By Ernie Palladino
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So much for the Giants running away with the NFC East.
Remember those rosy midseason thoughts? They're all gone now, thanks to Sunday's little 34-0 catastrophe in the Georgia Dome. With that utter disaster, the Giants' first regular-season shutout loss since 1996, that three-game lead atop the NFC East officially vanished, just like that, with a three-way tie between the Giants, Washington and Dallas to replace it.
The question Giants fans must ask themselves is this: Is it all that surprising? Anyone who has paid any attention at all to the Tom Coughlin era knows that for all the Vince Lombardi and Super Bowl MVP hardware in the trophy case, the Giants have never been good with prosperity, never done it the easy way. So, is it any real shock that they blew things sky high to Matt Ryan and a squad absolutely nobody will believe in past the divisional playoff round, in a stadium where they have traditionally succeeded?
The rational ones out there must answer in the negative. The only real surprise comes with the other two squads.
Washington, playing without the electrified Robert Griffin III, stretched an unbelievable winning streak to five behind backup Kirk Cousins. He went for 329 yards and two touchdowns in beating Cleveland. While it's true that the Browns won't be playing past the final weekend in December, it is also true that a Redskins team that looked too young and inexperienced to win is now in a position not only to make the playoffs, but make some noise if indeed they do get there.
Meanwhile in Dallas, where Tony Romo is absolutely en fuego after a slow start, the Cowboys received a mammoth interception off Ben Roethlisberger from Brandon Carr to set up Dan Bailey's chip-shot game-winning kick in overtime. That's another team that appeared dead and buried in the NFC East race a few short weeks ago.
What many of their followers failed to take into account, of course, was that the Giants led their division, and the second half of the schedule loomed.
All is possible once winter beckons. And the Giants appear more than obliging, once again. Note the 2-4 mark since the midway point.
As good as they looked in last week's 52-point barrage against the Saints, that's how badly they played against the Falcons. Three fourth-down situations went unconverted, including two in the first half. The second one, deep in the Falcons' red zone just before halftime, may go down as one of Coughlin's worst decisions, as he eschewed the desperately-needed points an easy field goal would have provided down 17-0 for a pass play that netted nothing.
Add to that the fact that Eli Manning threw two first-half interceptions, the defense did nothing to stop the Matt Ryan-led offense, and that Lawrence Tynes missed an eminently makeable field goal, and you have the anatomy of a mess.
Oh, it gets messier, too. Not only have the Giants fallen into a three-way tie with 9-5 Baltimore coming up, but those nasty tiebreakers put them in third place. In a few short blinks of the eye, they've gone from runaway division leaders to wild card contenders. And if they don't straighten things out right away, that playoff spot that seemed so certain a week ago could easily make like that division lead and go "Poof!"
Coughlin said two weeks ago that his team had to win all four games. Run the table. Leave no doubt.
Back then, it sounded like typical coach-talk. Now, the Giants have once again proved the man knows what he's talking about.
They're back on the brink, forced to sweat it out against a tough AFC team and division rival Philadelphia. They have to win both games to assure a playoff berth.
Familiar territory. Nervous territory.
But these are the Giants. You should be used to it by now.
Will the G-Men get it done in the final two weeks? Be heard in the comments...
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