The Giants rebounded from a devastating playoff home loss and the departure of receiver Plaxico Burress with five straight wins to begin the 2009 season.
In comparison to the manner in which the AFC’s top seed from 2008 started the season (with six straight losses), the Giants’ performance in the early going was most impressive.
But then they got a taste of the Saints. And the Giants have yet to recover from the 48-27 pasting that the Super Bowl XLII champions absorbed.
Whether they’re shell shocked from the knowledge that the best team in the NFC East isn’t automatically the best team in the NFC or whether the Giants simply aren’t as good as they think they are and can’t come to grips with that fact, the reality is that 5-4 places them in the scrum for a wild-card berth in the playoffs at best.
Then again, a wild-card berth was enough two years ago to spark a run to the Super Bowl via three straight road wins.
And perhaps that’s why the Giants are currently struggling to find their way. Maybe once they accepted that the road to the Super Bowl won’t be winding through the Meadowlands, the Giants recognized that they simply need a second-chance ticket to the party and a hot streak in one of the coldest months of the year.
Still, getting a ticket to the party is no longer no-brainer, given a fourth straight loss in a game that the Giants would have had in the bag if they’d simply been able to punch it in from four yards out after a late interception by Terrell Thomas of Philip Rivers set the table for what could have been an insurmountable 10-point lead.
But a holding penalty on the first play from Tom Coughlin’s son-in-law pushed the ball back to the 14, wiping out a Brandon Jacobs run that would have put the ball on the one.
“I let the team down,” guard Chris Snee said after the game, per the New York Daily News. “It doesn’t matter
if it was [a good call], it was called and I let the team down. I will
have to deal with that.
“It should have been over.”
On first down again, Eli Manning couldn’t connect with receiver Hakeem Nicks on a short pass. Then, on second down, Jacobs blasted up the middle for five yards, putting the ball at the nine.
Before third and goal from the San Diego nine, CBS analyst (and former Giants quarterback) Phil Simms said he had “no doubt that Giants will throw the football . . . you try to win the game.”
And so, of course, the Giants didn’t throw the football. From shotgun formation, Manning handed off to Jacobs. Somewhat surprisingly, the Chargers didn’t use their final timeout to keep the clock in the range of 2:50. So, with only 2:07 left on the clock, the field goal pushed the lead to six.
“Well, they played the percentages,” Simms said. “[Coach] Tom Coughlin is saying you cannot drive the football down the field against our pass rush and with only two minutes and score a touchdown.”
A line-drive squib kick took a ground-rule double hop over the head of Darren Sproles and out of the end zone, forcing the Chargers to go 80 yards in 125 seconds.
They did. With more than 20 to spare.
Eight plays and 80 yards later, the Chargers pulled it off with an 18-yard strike from Rivers to receiver Vincent Jackson.
And they did it without ever using that last time out.
Cornerback Corey Webster, who gave up the game-losing score and who was involved in the Chargers’ other two touchdowns, faced the media for 10 minutes after the game, according to the Daily News. “I understand that the other receiver is good and the quarterback
is good, too,” Webster said. “I don’t want [Jackson] to catch the ball and my job is to
stop him. But they are going to make some plays and you got to keep on
fighting till the end.”
The look on Eli’s face after the Jackson scored sent a much stronger message, in much fewer words.
But while Gary Myers of the Daily News has declared that the Giants’ season is on “life support,” defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka sees the glass as one-tenth full.
“It’s not the end of the world. We’re not going to panic,” Kiwanuka said. “We are professional athletes. We are here to do a job. We’re
just going to get it done. The bottom line is we got seven more games
left and seven chances to turn it around. It’s not over.”
And he’s right. With a bye coming up, the Giants then have three of their next four games (visits from the Falcons, Cowboys, and Eagles) at home. After that, the Giants play the Redskins and Panthers before finishing the season at Minnesota, in what could be a meaningless game for the Vikings.
For the Chargers, it’s definitely not over, three weeks after it supposedly was. That 2-3 start has now become a 5-3 record and, if the Broncos lose at home tonight against the Steelers, only a one-game gap in the AFC West. The Chargers’ next two contests — at home against the Eagles and at Denver — could go a long way toward determining whether San Diego can once again follow a sssslow start in September with January football.