By Ernie Palladino
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Were the Giants franchise a person instead of a timeline of rosters and achievements, it would have told the suffering Chiefs, “Yeah, I’m hip.”
Of course, the Chiefs will travel through this offseason in deep need of consolation, having historically blown a 28-point lead in Saturday’s wild-card game to allow the Colts to advance. It went as the NFL playoffs’ second-biggest collapse in history, unseating — you guessed it — the Giants’ 24-point wild-card freefall on January 5, 2003 in San Francisco.
As devastating as that may have been for Andy Reid’s group, Kansas City’s collapse looked like kid stuff when compared to the Giants’. In terms of speed of descent and area of splatter, few live up to that mess at Candlestick Park.
And, in the end, at least the Chiefs can say the Colts beat them with offense. It may have taken a recovery-for-the-ages with Andrew Luck scooping Donald Brown’s fumble and scoring from the 5, and then a strike to T.Y. Hilton for the winner, but there’s something to be said about a team coming back and just beating you.
The Giants? That was a meltdown of epic proportions, capped by a wound so self-inflicted that it left fans wondering whether Jim Fassel would make the squad walk back to New Jersey.
For one thing, the Chiefs took their 28-point lead on their first second-half possession. The Giants led ‘Frisco 38-14 with 4:27 left in the third quarter. For those with limited sense of timing, that’s late.
Four touchdowns from Terrell Owens and Jeff Garcia (rushing), a couple of two-point conversions, and Jeff Chandler’s field goal set up Tai Streets’ go-ahead touchdown reception with 1:00 left on the clock.
Still, the collapse was not complete even as the Niners led 39-38. The Giants still had a chance — a very good chance at that, to win this one.
They were all set up for what could have been Matt Bryant’s 41-yard game-winning field goal. Only, Bryant never got a chance to kick it.
Trey Junkin, the old long-snapper who the Giants had called out of retirement just four days earlier, had to make one, last, good snap in a near-flawless career. One snap, on target, and there was a good chance he would have walked off that field still alive for a shot at his one and only Super Bowl ring in a 19-year career.
It didn’t happen. The snap went low and wide, and the ball skipped. Matt Allen, the holder, could have smothered it and called timeout to give Bryant another, albeit tougher chance, but he hit the panic button immediately.
Allen instead threw a wobbler downfield to eligible guard Rich Seubert. Chike Okeafor made contact with Seubert and broke up the pass.
As bad as Junkin felt afterward — “I cost 58 guys the chance to go to the Super Bowl,” he lamented after the game. “Quite honestly, I screwed up. I’m retired.” — the NFL felt worse, if that was possible. Turns out review of the tape showed Okeafor had interfered with Seubert. There should have been a spot penalty and an untimed re-kick. But the flags stayed in the officials’ pockets.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue called it the worst officiating blunder of his tenure. But that was of no consolation to the Giants or Junkin. The fact holds to this day that if Junkin had put the snap on Allen’s hands, none of the mayhem that ensued would have happened, and the Giants would have been off to Green Bay for the semifinal.
Now that’s really blowing it.
The Chiefs losing on a funny fumble and a touchdown strike? Ain’t nothing.
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