Week Nine of the NFL season is a little early to place a playoff’s worth of importance onto a game, but that is exactly what the contest with the San Diego Chargers was for the New York Giants. Don’t look at me, it wasn’t my idea—it was the Giants' themselves.
According to the New York Daily News:
"I think the message is clear," quarterback Eli Manning said before the game. "I think we know what we've got to do and what's at stake, how important this game is. We've got to turn this thing around."
Said defensive end Justin Tuck: "There is a sense of urgency. We feel like we're pretty close to the bottom right now."
Coach Tom Coughlin was calling this a “one-game season,” and Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce called it their “Super Bowl.”
This reporter was certainly skeptical of such weighted comments for a midseason game, but after watching the action unfold it became apparent that they were absolutely right. This game was as telling and meaningful as one could be in Week Nine. Unfortunately for the Giants, it was for all the wrong reasons.
Given the importance placed on this game by those involved and the fact that the Giants were in the comfy confines of the Meadowlands, this is a game the Giants would win—if they were an elite team.
The Giants came into this game slipping away in the undertow of a three-game losing streak—a losing streak that featured five interceptions by their franchise quarterback and a defense that was handing out points like Halloween candy, 112 of them to be exact (their worst three-game total in 36 years).
This game needed to be different. Manning needed to protect the ball, and the defense needed to stop being so offensive.
On both accounts the Giants managed to turn the course of these ugly trends. Manning hit 76 percent of his passes (the second highest percentage of his career) and, more importantly, had no interceptions and two touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants gave up a respectable, if not spectacular, 21 points (5.5 points under the Chargers' season average).
The Giants dominated this game in many ways:
They limited the Chargers to 226 yards and only 34 on the ground.
They won the time of possession battle by 15 minutes, thanks in large part to a 16-play drive that took 10 minutes and 35 seconds off of the clock and resulted in a touchdown (their most time-consuming drive since 1993).
They also won the turnover battle, 2-1, and for only the third time this season the Giants offense did not have a turnover.
The Giants' victories in these stats should have equaled a victory, but ultimately it meant one thing: the Giants are going nowhere this season.
As Charger receiver Vincent Jackson hauled in the winning touchdown pass with 20 seconds left, and no one within six feet of him, the world could see that a team once thought of as a Super Bowl favorite was an impostor.
The fact that the Giants lost on a two-minute drive, delivered by the funky release of Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers, is not the damning sign (they are not the first and are not likely to be the last team to be a victim of this).
What is the nail in the coffin for the Giants is that they were at home and improved in the areas they needed to, in a game the entire team had elevated to “must-win status,” and they were only up six with two minutes to go.
To rip off Dennis Green: If the Giants were "who we thought they were," this game would have been over by the start of the fourth quarter. That is what championship-caliber teams do—it does not matter how good the opponent is.
The Giants had constructed a castle of cards, and they are now crumbling under the weight of an increasingly difficult schedule.
The Giants' early season feasts of unblemished success built a mirage of Super Bowl aspirations. Four of the Giants' first five opponents (the Redskins, Buccaneers, Chiefs, and Raiders) might not be able to field a playoff team if they combined their rosters.
The fifth win came against a Cowboys team that was not playing anywhere near the level that has them perched atop the NFC East now. The Giants are now poised in a permanent, upward gaze at a team it is hard to believe they once beat.
After the game, Giants players and coaches did their best to distance themselves from the importance they had built leading up to it, but the writing is on the wall.
In his post-game comments, Coughlin said, “The thing was the week before the bye; why wouldn't we call it a one-game season?”
Whatever the context, Tom, you lost that one-game season.
When asked if the game was frustrating, Manning had this to say after the game: “Disappointing. It is not frustrating as much because we did some decent things.”
It is always disappointing when desired realities prove to be a mirage.
Antonio Pierce decided to distance himself from his Super Bowl comments by distancing himself from the media—he was a no-show in the post-game locker room. And that may be the most telling statement of all.
Welcome to football mediocrity, New York. My suggestion: Put in the Yankee ’09 DVD and have a good laugh about those Week Three dreams of an all-New York Super Bowl.