"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."(with apologies to Charles Dickens).
In the hearts and minds of Giant fans, this quote defines the season. Beginning undefeated after five games, and then venturing down to the Queen City of the South, New Orleans, the spring of hope turned ever so quickly, towards being a winter of despair. Yet after 14 weeks, a glimmer of hope still remains, though by only a slim margin.
This season will be viewed in a Tale of Three Games. These games include New Orleans, San Diego, and the most recent game against Philadelphia. Let's look at each to understand why this season has become such a roller coaster of emotion for Giant fans.
New Orleans, Sunday October 18th, New Orleans 47 Giants 28
What was viewed as the game for control of the NFC, and a preview of the Super Bowl qualifying game, quickly became a game where the Giants just could not keep up.
This is where the Giants defense was first exposed as it's weak link. After five straight weeks of winning the coin toss, the Saints won the toss and started out on offense. The Saints proceeded to drive the ball methodically down the field against a seemingly unemotional Giants defense. The drive consumed 7:41 off the clock and covered 70 yards in 15 plays. This drive ended in a Michael Bell 2 yard touchdown.
When Drew Brees was not passing, the Saints running game was able to deliver significant blows to the defense. It was reminiscent of the Air Coryell days of the Chargers and Cardinals, with Brees making all the right decisions.
Eli Manning and the Giants tried to stay with the Saints, even illustrating the playmaking ability of Hakeem Nicks in the open field, but the Giants were left in the Brees! Eli had his worst game of the year, with a QB rating of 61, but it was the defense that shockingly gave up big play after big play. In all the Saints recorded eight plays in excess of 20 or more yards.
San Diego, Sunday November 8th, San Diego 21 Giants 20
After three straight losses, where the Giants gave up an average of 37 points per game, the Giants returned home hoping to halt the slide. The defense played its best game in three weeks. Holding an explosive Charger offense led by Phillip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles in check for most of the game. The Giants held a "safe" 20-14 lead heading into the final two minutes.
The Giants hopeful were looking for one more defensive stop. That was not to be, with Vincent Jackson scorching Corey Webster, for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone. The crowd and the Giants were stunned. With less than 30 seconds left, there was not to be a magical comeback.
However, this game should not have come down to the final drive trying to protect a slim six point lead. A botched first half field goal by Lawrence Tynes and Jeff Feagles, gave up the much needed three points the Giants could have used at the end of the game. Additionally another red zone failure inside the San Diego five yard line late in the game forced a field goal which left the Giants one point short.
Philadelphia, Sunday December 13th, Philadelphia 45 Giants 38
After all the mediocrity and failures the team had displayed since it's undefeated opening, the Giants were in a position to take control of the NFC East. A win against Philadelphia would have forced a three way tie, which would have given the Giants the lead it needed in the division. However, the Giants let this one slip away.
The game was characterized by numerous big plays by both teams. Eli Manning had one of his best games of the season throwing for 391 yards, 3 touchdowns and a QB rating of 161. The Giants spotted a two touchdown lead to the Eagles, in a true holiday spirit of giving by both the offense and defense.
The Eagles took the opening kickoff on a methodical efficient drive, taking a 7-0 lead. The Giants seemed to be responding with a drive of its own, but a Brandon Jacobs fumble was returned for 60 yards by Sheldon Brown for a touchdown. Eagles 14 Giants 0.
The insanity had begun. It was like watching an old fashioned college shootout.
However the story of this game was the big plays given as gifts by the Giants defense and special teams. The first of which occurred late in the second quarter when Jeff Feagles angled a punt towards the sideline. DeSean Jackson fielded the ball on his own 28, needed one block and motored down the sidelines for a 72 yard touchdown with just over 4 minutes remaining in the half.
The second play was with the Giants up 31-30. The Giants had taken the lead on an Eli Manning to Domenik Hixon catch and run covering 61 yards with 5:12 remaining in the third quarter. Fifteen seconds later, Donovan McNabb found DeSean Jackson all alone in the middle of the field, completing a 60 yard touchdown pass. Jackson danced his way into the end zone, drawing the ire of the Giants crowd. The Eagles produced eight big plays in excess of 20 yards or more.
The game was still very much up for grabs. All the Giants needed was one defensive stop in the fourth quarter. It was a stop that never came. The Eagles controlled the ball for much of the 4th quarter, only allowing a touchdown with not enough time left for the Giants to mount the needed comeback.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.