It was supposed to be a monumental day for the New York Giants. Fighting for their playoff lives coupled with the last regular season home game at Giants Stadium was thought to set the stage for a fevered beat down of the up-and-down Carolina Panthers.
What transpired was not just disappointing, it was disheartening to everyone who believed these Giants were beginning a run similar to what we saw at the end of the 2007 season.
That season ended with a Super Bowl Championship, which ironically will be the only reason head coach Tom Coughlin keeps his job after today's uninspired performance.
It started out so well, it seemed. The Giants looked as if they were going to score early, except for a holding call by Madison Hedgecock which nullified a touchdown. Hedgecock would also drop a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter when the nearest defender to him was in Manhattan.
Three plays after the holding call, WR Mario Manningham fumbled.
Carolina recovered, and the Giants exited the building.
We knew the Giants had secondary issues. Against the Panthers they also couldn't stop the run in general, let alone when it counted.
Carolina, playing without RB DeAngelo Williams, converted eight of its first nine third down conversions. When the Giants stopped the Panthers on its tenth attempt, the crowd cheered sarcastically.
All this before Giants' QB Eli Manning's pathetic fumble to end the half.
Panthers' RB Jonathan Stewart made up for Williams' absence in the first half by rushing for 74 yards and a touchdown as the Panthers ran away to stake a 24-0 lead—not to mention a 92-17 advantage in rushing yards.
Things didn't get much better as Carolina took the second half kickoff and promptly drove 71 yards in four plays to push their advantage to 31-0.
Throughout the game, the Panthers gashed the middle of the Giants defense, even making RB Brad Hoover look like a stud at times.
The offense was just as absent until the outcome was a forgone conclusion. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride looked like he needed another punch from Buddy Ryan to wake up.
And when they did score a touchdown on a Manning pass to WR Steve Smith, the extra point attempt was botched.
Stewart alone showed more resiliency than the entire Giants team, which showed the world it didn't belong in the playoffs. Stewart rushed for 206 yards, the most yards against the Giants since 1978
Were the hopes and optimism ill advised based on an apparition of momentum?
Or maybe it was just that the Carolina Panthers are a lot closer to what some believed they could be now that QB Jake Delhomme is effectively finished?
Regardless of what the answer is, there is no excuse for the complete lack of emotion and urgency the Giants played with on this four-phase failure of a day—no offense, no defense, no special teams, no crowd.
If this was any other coach who hadn't just won a Super Bowl two seasons ago, the fingers would immediately begin pointing Coughlin's way for how flat this team came out of the locker room.
If teams play hard and lose, blame belongs to the player.
When the effort is lacking—especially when fighting for the playoffs—the blame belongs upstairs.