The New York Giants have lost four of their last six games and are in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Many of their fans—and even some of their players—continue to point to 2011 and 2007, when they escaped with their backs against the wall and ended up winning the Super Bowl, insisting that there's no reason to panic.
But the thing about this situation is that it's 2012, not 2011 or 2007. And while on paper the Giants look better, and healthier, than in either of those years, they're a team that can't seem to perform with any consistency.
What happened Sunday in Atlanta is extremely concerning. Never in 2011 or 2007 did the Giants lose in that fashion. Eli Manning's had some infamous "Bad Eli" performances, and the pass rush hasn't always been lights-out, but those championship versions of the Giants rose up and won games against teams like the first-place Falcons.
To not just lose to a fellow powerhouse, but to lose in an embarrassing, 34-0 fashion is not something the Giants we know and love/hate do in important, late-season situations.
It's possible the G-men bounce back again with a convincing victory in Baltimore and end up in the playoffs still, and if/when that happens we'll likely change our pitch in articles and comment sections and forums country-wide. But for now, the Giants have a lot to be worried about.
They're still lacking bite on defense
They got decent pressure and made some big plays against New Orleans, but that might have had to do with the Saints being a desperately hot mess more so than the Giants bringing the edge we're used to seeing from them on D.
They've had only one multi-sack game since Nov. 4, but the issue of late was that they just weren't closing. They still had an average of 19 pressures per game in the three weeks that preceded Sunday's loss, per PFF. Yet in Atlanta, against a so-so offensive line and a one-dimensional offense, they had a grand total of four pressures on 68 defensive snaps.
Not only did the Giants fail to register a takeaway while turning it over three times and failing to get any pressure at the Georgia Dome, but they also failed to deliver on the little things. As I mentioned, they missed more tackles than they have all year.
How is it that first contact was made with Turner here (circled), and yet he ended up at the red X?
That was on a 2nd-and-long, leading to Atlanta's first touchdown.
Tackling was a problem all game for the Giants, and the run defense has been leaky for much of the year. The linebacking corps is deep but not consistently stout by any means. Sunday might have been worse than usual, but this is a large problem regardless.
Ahmad Bradshaw can't stay healthy and David Wilson can't be trusted
Bradshaw is banged up again and might not be able to contribute on a full-time basis again this year. Who knows, but he certainly can't be relied upon. And while this is a pass-first team, the reality is that they're only at their best when the running game is also producing.
And while rookie first-round pick David Wilson stepped up with a breakout effort against the Saints, he proved against the Falcons why Tom Coughlin and the rest of the coaching staff elected to keep him on the sideline for the majority of the regular season.
Wilson isn't a strong enough blocker yet to contribute to this team on three downs per offensive set. It was his mistake that set the tone for the blowout early against the Falcons, and New York never recovered.
On the second play of the game, Wilson had a fairly basic block to deliver with Sean Weatherspoon blitzing...
But he was completely plowed over without even throwing Weatherspoon off his track...
The pressure forced Manning to throw early, and the pass was intercepted by Asante Samuel. After that, Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride rarely let Wilson in the game on passing downs.
Wilson and battering-ram back Kregg Lumpkin also came up empty on quite a few 3rd- and 4th-and-shorts. Entering Sunday, New York had converted 71 percent of the time with two or fewer yards to go on third or fourth down, ranking sixth in the league in that category, according to Football Outsiders. But against the Falcons, they were just 2-for-5 in those situations, once failing to convert on back-to-back downs with two yards to go.
It's actually ridiculous that Lumpkin wasn't able to get the first down on 3rd-and-2 here...
And then, Wilson might not have had the best blocking on 4th-and-1, but he should have been able to convert anyway here...
There was a lane and a chance to bail and bounce outside, especially with his speed, but he had his head down and didn't even attempt to improvise...
This team needs Bradshaw back and healthy enough to contribute during the final stretch. That could happen, because it did last year, but the odds aren't good he'll hold up.
Eli Manning doesn't look right
This one concerns me least, because Manning has never been a true top-tier quarterback, has never been consistent and has had his reputation inflated greatly by two Super Bowl runs that should probably put him in the Hall of Fame but not on any sort of list of greatest all-time quarterbacks (I do believe it's possible to be a part of one and not the other).
But Manning has found a way to come alive when it matters most, and that's why I won't rule out such a rise again in 2012. Just a year ago, he completed only nine of 27 passes in Week 16 against the Jets. And between Weeks 13 and 16 last year, he completed only 53 percent of his passes with as many interceptions as touchdowns and a passer rating of just 76.5.
This year, things feel different. I think it's because his pass-blocking has been better and he's getting more support from the running game, but he's failing to come up big in crucial spots. The magic is gone.
It wouldn't do much good to break down Manning's fourth-quarter performance against Atlanta, because the game was already out of hand, but he struggled when it was still within reach, too. That Samuel pick wasn't entirely his fault, but he still misfired far too often and failed to take advantage of the opportunities he had, which is becoming a habit.
Down only seven in the first quarter, Manning faced no pressure at all on this pass to an open Victor Cruz, but the throw sailed too high...
He's made a habit of overthrowing receivers this year, and we got another good example of that when he did this to a wide-open Hakeem Nicks despite facing no heat from the Atlanta pass rush in the third quarter...
In the second quarter down 14, Eli threw a classic Eli interception to Falcons safety Thomas DeCoud. DeCoud made a good play, but Manning misread the coverage, made a questionable decision and threw the ball behind Nicks. All that despite no pressure again...
The Falcons spent the entire afternoon jumping on Manning passes. There were multiple occasions in which he was staring down receivers for long periods of time. The kind of stuff we expect to see from rookie quarterbacks but never see from any of the elite signal-callers Eli considers to be his peers.
In games against opponents with records of .500 or better in December or January in their two recent Super Bowl seasons, the Giants were 12-2, with the only two losses coming at the hands of unbeaten Green Bay and unbeaten New England. And in both of those exceptions, they fell three points short of ruining perfect seasons in 38-35 losses.
So when the Giants or their fans tell you that they've battled back in these spots before, you might want to mention that falling 34-0 to a .500 or better team in December wasn't part of either of those last two scripts.
There's a reason why nobody repeats anymore in this league. Recent history only indicates that we'd be unwise to rule the Giants out until the fat lady has sung, but the odds are actually out of New York's favor in pretty much every respect.