Amid a four-year playoff drought and under the guidance of someone other than Tom Coughlin for the first time since 2004, the New York Giants were just four quarters from securing a very significant Wild Card berth when they took the field for Thursday night’s divisional match-up in Philadelphia against the already-irrelevant Eagles.
However, for the sixth time in their last eight visits to Rocky Balboa’s hometown, the Giants were sent home empty-handed after losing 24-19, letting a valuable opportunity to further fuel their post-season hopes by clinching a relatively early playoff spot slip through their grasps. But other than needlessly adding to the drama of December football, for the Giants, the worst part of Thursday’s loss was the fact that it handed the Dallas Cowboys this year’s NFC East title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
While the Giants are still a heavy favorite to reach post-season play after Thursday night’s field goal-filled fall to the Eagles, the missed opportunity is just one more reason for Big Blue’s faithful following to second guess their beloved team. At the same time, the similarities between this team and the Super Bowl-winning squad of 2011 have acted as a reassuring holiday hug all season for countless Giants’ fans.
Following the loss, veteran wide receiver, and member of New York’s 2011 championship team, Victor Cruz, echoed the thought that’s been crossing the collective minds of Giants’ fans since Thursday night’s stumble while speaking to the media.
”As long as we get in [the playoffs], I don’t care which way, shape or form we get in,” said Cruz via ESPN. ”We just want to get into the dance and see what happens.”
You can’t really blame Cruz or any Giants’ fan for adopting the ”get in at all costs” approach to the playoffs a little prematurely if you’re familiar with the circumstances surrounding the team’s last two post-season appearances.
In 2007, Big Blue was one of three NFC East teams to reach the playoffs despite losing two of their final three games including a 38-35 heart-breaker to the then-perfect New England Patriots in Week 17 before eventually claiming football’s ultimate crown. And in 2011, the Giants allowed a 6-2 start to evaporate during a horrific, six-week slide beginning in Week 10 that saw the eventual Super Bowl champs drop five games before finishing 9-7 and barely ahead of a pair of 8-8 division rivals to win the NFC East.
The presence of starting quarterback Eli Manning, a potentially-explosive offense and a surprisingly-stout defense are the most obvious similarities that exist between these Giants and the 2011 team. But this season, folks have been quick to label Manning’s missteps as evidence of his inevitable decline, and the Giants’ offense hasn’t exactly earned its reputation lately by failing to score 20 points in four straight games. And in the playoffs, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Much like every New York City quarterback of consequence before him, Manning will continue to shoulder almost all of the blame for Big Blue’s recent rash of mediocrity —especially after throwing three interceptions in Thursday’s loss to the 6-9 Eagles. To be fair, the lack of a dependable running back and a reliable pass-catching tight end has definitely contributed to many of Manning’s issues, and while he’s become one of the NFL’s most productive receivers, Odell Beckham Jr can’t always do everything.
On Friday, ESPN helped to fan the flames of playoff paranoia in New York with an article outlining the path to disaster that included a helpful, and for Giants’ fans, horrifying, eight-step explanation of the scenario that would knock Big Blue out of the playoff hunt. For what it’s worth, the first step towards the team’s unlikely collapse was taken with Thursday’s loss to Philadelphia.
That’s what happens when a team finally turns things around following four years of playoff-less football and consecutive 6-10 finishes. But for now, the Giants and their fan-base can rest easy knowing that only a miracle can end their season early.