The 5 Most Devastating Playoff Losses in New York Giants History

Pro Football NYCSenior Writer IMay 19, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 28:  Head coach Jim Fassel of the New York Giants closes his eyes during their game against the Carolina Panthers December 28, 2003 at Giant Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This will be Fassel's last game with the Giants.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Since the NFL annexed the AFL in 1970, the New York Giants have made the playoffs a total of 14 times. Three of those campaigns ended in Super Bowl victories, one ended at the Super Bowl and the rest are indelibly etched in the far horizons of my brain as events that I would like to receive a refund for.

Not included in the below list of suicidal moments are pre-1985 games plus every playoff loss in the Tom Coughlin era. Also missing is the forgettable 44-3 bodyslamming by San Francisco in January of 1994—Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor’s final game as Giants (I’m pretending it didn’t happen).

The rest are all the usual suspects, mostly games the Giants should have—or could have—won but for some reason or another, did not. Enjoy.

5. January 7, 1990 – Giants Stadium - Rams 19, Giants 13 (OT)

1989 was the year Phil Simms and the Giants were headed for another showdown with the other NFC power of the decade—Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers. The Giants’ defense was at its peak, and the 49ers’ offense scored 442 points in racking up a 14-2 record.

Bill Parcells’ Giants were returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence. Playing in their first post-season game since they won Super Bowl XXI, the 12-4 Giants were home to face the Wild-Card winner, the Los Angeles Rams, in the NFC Divisional Playoff round.

On a typical January afternoon at the Meadowlands, the stage was set for Big Blue to dispose of the West Coast visitors. Giants fans felt the combination of the weather and Lawrence Taylor should lead to a nice 10-14 point victory.  

The Rams had already beaten the Giants once already during the season, 31-10, in Anaheim two months before. Regardless, fans just had the feeling that the Giants were going to romp.

It didn’t happen. The game was a low-scoring affair that had the Giants up 6-0 with 17 seconds to go in the first half. That’s when Los Angeles QB Jim Everett caught the Giants napping and hit WR Willie “Flipper” Anderson with 30-yard touchdown strike. The Giants would regain the lead in the 3rd quarter on a two-yard TD plunge by O.J. Anderson.

The Rams would hold the Giants scoreless in the fourth quarter and tie the game at 13 with two short FGs by Mike Lansford, sending the game into overtime.

The Rams won the toss and marched down the field on the stunned Giants. It took only 1:06 for the visitors to score the winning TD: a 30-yard touchdown reception by Flipper Anderson that ended with him running straight through the back of the end zone, through the tunnel and into the locker room.

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Game over. Season over. What just happened?

4. January 5, 2003 – 3Com Park – 49ers 39, Giants 38

This is perhaps the most bizarre game the Giants have ever been a part of.  Two old rivals—the Giants and the 49ers—met in a Wild-Card match-up of 10-6 teams.

The Niners got out to a quick 7-0 lead on a Jeff Garcia 76-yard TD pass to Terrell Owens. Not to fret. These were not the Giants of old, they could score with anyone.

Giants QB Kerry Collins got hot and threw four TDs before the first half ended. By the time the Giants finished scoring, they had a formidable 38-14 lead with 4:37 left in the third period.

Then the tide turned. The 49ers scored 25 consecutive, unanswered points to take a 39-38 lead in the fourth quarter. Whatever plays they needed to make they made, including two 2-point conversions. Garcia, Owens and crew could do no wrong.

Conversely, whatever the Giants tried, failed miserably. Jeremy Shockey dropped a TD. The defense committed numerous bonehead penalties that kept San Francisco drives alive. Kicker Matt Bryant missed a 42-yard FG with 3:01 remaining. There was even a sideline brawl that featured Giants’ safety Shaun Williams and Owens. Williams was ejected.

Even through all this, the Giants still had a chance to win the ballgame. With 6 seconds remaining, the Giants had the ball on the San Francisco 23-yard-line.  Bryant came out to try a 40-yarder that would salvage the game for New York.

During the Jim Fassel years (1997-2003), the Giants were notoriously inept on special teams. This year’s version was no different.  All the Giants needed to do was kick a 40-yard field goal to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

If it were only that easy….

Long snapper Trey Junkin’s snap to holder Matt Allen was wide and Allen could not get the ball down for the FG attempt. Allen, the Giants’ punter, got up and passed the ball downfield towards an open Giant player.  It was OT Rich Seubert.  As Seubert attempted to catch the pass, San Francisco’s Chike Okafor pulled him to the ground. A penalty was called on the Giants for having an ineligible receiver downfield, so pass interference could not be called.

The game was over, but it shouldn’t have been. The next day, the NFL office admitted the officials made a mistake. The Giants, in fact, did have an ineligible receiver downfield, but it wasn’t Seubert. Seubert had checked in before the play as eligible. The officials failed to note that.  The interference call should have stood because he was eligible. The penalties would have offset and the down would have been replayed.

The league apologized, but said in no way could there be an on-field resolution.

The way things were going there was no assurance that Bryant would have made the kick anyway. Giant fans were more upset with the collapse and the loss of composure than they were with anything else.

3. January 5, 1986 – Soldier Field – Bears 21, Giants 0

The 10-6 Giants were fresh off a dominating 17-3 Wild-Card victory over San Francisco.  It was Big Blue’s 3rd playoff appearance of the decade.  Fans were beginning to think big.  

Standing in their way were the 15-1 Chicago Bears. The Bears has a smothering defense coached by Buddy Ryan. His “46 defense” was the league’s top ranked in 1985 and is largely considered to be the best in NFL history.

The temperature at Soldier Field that sunny Sunday was of an Arctic nature and the wind was classic Chicago. The Bears were ready to rumble. The Giants were ready to crumble, they just didn’t know it.

The Giants offensive line could not block the Chicago defense. Phil Simms, when he wasn’t getting sacked or knocked to the ground by the likes of Richard Dent, saw his passes sail wide of their targets on crucial plays. The Giant defense was also ineffective, getting fooled by play actions twice, which resulted in TD passes from Jim McMahon to Dennis McKinnon.  

The first score of the game though, was the most famous. Giant punter Sean Landeta, kicking from his own goal line, whiffed while trying to send one his booming punts into Chicago territory. The wind had apparently blown the ball off Landeta’s foot and landed on the five-yard-line where the Bears’ Shaun Gayle picked it up and ran it in for a TD.

If you live to 100 you may never see that happen again. The Mike Ditka-coached Bears went on to the Super Bowl and immortality. Landeta and the Giants went home embarrassed.

2. December 27, 1997 – Giants Stadium – Vikings 23, Giants 22

Jin Fassel’s first year as head coach was a success. The Giants went 10-5-1 and won the NFC East. Their record did not qualify them for a bye, instead it earned them a home game in the Wild Card round.

Coming into the Meadowlands was an old nemesis—Randall Cunningham—who had been signed by the Vikings before the season. Cunningham had retired as an Eagle after the 1995 season, but missed the game and returned to have his best season as a pro for Minnesota in 1997.

At the season’s outset the Giants were stuck in the rut left by Dan Reeves. The Dave Brown experiment finally got old, it was time to abandon ship. After a 3-3 start under Brown, Fassel switched to Danny Kanell, who led Big Blue to a 7-2-1 finish. The defense was the real star of the team in 1997, finishing 3rd in the NFL overall. The Giants were smoking hot entering the playoffs, only losing twice since the third week of September.

The game against the 9-7 Vikings was supposed to be a formality. Minnesota over the years had become a dome team and had not fared well outdoors. At game time, the temperature was in the mid-40’s and it began to drizzle. The Giants jumped out to a 16-0 lead and led 19-3 by the half. The game was essentially over. The Vikings were done.

In the second half, the Giants had become lax, a trait that would haunt them throughout Jim Fassel’s tenure as head coach. They also would fight amongst themselves, which was also commonplace under Fassel. 

CB Philippi Sparks screamed at Tiki Barber, whose fumble on the Giants 4-yard line led to a Minnesota touchdown. He also had run-ins with CB Conrad Hamilton and LB Jesse Armstead. Defensive linemen Keith Hamilton and Michael Strahan also fought.

Meanwhile, Minnesota had rattled off 10 unanswered points and was closing in on the lead midway through the fourth quarter.  

Brad Daluiso’s 22-yard FG, his fifth of the afternoon, with 7:03 left gave the Giants some breathing room, putting them up by nine points, 22-13. With less than two minutes to go, the game seemed out of reach. Then Cunningham did what he had always done to the Giants as a member of the Eagles—he flummoxed them.

The Vikings took advantage of the quarreling Giants and scored another quick TD, when Cunningham hit Jake Reed with a 30-yard scoring pass.  With the conversion, the score was now 22-20. The Vikings had only one option left—an onside kick.

Minnesota kicker Eddie Murray kicked the ball right at a sure handed Giant—WR Chris Calloway—who couldn’t handle it. The Vikings recovered. Cunningham went right to work. He hit Cris Carter for 21 yards. Then Sparks would get called for pass interference, moving the Vikings into Murray’s range with 10 seconds to go.

Murray easily converted the 24-yarder putting the Giants out their misery and sending 77,000 fans home wondering what the hell just happened.  Not since “The Fumble” had the Meadowlands crowd experienced such a deflating loss.

1. January 28, 2001 – Raymond James Stadium – Ravens 34, Giants 7

Super Bowl XXXV.  Fassel was at the helm for this fiasco as well. The Giants came into Tampa flying high, having beaten the Minnesota Vikings, 41-0, at the Meadowlands in the NFC Championship game two weeks before.

Now they would try to unleash that offense on the league’s best defense, which belonged to the embattled Ray Lewis and his Baltimore Ravens.  Baltimore, had also gone 12-4 in 2000 regualr season. They, too, had coasted through the playoffs, but as a Wild Card. The bettors were not convinced the Giants were up to the task. The Ravens entered Super Bowl XXXV as three-point favorites.

The Giants' attitude going into the game was typical Fassel.  Relax and enjoy. The Ravens were like Clubber Lang to their Rocky in the film Rocky III. They wanted to decimate the Giants, even though Ravens’ coach Brian Billick and Jim Fassel were longtime friends. The Giants trained lightly, went to movies and took in the sun.

The Ravens moved to Lewis’ beat. He had been in serious legal jeopardy before the season. He was present at the murder of two men, who were stabbed to death by two of his associates. He ended up pleading no contest and his friends were eventually acquitted. The court of public opinion was not as lenient.  Even though Lewis was legally exonerated, many still saw him as an accomplice to murder. As a result, he knew to keep his nose clean, concentrating on football, becoming the league’s most feared defender.

When the game began, the Giants’ first play from scrimmage was a short pass to TE Pete Mitchell.  Lewis stepped in and broke it up, sending the Ravens into a frenzy. The Ravens were intent on picking on Giant CB Jason Sehorn. QB Trent Dilfer threw pass-after-pass in Sehorn’s direction finally hitting pay dirt on a 38-yard pass to Brandon Stokely. Stokely would burn Sehorn twice more in the game, but the erratic Dilfer could not get the ball to him the other times.

With the Ravens leading 7-0, Jesse Armstead picked off a Dilfer pass and retuned it 43 yards for a touchdown, apparently tying the score at seven. The officials called a phantom holding call on lineman Keith Hamilton, who brushed his hand against RB Jamal Lewis as he left the backfield. The play was called back, taking all momentun with it. The Ravens would go into the half with a 10-0 lead.

The second half was all Baltimore. The Giants did not score a point on offense.  Their only touchdown in the 34-7 drubbing was a 97-yard kickoff return by Ron Dixon.

When the game was over, Giant fans were leveled. Their team had suffered the most painful post-season loss in post-merger history. Fassel admitted he would have changed his approach had he had to play the game again. Really?


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