By Ernie Palladino
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The Yanks are still in the wild card race. The Mets went away a long time ago.
It’s still too early to decide anything about the Jets, though Rex Ryan’s team being what it is, the tilt downward could start this week against the Bills, especially if Geno Smith throws a bunch more interceptions in the fourth quarter.
That leaves the Giants, whose season is definitely on the brink this week. At 0-2, and certainly not playing well at all, another loss would project this team for Nowheres-ville by season’s end. With Eli Manning needing only a bushel of apples to pack into his dicer and transform those seven turnovers into tasty treats, and the defense suffering again from a lack of effective pass rush, things are looking bleak right now.
Add in the fact that there is no real running game in sight, despite the addition of former bruiser Brandon Jacobs, and the Giants may well fall out of this after this week’s game in Carolina if they’re not careful.
The situation is not hopeless, though. As a matter of fact, it brings to mind another season where Tom Coughlin’s team found itself in some dire early straits. Not to predict that this team will be anywhere near its home locker room in MetLife Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday, but the Giants have put on quite a show before following an 0-2 start.
And that time, they wound up in the big game.
It happened in 2007. The defense, led by Coughlin’s new coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, was struggling as few of those Giants units had struggled before or since. In the two opening losses to Dallas and Green Bay, Spagnuolo’s new system — the aggressive, turnover-making schemes he had promised coaches and players but had yet to bring to fruition — had allowed a whopping 80 points.
Point of reference: this defense has allowed 77 points. It has looked that ugly at times, particularly while watching Knowshon Moreno rip off 20- and 25-yard touchdown runs last Sunday on basically the same play-call.
Back in 2007 the Giants wound up in a tight Week 3 game in Washington. Up 24-17 in the final minute at FedEx Field, the Giants still had some defensive work to do. The Redskins were on the 1 following a 20-yard Jason Campbell-to-Antwaan Randel El completion. A spike to stop the clock set the stage for three plays that turned the season on its axis.
It was a goal line stand for the ages.
“We were 0-2 ½, and we came up with that stand,” remembered co-owner Steve Tisch. “It saved our season.”
Linebacker Kawika Mitchell did the first bit of damage, nailing fullback Mike Sellers in the flat to break up a Campbell pass.
The Giants were out of their minds with emotion at that point. Defensive tackle Barry Cofield recalled the earthy eloquence of the voices before the next play.
“If I put you in that huddle, your ears would bleed,” he said.
From the I-formation, running back Ladell Betts took a handoff left, and Mitchell met him there for a one-yard loss on third down.
The final play set off a gigantic celebration and pulled the Giants right through the season to the Super Bowl. Betts ran almost the same play, but a gaggle of defenders greeted him. Justin Tuck grabbed his ankles. Aaron Ross came in from the side. Osi Umenyiora, Mitchell, Antonio Pierce, and James Butler were also in the frame.
Betts settled into the ground, and the celebration began. The league’s 29th-ranked defense had had its breakthrough.
Nine more wins followed, as did that miracle postseason run to the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But it can all turn around in Carolina. One moment, one heroic series or sequence or play, and Monday morning could look a lot brighter. Or, it could back up analyst Mike Florio’s assessment.
“The last time the Giants started 0-2, they won the Super Bowl,” Florio recently opined. “That’s where the similarities between recent Giants 0-2 teams ends.”
It’s really up to them, though. Isn’t it?
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