This time last year, the New York Giants had just wrapped up a 9-7 regular-season campaign. They were in the middle of an unlikely playoff run that would culminate in their second Super Bowl championship in five years.
This year, the team fell short of reaching the playoffs after posting the same record, hampered by losses in key games late in the season.
What caused the Giants, who once again jumped out to a 6-2 record, to play so miserably down the stretch? Why did a team who had always been characterized as big-game prizefighters come up so small when it mattered the most?
We've highlighted seven key flaws and moments that led to the ultimate disappointment for the New York Giants.
The Giants' defensive game plan during their recent stretch of success has been reliant on their front four pressuring the quarterback. Their ability to attack the passer without designed blitz packages allowed them to drop more defenders into coverage, masking some of the deficiencies of their secondary.
However, this season, the defensive line was kept much more bottled up by opposing teams, only registering 33 sacks to last year's 48. Jason Pierre-Paul fell 10 sacks short of last year's production, from 16.5 to 6.5.
Justin Tuck, once an elite pass-rusher, has certainly entered the twilight of his career. Only two years removed from an 11.5-sack season, his last two seasons have seen him miss time to injuries and average only 4.5 sacks.
Tuck's issues, along with the potential loss of Osi Umenyiora to free agency, must be addressed if the Giants plan to feature a dominant defensive front.
Just when you thought you had seen the last of bad Eli Manning, he comes back.
After another another miracle play in a Super Bowl that had the offseason discussion revolving around Manning's place in history and potential bust in Canton, he showed flashes of the player that frustrated Giants fans early in his career.
A three-game stretch in the middle of the season without throwing a touchdown forced him to address rumors of arm fatigue with Jorge Castillo of the Star-Ledger:
I still, in practices, thought I was throwing the ball well. I felt no fatigue. Obviously, sometimes during the course of the season you may not realize it, but today (my) arm felt good.
Poor throws were only a part of the story, though. Inconsistent decision-making marred this season for Manning. That was a key reason the Giants failed to make the playoffs in a season where one or two more wins would have made the difference.
Perhaps the most difficult thing to explain about the Giants season is their continued failure to produce in the second half of the season.
For the third year in a row, the squad leaped out to a 6-2 record only to squander it by finishing 3-5. However, the problem may be bigger than the last three seasons.
Since arriving in 2004, only two of Tom Coughlin's Giants teams has played better than .500 football in the second half of the season. Could the late-season difficulties be related to the schedule Coughlin keeps for the team? Has it been purely coincidental?
There are no clear answers to this increasingly frustrating problem.
It was a pivotal point in the season. The Giants seemed poised to shake off their second-half demons, having shredded the New Orleans Saints for 52 points to earn a huge home win.
They took all of that momentum on the road to Atlanta and proceeded to lay an awful egg of a game, a 34-0 shutout.
Three turnovers, including two Eli Manning interceptions, helped stymie the offense at a total of 256 yards. With the Falcons nearly doubling the Giants' time of possession, the loss was somehow even more disheartening than the score reflected.
Victor Cruz burst onto the scene in a big way in 2011, with over 1,500 yards receiving and nine touchdowns.
While the Giants recognized that those numbers would be hard to reproduce as teams began to watch tape on Cruz and start game-planning for him, they hoped that Cruz, along with Hakeem Nicks, would form a top-tier tandem.
However, while Cruz did again top 1,000 yards receiving, he came in almost 500 yards shy of last year's output. His yards per catch decreased from 18.7 to 12.7, and his yards per game dropped from 96 to 68.
Nicks' falloff was even worse. He racked up less than 700 yards for the season. To account for time missed to injuries, his yards per game fell from 79 to 53, and he scored only three touchdowns on the season.
With Nicks at 25 years old and Cruz at 26, there is still plenty of time for these two talented receivers to wreak havoc on opposing teams, but 2012 was a step in the wrong direction.
While the Giants secondary and pass defense has been a weakness the past couple years, their ability to stop the run has only recently become an issue.
While the defensive line still has capable run defenders, the second level of defense (the linebacking corps) displayed an inability to move through blockers and stop the run.
New York surrendered 129 yards per game on the ground, good for 25th in the league. This number was up only slightly from last year's 121, but it is a big jump from their Super Bowl year of 2007-08, when they allowed only 93 yards per game.
That stout run defense had become a hallmark of this Giants squad, yet they certainly shed that aura this year.
Despite a poor second half of the season and the embarrassing loss to the Falcons, the Giants went into Baltimore in control of their own playoff destiny.
A win against the Ravens followed by beating the reeling, dysfunctional Eagles could have locked the Giants into at least a wild-card spot. New York, which had been defined by its ability to win with its backs to the wall, seemed poised to work its magic yet again.
The Ravens must not have read the script.
Torching them for 224 yards on the ground and 309 in the air, the Ravens powered their way past the Giants in a one-sided 33-14 rout. This left New York only the smallest flicker of hope to make the playoffs, which would finally be extinguished the next week.