alexander's 4-yard scoring run for a 21-13 lead, Manning engineered a game-tying drive. And after Seattle's ensuing possession ran just 25 seconds off the clock, the Giants had the ball back with 1:23 remaining for a chance to win in regulation.
Manning drove the Giants to Seattle's 22 with 4 seconds left but Feely, who barely made two field goals earlier in the game, was wide left on his 40-yard attempt.
"The wind really swirls in here and stays high," said Seahawks kicker Josh Brown. "It is not necessarily right down the field. That's why the first couple of kicks were ground balls on kickoffs because if you get the ball caught up in the air, it is going to drop that way. I really feel bad for him."
The Seahawks won the coin toss in overtime, but the Giants' defense stuffed them like they had most of the day, forcing a three-and-out. The Seahawks punted to the Giants' 49, and Manning drove the Giants to the Seahawks' 26 -- or so he thought. Jeremy Shockey had what could have been the play to set up a game-winning field goal, but Mike Holmgren called a timeout after seeing that a replay showed the ball not secured in his hand. After what seemed like an eternity, replay judge Jim Blackwood called for a replay, and referee Larry Nemmers overtuned the call and ruled an incomplete pass. It was one of five challenges Sunday.
Then Coughlin made his only bad decision of the day. He called for a 54-yard field goal by Feely, who clearly couldn't make one longer than 43. Feely was short on his attempt, and the Seahawks had good field position at the 44.
Once again, the Giants' defense came to the rescue. The Seahawks got a first down, but their drive stopped at the Giants' 46. For a quarter, the Giants were setting up what followed. Sensing that the Seahawks' defense overpursued on pitch plays, Coughlin called a run in which Tiki Barber went up the middle and cut back to his left. He gained 49 yards, and the Giants were in field goal range at the Seahawks 31.
After three plays and four yards, Feely tried a 45-yarder. He was short again. With 6:05 left in overtime, the Seahawks got their shot and capitalized. Hasselbeck hit D.J. Hackett with a 38-yard completion against a Giants Cover 2 zone when safety Gibril Wilson was late covering the deep zone. Alexander gained 19 yards on four runs, and the Seahawks were preparing for a game-winning 36-yard field goal.
Brown made the field goal with the same confidence he had in winning the Cowboys game. Brown was mobbed by his teammates; conversely, Feely found himself apologizing to his teammates. What a contrast. The Seahawks knew if they were a cat with nine lives, they surrendered a few on Sunday.
"I think we lost about three of those lives today," Hasselbeck said. "We need them, though. I think we are still in shock a little bit. We've been in those games, and it hasn't turned out that way, so it's nice to be on the other end."
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
1dEric D. Williams
2dBy Dan Graziano