Looking Back on Black Sunday

After taking a full day to become emotionally stable following the second game in a row that looks like it will kick off the annual second-half collapse for the New York Football Giants, I am ready to look back at the Sunday night debacle. It was the darkest day of the 2010 season, and not just for the Giants and their chances at reaching the postseason, which now sit at 30 percent, but for me personally as a Giants fan, and as a football fan.

On Sunday I had to watch the Jets pull off a miracle win against the Texans. Then I watched the Patriots pick off Peyton Manning one less time than he had been picked off in the first nine games of the season, as the Colts teased me almost their second 31-14 comeback against the Patriots in as many years. The Cowboys? Not like they matter anymore this year, but they won too. The Redskins? Victorious. As the day went on, every NFL team I hate was watching their win total change, and the only two teams left to play that I despise were the Eagles against the Giants and the Chargers on Monday night. Give the Eagles a W, and the Chargers one too. And remember November 21, 2010 as Black Sunday.

The storm didn’t stop there. Nope. On Monday we found out that Hakeem Nicks would be out for three weeks, and that the Giants would be posting their latest wide receiver job opening on the team’s official site and Craigslist. The only actual wide receiver left on the roster that anyone thought would see playing time in 2010 is Mario Manningham, who becomes the No. 1 receiver against Jacksonville on Sunday after being the No. 2 receiver against Philadelphia and the No. 3 receiver before the bye week. When it rains, it pours around here. And it usually starts to pour in the second half of the season.

All week I heard about the Giants’ second-half collapses during the Tom Coughlin Era. And with each time it was mentioned, I said the same thing: “Sure it’s happened before, but those seasons are irrelevant to this season and this team.” Who was I kidding? How could I be so stupid?

Sure this year the Giants have a defensive coordinator that actually understands the concept of “defense,” but it’s virtually the same team. Justin Tuck can keep saying, “We don’t like to lose around here,” but just because you don’t like to lose and didn’t like it last year, doesn’t stop it from happening again. You actually have to do something about it.

Two years ago when the Giants were 11-1 and making a mockery of their competition, I actually thought it was stupid that no one thought we would ever see another dynasty in the NFL under the current system with too much parity in the league. I was certain the Giants were a dynasty in the making, but since Plaxico Burress decided to go out for the night in the city with a gun, the Giants have gone 16-16 including their only playoff game. What hurts even more is knowing that the Giants beat the final four teams in the 2008 playoffs during the regular season (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Arizona). After the first 12 games in 2008, I never would have believed that the Giants would be on the verge of missing the postseason for the second straight year with this team. Then again, I didn’t think that after the Mets lost Game 7 of the NLCS to the Cardinals that they still would not have played another postseason game. Though that doesn’t really bother me.

Here are how the Giants have started and finished each season during the Tom Coughlin Era (minus the 2007 season for obvious reasons):

2004: 5-3 in first eight games, 1-7 in last eight games.

2005: 6-2 in first eight games, 5-3 in last eight games and a first-round playoff loss.

2006: 6-2 in first eight games, 2-6 in last eight games and a first-round playoff loss.

2008: 11-1 in first 12 games, 1-3 in last four games and a first-round playoff loss.

2009: 5-0 in first five games, 3-8 in last 11 games.

2010: 6-2 start in first eight games, 0-2 in last two games.

You could probably take 2005 off the list since they didn’t really stumble down the stretch as badly as other years, but that 23-0 loss at home in the first round to the Panthers needs to be included somehow. The idea that in five of Coughlin’s first six seasons with the Giants (2004-06 and 08-09), the team has played consistently bad in the second half and has never made it past their first postseason game except for 2007 is remarkable.

I don’t know if this is my attempt at a reverse jinx or if it’s just me being down on the team and then if a reverse jinx happens I can take credit for it, but I just don’t know what to think of the 2010 Giants anymore. I am fully prepared for a second-half collapse. I have stocked up on canned foods and bottled water like it’s Y2K and I am ready to take this second-half meltdown head on. In the past the Giants were always able to sneak up on me with their horrific second-half play. I was always too high on them in the past to see the reality that they were just getting ready to rip my heart and stomp on it, but not this time. Not this year. A second-half collapse won’t come out of nowhere over these next six weeks. So bring on your five-game losing streak, Tom Coughlin! Finish the season 8-8! Miss the playoffs for the second year in a row! I’m ready!

But seriously, I am down on the G-Men because I have seen this story too many times to think it is might end otherwise. No matter how many times I watch Dumb and Dumber, I always hope that Lloyd and Harry will get on the bikini tour bus at the end of the movie, even though I know they don’t because I have seen the movie probably close to 100 times. The same goes for the Giants. There isn’t a doubt in my mind that they will torture me and test me as a fan over the next six weeks, and they will undoubtedly lure me back in to believing in them only to pull the rug out from underneath me right when I let my guard down. I’m used to it by now, and it’s my own fault for getting drawn back in time and time again, but I let them pull me back in because I experienced in 2007 what it’s like to keep believing, and I know how rewarding it can be when they play to their potential.

What makes the Giants losing even harder is having to watch the other team that plays at New Meadowlands Stadium come back in the most improbable ways like they’re the 2009 Yankees, and then having to listen to their head coach ramble on about apologizing for wins or not apologizing for wins or whatever he is rambling on about, pretending like winning in overtime or on pass interference calls or in the final seconds of a game was in the game plan all along. It’s hard to watch my Jets friends enjoy winning even if it’s only regular season winning, while the Giants give away games by giving away the football.

The only game the Giants have left against a team out of playoff contention is in Minnesota in Week 14, and even though the Vikings are 3-7, that is anything but an automatic win. The other five games left for the G-Men are against Jacksonville (6-4), Washington (5-5) twice, Philadelphia (7-3) and Green Bay (7-3). The last easy win the Giants had on their schedule (in a league where no win is easy unless you’re playing against Charlie Whitehurst) was against the Cowboys in Week 10, and the Giants blew that game.

There were four main problems for the Giants on Sunday night, and four seems to be the magic number at this juncture in the season. Four turnovers in the loss to the Eagles (technically, there were five turnovers, but the last one came on an Eli Manning interception when the game was over and didn’t have an impact on the outcome). Four losses on the season for the Giants. Four wins away from basically guaranteeing themselves a postseason berth. Four division games left. Here are the four problems from Sunday in order of importance:

1. Ahmad Bradshaw’s Best “Tiki Barber”
It’s hard to win any game when you lose in the turnover column. It’s hard to ever win when those turnovers are from your running back consistently putting the ball on the ground. Tom Coughlin called it “a callous disregard for the football.” I called it something else that I can’t write here.

I’m not sure what Ahmad Bradshaw doesn’t understand about holding onto the ball or protecting the ball, but there is never a moment when he is rushing with the ball that I don’t envision him putting the ball on the ground. That shouldn’t be the case. A fumble from your running back should be a shock and unexpected. It shouldn’t be a normal occurrence.

Bradshaw’s biggest strength also happens to be his biggest weakness in his second efforts on runs. It’s his second efforts that make him dangerous to defenses and unpredictable on runs, but it’s those same second efforts that prevent him from initially going down and those attempts to gain that extra yard or two while being tackled is when the fumbles happen. It’s up to Coughlin now to get Bradshaw righted for the remainder of the season the same way he helped Tiki Barber overcome his fumble problems.

There was talk on Monday that Bradshaw might be in jeopardy of losing his starting job to Brandon Jacobs, and if that happens, the Giants can pack up and go home for the year now because the last thing this team needs is Brandon Jacobs getting more carries. I would take Ahmad Bradshaw, who is capable of breaking off game-changing runs, fumbling left and right as my starting running back over rumblin’, bumblin’, stumblin’ Brandon Jacobs who hasn’t been the same since 2008 any day of the week.

2. Offsides, Defense, Number 90, Five-Yard Penalty, Replay Third Down
If the offense doesn’t turn the ball over four times in the game (and another time with the game over), then the defense probably doesn’t need to stop the Eagles on third-and-1 to hold their 17-16 lead with 4:38 left in the game. And if Jason Pierre-Paul doesn’t go offsides on what was initially a third-and-5 that the Giants did stop the Eagles on, then we are probably sitting here talking about how the Giants rebounded from an awful loss to the Cowboys and have sole possession of first place in the NFC East. But the offense did turn the ball over times, and Jason Pierre-Paul did go offsides and the Giants didn’t stop the Eagles on third-and-1 and they didn’t win the game, and they aren’t in first place.

Jason Pierre-Paul went offsides and it was a big play in the game and a devastating turn of events, but what are you going to do? The offense could have bailed him out on the next drive if not for No. 3…

3. Whatever Eli Manning Calls The Way He Went To The Ground
At what point during his 16-yard run, did Eli Manning think, “I’m going to stop, drop and roll for a first down!” And when did he think it was a good idea?

I could understand if someone was diving at the back of his legs and his only play was to dive head first to go down, but there wasn’t a green jersey anywhere near him. Yes, the defense was closing in him, but he could have slid to the ground and stood up and gone into the grand roll that Gene Wilder performed as Willy Wonka (1:20 mark), and the defense still wouldn’t have gotten to him yet. That’s how much time he had to go to the ground properly. Instead, Eli went with the “Should I slide? Should I dive? Should I slide? Ahhhhh! I can’t make up my mind! I’m going to do both at the same time for an awkward fall!” routine. And it ultimately cost the Giants the game.

On Friday, I said this about Eli:

“No, 13 interceptions in nine games isn’t good, but if you have watched every minute of Giants football this season and you have seen how those 13 picks have been compiled, then you would understand Eli a little better. The majority of his picks have been tipped by his receivers on balls that should have been caught. He isn’t throwing picks directly to the opposition the way that Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb do, but the box scores don’t provide the video necessary for those who can’t watch Eli to see exactly why he has thrown as many picks as he has this season. Eli is better than the numbers suggest. Much better.”

If you read that, and decided to watch the Giants-Eagles game on Sunday because of what I wrote, well I apologize for wasting three-plus hours of your life.

4. Matt Dodge
You could make the case that a lot of things could be in the No. 4 spot, but I saved this spot for the man, the myth, the legend himself … Matt Dodge. After the Giants went three-and-out to start the game because they thought running on the first two plays of the game for no yards was a good idea, Matt Dodge punted the ball 25 yards and out of bounds. On another punt, Cris Collinsworth talked about how shaky Dodge has been, only to be rewarded with a perfect setup when Dodge dropped the ball before getting his punt off.

No Matt Dodge wasn’t really a problem or a factor in the Giants’ loss, but I wanted to include him in this because over the next six weeks the Giants will need him to come up in a big spot, and he has done nothing to prove that he will come through in that spot. We keep hearing about how Dodge kicks bombs in practice, and that the Giants are just waiting for it to consistently happen in games. The problem is the Giants’ season is taking on water and when you are asking Dodge to pin the opposition deep in an effort to help save the season, well don’t be surprised when he assists in causing the season to come crashing down.

In his Monday Morning Quarterback column, Peter King said, “Matt Dodge is a disaster waiting to happen.” I’m pretty confident the disaster has already arrived, and if it hasn’t yet, I’m not sure I will be able to physically, mentally or emotionally handle anything worse than we have already seen from him through 10 games.

The same way I can’t understand why the Yankees are deciding to be tough with Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, the two faces of the team for the last 15 seasons when they were basically handing out money to anyone in need of a contract the last three years, I can’t understand how the Giants didn’t just tell Jeff Feagles they would give him whatever he wanted to come back this year. Why not tell Feagles he could go home during the week and only show up to games? Maybe the Giants did offer him some lucrative deal to try to entice him to punt for one more season, but if they did, I didn’t hear about it. There are still six games left. Please come back, Feagles. Please come back.

As the game ended on Sunday, Cris Collinsworth said in reference to the Giants, “They had their chances in this one, they just gave it away.”

That’s a nice way to sum up what the Giants have been in the second half during the Tom Coughlin Era minus 2007, though I would probably sum it up a little differently. But once again, I can’t write it here.

For now, I am forced to sit and wonder if I will be without playoff football for the second year in a row. If that’s the case, I’m ready.