There could have been worse ways for one of the Giants’ best regular seasons to end. Someone at the stadium could have forgotten the keys and left 80,000 freezing fans outside in East Rutherford. A swarm of locusts could have attacked Brandon Jacobs at midfield, leaving only a pile of bones and gristle. Coach Tom Coughlin could have called the NFL an hour before the game and announced that his whole team was forfeiting and moving to Boise. Instead, the Giants only metaphorically failed to show up, playing their worst game of the season in a convincing 23–11 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. The only good news: By the final seconds, there were few fans left to see it.
What went wrong? Where to start? Pro Bowl kicker John Carney missed two field goals that left the Giants under the gun all day. The supposedly best-in-the-NFL offensive line was pushed around repeatedly, including two devastating failures on fourth-and-short. The offensive play-calling was consistently bewildering, eventually collapsing into a desperate decision to run a play out of the now-cliché wildcat formation. Eli Manning looked worse than he has since he came to New York, and the confused, frustrated facial expression he wore the entire second half is going to be burned into the brains of Giants fans for the next eight months.
And it all happened against the Eagles, the hated Eagles, the team the Giants supposedly had the number of, the team they’ve historically tortured. Donovan McNabb and the Eagles celebrated the end of the Giants’ stadium on their home field. Center Shaun O’Hara summed up what fans, players, and observers were all thinking: “It’s the worst feeling ever. You almost wonder if it’s better not to make the playoffs at all than to exit the way we did today.”
This is not the end of the world. The Giants won the Super Bowl last year, after all, in the most inspiring fashion possible. Yesterday didn’t eradicate that. And the Giants should still be considered one of the best teams in the NFC next year as well. But that feeling of invincibility, that notion of New York superiority that the Giants were the lone local team to provide us with over the last year … that’s gone. Blame Eli, blame Coughlin, blame Carney, blame Plaxico, blame whomever you would like. All that matters is that there are only four teams who have the opportunity to experience what the Giants did last year, and none of them are the Giants.