One Giant Failure

Chris Dell'Amore

No stalwart defense, no miracle catches and most importantly, no Super Bowl rings. A year after the New York Football Giants took the NFL by storm, the team looked like it was headed for another Super Bowl. Giants fans were thinking repeat after the Giants defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers (21-14), Baltimore Ravens (30-10), Philadelphia Eagles (36-31) and Carolina Panthers (34-28). Going into the playoffs, the Giants had defeated four of the best playoff contenders when they faced them in the regular season. However, distractions such as the Plaxico Burress situation proved too irksome for the Giants as they dropped three of their last four prior to their game against the Philadelphia Eagles on January 11.

As I sat in front of my television set in utter disbelief that Big Blue lost to the sixth-seeded Eagles 23-11, I could not help but wonder what happened to the team I had watched dismantle teams throughout the regular season. I had every reason to believe that the Giants were on their way to the Super Bowl for the second time in two years. The preparation for the season began in the off-season when the Giants traded the ever enigmatic Jeremy Shockey and re-signed defensive genius, Steve Spagnuolo as defensive coordinator. Other teams in the conference went out after big names such Asante Samuel, Pacman Jones and Jason Taylor while the Giants knew all the pieces were in place. Mathias Kiwanuka and Derrick Ward would be healthy and ready to help out after being injured the previous year.

The Giants roared through the season as they demolished their opponents. The “Earth, Wind and Fire” backfield trio of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw scorched opponents as the Giant defense proved to be just as tenacious as the previous season, despite the major loss of Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora to a broken leg. The Giants rolled over opponents until the Plaxico fiasco occurred before a Week 13 game against the Washington Redskins. The game seemed to spell disaster for Giants fans. The Giants were going against the leading rusher in the NFL, Clinton Portis, and the Redskins were commemorating recently deceased teammate Sean Taylor on the one year anniversary of his death. However, the Giants managed to win the game without Burress by the score of 23-7. What was even more impressive was the fact that Eli Manning threw for 305 passing yards with a decrepit Amani Toomer and a slew of inexperienced small slot receivers. They had played solid defense, ran the ball effectively and Manning had thrown for the most yards that he had all season. At that point, the Giants seemed to be a lock for another Super Bowl appearance.

However, the next four games didn’t tell the same story. The Giants lost three of their last four games, but of all the losses the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles (20-14) was the most meaningful. The Giants offense was almost nonexistent as defenders could flood the box with an added safety who had in the past been confined to playing the deep ball in order to prevent Burress from breaking a big play. When combined with the fact that Brandon Jacobs was out of the equation with a dislocated knee, the Giants offense was in complete disarray. However, the Giants rebounded with a momentous win over the Carolina Panthers to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The ground game looked unstoppable as Derrick Ward rushed for 215 yards. The following week the Giants faced the Vikings, resting the majority of their starters, and lost by one point on a last-second field goal 20-19.

The bye week for the Giants seemed like a godsend. Justin Tuck, Brandon Jacobs and Domenik Hixon were all suffering lingering injuries and could take the week off to recuperate. The Giants were in a completely different situation from last year going into the playoffs. The “Road Warriors” were nowhere to be found that fateful Sunday afternoon when they took on the Eagles at the Meadowlands. They failed to convert on two crucial fourth-and -short situations and the best offensive line in the NFL was smacked around by an aggressive Philadelphia front seven. Eli faced pressure all day and threw a game-changing interception to Asante Samuel. The Big Blue defense had their work cut out as they held the Eagles on a couple of very crucial third downs and even had a very important goal line stand. However, despite virtually taking Brian Westbrook out of the game, the Philadelphia offense got into a rhythm due to Donovan McNabb’s mobility and precision passing. The end result was 23-11 and the Giants were forced into an early retirement.

So what caused this early departure? Several causes have to be noted. Primarily, the suspension of a 6’5″ game-breaking wide receiver that could block as well as serve as a homerun threat was the most detrimental cause for the Giants’ late-season failures. The inexperienced receivers Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith and Sinorice Moss just couldn’t fill the shoes of the departed Burress. Although each receiver shows promise for the future, players such as Smith and Moss will be little more than adequate slot receivers and special team players. Amani Toomer was virtually nonexistent this season and did not step up in the time his team needed him most like he did last year in the playoff game against the Cowboys. The injuries to Kareem McKenzie, Justin Tuck and Brandon Jacobs were too serious to overcome. Most of all, the Giants played the end of the year with complacency instead of the ferocious tenacity that willed them to beat one of the best teams in the history of the league. As for next season I have two words for the Giants: Get Hungry.