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Keefe To The City: Giants Facing Familiar Fate?

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

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By Neil Keefe
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The Giants lost a game on Sunday that they could have won. I wanted to wait an extra day to write about the 27-20 loss to the 49ers because I wanted to wait for reactions from the Giants on a loss to start the second half of their schedule. While immediate postgame reaction is usually substantial, you knew the media would have even more questions about second-half collapses on Monday, and that the Giants would have even more to talk about a day after the loss. And they both did.

Sunday’s loss was a loss that hurts, but not one that will cause Rambo-like flashbacks to 2009 and 2010. It’s a loss that will go away with a Giants win over the Eagles in Week 11. To analyze the loss to the 49ers and preview the importance of the game against the Eagles this week, I thought it would be a good idea to get some help from quotes from the Giants from Sunday and Monday.

Tom Coughlin on the loss: “Yeah, I’m very disappointed.”

I’m disappointed too.

Eli Manning on the loss: “We felt confident. We were right there. Very close.”

I felt confident too.

Osi Umenyiora on the loss: “I’m not shocked. We shouldn’t keep letting it get like that.”

That’s the answer I was looking for. This is what I’m talking about. Osi Umenyiora gets it. Why doesn’t everyone else?

Sure, the Giants lose to another first-place team on the road (not only the road, but the West Coast and 3,000 miles away from East Rutherford), but they had their chances to win. They had more than enough chances to win.

When you get an onside kick recovered against you, throw an interception because the play before the interception your wide receiver dropped a first down, throw another interception because a different wide receiver stops his route, allow Alex Smith to throw for 242 yards (when he had thrown for more than 201 yards just once in previous eight games) and you take penalties on special teams, you’re going to lose. It’s pretty ridiculous that the Giants were just 10 yards from tying the game and sending it to overtime. I can only pray that the Giants make the playoffs, win in the wild card round and then face the 49ers again. But to do all that they have to do that first thing: make the playoffs.

Like Osi said, “We shouldn’t keep letting it get like that.” It’s great that Eli is the best two-minute drill quarterback in the NFL (that’s right, Tom Brady fans, I said it), but you don’t want to keep going to the well and needing him to bail you out. It’s the same situation with the Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist. Sure, Henrik’s going to bail the offense out more times than not, but you can’t expect him to only give up one or two goals every game. And you can’t expect Eli to go down the field with under two minutes left and a pair of timeouts every Sunday of the season and live to tell about it come January. The defense has to do something too.

Tom Coughlin on the onside kick: “[David Akers] is exceptional at it. What is he – nine of 19 in his career with surprise onsides? You talk all week about it. You do the best you can with that. We let our guard down just a little bit, didn’t attack the ball and that was the consequence. So I take responsibility for that.”

I’m glad Tom Coughlin decided to take responsibility for the onside kick. Who else was going to take responsibility for it? Not me. I was 3,000 miles away from San Francisco when it happened.

The No. 1 thing everyone looks at when the Giants start the second half of their schedule is Tom Coughlin. It’s why his face where he looks like he is trying to solve the equation on the hallway chalkboard in Good Will Hunting has become synonymous with collapses. He represents everything that is the 2009 and 2010 collapses, and it’s his coaching and disciplinary styles that get questioned and critiqued when the Giants lose. So, you would think after what has happened the last two years at this same point in the season that Coughlin would make sure if the Giants lose games they are at least losing because the other team is better. You would think that no team would be attempting an onside kick and successfully recovering it against the Giants in the second quarter of a tie game at this point in the season. You would think that the Giants wouldn’t let the same kicker who had a successful onside kick against them in the game in which they blew a 21-point lead with 7:18 a year ago to knock them out of the playoffs, successfully kick another onside kick against them in a big game. You would think so. But it happened. It all happened.

I’m glad Tom Coughlin takes responsibility for it.

Coughlin, who is the King of Challenges, challenged that a 49er touched the ball first on a Giants punt at the beginning of the second half. FOX went to commercial twice without showing the best possible views of the play (probably so Joe Buck could touch up his red and white face paint), so viewers had no idea what was going on, but when we finally saw the play, it was puzzling as to why Coughlin challenged it. So, Coughlin allowed an onside kick in the first half and started the second half by wasting a challenge and a timeout. He was certainly in second-half form on Sunday.

Victor Cruz on Carlos Rogers doing Cruz’s salsa dance after an interception: “Yeah, I wasn’t too fond of that. But whatever. I got best of him throughout the game, so I wasn’t worried.”

Victor Cruz isn’t worried that the Giants lost because he got the best of Carlos Rogers. Oh OK, well I’m glad playoff berths are given out based on which receivers got the best of which cornerbacks and not based on which teams have the best win-loss record.

If you’re going to salsa dance on defenses then defenses are going to salsa dance on you. It’s part of the art of celebrating. If you don’t want someone imitating or mocking your signature celebration or impersonating you in a negative way then maybe you shouldn’t give them the chance to.

Yes, Cruz led the Giants with six catches for 84 yards, but it was his drop that was one of the crucial plays and turning points of the game.

At the time, the Giants had the ball with 1:49 to play in the first half (Eli’s time) and were trailing 9-6. Cruz drops a wide-open pass for a first down and a huge gain. The Giants go back to Cruz on the very next play and the 49ers pick it off and take over at the Giants’ 43. Luckily, Alex Smith was picked off four plays later and the Giants went to halftime trailing by just three, but they could have tied the game or taken the lead heading into the locker room. So, salsa dance all you want, Carlos Rogers.

Justin Tuck on Michael Boley’s hamstring injury: “It’s actually kind of funny. We were talking about who on this defense would it hurt to lose and unanimously we talked about [Michael] Boley.”

That’s “kind of funny?” Are you insane? Who talks about things like this? “Hey guys, wouldn’t it really suck if Michael Boley got hurt and our linebackers were even worse than they already are with him playing?” Why stop there? “Hey guys, wouldn’t it be terrible if Eli got hurt and was out for the season and David Carr had to finish out the year?” Or “Wouldn’t it be funny if we lost Corey Webster, who’s our only reliable player in the secondary? Wouldn’t that be hilarious?”

Seriously, who talks about things like this? It’s one thing to say “no-hitter” or “perfect game” while either of those two things are happening, but you entered the season without cornerback Terrell Thomas (knee), linebacker Clint Sintim (knee), defensive tackle Marvin Austin (pec), cornerback Bruce Johnson (Achilles), cornerback Brian Witherspoon (knee) and Jonathan Goff (knee) for the season, and Prince Amukamara (foot) is still out, and you’re wondering who’s going to get hit next by the injury bug? That’s so funny that Michael Boley might not be able to play against the Eagles! I’m just glad it was unanimous!

Eli Manning on his pass intended for Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter: “It was close. He’s trying to catch it on the move. It was probably like two inches overthrown. It wasn’t a poor throw, but they always say ‘Football is a game of inches.’ It was so close.”

And when Eli says, “It wasn’t a poor throw,” here’s what he really means: “It was a great ball that was perfectly timed and in the perfect place for him to catch it. It hit his hands, didn’t it? If he dives, he catches it and either scores a touchdown or we have the ball on the goal line.”

Mario Manningham on not catching that pass: “I have to come down with that.”

Yes, yes you do. If the ball hits your hands, you need to catch it. And if the balls hits your hands, and you don’t catch it, and you didn’t dive to try and catch it, then you probably should have.

D.J. Ware on his performance and his inability to get the first down: “I think I played well overall. That last yard, you want to always get that.”

I don’t fault Ware for not getting the first down. I fault Kevin Gilbride for calling that play. (And can someone get Kevin Gilbride an undershirt to wear under his Giants polo?)

It’s third-and-2 on the San Francisco 10 with 1:10 left. The Giants either have to get a first down or have to score a touchdown. The 49ers have the No. 1 run defense in the NFL. I said, “THE 49ERS HAVE THE NO. 1 RUN DEFENSE IN THE NFL!” But you know what 49ers have the 25th-best of in the NFL? That’s right. They have the 25th-best passing defense in the NFL. (Do you like my textbook example of foreshadowing here? My fourth grade teacher, Miss Ryan, would be proud.)

Eli has already completed 26 of his 39 pass attempts in the game (that’s 66.7 percent for you non-math majors), and he’s 6-for-8 on the drive for 56 yards. With Ahmad Bradshaw inactive, the Giants’ best offensive weapons are NOT backup running back Brandon Jacobs or No. 3 running back D.J. Ware. Once again it’s third-and-2 with the game on the line and possibly a first-round bye in the playoffs too. What play would you call? I’ll give you a minute to think about it.

(Letting you think about it…)

Did you decide on a shotgun draw to the No. 3 running back? Well, then you and Coughlin and Gilbride are all on the same page.

Ware gets the ball and gets stuffed by the BEST RUN DEFENSE IN THE NFL for no gain. Shocking. Eli’s fourth-and-2 pass gets knocked down at the line and the Giants lose.

Tom Coughlin on being asked about the Giants’ recent second-half collapses: “I can’t imagine why this question keeps coming up in terms of you have to take each year one at a time.”

You can’t imagine why this question keeps coming up? Really? You can’t imagine it? It’s unimaginable?

I can’t imagine A.J. Burnett winning 24 games in 2012 with a 2.19 ERA. I can’t imagine my girlfriend telling me it’s OK to miss her birthday, so I can watch a Giants game (luckily they are playing the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football on her birthday and it’s at 8:20 p.m., so I will be able to watch it). I can’t imagine Eddie Vedder pulling me up on stage at the Garden and giving me Mike McCready’s guitar and letting me play the solo on “State of Love and Trust” (mainly because I don’t even know how to play guitar).

But I can imagine why Tom Coughlin is getting asked questions about losing the first game of the second half of the season. Do you want to know why I can imagine that? Well, let’s look at what Coughlin’s son-in-law Chris Snee had to say to figure out what I can imagine this type of questioning.

Chris Snee on the Giants’ second-half collapses: “We are not analyzing previous years here. As far as I can remember, we’ve had bad years and we had a good year and won the Super Bowl, so I think that is finishing strong.”

Snee’s right. The Giants have had “bad” years. Snee’s rookie year with the Giants was 2004, which is the first year Coughlin became the coach of the Giants and also Eli Manning’s first year in the NFL. So, Snee has been on the Giants for the entirety of the most recent era of Giants football (along with Coughlin and Manning). This is important because here is how all seven seasons have played out for the Giants since 2004, entering this season.

2004: The Giants start the year 5-2 with Kurt Warner starting and showing Eli the ropes. They lose back-to-back games to fall to 5-4 and start planning for the future by letting Eli start, which causes unrest and division in the locker room. Eli goes 1-6 in his first seven starts in the league, but wins the final game of the year against the Cowboys. The Giants finish the year at 6-10 and don’t make the playoffs. Bad finish.

2005: It’s Eli’s first full year. The Giants go 6-2 in the first half of the season then go 5-3 in the second half of the season. They make the playoffs for the first time since blowing a 24-point lead against the 49ers in the 2002 playoffs. The Giants lose 23-0 at home in the first round of the playoffs, as Eli goes 10-for-18 for 113 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. The Giants finish with just 132 total yards in the game. Bad finish.

2006: The Giants start the year 6-2, but are now 7-7, and entering Week 16, for them to clinch a playoff berth, they need one of two scenarios to happen.

1. Win + Minnesota loss or tie + Atlanta loss + Philadelphia win or tie + Seattle win or tie.

OR

2. Win + Minnesota loss or tie + Atlanta loss + Philadelphia win or tie + San Francisco loss or tie.

The Giants lose 30-7 to the Saints, but the Vikings, Falcons, Seahawks and 49ers all lose too, and the Giants basically hit the biggest parlay ever. Only the Eagles win, so the Giants just need to win in Week 17 against the Redskins and they make the playoffs at 8-8.

The Giants beat the Redskins to get into the playoffs at 8-8 thanks to a Giants single-game rushing record of 234 yards (on just 23 carries) from Tiki Barber. The Giants are just the ninth team in history to reach the postseason without a winning record. After starting the year 6-2, they finish the year 2-6. Then they lose 23-20 to the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs on a David Akers 38-yard field goal with no time remaining. Bad finish.

2007: They tart the year 0-2, but win six in a row after that. After their bye in Week 9, they finish the year 4-4, and with a 10-6 record, they are the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. They run the table on the road in the NFC playoffs, beating the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Packers and then beat the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl. Best finish ever.

2008: They’re 11-1, but are now without Plaxico Burress for the rest of the year. The Giants finish the regular season 1-3 (they would have finished 0-4 if John Kasay doesn’t miss a field goal for the Panthers in Week 16), but still get the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. They lose in the divisional round at home to the Eagles 23-11. Bad finish.

2009: They start the year 5-0, and then lose four games in a row. They come off their bye week to beat the Falcons in Week 11, but lose four of their last six games in embarrassing fashion to finish the year at 8-8, and miss the playoffs. Bad finish.

2010: They’re 6-2 after Week 9, but then they lose to Jon Kitna and the 2-6 Cowboys at home, and then they lose in Philadelphia the following week thanks to five turnovers and an Eli dive that turns into a fumble with the Giants down by 7 and 2:51 left in the game. At 6-4, the Giants win three in a row, and have a chance to lock up the NFC East in Week 15 at home against the Eagles. They blow a 21-point lead with 7:18 left and lose. They have a chance to rebound the following week and still make the playoffs, but they lose 45-17 in Green Bay. In Week 17, they need a win against the Redskins and a Bears win over the Packers. They beat the Redskins 17-14 on the road, but the Bears lose to the Packers. Bad finish.

(Hey Tom, now can you imagine why you might have to answer questions about second-half collapses now?)

By my count, that’s seven years, four playoff appearances and only one good finish (and an all-time finish at that) to the season. Now does 2007 cancel out all of the other bad years? I actually think it does. It definitely cancels out 2004, 2005 and 2006, but you could make a case that it doesn’t 2008, 2009 or 2010 since those happened after.

Tom Coughlin on the loss to the 49ers to open the second half of the season: “Does it have anything to do with the second half [of the season]? No. It has to do with the ninth game of the year, which I felt we had a great chance to win.”

Sunday’s loss wasn’t a sign of a second-half collapse. Not yet. However, if the Giants don’t make the playoffs, we will look at that onside kick as the turning point in another failed season the way Francisco Cervelli’s home run in Atlanta in 2009 and Brian Cashman traveling with the Yankees on that same road trip are viewed as the turning point for the 2009 World Series champions. As of right now, that loss is just a loss, and let’s hope it stays that way when all is said and done, but it did set up this Sunday night’s game against the Eagles to make it more than that at the end of the season.

The Eagles are in an unthinkable spot. They are 3-6. They are three games off of the division lead with seven games to play, and they don’t have the 2011 Red Sox in their division or on their schedule. They basically need to run the table to make the playoffs and even then that might not do it since the Giants and Buccaneers both missed the playoffs at 10-6 last year. Their coach is on the hot seat, and after 13 years these seven games might be his last seven games in Philadelphia. Their starting quarterback has two broken ribs and missed part of Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals, and his status is unknown for this Sunday. Their backup quarterback (the one who dubbed them this team the “Dream Team”) hasn’t started a game since Nov. 21, 2010 and hasn’t won a game he started since Oct. 10, 2010. Their star wide receiver was inactive on Sunday for “missing a special teams meeting,” which was code for basically mailing it in for most of the year. In other words, the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles are a certified gongshow.

The Eagles have a 7 percent chance of making the playoffs and have very little to play for at this point other than to play the role of spoiler and to ruin the Giants’ season, which I’m sure they would love to do. The Eagles knocked the Giants out of the 2006 playoffs in the wild card round and knocked them out of the 2008 playoffs in the divisional round, and they are the reason the Giants missed the playoffs in 2009 and 2010. The Eagles live for the opportunity to ruin and absolutely devastate the Giants and if the Eagles are going down, you can be sure they are going to try to take the Giants down with them. That’s why even though this matchup on Sunday night heavily favors the Giants, it’s why I’m more to scared to watch this game than I am to watch Jack and Jill.

Chris Snee on the Philadelphia game: “With this team, we are not worried about second halves, like everyone else is. We are worried about Philadelphia this week. We are not looking ahead.”

And you should be worried about Philadelphia. I am.

Follow Neil on Twitter @NeilKeefe