So much for the must-win. Now the Giants will spend the next two weeks thinking about not only what could go down as the toughest loss of the season, 21-20 to San Diego, but the fact that they've now lost four straight after starting off 5-0. Talk about a mental load. This could be devestating.
Taken by itself, tonight's setback is hard enough to take. This one was in the bag. Terrell Thomas' interception that ended his finest day as a starting cornerback should have led to a game-icing touchdown. Instead, Chris Snee held, and the Giants could recover no more than 10 yards on the ensuing drive. A field goal, which kept it a one-possession game, forced San Diego into touchdown mode, and that's exactly what they did when Vincent Jackson beat Corey Webster on man coverage with 21 seconds to go.
Red Zone issues rose their ugly heads. A botched operation on a first-possession field goal, and various glitches during the game led to the loss. If the season goes down the tubes from here, the Giants can look at this game, not the previous three, as the one that sent it to the slippery slope.
"Our defense had played well all game," center Shaun O'Hara said. "The blame for this goes on the offense. We should have punched it in there, but instead we settled for the field goal. You have to score touchdowns there. We can't put the defense out there in that position."
O'Hara also said "Nobody's going home." Perhaps not. There's still seven game checks to pick up. But unless Tom Coughlin can find some answers, and the Giants can find some consistency of offense and defense in the bye week, they all will certainly go home in mid-January, before the playoffs even start.
Here's the summary.
Start at the end, when 6-foot-5 Vincent Jackson found himself in man coverage on Corey Webster near the end zone sideline with 21 seconds left. Jackson got a yard's separation, and Philip Rivers, the guy Ernie Accorsi traded on draft day 2004 for Eli Manning, put the ball right on the button for the go-ahead and game-winning touchdown. "He just put it in a good position so (Jackson) could make a play on it," Webster said. "Good receiver, good quarterback."
Terrell Thomas' interception and 33-yard return to the San Diego 4 should have sealed the game. Thomas jumped Malcolm Floyd's route, and Rivers' underthrown pass came right to the cornerback with 3:14 left. For a second, it seemed Thomas might take it to the house himself, but LT Marcus McNeil and FB Jacob Hester brought him down.
The Giants held a three-point advantage after Manning found Kevin Boss for an eight-yard touchdown toss with 8:58 left in the game. It was the Giants' first lead, and came after Domenik Hixon had his best punt return of the day, a 13-yarder to the San Diego 39 following a three-and-out series by the defense.
Webster had a 29-yard pass interference call in the end zone that set up the Chargers' second touchdown at 3:51 of the third quarter when Jackson beat him on man coverage. Actually, he had two penalties on the same play, his illegal contact being declined.
Usually reliable holder Jeff Feagles couldn't handle the first field goal snap and caused Lawrence Tynes to bypass a 39-yard try on the first possession. Make that, and the ending doesn't happen.
Eli Manning: He actually didn't play horribly. He finished 25-of-33 for 215 yards and two touchdowns, and didn't throw an interception for the first time in three games. But he couldn't engineer a touchdown when he needed it. "I felt bad," he said. "I just knew we had to get a touchdown. When you have a chance to win the game and end it, you have to do it. Whether it's running out the clock on the four-minute drive or scoring a touchdown or doing something to finish the game, we didn't do it and we gave them a chance."
Osi Umenyiora: All but invisible for the umpteenth game, he did come up with a huge strip-sack of Philip Rivers to end a second-quarter threat. That was one of only two tackles he made, and he was nowhere to be seen in the backfield again.
Fred Robbins: He had three tackles, none bigger than the bull-rush sack he had on the fourth-quarter three-and-out series.
Brandon Jacobs: His 11 carries for 67 yards produced a 6.1-yard average, but he wasn't used nearly enough. Still, he looked like the old Jacobs, running over linebackers and DBs as he picked up good chunks of yardage. He limped off the field after an eight-yard carry at the start of the second half, but came back.
Danny Ware: The seldom-used running back had two nice runs of six and five yards in the third quarter to set up Tynes' 38-yard field goal to narrow the Chargers' lead to 14-10. They marked his first two carries of the season.
Steve Smith: He had eight catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Kevin Boss: He had two catches for 17 yards and a touchdown, and got up yet again from a helmet-to-facemask hit on a nine-yard catch during the Giants' 16-play touchdown drive in the second quarter.
Jeff Feagles: One of the most reliable holders in the game, he blew the first-possession field goal attempt when he failed to get the ball down in time for Tynes. Tynes explained that when he reached the ball, Feagles still had two hands on it, and a kick there might have injured Feagles' hand. On the punting end, Feagles had another bad game, averaging 35.2 yards per punt while knocking two of 30 and 31 yards. Very inconsistent for him.
Justin Tuck: He was all over the place again, though he finished with only three tackles. Two of those were for losses, however, including an ill-fated reverse that he smelled out and dropped Jackson for a four-yard loss.
Bruce Johnson: The undrafted nickelback broke up three passes, including a second-quarter, third-and-8 throw to Malcolm Floyd that could have gone for big yards with the score at 0-0.
Clint Sintim: He got his first significant time on the defense, mostly in coverage, and he didn't do a bad job. He finished with three tackles and a hit on Rivers while replacing the slower, older Danny Clark on passing downs.
Hakeem Nicks: He continues to make at least one eye-opening play per game, this time making a nice step around Quentin Jammer on a 29-yard catch-and-run.
THE UGLY STUFF:
Allowing the Chargers to travel 80 yards for a touchdown in 1:46 after stretching a lead to six points is ugly enough. But how they did it was even uglier as the defense simply let down. Tom Coughlin said everybody on that unit knew that Darren Sproles would be the target on first-down at the Giants' 39, and yet he was wide open in the middle for a 21-yard catch to the 18.
The pass rush was inconsistent, but seemed to be there when the Giants needed it in the second half. But then, when they needed it most as Rivers ran the two-minute drill, it was nowhere to be seen. He had all the time he needed to find his receivers. There was no blitz on the final touchdown pass, but the front four should have at least been able to pressure Rivers into an early throw. They simply seemed to run out of gas.
No question, it's the botched first-possession field goal. Hit that, and the Giants are never in the position they were in to lose the game at the end. Technically, it wasn't a miss for Tynes because it was Feagles' fault.
You might also throw in the final field goal, too, since they missed getting a touchdown in the Red Zone. That made them 2-for-4 in scoring touchdowns inside the 20 yesterday, not good enough.
LB Gerris Wilkinson came out of the game in the third quarter to have his wrist x-rayed and did not return.
DE Justin Tuck injured his knee in the third quarter but returned.
TE Kevin Boss was shaken up on a second-quarter completion, but returned.