Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Giants' Nicks Out; Playoff Hopes Sliding Away

By Tony Mangia

Eli Manning might want to remove "The Slide" from his resume.  He will always have "The Drive" as his legacy, but his bone-headed run on Sunday cost the New York Giants any chance of beating the Philadelphia Eagles and could ultimately cost head coach Tom Coughlin his job.  Fans are still wondering how the quarterback could have fumbled on a tackle which had less contact than a TSA pat-down.

Just a couple of games back from unofficially being called the best team in the NFL,  the Giants now are reeling and scrambling for a playoff position.  It's another second-half swoon that have characterized the Giants since 2004--or, coincidentally,  the first year Coughlin took over the reins of the team.

The Jacksonville Jaguars--who looked like deep-sea chum a few weeks ago--roll into the New Meadowlands Stadium this Sunday with the same record (6-4) as the Giants and something the Giants can only reminisce about--a three-game win streak.  The Jaguars are tied for first place in the AFC South.

The Giants continue to shoot themselves in the foot.  Every week the team takes stupid penalties (Jason Pierre-Paul is their latest poster boy), hand over the ball like Christmas gifts and give up big plays on the special teams.

Manning may blame himself for not sliding after getting a first down, but the whole offense is contributing to the slide.  Ahmad Bradshaw still holds the ball like basted turkey and there are still too many tipped passes which end up in the opponent's hands.

Maybe if the Giants  bric-and-brac running backs, Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, did their job, Manning wouldn't have to stumble the extra few yards before that fumble.  Bradshaw gained only seven more yards than Manning on the day and the flat-footed quarterback actually had twelve more yards than the powerhouse Jacobs!  How's that for Giants football?

Manning said he regrets taking the awkward flop, but confessed he thought he could run through the Eagles' Asante Samuel and Dimitri Patterson for six points before coming to his senses.  "Should have gone feet first," he said. 

Don't blame everything on the team or coach.  Injuries keep piling up.  The receiving corps should have their own infirmary. The latest addition is Hakeem Nicks.  Nicks was Manning's go-to guy and was having a Pro-Bowl worthy year with 62 catches, 800 yards and 9 TDs.  The wide-out was kicked in the lower left leg in the Philly game and has "Compartment Syndrome" in that calf.  The injury is a compression of blood vessels and nerves which could lead to serious problems if no care is taken.  He's looking at three weeks on the bench.  Hakeem, go join the three offensive lineman nursing themselves.

This leaves Manning without Nicks or Steve Smith--one of the most-dangerous wide-out duos (Stevie-Nicks?) in the league.  He is now dependent on Mario Manningham and a depleted bunch of pass catchers with journeyman names like Derek Hagan and rookie Duke Calhoun.  Sounds like one of the cowboys in "True Grit." Even safety Antrel Rolle has volunteered to fill in.  That's how bad the situation is--everyone knows DBs are pass catchers who can't catch. The receivers roster --which was deep at the start of the season--is down to bare bones.  Funny, Eli's brother Peyton has the same problem with the Colts, and he has turned a group of no-names into stars.  They both had bad Sundays.

Manning and Coughlin still have time to avoid another second-half collapse.  Coughlin has to crack the whip and coach like the red-faced taskmaster never coached before.  Critics, be damned!  The Giants are looking up at six teams in the NFC with better records and six games to go. There is no time for anything but flawless play.

The Giants D is still one of the league's best. Their aggressive blitzing last week did a decent job of containing Michael Vick, but it let Eagles running back, LeSean McCoy, roam free after breaking the scrimmage line.  The Jaguars' David Garrard can run, but will never be compared to Vick.  The Giants will have to mug Garrard, but the safeties will have to be ready for the open field running of 5'7" fireplug, Maurice Jones-Drew,  if they expect to stop their losing ways.

The Giants last two losses came against a Cowboys team which was rejuvenated after a coaching change and playing for respect.  Philadelphia was just a better team, but was beatable.  Now Jacksonville comes in and it is not as bad as advertised.  They are now battling for a division title, but outside of an emotional victory against the Colts, most of their wins are against bottom-feeders.  The Jaguars are one of those dangerous teams which other teams take lightly.  Not a smart thing.

The Giants talk a lot about not succumbing to a second-half swoon.  "Moaning doesn't help," said  Manning, whose occasional bad decisions still haunt him, "You start complaining about it, you start going 'Woe is me,' it doesn't fix anything, it just makes it worse."

What does get worse is the upcoming Giants' schedule.  After the Jags, they meet the Washington Redskins--who are suddenly in the wild card conversation--the Eagles once again, the Green Bay Packers and another desperate team with a new coach and a squandered season, the Minnesota Vikings.

The injured Steve Smith called this Sunday's game a "must win."  The Giants defense is more than capable of wrapping up the pedestrian Jaguar offense.  Eli Manning has to play error-free football and Coughlin must coach the team back into contention. If he doesn't, the swoon will be in full swing and the anti-Coughlin chants will once again fill the New Meadowlands Stadium.

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