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Giants disappoint once again as season nearing sour ending

by | Senior NFL Columnist
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BALTIMORE -- Shame on the New York Giants.

Just when they seemed they'd make another last-minute playoff run ... just when it appeared they were in their comfort zone ... just when everything was right in front of them ... they did what nobody with the team expected.

They gagged.

You heard me. They flat-out choked. They got drilled by Atlanta last week, then were buried by Baltimore on Sunday.

That can happen to some teams, but it's not supposed to happen to this team. In fact, it was a year ago this weekend the Giants made their move that led to a second Super Bowl in five years, and it was the next-to-last weekend of 2007 when they qualified for the playoffs to initiate a run that resulted in a stunning upset of New England in Super Bowl XLII.

But that was then, and this is now, and now the Giants are a listless, lifeless mess. Yeah, I know, they're still alive for the playoffs, but who cares? They're toast, and they know it. You could see it in players' eyes after their latest setback, a 33-14 beatdown by Baltimore, and you could hear it in coach Tom Coughlin's voice.

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Coughlin wasn't angry, emotional or confrontational. Nope, he was, well, resigned and perplexed, knowing what we all know: That it doesn't matter what chances his team has of making it to January; the magic is gone.

"We talk a lot about playing above the Xs and Os," he said, "but we're flat-lining right now."

He's right about that. They can't tackle. They can't cover. They can't run. They can't pass. They can't pass protect. They can't rush the passer. They can't score. They can't win. In short ...

They stink.

The Giants were supposed to be the team that dialed up their best efforts when they were needed most, but tell that to anyone who witnessed the last two collapses. They got waxed 34-0 in Atlanta; then, one week later, self-immolated with a performance that -- hard as it is to believe -- might have been worse than the meltdown in Atlanta. That's two losses by a combined score of 67-14, and that should tell you something.

It should tell you that no matter what happens next weekend, the Giants aren't going anywhere.

"We obviously have a very bad formula going on right here," Coughlin said. "We're having trouble stopping people, and our offense doesn't hold the ball at all to give our defense a chance to catch their breath ... It's a very difficult time for all of us. I take full responsibility for this team. I am the head coach. What has happened over the course of the last two couple of weeks is very difficult to explain."

I'll say. Because what's happened the last two weeks is that the Giants haven't responded with the urgency that drove them to last year's Super Bowl. They knew what they had to do, and what they had to do was beat Baltimore Sunday and woeful Philadelphia next weekend, and then they were in. But now that's little more than a prayer now, and let's be honest: They don't belong in the playoffs.

Not the way they're playing now.

"I'm at a loss for words," said safety Antrel Rolle, who seldom is. "A shocker [that we're all but out of the playoffs]? No. We put ourselves in this position. But a letdown? Absolutely. I know what type of team we are ... but that means nothing unless you go out there and display it Sunday. And we haven't been doing that."

There's plenty of blame to go around. Eli Manning hasn't been Eli or elite. The pass rush is missing. And the secondary flat-out stinks, with Baltimore targeting Corey Webster again and again for big plays early. Webster is the team's best cornerback, though he seldom looked like it Sunday as he committed a raft of mistakes that had the Giants hopelessly behind by the half.

"Any comment on his play?" Coughlin was asked.

"He would probably be the first one to tell you that he wished he was better," he said.

Maybe. Except Webster was gone when the media entered the locker room. He was missing on the field; he was missing afterward. At least, he was consistent, which is more than I can say for anyone on either side of the ball. Look, it's not as if the Ravens were the most difficult of outs. They had their own issues to deal with, including the firing of an offensive coordinator, a three-game losing streak and questions about their quarterback's play.

The Giants drew them at just the right time. Or so it seemed.

So what happens? They dial up a season-high 533 yards, including a season-high 224 yards rushing, and cripple the Giants' playoff aspirations.

Nowhere in the team's history have the Giants repeated as Super Bowl winners -- or even NFL champs -- and at least they should keep that record intact. This team may be alive for the playoffs, but it's not capable of delivering in December -- with the Giants now on a 2-5 run the second half of the season. So why should we expect anything more afterward?

Answer: We shouldn't.

Yes, the Giants are better than most when they're on, but that's been far too infrequent. They scored decisive defeats of San Francisco, Green Bay and New Orleans, yet collapsed when they needed something more ... and fork, please. These guys are done.

"We didn't respond at all," said linebacker Chase Blackburn. "We needed to play great all year. We can't try to hit the switch here and there because that's what gets us in trouble. We need to be more consistent. We had these great games that we relied on where it was, like, OK, that's what it is ... we can rely on that. But you can't just turn it on every week ... on and off, on and off. You've got to be more consistent."

Unfortunately for them, they have been the last two weeks ... which is why they're no longer a factor.

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