By Jason Keidel
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In his iconic feature for Rolling Stone, “Fear and Loathing at the Super Bowl,” Hunter Thompson predicted the demise of pro football. Tired of the plodding, robotic dominance of the Miami Dolphins in 1973 — as opposed to the more liberal and acrobatic passing attack of Al Davis in the 1960s — Thompson saw the whole Lombardi template pushing away the public as quickly as the Packers sweep trampled defensive linemen. The sport was finished by 1984, wrote Thompson.
The good doctor, while a prose master, was acutely wrong about the NFL. But it hasn’t stopped the media or the masses from morphing into psychics.
The more seasoned and reasoned among you knew that wasn’t the case. But then came their inexcusable loss to Atlanta on Sunday, a game they dominated — until they didn’t. It pivoted, of course, on Eli Manning’s fumble when the Giants were a few yards from icing the game. But instead of darting ahead, 27-10, the G-Men saw their lead shrivel to 20-17.
Big Blue is now in trouble. We can wax optimistic about how those were two games they should have won, yet we recall Big Blue’s patron saint, Bill Parcells. He would tell us that the Giants are indeed what their record says they are.
But the Giants have one thing the rest of the NFC East doesn’t, at least for the next two months: a proven starting quarterback.
With Tony Romo suffering a snapped collarbone, Manning is clearly the division’s preeminent QB. The Eagles, who were supposed to short-circuit scoreboards behind Chip Kelly’s offensive wizardry, just played one of the worst games since the single-wing. Even Troy Aikman, a man not given to hyperbole, said he can’t recall a more inept output in his 35 years in the NFL.
Despite Washington’s surprising win over the St. Louis Rams, Kirk Cousins is little more than a career backup, the last act in the endless RG3 drama. And the Redskins’ inherent, corporate chaos has landed them in the headlines more often than the playoffs.
If Giants fans need hope, you have the silver linings of a two-time Super Bowl MVP who never gets hurt, and the fact that over the last 25 years, 24 teams have started 0-2 and still scratched their way to the playoffs. (A total of 205 NFL teams have dropped their first two games over that span, so the odds are still daunting.)
It has to start this Sunday, with Washington. To go 0-3, with a divisional loss, would almost surely be the death blow to a team that Tom Coughlin already admitted isn’t talented enough to lose the turnover battle and still win a game. Banking on Romo’s clavicle, Sam Bradford’s brittle knees and Dan Snyder’s penchant for pandemonium won’t save the Giants.
Too often since their two enchanted runs to the Super Bowl, the Giants have dwelled in moral and marginal victories. They start one season strong and then end poorly, or start poorly and end strong. But no combination of their bipolar seasons has resulted in January football since they vanquished the Patriots the second time.
Maybe it’s not fair to drop all the weight on Manning. But even if he never really said he’s the best QB in the NFL, he’s now being paid like it. He has no problem finding Odell Beckham, Jr., the most pyrotechnic young player in the sport. Victor Cruz’s calf will soon heal — we hope — and the RB hybrid of Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen has enough talent to keep defenses honest. Though the Giants don’t have the same studs or stability as the offensive line that helped them bag those two rings, Manning has only been sacked three times in two games (one fewer than Tom Brady).
So it’s still all there for the Giants, who must feel the world is inverted. They blew a game in Dallas they used to so easily win. They gagged against the rebuilding Falcons. And to rub salt into the wounded, salty Giants, the Jets are now 2-0 and looking like world beaters after pummeling the Colts on the road on Monday night. (Gang Green even has 10 takeaways in their first two games, the first NFL team to do so since 1992.)
You won’t find a more stable HC/QB tandem in the sport than the old salt leading the Giants over the last decade. But “seasoned” is slowly turning to “ancient.” With each loss, fans, critics and cynics will hover like vultures around Coughlin, whom many think has aged well beyond his coaching virtues.
Manning, Coughlin and the Giants need to party like its 2007. Or they’ll be planning for 2016.
Follow Jason on Twitter @JasonKeidel.