After a Week 14 embarrassment on the West Coast in which the floundering New York Giants finally buckled in a 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the winners of two of the last six Super Bowls were mathematically eliminated from the 2013 playoff chase.
With that loss, the storyline shifted.
With their playoff hopes shattered, the Giants were playing for pride—unfamiliar territory for a Tom Coughlin coached team that has not finished a season with a losing record since 2004. While rarely dominant, the Giants are usually vying for a seed in the NFC playoff picture in the season's closing weeks.
In 2013, New York had cliched a home-couch advantage throughout the playoffs with three regular-season games left to be played. Under Coughlin, the Giants have played on the game's biggest stages and succeeded. Motivation was surely a non-issue in either of Coughlin's Super Bowl preparations, nor was it a factor in any of the playoff games leading up to those championships.
If you can't get up for those games, it's time to check your pulse.
Rolle; "Obviously, sometimes out there today it looked like we didn’t have a pulse." #NYG— Art Stapleton (@art_stapleton) December 15, 2013
But three meaningless games, completely devoid of playoff implications, stared New York in the face at the end of the 2013 season. With one down and two still on the slate, the Giants can officially cross pride off the list of potential motivators for this currently imploding squad.
The Seahawks took a brisk jog through MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon, enjoying what was likely to be their final road trip of the season. Poised to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with two home games remaining on the regular-season slate, the next time Seattle plays outside the comfy confines of CenturyLink Field could very well be in Super Bowl XLIII.
If that ends up being the case, Sunday's 23-0 shutout victory over the Giants served as a mere walkthrough of MetLife Stadium—the location of this year's championship tilt.
The Giants practically rolled out the red carpet for the 11-win 'Hawks, doing little to throw a wrench in Seattle's postseason plans and even less to quell the roar of its "12th man," which had thoroughly invaded the North Jersey football haven from across the country.
New York's inconsistent offense, led by a turnover-prone quarterback Eli Manning, was utterly helpless against Seattle's top-ranked defensive unit. Led by a daunting cast of defensive backs, the Seahawks defense made every play a battle just to return to the line of scrimmage. The Giants averaged a piddling 3.4 yards per play.
Manning, in what was easily his most terrible outing since becoming a two-time Super Bowl MVP, threw no touchdowns and five interceptions, which set a new single-game-high for the 10-year veteran. With his fifth interception of the game—a collaborative effort between cornerback Richard Sherman and safety Earl Thomas—tied Manning's season-high interception total with 25 (2010), as well as broke Charlie Conerly's all-time franchise mark with 169 career picks.
If not for two heady plays by right guard David Diehl, two lost fumbles would have put Manning at 7-under in the turnover department for the day.
The difference between Manning's two most interception-plagued seasons is that, in 2010, he threw nearly twice as many touchdowns as he has in 2013. A known risk-taker, Manning found himself at the pinnacle of the NFL less than two years ago—unanimously elite and a potential Hall of Famer.
Now quarterbacking what is guaranteed to be his first losing squad since becoming the full-time starter, what pride can Manning possibly feel in winning a few games at the end of a season he is undoubtedly eager to forget?
Were the Giants motivated to play for pride?
The same can be said for many of his teammates. There are impending free agents, some fighting for their football futures while others are young enough to still star for other teams. There are even younger players who have not experienced a championship season but are surely letdown to be part of such a massive and unexpected meltdown.
All are led by Coach Coughlin, who can escape neither crippling regular-season mediocrity nor the head coaching hot seat. While some factors, such as a rash of injuries, certainly fall outside of his control, the one thing he absolutely controls is the message he sends to his team.
A message on playing for pride is not one Coughlin is clearly not used to giving, as his Giants showed no interest in honor while the Seahawks soundly slaughtered them in front of a home crowd.