By Paul Dottino
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Call this one a force of human nature.
No matter how hard the coaches and players may have worked, the Giants — who already had their playoff hopes extinguished the night before kickoff — visited a hungry Minnesota Vikings team that earned a postseason berth with a convincing 49-17 rout.
It became the Giants’ fifth loss in six tries and dropped them to 6-9, tied with Philadelphia for second place in the NFC East. These two rivals will play at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, with the loser falling into third place in the NFC East and being forced to make a trip to London next season.
The Giants are left with their third straight losing season, making it their worst stretch since they went through eight in a row from 1973-80.
Offense: RB Rashad Jennings
It’s a shame that the Giants haven’t been able to gain more mileage out of his last three rushing efforts. He has run hard, attempting to create some sort of spark on every try. In this one, he had 14 carries for 74 yards against the Vikings, a 5.3 average. And don’t be fooled by thinking the runs came in garbage time. At the half, Jennings had nine tries for 50 yards, outperforming Adrian Peterson (12 for 38) to that point.
We must give an honorable mention to TE Matt LaCosse, who caught all three passes thrown his way for 22 yards and did an adequate job as a blocker in a reserve role. LaCosse, an undrafted free agent, was my dark horse to make the team out of training camp. He made his NFL debut and fared well.
Defense: DE Robert Ayers Jr.
His motor just would not stop, no matter how much the game got out of hand. He collected six tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and three quarterback hits. Ayers has tremendous pride and no player seemed to agonize over this loss more than him. In fact, he was agitated at himself for losing gap control because he was trying to do too much on Jerick McKinnon’s 68-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
Special teams: P Brad Wing.
The ball was as hard as a rock, with temperatures dropping near single digits, yet he averaged 40.2 (with a 40.0 net) despite a long of only 48 yards on six punts. He also fielded an early low snap flawlessly to get off one of his punts.
Despite applauding Jennings and LaCosse, how can we allow anyone on this unit to be excused? The Giants had 112 yards and six first downs at the half, trailing 19-3 — and the game didn’t feel that close. Eli Manning — who was sacked four times on eight quarterback hits — was victimized by several drops on the night, but he didn’t help himself with an erratic, subpar performance. He tied his season-high with three interceptions.
A handful of players besides Ayers played hard and appeared to play well, but allowing 49 points on nearly 35 minutes of possession is unacceptable on any front. On second thought, we’ll allow LB Jonathan Casillas (10 tackles and a sack), S Landon Collins (eight tackles), MLB Jasper Brinkley (seven tackles) and DE Jason Pierre-Paul (two tackles, one quarterback hit, one pass breakup and several pressures) to shorten their load by a rep or two.
Special teams: None
There’s no reason to flag anyone on special teams. This unit was, by far, the least culpable for what transpired. The Vikings’ biggest play on special teams was a 27-yard kickoff return.