Since the New York Giants couldn’t win in Green Bay last week, they needed the Chicago Bears to do that for them.
For a while, it looked like the Giants might get the help they needed.
But, not quite.
For one last week at least, the Giants (10-6) did their part to reach the playoffs, beating the Washington Redskins, 17-14, at Fed Ex Field on Sunday.
But, when a Bears’ drive ended deep in Green Bay territory with 16 seconds left at Lambeau Field, so did the Giants’ season.
New York’s win in Washington was simply too little, too late, as the Green Bay Packers (10-6) clinched the NFC’s sixth and final playoff spot with a 10-3 victory over the Bears and simultaneously eliminated the Giants from playoff contention after another promising beginning for New York.
While scoreboard watching, the Giants jumped out to a 10-0 lead on the Redskins.
An 11-play, 78-yard drive on New York’s second possession of the game resulted in a 20-yard field goal by kicker Lawrence Tynes which gave the Giants a 3-0 lead with 5:03 left in the opening quarter.
The Redskins (6-10) came right back, going 50 yards to the Giants’ 12 yard-line, but kicker Graham Gano was wide left on a chip shot 30-yard field goal attempt that would ultimately be the difference in the game (although the Giants would later miss their own makeable field goal).
Three plays later, quarterback Eli Manning (17-29, 243 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, 0 sacks) had yet another ball this season deflect off of a receiver’s hands for an interception. It was Manning’s franchise-tying 25th of the season but the only turnover of the game for a team that led the NFL with 42 on the year.
The Redskins, who had four turnovers, gave the ball right back however, with the first of their three lost fumbles, as quarterback Rex Grossman (26-44, 336 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 2 sacks) was sacked by defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who would later sack Grossman again. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul recovered the loose ball for New York, ending a Washington scoring threat.
The teams then traded punts before the Giants went 69 yards on 9 plays in 4:54 to take a 10-0 lead on two-yard touchdown run by running back Brandon Jacobs (13 carries, 49 yards, 1 TD) with 3:06 left in the first half.
Washington answered though, capping a 7-play, 80-yard drive on a one-yard touchdown toss from Grossman to tight end Fred Davis (2 catches, 20 yards), to pull to within 10-7, with 22 seconds left in the half.
The Giants struck quickly in the second half, scoring on the longest play in the NFL this season on their second play of the third quarter. Manning completed a 92-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mario Manningham (4 catches, game-high 101 yards, 1 TD), who streaked up the right side for the longest play of both his career and Manning’s, to give the Giants a 17-7 lead, 2:41 into the second half.
After the teams again traded punts, linebacker Keith Bullock intercepted Grossman to give New York great field position at the Washington 27 yard-line, but the Giants came away empty as Tynes missed for the first time in 17 tries on a 39-yard field goal attempt.
The Redskins moved into Giants’ territory on each of their next two possessions, but they fumbled to end each of those drives.
The first was on another sack by Umenyiora, who then recovered Grossman’s fumble. The second was even more costly, as wide receiver Santana Moss (game-high 9 catches, 74 yards) coughed the ball up at the Giants’ 10 yard-line.
New York kept Washington alive, with three consecutive three-and-outs and four straight punts in the final period but the Giants’ defense held on a 4th-and-1 rushing attempt by running Back Ryan Torain (18 carries, game-high 61 yards) from the New York 32 yard-line, with 7:37 left.
However, one play after the Giants punted, Grossman hit wide receiver Anthony Armstrong (2 catches, team-high 84 yards, 1 TD), who broke free over the middle on a 64-yard touchdown reception, to pull the Redskins to within 17-14, with 5:52 left.
New York then moved the ball enough to pin Washington at its own 17 yard-line on a punt.
The Redskins managed one first down, but Grossman then threw incomplete on fourth down from the Washington 36 yard-line, with 1:03 left, and the Giants were able to run out the clock.
With nothing to play for but pride after being locked into the NFC’s two seed when they took the field in Green Bay, the NFC North champion Bears (11-5) gave the Giants hope for much longer than expected against a desperate Packers team.
But, ultimately, things didn’t go the Giants way in terms of making the playoffs.
Mostly, the Giants have themselves to blame for that.
Riding a five-game winning streak, the Giants inexplicably lost at home to a Cowboys team that was on a five-game losing streak and playing without its starting quarterback, under Jason Garrett, who was named as a new head coach earlier that week.
Two weeks ago, with a great chance at securing the same two seed that the Bears ended up with, the Giants let a 21-point lead get away in the final half-quarter against what is now third-seeded Philadelphia, which ended the regular season with the same 10-6 record as New York.
And, last week, with a chance to end Green Bay’s season and clinch the six seed which now belongs to the Packers, the Giants, with everything to play for, lost 45-17 – far worse than the Bears lost on the same field on Sunday, with their own playoff seed already a certainty.
Still, if not for two bad NFL rules, the Giants would be a dangerous entry in this year’s NFL playoffs.
Like pouring salt into a fresh wound, it must have hurt the Giants to watch the Seattle Seahawks (7-9) clinch the NFC’s fourth playoff seed with an unimpressive 16-6 win over St. Louis (7-9) on Sunday night.
Although the Giants missed their own chances, the Seahawks finished a far worse 1-3 in their last four contests, and 3-7 in their last ten games, and they enter the playoffs tied for the NFC’s eighth-best record (behind 10-6 Tampa Bay), while the Giants finished tied for the fifth best record in the conference.
Seattle also became the first losing team in NFL history to reach the playoffs, simply because they NFL insists on rewarding mediocre division winners instead over creating a much more equitable playoff system.
The Seahawks’ win on Sunday night came with quarterback Charlie Whitehurst making his fourth career NFL start. His first came the week before the Giants’ loss to the Cowboys. That game was a 41-7 Giants’ rout in Seattle, which made up a significant portion of the Seahawks’ season point-differential of -97, which ranks as the worst ever for an NFL playoff team (in comparison, the Giants finished with a point differential of +47).
The second rule that ultimately denied the Giants a playoff berth this season, ironically involved the team who nearly helped New York reach the playoffs on Sunday.
Going back to the opening week of the season, the Bears escaped with a win over Detroit, when an apparent game-winning touchdown in the final seconds was overturned.
Lions’ wide receiver Calvin Johnson made what was widely believed to be a touchdown catch, but he lost the ball while rolling over in the end zone. The call was correct, but the consensus remains today, that the rule is bad.
Had the Bears lost that game, their loss in Green Bay on Sunday, would have tied them with the Packers, who would have won then the NFC North and captured the NFC’s second playoff seed by virtue of a Week 1 win in Philadelphia.
Chicago would have then lost a tiebreaker for the six seed to the Giants, who beat the Bears, 17-3, in Week 4.
Despite those bad breaks, the bottom line is that after another good first half under Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants completed yet another second-half swoon while falling short of preseason expectations.
New York began with a winning record in each of Coughlin’s seven seasons as the Giants’ head coach, but has had had just two winning records in the second halves of seasons under Coughlin.
After the win in Washington, Giants’ co-owner John Mara ended weeks of speculation surrounding Coughlin’s job security, even though it was Mara who said last season “felt more like 2-14” after the Giants started 5-0, only to finish 3-8 and miss the playoffs.
“There was never any doubt that [Coughlin] was going to be back,” Mara said. “I told him that last week.”
Mara said he told Coughlin after last week’s Giants’ loss in Green Bay, “You’re going to be back next year… regardless of what happened [in Washington], you were going to be back.”
That seems to be the smart move with many players in open support of Coughlin, and with uncertainty over a potential looming NFL lockout looming for next season.
Nevertheless, since the Giants’ unlikely Super Bowl XLII victory, this year’s finish marks three straight seasons of New York’s realistic Super Bowl dreams ending in Giant disappointment.