Giants vs. Chargers: Takeaways from New York's 37-14 Loss to San Diego
The Giants were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention with the 37-14 loss to the Chargers, in conjunction with the victories of both the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers over the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks, respectively. New York has now finished short of the playoffs in four of the past five seasons.
This most recent loss—the Giants' eighth of the season—has signaled the start of New York's impending rebuilding project, as any and all hope for the 2013 season has officially been squashed.
The Giants now have eight losses on the season.
Under head coach Tom Coughlin, New York has finished a season with a losing record just once (6-10, 2004). Twice, the Giants finished an even 8-8 (2006, 2009).
With just one more loss, however, the 2013 team will be Coughlin's first Giants squad to finish below .500 since his first year with the franchise—Eli Manning's rookie season. This year's team, featuring a core of Super Bowl champions and an MVP quarterback, can hardly be compared to the upstart project and baby-faced Manning handed to Coughlin back in 2004.
The Giants finished 9-7 in both the 2011 and 2012 regular seasons. Although, in 2011, that mark was high enough to earn a divisional title and No. 4 seed in the NFC playoff picture, it failed them a year later with the Washington Redskins claiming the East at 10-6. It was a mediocre mark that, in 2013, the Giants desperately wanted to exceed.
Even the Giants' best-case scenario—three wins to finish the season at 8-8—gives the team no hope to extend the season beyond 16 games. In that scenario, an 8-2 finish to a season that began 0-6 still might be seen as a minor accomplishment.
Not for this team, though. Not one that entered the season with such high playoff hopes. There are no moral victories for a team of such experienced veterans, ones so familiar with what it takes to grace the game's pinnacle of success.
The standard has been set around New York. These Giants are playing for rings, not pats on the back. Another mediocre season isn't going to cut it; championship-caliber stretches have only come in spurts, as the Giants, under Coughlin, seem incapable of replicating them with any degree of consistency.
With the Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions and Redskins—who likely still feel cheated by the Week 13 officiating—compromising New York's final three opponents of the year, it's an eight-loss season and counting for the '13 Giants.
Cold as Ice
No environment was as cold, however, as the one specifically created for Manning by the fans of sunny San Diego. The orchestrated boos of Qualcomm Stadium must have shocked the Big Blue passer with an unnerving chill, despite the comfortable 63-degree game-time temperature.
Manning may claim to be forgetful, but a Chargers fan never forgets. The fans remembered being spurned by Manning on draft day 2004, and nearly a decade later, they still resent him for it. Those two Super Bowl MVPs just haven't sat well in Southern California.
San Diego let Manning have it in Week 13—his third career meeting with the Chargers and first since 2009. The quarterback on the other end of the now-infamous Manning trade, Philip Rivers, outgunned his draft classmate head-to-head for the second time in his 10-year career.
While Manning absorbed two sacks and constant pressure, he threw just one touchdown and two interceptions, posting a passer rating of 72.3. Conversely, Rivers' three touchdowns and no interceptions registered a 137.4 passer rating.
Manning's cold streak with his receivers continued, as a ball bouncing off Rueben Randle's body resulted in yet another bum-luck turnover. Later, a miscommunication with Louis Murphy Jr. yielded Manning's 20th interception. He is now just five picks behind his career high (25), a mark set in 2010.
In a touch of irony, Hakeem Nicks had his biggest game of the season when it mattered least. His big, 51-yard reception preceded Manning's first interception by just one play. A bobbled 28-yarder ultimately culminated in a turnover on downs. Forty-three of Nicks' 135 receiving yards came on a Hail Mary he caught six yards shy of the goal line at the end of the first half.
Nicks still hasn't caught a touchdown this season.
Manning's passing game is on ice.
Giving a Tuck
Here's to one man still giving it his all.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Justin Tuck was tweeting pictures of his Super Bowl rings. Currently at 5-8, the glory days may be in his past, but given the way Tuck has played, especially late in the season, it's evident the one-time All-Pro also cares about his future.
Often the object of criticism, Tuck has struggled through injury-riddled seasons in recent years. His production has dwindled, as the once-dominant pass-rusher watched his effectiveness steadily wane.
Tuck had another two sacks against the Chargers, as well as a forced fumble and three of the Giants' four QB hits. As has become the norm this season, Tuck also finished the game with the most tackles among New York defensive linemen (six tackles, five solo, one for a loss). He now has 49 tackles on the season.
Fresh off a career-best performance in which he tallied four sacks against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins, Tuck now has a healthy 8.5 sacks on the season—his highest total since 2010 (11.5 sacks). At 30 years old, Tuck is still capable of playing his best ball.
Or at least that's what he's trying to convince the Giants organization as his time under contract wears thin. The former third-round draft pick in 2005 has spent his entire professional career in New York, and now he's trying to prove his veteran presence is too valuable an asset with which to part.
Tuck has been very strong against the run all season, but only lately have his efforts paid off in the form of quarterback sacks. Seven of Tuck's 8.5 sacks in 2013 have come in the past three games, as Tuck has seemingly found his QB-chasing groove in only the past month.
Is it enough to keep the aging vet with a Giants team possibly in need of a roster overhaul? Next year's team could look completely different compared to the one that has taken the field in 2013; Tuck has all but disappeared in the past—maybe next year he'll actually go missing.
As for now, the defensive captain is doing all he can to solidify his worth to the only professional team he has ever known.
As of Sunday, the main focus shifts to next season.
The players and coaches still have three games to attempt to win this season, but consider them final auditions for those who wish to extend their careers with the Giants beyond 2013. Young players should get additional reps, and all impending free agents will be looking to leave a solid last impression.
The Giants' front office—namely general manager Jerry Reese, who put everyone on notice before the season—has moves to make. A single playoff-less season is below Reese's standards, let alone four in the past five years. Changes are imminent, and not everyone will survive the cut.
Players like Tuck and Hakeem Nicks, athletes once deemed indispensable to the championship unit, are currently under the microscope. If they fall into New York's future plans, they'll be in blue again next season. If not, they'll certainly be suiting up with one of the NFL's 31 other teams in 2014.
The Giants have a mess on their hands—one that isn't easily cleaned up either.
For New York to bounce back next year, the difficult cuts must be made, the right free agents must be signed and the right prospects must be drafted. Winners of five and out of the playoff hunt with three contests left on the slate, the Giants are playing their least competitive ball since the end of the Jim Fassel era.
Back then, a total rebuild was clearly needed; now, the situation isn't so different.
The Giants are arguably in better shape now, a decade later, as their franchise quarterback isn't going anywhere soon and their head coach is still arguably of Hall of Fame-caliber. Still, if Manning and Coughlin aren't on the block, someone else must be.
My guess is Coughlin's coaching staff goes through a major shakeup.
Approaching 70 years old, can the master motivator put it all together with a fresh crop of faces?
That may be the final test of a great NFL coaching career.