This Is What a Second-Half Collapse Looks Like

Last year the Giants were 6-2 and to open the second half of their schedule they lost to the 49ers in Week 9 even though it had been determined before the game that the Giants would lose to the 49ers. It had been determined because that’s what New York Giants football had been and has been in the second half of the regular season during the Tom Coughlin era.

I remember being scared on Nov. 13, 2011 after that loss to the 49ers because of the 5-0 start in 2009 that ended with an 8-8 season and the 7-4 start in 2010 that DeSean Jackson destroyed. So when the Giants lost to the 49ers and opened the second half of the 2011 season with a loss, it made me think, “Oh eff, this isn’t happening again, isn’t it?”

The media thought it could be happening again too. So they asked Coughlin about the Giants’ recent second-half collapses over and over the way Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) asks Larry if the paper in his the Ziploc bag is his homework in The Big Lebowski. But instead of “Is this your homework, Larry? Is this your homework, Larry? Is this your homework, Larry?” it was “Is this the start of another second-half collapse, Tom? Is this the start of another second-half collapse, Tom? Is this the start of another second-half collapse, Tom?”

Coughlin sat there like Larry just giving the media a confused and disgusted look while I chimed in from the side like The Dude with “We know it’s the start of another second-half collapse, Tom!” But unlike The Dude, I never told him that there were people threatening to cut off his manhood.

Eventually Coughlin responded to the media’s questions about the possibility of another second-half collapse.

“I can’t imagine why this question keeps coming up in terms of you have to take each year one at a time.”

That’s right. He really said that. Tom Coughlin couldn’t imagine why the media kept asking him about second-half collapses as if they had made up the idea that the Giants had been awful during his time as head coach in the second half of the regular season. How bad had the Giants been in the second half under Coughlin prior to that question being asked? Let’s take a look.

2004: The Giants start the year 5-2 with Kurt Warner starting and showing Eli the ropes. They lose back-to-back games to fall to 5-4 and start planning for the future by letting Eli start, which causes unrest and division in the locker room. Eli goes 1-6 in his first seven starts in the league, but wins the final game of the year against the Cowboys. The Giants finish the year at 6-10 and don’t make the playoffs.

2005: It’s Eli’s first full year. The Giants go 6-2 in the first half of the season then go 5-3 in the second half of the season. They make the playoffs for the first time since blowing a 24-point lead against the 49ers in the 2002 playoffs. The Giants lose 23-0 at home in the first round of the playoffs, as Eli goes 10-for-18 for 113 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions. The Giants finish with just 132 total yards in the game. Bad finish.

2006: The Giants start the year 6-2, but are now 7-7, and entering Week 16, for them to clinch a playoff berth, they need one of two scenarios to happen.

1. Win + Minnesota loss or tie + Atlanta loss + Philadelphia win or tie + Seattle win or tie.

OR

2. Win + Minnesota loss or tie + Atlanta loss + Philadelphia win or tie + San Francisco loss or tie.

The Giants lose 30-7 to the Saints, but the Vikings, Falcons, Seahawks and 49ers all lose too, and the Giants basically hit the biggest parlay ever. Only the Eagles win, so the Giants just need to win in Week 17 against the Redskins and they make the playoffs at 8-8.

The Giants beat the Redskins to get into the playoffs at 8-8 thanks to a Giants single-game rushing record of 234 yards (on just 23 carries) from Tiki Barber. The Giants are just the ninth team in history to reach the postseason without a winning record. After starting the year 6-2, they finish the year 2-6. Then they lose 23-20 to the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs on a David Akers 38-yard field goal with no time remaining.

2007: They start the year 0-2, but win six in a row after that. After their bye in Week 9, they finish the year 4-4, and with a 10-6 record, they are the No. 5 seed in the playoffs. They run the table on the road in the NFC playoffs, beating the Buccaneers, Cowboys and Packers and then beat the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl.

2008: They’re 11-1, but are now without Plaxico Burress for the rest of the year. The Giants finish the regular season 1-3 (they would have finished 0-4 if John Kasay didn’t miss a field goal for the Panthers in Week 16), but still get the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. They lose in the divisional round at home to the Eagles 23-11.

2009: They start the year 5-0, and then lose four games in a row. They come off their bye week to beat the Falcons in Week 11, but lose four of their last six games in embarrassing fashion to finish the year at 8-8, and miss the playoffs.

2010: They’re 6-2 after Week 9, but then they lose to Jon Kitna and the 2-6 Cowboys at home, and then they lose in Philadelphia the following week thanks to five turnovers and an Eli dive that turns into a fumble with the Giants down by seven and 2:51 left in the game. At 6-4, the Giants win three in a row, and have a chance to lock up the NFC East in Week 15 at home against the Eagles. They blow a 21-point lead with 7:18 left and lose. They have a chance to rebound the following week and still make the playoffs, but they lose 45-17 in Green Bay. In Week 17, they need a win against the Redskins and a Bears win over the Packers. They beat the Redskins 17-14 on the road, but the Bears lose to the Packers.

And then there’s 2011, which was a Tony Romo to Miles Austin completion away from being maybe the worst collapse of them all. After losing to the 49ers, the Giants lost the next three games to start the second half of their season 0-4, dropping them to 6-6. We all know what happened in the final five minutes and 41 seconds in Dallas in Week 14 and after that, but no one knew all of that would happen. No one could fathom that all of that would happen and happen essentially the same way it did four years before.

It’s been 13 months and a Super Bowl since Coughlin gave that puzzling answer to a legitimate question about what the eff goes on with his teams once the ninth game of the year rolls around the way I wonder what the eff happens to Mark Teixeira when the calendar turns to October. And I understand that Coughlin was doing what any coach would do by protecting his players and trying to stifle questions about the team’s horrifying collapses the way Willie Randolph didn’t want to talk about October 2006 or September 2007 in the spring of 2008. I can understand why Coughlin was irritated by the questioning, but I can’t understand how he couldn’t “imagine” the questions being asked.

But a year later, the weird answers haven’t stopped coming out of the Giants locker room. And this time it’s Eli Manning who’s making me think this Sunday against the Ravens or next Sunday against the Eagles might force me into a nine-month depression until Week 1 of the 2013 season. If you didn’t watch Sunday’s debacle in Atlanta and only listened to Eli answer questions after the game, you never would have guessed which team lost 34-0 and which team is now playing postseason games from here on out for the rest of the 2012 season. Here is Eli after the loss to the Falcons.

On summing up the loss to the Falcons.

“I think you’ve got to look at the good things and look at the bad and we had some opportunities. We got down in scoring range four times and got no points.

Eli Manning has earned the Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera treatment from me. Well, he has almost earned it. Because I did slip twice early on Sunday and “Ladies and gentlemen” Eli after his first pick and then after his second pick. But for the most part, it’s those three and Henrik Lundqvist in the New York sports scene that I will never, ever, ever (OK, rarely ever) criticize.

But by being in that elite class, there comes responsibility. And if you’re going to open things by telling people to look at the “good” and the “bad” of a 34-0 loss then I can’t help you. What good could have come from being run out of the Georgia Dome? And if you’re going to give an example of something “good” that happened and it’s that you got deep into Falcons’ territory four times and scored zero points then maybe I should find something else to do on the next two Sundays.

On whether or not he is confused about which team is going to show up every Sunday.

“No. We could have executed better. I think it’s just a matter of certain plays.”

You’re not confused? Oh, OK. Because I haven’t been this confused since Nick Swisher bunted against Jon Lester with a runner on second and one out in 2011.

And “a matter of certain plays?” You lost 34-0. Thirty-four to nothing. That means you lost by five possessions. That’s a little more than a matter of “certain plays.” That’s a whole game of sucking. That’s 60 minutes of bad football.

On the team’s confidence.

“The confidence is great. Your confidence is high because of the coaches that we have, the character of the players we have, the talent of the players we have and our preparation will be good. We’re going to have a chance to go out there and perform well.”

I’m not sure how the team could have any confidence after that game, let alone “great” confidence heading to Baltimore. But, OK. I will take your word for it since I don’t really have any other choice.

And preparation? Let me just say that after the 34-0 loss several Giants said the team looked great in practice all week. You know who doesn’t reference how great the team looked in practice all week? Teams that win.

On how the team will react.

“I think we’re going to react great. If you say at the beginning of the season that you have two games left and you’ve got to win both of them to be in the playoffs, I think you’d take it. This is an opportunity you ask for. These are circumstances you want to be in. Could there be better circumstances? Yeah, of course. There can always be better, but there could be much worse.”

You want a last chance opportunity because you already blew every other opportunity? OK? But what if I said after Week 12, “You’re 7-4 with a chance to end the division race with a win over the Redskins in Week 13? Would you take that?” Because you had that opportunity and you let it get away.

“We like our chances. We know what we need to do and it’s right in front of us and we’ve got to go out there and win this game this week.”

And if you don’t? Actually, don’t answer that.

On the team reacting well to being in a must-win situation at the end of the year.

“I think just because we trust each other and our preparation is good and I think we just have good character guys and guys who understand the importance of this and understand that they treat their football careers very seriously and understand that this is a big game for us.”

If these “guys who understand the importance of this and understand that they treat their football careers very seriously” then wouldn’t those “guys” have not blown the Steelers game or been embarrassed by the Bengals or lost to the Redskins or done whatever you want to call what happened on Sunday?

On having the players on the team question Sunday’s performance.

“For the most part, I think we’ve been in every game that we’ve played in this season, had a chance to win every one except this one, which got out of hand. But for the most part we’ve been tight in every game and not every game is going to be perfect.”

34-0. Yes, I would say “out of hand” is a good way to describe it. At least we’re being honest now.

On playing well in must-win games in previous years.

“These are the circumstances you want to be in. You want to be fighting to make it in the playoffs and that’s just football and you understand it’s tough to make the playoffs. You’ve got to work. You’ve got to win games. You’ve got to win important games and this is a chance. This is as important a game as you can have, this upcoming game, and our mindset is the playoffs have started. This is it. This game right here is huge. It’s the most important game and it’s a must-win game for us.”

You’re right, this is a must-win game for the Giants. But all of the games for the Giants are must-win games from now until however long their 2012 season goes. And I should have known that would be the case before the season even started. It always is.

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