SportsProf

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Giants-Saints Game

The New York Giants are in free fall.

I am an Eagles fan, yet I take no great glee in this. The Eagles looked to be in free fall after Donovan McNabb's injury, only to rally behind a good nucleus of players and their back-up QB, Jeff Garcia. The Giants unraveled today, but they will be back. Heck, the way the NFC has gone this year, at 7-8 they still have a shot of making the playoffs.

But they looked awful today. The hypothetical Giants fan had to be frustrated with Eli Manning's looking like a deer in the headlights, throwing balls behind receivers and generally looking like he had the confidence of the school math genius with the pocket protector looking to ask the head cheerleader out on a date, all while doing the asking in front of the entire football team. Reserve OT Bob Whitfield incurred two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. At 35, it looks like the game has passed this once-feared offensive tackle by. The Giants should find someone else to take his spot next weekend; he's hurting them. Another offensive lineman, Shaun O'Hara, also got hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct flag.

This formidable team not only played poorly, it lost its composure.

The Giants missed tackles and couldn't stop the Saints, a team that looked like it was in mid-season form and whose coach, Sean Payton, seemed to push all the right buttons today. The only sign of weakness for the Saints -- their QB, Drew Brees, at 6' feet, might be a bit too short at times. I counted five or six passes that Giants' linemen batted down (and, yes, both teams WRs had severe cases of the drops, the Saints' in the first quarter and the Giants' the entire game). As for Manning, while he didn't look good, he had little help. Fox flashed a stat that showed that he was sacked, hit or hurried 16 times. It's hard to win when you're under that type of pressure.

Tom Coughlin probably will not survive this season, and neither will some of the players on the team. They will miss Tiki Barber, but they have to solve a leadership vacuum, especially on offense, where Manning hasn't seized the mantle and Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey are distractions. They have missed OT Luke Pettigout and WR Amani Toomer, two very professional players. But it is time for others to grow up.

It was a painful game to watch today if you were looking for something out of the Giants. After last week's game against the Eagles, where, in the Meadowlands, they were outplayed and outcoached, you would have figured that they would have come together and rallied today, especially because they do have something to play for. Instead, they looked like a team early in its season, a team that had yet to come together. That's a bad sign for a team that is in the hunt for a playoff berth and now only has one game remaining in the season.

They should have played a lot better than they did. Their performance was, well, embarrassing.

Put simply, they didn't seem up for the game or that well-prepared. The Giants started the season 6-2, and now they have lost 6 of their last 7 games.

Yes, injuries played a part of this slide, as they lost a bunch of starters on defense (and LaVar Arrington remains out; Michael Strahan returned today, but he didn't look to be at full strength although he played well). But there's something else, something that runs deeper, a chemistry issue, and when you heard that word used in the context of the NFL, you hear it with regard to a team that's played poorly. And chemistry is not something that a front office normally can fix in a week.

They'll need the entire off-season, and it may take longer than that.

Make no mistake, the Giants are a talented football team that looked like a Super Bowl contender at mid-season. Perhaps they have one last run in them, a convincing win next Sunday and, who knows, with the weapons that they possess on offense they could scare people in the playoffs. But after their performance during the past 7 weeks, that prospect looks highly unlikely.

For right now, the only ones they're scaring are their fans.

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