Well. Wasn't that something. The Giants sent their Giants Stadium into the history books with arguably their worst performance in its history.
We're going back 34 years now, but given the circumstances and the playoff stakes, this might well go down as the Giants' worst performance ever. Not because they lost 41-9 to the Panthers. Losses are losses. But in doing so, there was no heart, no fire, no guts.
As it was, it was statistically their worst home loss since Dallas beat them 35-0 on opening day of the 1995 season. It was the third-worst home loss ever at the stadium. But again, given the circumstances, one could call this one the worst of them all.
The players were contrite afterward, but the fact is they're pretty much out of the playoffs. Dallas would have to lose tonight and next week to Philadelphia, and the Giants would have to beat Minnesota to take the sixth seed. Green Bay clinched the fifth seed with their romp over Seattle today.
After the 8-7 Giants came up empty on the first drive, thanks to Madison Hedgecock's hold that nullified Eli Manning's 26-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith, it all went down the drain. In the end, there would be a slew of missed tackles by the defense that allowed Jonathan Stewart to gain 206 rushing yards, and the Panthers' 247 total rushing yards was only their second-highest allowance this year by four yards.
The offense did nothing positive after that, at least when the game remained in reach, which wasn't long. Special teams did zip. The defense, so dominant against Washington, sleep-walked through the game.
It all left Tom Coughlin stunned and ashen after the game.
"For us to play the way we did today, there's no excuse," he said. "We've got one more game to play and we've got to recover some kind of respect for the way the game is supposed to be played."
Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who spent most of the time on the bench and finished with no stats whatsoever, said this may well have been his last home game as a Giant. So one might take from that that an offseason trade or outright cut could be in the offing, given his friction with defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan dating back to his training camp walkout, his unrequited desire for a contract extension, and his overall ineffectiveness throughout the season.
He's signed through 2012, but there's every reason to believe the Giants might get rid of him in the event of an uncapped season with no salary cap implications.
"I don't know what happened, man," Umenyiora said. "What'd I play, five snaps today? Unbelievable. Probably my last game at Giants Stadium, probably as a Giant. The way things have unfolded this year, unbelievable."
For the Giants, it wasn't just an opportunity lost. It was one that was given away, gift-wrapped, given up. They flat-out quit for the better part of three quarters.
"I'm pissed," linebacker Michael Boley said. "We had everything to play for. The heart wasn't there today. You're just like, 'Wow, how can we come out and do that?'"
"I'm not going to try and sit here and figure it out," said Shaun O'Hara, the center who had a new guard next to him in Kevin Boothe and a new tackle in Will Beatty on the right side. "Everything we played for, we had all the motivation and reasons to go out and play. It's very frustrating.
"But I'm really sad for this organization, this franchise, to finish like this. It's very upsetting. With respect to what this game meant, it was more than a game. It was a farewell to the stadium."
About all they can hope for now is a strong finish in Minnesota and a 9-7 non-playoff season. After playing what might go down as the worst game in Giants Stadium history, they don't deserve much more.
"I wasn't prepared for this," Coughlin said. "I'm at a loss for words."
Even the even-keeled Manning expressed embarrassment.
"Yeah," he said. "With an opportunity to get into the playoffs and we knew how much this game meant to us for our team and for our fans. The last game in Giants Stadium. A big game. A game everybody was excited about and we just had too many mistakes."
Mistakes wasn't the word. A total foldup is more like it. Horrible. Just horrible.
The Giants moved the ball well on the first possession and seemed ready to score their second first-possession touchdown in two games. But as Manning let fly with a 26-yard throw to wide open Steve Smith in the end zone for a touchdown, fullback Hedgecock pulled down a defender for a holding call. They still had a chance for a field goal after Ahmad Bradshaw ran for six and Manning went incomplete to Kevin Boss, but on third down Mario Manningham fumbled his 16-yard completion and linebacker James Anderson recovered.
That recovery led to a 15-play drive that ended in John Kasay's 38-yard field goal. Even though the Giants trailed just 3-0, they never took another forward step until the fourth quarter, when all was lost.
Stewart, looking like the bruising Brandon Jacobs of the previous two years, ran 29 yards through a gaping hole in the middle for a touchdown and a 10-0 lead in the second quarter.
On the possession after Matt Moore hit Muhsin Muhammad on a 22-yard scoring throw on which Muhammad beat Terrell Thomas, Manning's second-down pass to Smith was intercepted by cornerback Richard Marshall at the Giants' 29 for the second turnover, which was converted into a touchdown and a 24-0 lead.
Stewart took a fourth-quarter tackle up the middle and shook off tackles by Chris Canty and Thomas for 52 yards to the 1, where Brad Hoover took it in for a 41-9 lead.
Eli Manning: He went 29-of-43 for 296 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, but much of that was garbage-time padding that started even before halftime.
Brandon Jacobs: Talk about a disaster. He received no blocking whatsoever and finished with six carries for a yard. Because the Giants fell behind so quickly, the running back was basically abandoned early, resulting in the whole ground effort gaining just 60 yards.
Kevin Dockery: So much for that new contract. He was burned repeatedly and missed at least four tackles on both run and pass.
Rocky Bernard: The under-achieving defensive tackle pickup of the offseason had his number called only once, on a fourth-quarter hold.
Will Beatty: He made his third start, second straight, at right tackle for injured Kareem McKenzie and didn't do half was well as he did the first two. He couldn't keep the pressure out, and his run blocking was almost non-existant on the corners.
Hakeem Nicks: He finished with six catches for 44 yards and was a basic non-factor.
THE UGLY STUFF:
Just look at the stats: 416 total yards for the Panthers, 67 percent third-down percentage. 247 yards rushing, minus-3 in the takeaway ratio.
Look beyond the stats and there were countless missed tackles, both at the point of attack and in the open field. The defense, which recorded five sacks last week against Washington, gave Matt Moore all the time he needed to throw three touchdown passes. And there simply was no run defense, up the middle or on the edges. A complete defensive catastrophe.
WR Steve Smith bruised his shoulder in the fourth quarter and did not return.
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