THIS WAS the year the New York Giants should have won the Super Bowl.
The fact that they won it a year early against all the odds was of scant consolation after yesterday’s meltdown at the Meadowlands.
So much for a Giants v Jets showdown in Tampa next month. The only thing the two New York teams have in common now is that they both lost four of their last five matches.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, momentum plays a big part in sports, and it was most definitely with the sixth-seeded Philadelphia Eagles – just as it was for the underdog Giants a year ago.
The Giants had to take it away for them and for a few minutes, it looked as though they could. An impressive drive from the kick-off resulted in a field goal and they then returned the ball close to the halfway line.
Two needless penalties and an Eli Manning interception later, the Eagles were 7-3 ahead and in control of the game. In truth, it was a grip that they never really relinquished.
Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride and his defensive counterpart Steve Spagnuolo have worked wonders over the past 12 months. But, collectively, they got it wrong on Sunday.
What was the point of kicking a field goal towards the end of the second quarter if they were then going to sit back and let Donovan McNabb effortlessly march his team straight back down the field in the remaining 93 seconds to regain the lead? They might as well have gone for it on fourth and inches.
Throughout the game, the Giants’ play calls lacked variety and invention. They ran the ball when they should have passed it and vice versa.
Perhaps this was due to the fact that Manning couldn’t control the velocity or spiral of the ball in the swirling wind. Neither, for that matter, could kicker John Carney, who missed from 46 and 47 yards.
Why did the Giants even bother to dress a second kicker, Laurence Tynes, who has a longer range than Carney?
Giants coaches choose wrong game plan
In the end, it probably didn’t matter. The Giants couldn’t come up with any big plays on third and fourth down. And if you don’t score one touchdown in 60 minutes then you don’t really deserve to win.
So where and when did it all go wrong? Try a nightclub in Manhattan on the night of November 28. I guess most will point to the Plaxico Burress shooting incident as the turning point in the Giants’ season, both physically and mentally.
The Giants seemed to lose their spark after that. Certainly, Antonio Pierce, who was with Burress on that fateful night, completely lost his focus.
The absence of 6ft 5in Burress seriously limited Manning’s passing options. Judging by yesterday’s game plan, neither Manning nor the coaching staff had faith in Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, Armani Toomer or Sinorice Moss being able to make a big catch at a vital time.
Instead, they preferred to use Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward as battering rams…and the Eagles defense was equal to the task.
We’ll never know what would have happened had Burress playede. If he doesn’t return, the Giants are going to need to sign a dominant wide receiver to take his place.
Spagnuolo is in line for a head coaching position, possibly with the Jets, and deservedly so on his achievements in making the Giants defense one of the most feared in football, especially after the retirement of Michael Strahan and the season-ending injury to defensive end Osi Umenyiora.
On Sunday, however, the Giants couldn’t bring any pressure to bear on McNabb, failing to sack him once, although they did manage a safety.
It was the same story in the previous two meetings between the teams this season, although on this occasion, they did at least limit the damage done by Brian Westbrook.
The Eagles visited Giants Stadium twice and left victorious on both occasions so there can be little argument that they deserve their place in the NFC Championship game in Arizona.
For the Giants, there are only regrets that they lost the plot after going 11-1. In a year when there is no one outstanding team, they had a great chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions. The belligerent Burress has a lot to do with the fact that they won't.