By Jason Keidel
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So the schizophrenic Giants, coming off a bye week, were supposed to be primed to snatch the NFC East.
Then Sunday happened.
We all echoed the same narrative. The then-.500 Giants could have easily been 8-2, if not for some late-game brain cramps. Then, they came out of the gate against the Redskins like they were playing on two days’, not two weeks’, rest.
It’s hard to keep summoning excuses for Big Blue, who pulled within one score of the Redskins, then fell short. Again. And, at 5-6, they’re still tied for first, yet you get little sense that this team has either the talent or temerity to finish this turtle race to the playoffs.
The only rainbow on a dreary day was Odell Beckham Jr., who made a catch that actually rivaled the epic grab he made last year. Flying down the sideline, he dove past the goal line, stuck out his left hand, somehow tapped Eli Manning’s lob to himself, and kept his arms under the ball as he crashed to the ground.
Not even the NFL’s warped views of a catch could keep the ball from Beckham, who is turning the league into his personal highlight reel. We don’t need another viral, YouTube touchdown to know that Beckham is a generational player.
But that doesn’t mask Sunday’s performance. Manning’s first interception bounced off the chest of his target, but the veteran quarterback threw two more just to make sure he could eat ample blame for the loss.
Just after I write a drooling piece on Eli’s eminence, he throws three picks. His running game had no bite, and the defense still lets DeSean Jackson moonwalk past the secondary.
Washington is a lot better than we expected, particularly after the RG3 saga. Once the onetime savior was buried on the bench, we assumed the season would follow him. But kudos to Jay Gruden and the rest of the Redskins, who are in first place in the worst division in pro football.
But again, there’s no excuse for the way the rather rested G-Men came to play Sunday. We keep waiting for that moment, a 2007 or 2011 redux, when the light flicks on and the football epiphany consumes them.
But this team keeps reminding us that those teams are gone. There’s no rabid pass rush to cloak the secondary’s mistakes. The only member of the old, ornery D-Line is Jason Pierre-Paul, who literally plays one-handed.
There’s no Brandon Jacobs or Ahmad Bradshaw to take the pressure off of Eli. There’s no Victor Cruz in the slot. There’s no hunger. There’s no intelligence that has long been a hallmark of Tom Coughlin teams.
Is it coaching? Is it management? Is it personnel? Teams always seem bereft of talent when they don’t play well. And it’s hard to find a silver lining in that performance, against an ancient rival, with so much at stake. It’s hard to justify a regime that keeps plunging from its halcyon years.
Sure, the Giants can still win this division. Easily. But what have they done to give you any sense they will? Under Coughlin, the Giants could at least be counted on to play well in big games, even when they lose them. Coming off that clash with the Patriots — yet another game they should have won — you reasonably expected them to slide past Washington.
There’s a telling stat about the 5-5 axis that the Giants — and half the NFL, it seems — had entering Sunday. Teams that split their first 10 games, and then win their 11th, reach the playoffs 45 percent of the time. Teams that go 5-6 reach the playoffs 13 percent of the time.
The NFC East is a perfect microcosm of the parity the NFL promotes. And unless the 5-6 Giants win their next game — against the 6-5 Jets, no less — they will become the parody of a comical division.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel