By Jason Keidel
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Thanks to their woeful play to begin the season, the Giants had backed themselves into a Week 4 version of a knockout pool, winless with a laminated ticket to the golf course come playoff time.
In the last quarter-century, only the 1992 San Diego Chargers dropped their first four games and still made the playoffs.
Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started in a savage downpour, the kind of storm clouds that have seemed to drown the Giants all season. Fittingly enough, the Bucs jumped out to a quick lead on a touchdown pass to all-world wide receiver Mike Evans.
But it was quarterback Jameis Winston’s second scoring strike that seemed to symbolize the 2017 Giants.
Winston rolled right, looked left, and heaved a ball 40 yards downfield to O.J. Howard. The rookie tight end was so laughably open he may have wondered if the whistle blew before the snap. But alas, it did not, and Howard snagged the ball and trotted down the sideline until the ref raised his arms.
It was 13-0 that quick.
However, as is their custom, the Giants came back. But they ended up blowing the game on a last-second field goal.
The Giants found ways to win close games in 2016. This year they are an inverted version of Ben McAdoo’s maiden trip through the NFL season. Pick a part of their team and you can pick it apart.
Big Blue has been awful running the ball, entering Sunday averaging 48.7 yards per game, dead last in the league. So they needed a spark from one of their big-ticket stars. And they got one, from Robert Gallman Jr. To save you a Google search, he’s a rookie from Clemson whose TD helped the Giants take a 17-16 third-quarter lead.
Gallman, who replaced a gimpy Paul Perkins, sparked something. Eli Manning completed nine straight passes in the quarter and the Big Blue got into a groove. But, as has happened four times in four games, it wasn’t enough. The Giants had ample chances to grow their paper-thin lead, yet found endless ways — dropped passes, missed tackles, and poor special teams — to keep Tampa a field goal away.
The Big Blue defense was supposed to be stout enough to keep teams under 20 points and win games. But it always seems to fall prey to that big play that blows it. In Sunday’s case, it was the connection between Winston and tight end Cameron Brate that gashed the Giants at key moments throughout the second half.
The popular theory is the failure lies at Manning’s feet. He makes all the money, takes all the snaps, has most control of the ball. So it must be on him.
Sure, you could fill a few archives with Manning’s mistakes, but anyone who completes 30 of 49 passes for 288 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions played well enough to win. Eli can’t throw it and catch it. He can’t tackle. He can’t kick field goals. He doesn’t design the defense.
Sometimes a team, by dint of dumb luck, bad bounces, or a biblically bad call from a ref, can cost an otherwise fine football club a few games to start the season. The Giants are not one of them.
We can chat wistfully about how they made that cool comeback against the Eagles on the road, only to lose on an obscene, 61-yard field goal. Or about how they came back from 13-0 on Sunday, only to lose, again, on the last play of the game. We could muse over the state of the Giants’ offensive line, how Ereck Flowers was the only lineman playing his proper position. Or about how Perkins was banged up, making an already gruesome running game even worse.
Or about how they could be 2-2 right now.
But good teams win those games. The Giants had a chance to go up four points in the third quarter, and missed a field goal. Hence, all the Bucs needed was a field goal of their own to win. And it’s not as if Tampa Bay has Morten Andersen booting the ball for them. Nick Folk, a Jets retread, missed kicks all over the map. But he hit the one that mattered, sending the G-Men strolling, heads down, to the locker room.
The patriarch of the modern Giants cut through the clutter of projection and conjecture when he told us, plainly and honestly, that you are what your record says you are. If McAdoo doesn’t know the quote or get the logic, he can call Bill Parcells to find out what 0-4 really means.
For those of us who thought the Giants would be at least as good as the 11-5 iteration we saw last year, it’s time to wave the white flag on our optimism, on their hopes to play meaningful games after Christmas. The only Giants playing in January will be the few who earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. And, at this rate, it will be very few, indeed.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel