Unmanning the Flock

The Giants win by a goal post while intimidating no one

The New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles may not be the best rivalry in New York sports, but for sheer rancor it makes Yankees/Red Sox seem like Ivy League field hockey. Prior to their Sunday rematch (the Giants won 16-3 at the Meadowlands in Week 4), I asked a flock of Eagles fans to choose between one of two scenarios. First, the Eagles go 14-2 and win the Super Bowl—but the two losses are both against the Giants. Second, the Eagles don't make it to the big game, but beat the crap out of the Giants twice and keep them from going. None of them could decide.

Since the Eagles definitely aren't going to the Super Bowl this season, I'll bet no Philadelphia fan had trouble deciding what they wanted with one second remaining in Sunday's game, with the Giants leading 16-13 and Eagles kicker David Akers lined up for a 57-yard field-goal try. Normally a 57-yarder isn't much of a bet, but Akers had wowed the home folks in pregame practice by booming several at a distance of 60, so naturally there was hope that the Eagles could send the game into overtime—and hope, as every Eagles fan knows, is what exists in order to be crushed.

Incidentally, the end-zone video screen at "The Linc"—Philadelphia Eagles fans' shorthand for Lincoln Financial Field—was all black as Akers got set. Afterward in the locker room, some of the Giants players seemed less elated by the outcome than irked at what they regarded as the Eagles' bush-league video tactics. Linebacker Antonio Pierce (who got away with blatant pass interference on Eagles receiver Jason Avant on a fourth-down play with about two minutes to go) thought it was cheesy that every time Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes lined up for a field-goal attempt, his video image was in full view—distorted by wavy lines.

"Our guy gets an image which makes him seem shaky," Pierce complained, "while their guy gets a black screen. It's not fair." It may not be fair, but the contrast in the two pictures is accurate: The black screen reflects the Eagles' playoff chances for the remaining three games of the regular season, while the Giants, however shaky, are within inches of clinching a playoff berth. About three or four inches, to be exact, which is what Akers's kick needed to clear the upright and tie the game.

That same distance is about what separates the New York Giants from the Philadelphia Eagles and thus from mediocrity. The Eagles have lost eight games, five of them by a total of 16 points; the Giants have now won nine games, five of them by a total of 24 points. Luck, Branch Rickey famously noted, is the residue of design. The Giants under head coach Tom Coughlin have had plenty of luck this season, but if there's any design, it has yet to show itself. With a gaudy 9-4 record and looking at two likely wins over the Washington Redskins and Buffalo Bills before the season closer with the New England Patriots, right now the Giants and their fans are feeling pretty good about themselves. After all, if the Giants finish 11-5, that's a three-game improvement over last year, and the last time the Giants went to the playoffs for three consecutive seasons was 1984-86, under Bill Parcells.

If you stop right there, it looks like a great holiday season. But let's hold the Gatorade and take a sober look at what the Giants are going to have to face up to in January:

  • Under Coughlin, the Giants have yet to win a postseason game—in fact, they've yet to make it beyond the first round and have been outscored 20-46 in two wild-card tries.
  • The Giants' road to Phoenix in February almost certainly will entail arduous detours through Green Bay and Dallas, and the Giants are 0-3 this year against the NFC's top two seeds, outscored by a whopping 43 points.
  • As the Patriots and the Cowboys have emphatically demonstrated, the game of pro football in the 21st century is passing, and Eli Manning simply has not developed into the superstar the Giants had hoped for. In fact, with 18 TD passes and 17 interceptions in 2007, he isn't even as good as he was last year, when he wasn't all that good (24 TDs, 18 interceptions).

Not only is Eli not ranked among the NFL's Top 20 passers (he's currently no. 23), he's substantially below the Eagles' Donovan McNabb (no. 11) and the Jets much-maligned Chad Pennington (no. 12). If the Giants do somehow make it to the Super Bowl, it will almost certainly be with the lowest-rated quarterback in the game's history.

The December 29 match with the Patriots at the Meadowlands should provide Giants fans with an eye-opening dose of reality just before the playoffs start. Then, even if New York gets past the first round, there are those Packers and Cowboys waiting. I'd wager my Y.A. Tittle autographed mini-helmet that we're looking at a season-ender that only an Eagles fan could love.

 
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