By Jason Keidel
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The Giants’ annual blueprint for much of Tom Coughlin’s tenure — squeaking into the playoffs and then turning white hot in winter — has been a perilous playoff tightrope. And Sunday they finally slipped and plunged flat on their vocational faces.
It’s always been a faulty business model: assume that a mediocre NFC East would allow them to teeter around .500 for the season and still slide through the backdoor to January.
Frankly, there’s no reason to think the Giants wouldn’t have galloped through the NFC again this year. They bludgeoned the chalk (San Francisco and Green Bay) and lost to Atlanta, whom no one trusts after New Year’s Day. They merely fell one game short.
All week we heard the premature Big Blue eulogies. The postmortems have pinned the blame on their offense, defense, coaches, and quarterback. But they ended the season same as last, 9-7, which was enough to get them a Super Bowl ring last year. The only difference is their divisional peers are better this time around. And it turned out that the Washington Redskins were the buffer between the Giants and another postseason romp.
RGIII remolded the learning curve, as have his rookie brethren Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, who are in the playoffs long before history says they should.
Revisionist history suggests the G-Men stormed into January last year, breezing through their division before their perfunctory plunge into a confetti-drenched parade. In fact, they were 7-7 last year and pinned in the shadow of their own goalpost before Victor Cruz turned a short pass to the flat into two jukes and a jaunt 99 yards through the Jets’ malnourished secondary.
As Mike Francesa said during his Sunday program, the Giants get a mulligan because 12 months ago they bagged another Lombardi Trophy. After their typical 6-2 start, they had their typical 3-5 finish. If anything, that team template falls on the coach. Coughlin needs to squeeze a little more moxie out of his club in November and crack his renowned whip.
They’ve lived a charmed life since December 2007, when they came within three points of the unbeaten Patriots during that late-December dance at the Meadowlands, with some surreal symmetry framing their dual duels with playoff foes.
Though they lost, 38-35, they left imbued with the mandatory mojo, knowing they could play with the unbeaten, pass-happy, history-stalking Patriots. And thus they returned the 3-point favor in February. Last year was the bizarre sequel, losing again, 38-35, to an unbeaten Packers juggernaut, only to exact revenge in the redux in January. And both times they were double-digit underdogs in the rematch.
And then, following each Super Bowl season, they fizzled in December after promising starts.
In 2008, the Giants darted out to 11-1, clearly the cream of the NFL crop. Then Plaxico Burress went Wyatt Earp in a New York City nightclub, busting a cap near his cojones and dragged the Giants with him to prison. This year wasn’t nearly as theatrical, but the results are identical.
Talk radio and social media — contoured to the ADD-addled impulses and the most negative instincts of an already ornery fan base — entertain infinite ideas and invectives, playing pin-the-tail on the weekly scapegoat.
And while there are several salient targets for this botched campaign, blaming Eli Manning for the failure is myopic. The man has been dissected like an athletic cadaver, diagnoses ranging from dead arm to wet brain. Perhaps the five touchdowns he tossed yesterday deflected some of the misguided barbs.
Only in New York are we so vitriolic toward a two-time Super Bowl MVP. Giants fans are eerily akin to Yankees fans in their reflexive impatience. Either win the world championship or detonate the team.
Forgive the gratuitous, literary cliche, but the Winter of the Giants’ Discontent should include reevaluation of some dissidents on defense. Osi Umenyiora leads a conga line of mouthy defenders who whine about their play or pay instead of nestling into the collective. The offense is plenty pyrotechnic, and Eli is in his prime and inherits the bionic, Manning DNA.
The Giants are not in jeopardy of becoming the Jets. They simply rolled the old bones and crapped out. From this view it says they need to regroup, not reboot.
Leave the panic to the adjacent locker room, the one with no legitimate coach, QB, ring or ringleader.
Your epitaph on the Giants’ season? Let Keidel know in the comments…