By Neil Keefe
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"Noooooooooooooooo!" That's what I yelled as Jason Babin chased down Eli Manning from behind on Sunday night. Eli had no idea that Babin was coming. He had just completed a 47-yard pass on third-and-3 and a 17-yard pass before that on second-and-20. He had the ball on the Eagles' 21-yard line and he could smell overtime.
That's why I yelled, "Noooooooooooooooo!" as the game slowed down to almost a standstill. Images of DeSean Jackson's punt return and Jon Kitna's three touchdowns and Eli's dive and fumble from 2010, and the 45 points the Eagles put up, and the 26-6 loss on Thanksgiving and the last-minute loss to the Chargers from 2009 flashed through my mind in the time it took for the ball to leave Eli's hands and hit the ground. I watched the loosely protected ball fall out of Manning's arm like the bottle of Goldschlager getting knocked out of the homeless man's hand by Seth on the bus in Superbad. Game over.
I sat there hoping for that rectangle on the NBC Sunday Night Football score bar to turn yellow and for "FLAG" to appear. It never came. Then I waited for the bottom of my TV screen to turn into a scrolling ticker that read: This is a test of the Second-Half Collapse Emergency System. If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would have been followed by official information, news or instructions." It never came either because it wasn't a test … it was an emergency. This is an emergency.
I'm scared, but there's no one to tell me everything is going to be OK because most people don't think it's going to be OK, and no one wants to sugarcoat this thing or lie about it. The Giants are 0-2 in the second half of the season. They have had chances to go to overtime on their final drives in the last two games and haven't, and now the Superdome awaits and the defending champions and undefeated Packers will follow six days after that. This is a full-fledged collapse. It doesn't mean it can't be stopped, it just means that it has started. And once something like this starts it's hard to stop. And with the Giants' schedule it's nearly impossible to stop.
I have become a historian when it comes to collapses. It's not something you want to be familiar with or an expert about, but I think it's safe to say that if the NFL Network, NFL Films, HBO Sports or ESPN ever decide to make a documentary on the Tom Coughlin era, I would be a front-runner for a cameo to talk about this near decade of Giants football. I even have a title for the documentary: "Is This Real Life?: The Tom Coughlin Giants". Maybe I should just film this thing myself?
There are certain signs of a collapse I have grown familiar with during the Tom Coughlin era and especially over the last two years. Those signs came out on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium just as the Second-Half Collapse siren went off in my head when the Eagles recovered the fumble on Babin's sack of Eli with 1:17 left in the game.
1. Losing Games You're Supposed To Win
The Giants never make anything easy. It's not what they're about. If the Giants had beaten the Redskins in Week 1 at home or the Seahawks in Week 5 at home, of if they had completed the comeback against the 49ers or not lost to the Vick-less Eagles at home, then they wouldn't be sitting here wondering where four or five more wins are going to come from. They wouldn't need to steal a game against the Saints or Packers, or sweep the season series from the Cowboys. I'm not saying they should have won all of those games to be sitting at 10-0 right now, but is it too much to ask for them to win one or maybe even two of those?
I have said it before and I will say it again: This is New York Giants football. This is who the Giants are. Erase that four-game playoff run in January and February of 2008 from your memory. Yes, it happened and it was glorious, but that's not who the Giants are, and that's certainly not who the Giants are under Tom Coughlin. They happened to have a few consecutive weekends of picking up girls out of their league, and it took them some time for them and the public to accept that their amazing hot streak had come to an end.
Losing games against inferior opponents and backup quarterbacks, and allowing special teams touchdowns and committing special teams penalties and throwing interceptions in the red zone and fumbling to lose games is who the Giants are. I have come to accept it. It shouldn't be like that and it doesn't have to be like that, but under Tom Coughlin that's the organization's identity.
2. Negative Thoughts In the Players' Minds
With Joe and Evan on Tuesday on WFAN, Antrel Rolle said, "We're too calm, man. We're too relaxed come Sunday. We're too poised."
Justin Tuck used the words "historical second-half collapse" with reporters.
Michael Boley spoke out against Tom Coughlin's assessment of the team by saying, "I've always said, coaches coach, players play. We (are) in the trenches. We really know what goes on out there. For someone on the side to say this doesn't happen, it doesn't mean nothing to me."
Brandon Jacobs took out his frustration on the fans by saying, "That's the best thing that they do here is to boo. I'm not worried about that. I've been hearing that for seven years."
On Twitter, Jake Ballard showed that he is still thinking about his costly drops by tweeting, "Thanks for the love on here. I feel terrible about the drops. Letting my team and fans down, I can't stop thinking bout it. I will overcome."
So we have a safety who thinks the team wasn't ready, a defensive lineman who has been a part of the last two collapses and is already thinking about the possibility of another one, a linebacker who disagreed with his coach to the media, a running back who decided to challenge the fan base and a tight end who can't stop thinking about his terrible performance against the Eagles. All we need is some fourth-quarter rally beers and a few orders of Popeye's and we have quite the reenactment of another collapse.
I still believe in this Giants team. I don't know why since they haven't done anything to make me believe in them, but I do. Maybe it's because I don't have another choice if I want to see Giants football past Week 17 for the first time in three years. Maybe it's because I'm tired of these endings and afraid of seeing another year of Eli Manning's prime be wasted. Maybe it's because I don't want another image of Tom Coughlin etched into my mind of his hands on his hips and head his tilted to the side like he's trying to read Chinese or decipher one of those Ticketmaster security codes you have to type in.
3. Playing Without Urgency
This Giants team shouldn't be playing for a postseason berth. They should be playing for a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. They were 6-2!
The problem with the Giants is urgency, and it always has been. They don't know the meaning of it and don't seem to care to want to play with it. How do I know this? Well, five of their six wins have come in the fourth quarter. They haven't had a lead at halftime since Week 4 against Arizona (Oct. 2), and they have been shut out in the third quarter in six of their 10 games. But they don't have trouble finding the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. Hmm...
The Giants play to the level of their opponent, and they don't play at the level we expect them to play at until the fourth quarter when it's nearly too late and when one mistake will end the game. They consistently leave themselves no margin for error, and sometimes it pays off (lucky call for Cruz against Arizona, Webster interception against Buffalo, Cruz touchdown against Miami, Ballard catch and touchdown against New England), and sometimes it doesn't (Eli interception against Seattle, deflected ball against San Francisco, sack and fumble against Philadelphia).
What is this team doing in the first three quarters? Why does it take a deficit heading into halftime and no life from the offense for the Giants to get motivated to want to win?
4. Sloppy Play
Eli Manning completed 18 of his 35 pass attempts on Sunday night, and that's with seven drops. If say, three of those drops aren't dropped, we might not be sitting here talking about a loss, but rather admiring a first-place team and celebrating the end of the Eagles' season.
Against the Eagles, Jake Ballard had three drops, Hakeem Nicks had two, and Victor Cruz and D.J. Ware each had one. Last year it seemed like every time the Giants receivers "dropped" a pass they actually tipped it into a defender's hands for an interception. This year they are still dropping passes at an amazing rate, but they are fortunately hitting the ground. Eli's receivers weren't helping him and the Giants didn't have a running game to turn to. It's a miracle that the Giants even had a chance to tie the game on their final drive.
And what exactly went on with the running game? 17 carries for 29 yards from a trio of running backs? That type of production seems almost impossible, and Coughlin calling it "pathetic" wasn't enough.
Brandon Jacobs carried the ball 12 times for 21 yards (1.8 yards per carry). On one of those 12 carries, Jacobs ran for nine yards. So, on the other 11 carries, he ran for 12 yards (1.1 yards per carry). Unfathomable.
Jacobs is 6-foot-4, which is 2.1 yards. This means that if Jacobs took the handoff from Eli and got back to the line of scrimmage and just fell forward, he would have gained more yards per carry than he did actually trying to gain yards by "running." Unbelievable. Actually with Jacobs it is sort of believable. How is Jacobs still blaming others for his lack of production? Now the fans are wrong for booing him? Jacobs has entered the A.J. Burnett Zone and there's no turning back now.
He hasn't rushed for 100 yards since he ran for 113 against the Vikings … last December. He has become worthless to the offense and the Giants have resorted to using D.J. Ware and Da'Rel Scott in situations over him with Ahmad Bradshaw still out. If Bradshaw doesn't come back soon there is no chance of this season ending well because the Giants have proven that they will keep running the ball no matter what with their…
5. Unusual Playcalling
There's a reason Brian Schottenheimer has the training wheels on Mark Sanchez, and there's a reason he calls the plays he calls. There's no reason why Kevin Gilbride calls the plays he calls with the Giants offense.
Against the 49ers, Kevin Gilbride (and his no undershirt) called for a shotgun draw to his No. 3 running back on third-and-2 run from the San Francisco 10 with 1:10 left and the game on the line against the No. 1 run defense in the league. Against the Eagles, multiple times he decided to give the ball to Brandon Jacobs on back-to-back running plays to begin drives. And I remember an awesome draw play with Jacobs on second-and-10 that went for no gain. Is that really putting your team and your players in the best possible situations to succeed?
How do the Giants not adjust to what they're seeing on the field? How do they keep giving the ball to Jacobs time after time unsuccessfully? With Bradshaw out, their best offensive weapons are all wide receivers and not running backs. Doesn't anyone notice this?
The Giants have the most predictable offense in the NFL. There are no surprises. They put themselves in unmanageable third downs and then call for plays that leave them one yard short of a new set of downs. It's not like this happened a few times for the first time on Sunday. It happens every Sunday. Every single Sunday.
6. No Defense At Inopportune Times
It seems like yesterday the Giants defense held Tom Brady scoreless for the entire first in Foxboro. But that was a few weeks ago. What really feels like yesterday even though it was now three days ago is the Giants defense letting Vince Young orchestrate an 18-play game-winning drive against them. 18 plays! How was this possible? Let's look.
Third-and-3: Ronnie Brown runs for six yards.
Third-and-10: Pass to Riley Cooper for 18 yards.
Third-and-3: Pass to Clay Harbor for six yards.
Third-and-1: Vince Young runs for one yard.
Third-and 4: Pass to DeSean Jackson for 10 yards.
Third-and-Goal: Eight-yard touchdown pass to Riley Cooper.
That's six successful third-down conversions on one drive with the game on the line. An embarrassment.
If you own a company that's looking for a lot of marketing, advertising or promoting, why wouldn't you want to sponsor "converted third downs against the Giants?"
"It's third-and-22 for the Eagles on the Giants' 10. Young drops back … he looks left … scrambles to the right … and he finds Jackson wide open up the middle for a 34-year gain. It's another Modell's Sporting Goods third-down conversion against the New York Giants."
7. Bad Coaching
Antrel Rolle told Joe and Evan on Tuesday that the Giants weren't ready to play against the Eagles. (Rolle also used the phrase "at the end of the day" 20 times in a 13-minute interview. Yes, I counted.) How could you play 16 regular season games a year and not be ready for one of them at the end of the day? How could you be playing for a postseason berth for the first time since 2008 and playing against the Eagles, your chief rivals and the team that has ended your season the last three years and not be ready at the end of the day? How is this possible at the end of the day?
(I loved when Rolle said, "Are they [the Eagles] better than us? Not at all." Oh, OK. I must have been watching a different Giants-Eagles game on NBC on Sunday night.)
If the Giants weren't ready then there is a clearly problem with this team and this coaching staff. Tom Coughlin, who prides himself on being old-school and a disciplinarian, has watched his team collapse in six of his seven years here, and now they are 0-2 in the second half as he goes for a seventh collapse in eight years.
Coughlin is coaching for his career here. If the Giants don't make the playoffs, he's gone. That year left on his contract after this season is meaningless. It's just there so he isn't a lame-duck coach this season and doesn't have to answer questions about next season to distract the team. But if the Giants don't make the playoffs then he's gone.
Coughlin is 65 years old and in his eighth year with the team. No other team is going to be hiring a 65-year-old to come into a new organization, and the Giants aren't going to bring back a guy who has missed the playoffs three years in a row and hasn't won a playoff game in seven of the eight years he's been with the team, even with Super Bowl XLII to his name.
So knowing all of this, how does Coughlin allow David Akers and the 49ers to successfully recover an onside kick against his team? The same David Akers that did it to him in the Eagles' epic comeback last year. And how does Coughlin's team, a week later, punt the ball to DeSean Jackson, who ended the Giants' season last year? How? No. I want to know. Howwwwww?!?!
The Giants are 6-4. The Cowboys are 6-4. They still have to play each other twice, which will most likely decide who wins the NFC East. But aside from those two meetings, the Giants play the Saints (7-3), Packers (10-0), Redskins (3-7) and Jets (5-5). The Cowboys play the Dolphins (3-7), Cardinals (3-7), Buccaneers (4-6) and Eagles (4-6).
The Giants and Cowboys meet on Dec. 11 in Week 11 and again on Jan. 1 in Week 17. If that Week 17 game is essentially a one-game playoff for a postseason spot it will be like the Yankees and Red Sox meeting for one-game playoff. I'm not sure I'm equipped to handle something of that magnitude.
Two weeks ago New York City was the focal point of the football world. Now it's home to two second-place teams battling for their postseason lives and scoreboard watching along the way. But the NFL is a week-to-week league, and that's why the Giants going into New Orleans as seven-point underdogs and winning isn't improbable.
The Giants can beat the Saints and temporarily postpone what seems inevitable, or they continue their annual meltdown. I won't be surprised either way. That's Giants football.
Here are my picks for the three Thanksgiving games. The rest of the Week 12 Picks will be posted on Friday.
DETROIT +6.5 over Green Bay
I will be rooting as hard as possible for the Packers the same way that Lions fans will be two Sundays from now. I think this will be a close game, and I can only hope the Packers win. It's all about watching other NFC teams lose now to keep the Giants' wild-card chances alive if the division fades away.
Miami +7 over DALLAS
Everyone is chalking this up as a win for the Cowboys much like they chalked up the Giants-Eagles game on Sunday Night Football as a win for the Giants. The Dolphins aren't good because beating the Chiefs, Redskins and Bills doesn't make you good. But now that they are completely out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes and Tony Sparano is trying to whatever he can do either try and stick around Miami next year (1-percent chance) or audition for other jobs in the league. The Dolphins are going to fight until the clock reads 0:00 in Week 17. I can only hope that mentality mixed with their three-game wining streak is enough to beat the Cowboys, who are always vulnerable to a devastating loss of their own.
BALTIMORE -3 over San Francisco
The Brothers Harbaugh Game. I could care less about this game. Jets fans, however, aren't thinking the same way. Alex Smith is going to turn back into a pumpkin at some point this season, and what better night than on Thanksgiving in Baltimore?
Last Week: 7-5-2
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