By Ernie Palladino
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And so the Giants ended their season at 9-7, and will now enjoy an extended offseason thanks to the Bears’ 26-24 win in Detroit.
Only minutes after the Giants left the MetLife Stadium field, the Bears finished hanging on for dear life and rendered all those numbers of the Giants’ 42-7 win useless, including Eli Manning’s career-high five touchdown passes.
The Giants could have scored 1,000 yesterday against a team that clearly packed it in after the first couple of touchdowns to usher their coach Andy Reid out the door. Manning, a basic disaster when the season still had life the previous two weeks, could have thrown for 20 touchdowns and it wouldn’t have mattered.
The Bears took care of their business, and thus ended the Giants’ season. All that remains now are discussions on what could have been, and what the future holds.
What if Manning and the offense had mustered up just another field goal drive against the Redskins in that 17-16 loss, right after their stunning blowout of the playoff-bound Packers? Had they made one less mistake that game, one less penalty, Sunday would have been a lot different.
What if the Giants’ offense and defense had decided to show up in the Georgia Dome three games ago? Perhaps things wouldn’t have been much different — losses are losses, after all — but a more representative showing than 34-0 might have positioned them better mentally to face Baltimore.
And so, the empty feeling of a title undefended, when it seemed so within reach a mere month ago.
The consolation prize for Manning were statistics which, if you know the quarterback, is no consolation at all.
“No, it hurts,” Manning said. “Each year you want to make the playoffs and give yourself an opportunity to win a championship. Nine-and-seven last year was good enough and it wasn’t good enough this year. We knew it wasn’t going to be.
“Each year, especially as I get older and teammates, guys, get older in their careers, you don’t know how many opportunities you’re going to have to be on a team that has the talent to possibly win a championship, the talent to make the playoffs and give yourself a chance to make it a special season. We feel that we have that talent here on this team and there’s obviously not a whole lot of change from last year. We had the ability to make the playoffs and we’re disappointed that we didn’t play up to our ability each week.”
Manning was talking about the future there, the other facet to sitting out the postseason. Has the window of opportunity closed on this team? Who will stay? Who will go? Who must go?
Osi Umenyiora is almost certainly on his way out, and there are some wrong-headed people who suggest that warrior Justin Tuck and his otherwise reasonable $4.5 million salary must follow him out the door. Kenny Phillips and his wounded knees must depart, and what of the faltering cornerback Corey Webster?
The discussion around him will be lively, to say the least.
Might this be the last we’ve seen of reliable offensive lineman David Diehl, or perhaps even Ahmad Bradshaw? The latter’s fate might be decided by how patient Tom Coughlin remains with a back who willingly plays injured, but whose injuries are too frequent and whose practices are too few. If David Wilson is ready to assume a starting role, Bradshaw could easily become expendable.
All that comes in the next several weeks. For now, the Giants will convene today, a team that won more than it lost, but not enough to make the playoffs. Coughlin will ask several players what happened in those games against Atlanta and Baltimore, and will probably come away no more educated than he was before he proffered the question.
In the end, the Giants can only shrug and look to the future — free agency, the draft, training camp 2013. The only real answer to the current question is simple.
Sometimes, things just don’t fall right, even for a defending Super Bowl champion.
What should be next for Big Blue? Sound off in the comments…