Giants leave their stepping stones behind, and have the rug pulled out from under them.
Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who's rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it's all over now, Baby Blue. - From Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
As the game moved along, quarter by quarter and minute by minute the inevitability of what was taking place was clear. It was like getting a shot at the doctor; you're sitting on the examination table, watching him tie the rubber hose around your arm. He rolls the little bottle around in his palms, then removes the syringe from the wrapping. Plunger pushed in, a dip in the bottle, plunger pulled back. The a couple of flicks of the finger. Then the obligatory comment, "Now... this won't hurt a bit." and in it goes. It stings for a bit, but eventually the pain goes away and you realize there was really nothing to it.
There was a purpose to that long-winded "ode to a needle": There's a wide dynamic of emotions a fan can experience following a game like this. Perhaps it's age, or familiartiy, or the understanding that repeating as champion in today's NFL is not easily accomplished. However, I think that it's the simple fact that Tom Coughlin's team did not seem right from the get-go. It will sting for a bit, but eventually the pain will go away and we'll realize that - at least from the Giants - there was really nothing to them.
The Eagles were the vagabond wrapping at the door today, and have recently been likened to last year's Giants; the wild card team with the big heart, hitting on all cyliders at just the right time. They're now wearing the "clothes" that the Giants' were donning last year at this time -and they're dressed for success.
I'd like to take a moment to congratulate Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles - for their perseverance and will to win this game at all costs. Healthy players, smart game planning and a little luck all play a part in earning a victory. The "luck" part for the Eagles today was catching Eli Manning on a bad day. But that wasn't the deciding factor in game; Philadelphia earned the victory and were clearly the better team today. Now they pack their bags for a date with the Arizona Cardinals and an NFC Championship game, visiting the very site where less than a year ago, Big Blue made magic, and NFL history.
For Tom Coughlin, General Manager Jerry Reese and the Giants organization - an offseason of "what might have been". Maybe Reese can snag a free agent wideout the likes of T.J. Houshmandzadeh to replace Eli's missing deep threat, and if the first two years of his tenure are any indication, he's more than likely have another solid draft come April. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnoulo might be a head coach somewhere in 2009; though the doors of opportunity are starting to close fast. Derrick Ward will likely want to prove he can be a starter and will want starter money - if there's a team willing to give him the shot.
Below are two reasons why the New York Giants lost their Divisional round playoff game to the Eagles this afternoon - and despite what the FOX NFL team of Troy Aikman and Joe Buck would have you believe, Plaxico Burress isn't one of the two reaons. If he were, then we may as well throw in the loss of Osi Umenyiora in the preseason and the retirement of Michael Strahan.
These two things - and not the personnel on the field - will haunt the Giants in the weeks and months to come...
1. The "eyes" have it; and Eli just didn't have it today.
Trying to guage Eli Manning's emotion is like trying to tell the difference between regular or decaffeinated, but there are those rare times that it's written all over his face; and today, his face was a novel. His passes wobbled, he was off target a number of times, and threw into tight coverage way too often. But the true measuring stick for Eli is his eyes. If written it many times throughout the season; When he's on his game, his eyes are scanning the field, looking for his options and knowing where to go. Today, his eyes locked on his primary target - from the moment the ball was snapped until the point of release. Asante Samuel and Brian Dawkins didn't have much guess work to know where the ball was going. Something wasn't right with Manning, and when that's the case he tends to lose focus and downfield awareness of the defense. Even though the teams were within 2 points of each other for a majority of the game, Eli's interception to Samuel (which led to the first Philadelphia touchdown) was a back-breaking tone setter.
2. In-game decisions that were offensive, rather than offensive minded in-game decisions.
- There was one bright spot for the Giants today, and it was Brandon Jacobs. Jacobs had 19 carries for 92 yards and appeared to be the only player in a blue jersey that Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson was unable to handle. Yet every time New York found itself driving the ball successfully, they took the ball out of Brandon's hands. I don't want to ramble with examples here, but here's one that sticks out: Following DT Fred Roobbins' interception and return to the Philadelphia 33 yard line in the 3rd Quarter, two consecutive handoffs to Jacobs went for 11 and 5 yards. The momentum was shifting. Number 27 was then called off to the sidelines in favor of Ward; two unsuccessful pass plays later, the Giants had to settle for a field Goal. This brings us to...
- Field goals... or punt? The turning point of the game for me - and I felt it the moment it took place - was when Coughlin decided to go for a 47-yard field goal with 4:29 remaining in the 3rd quarter instead of punting. Philly was leading 13-11 at that point, and Carney had already missed a 46-yard attempt earlier in the game (and badly, I might add). The Giants had recorded a safety the last time the Eagles were pinned back on their goal line, which might have been in their heads should they have found themeselves in that same spot. Your punter is Jeff Feagles - one of the best to ever play the game - and with the wind to his back, had already placed one perfectly inside the 5-yard line today. They should have pinned them back and not taken the risk on allowing Donovan McNabb to have 1st and 10 at midfield. Carney missed the kick, and McNabb marched them down the field and found TE Brent Celek in the end zone to put the Eagles up by a score of 20-11 on the first play of the 4th quarter. Which brings us to...
- The fourth Quarter... following the Brent Celek touchdown. On their next two possessions, the Giants ran 11 plays - 10 of which were running plays. It's understandable to a point, considering the inconsistency of their quarterback throughout the afternoon. But that said, he is still your quarterback, and unless the Giants coaches new something we didn't you have to continue plugging away and keeping the Eagles defense off-balance as best you can. On both possessions, the Giants were faced with a 4th down and a decision to make. And on both occasions, they went for it. The first time (on 4th and inches), they lined up Jacobs in the backfield and tried a quarterback sneak up the gut with Eli. That's like using a toothbrush to drive a nail into a wall when you've got a hammer right there in your tool belt. For the next drive (on 4th and 2) Kevin Gilbride decided to go with what they should have gone with the first time and ran Jacobs straight up the middle. Neither conversion was successful. The Giants miscue on the initial 4th down attempt perfectly prepared Jim Johnson's defense for the second 4th down attempt.
And it's all over now, Big Blue.
Thanks to the Giants for an enjoyable season, despite the letdown today. They handled themselves well through all the distractions and controversy, and overcame a lot of obstacles to put themselves back in contention. In a week or so, I will post my Giants 2008 Season Team Awards in recognition of the highlights - and lowlights - of the season.
Now it's off to the Eagles boards to offer my congratulations.
Statistical Sources: nfl.com, cbssports.com