Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn was in Los Angeles last week as a celebrity guest on Wheel of Fortune. Until recently, his teammates had been spinning wheels of their own.
Injured and out all season, Sehorn once again watched his comrades from the Giants Stadium press box on Sunday— this time, as they stunned the football world by beating thedefending Super Bowl champion and previously undefeated Denver Broncos 20-16. With the win, the Giants improved their record to 6-8 and kept their slim playoff hopes alive in what has been a roller-coaster season for both the team and its injured star.
“It’s been difficult,” admitted Sehorn, whose Wheel appearance will be part of the show’s NFL special during Super Bowl week. “We’ve had a real up-and-down year. I’ve been to most of the games, but I haven’t traveled with the team because I want to stay away from the emotional side of it. Win or lose, I can’t experience what they experience. I’m just not a good fan.”
What Sehorn missed Sunday was a Giants locker room euphoric with the knowledge that it may go down in history as the only team to blemish an otherwise perfect season for the Broncos. “We beat a great team today, maybe the best team of all time,” defensive end and team leader Michael Strahan said after the game. “A game like this makes you think back to those games we should have won. But now [with this win], this season hasn’t been a waste.”
Until Sunday, however, it might have been. Last year, the Giants finished 10-5-1, won the NFC East and made the playoffs for the first time since 1993. They also went undefeated (7-0-1) in division games for the first time in team history. This year, however, the Giants haven’t approached that level of consistency. Sure, they swept the season series against Arizona and beat Denver, but they also lost to lowly Washington and suffered embarrassing home defeats at the hands of Dallas, Atlanta, and Green Bay. Overall this season the Giants are 4-3 versus opponents in their division, by far the NFL’s worst.
“I don’t believe we were as good as our record last year, but we’re not as bad as our record this year,” Sehorn told the Voice prior to the Denver game. “Last year, we benefited from playing in a weak division. We can’t sugarcoat it, the division is lousy right now. This year, we’re not beating the teams in our division and Dallas is.”
One reason for that might be the absence of Sehorn, who has been out since August, when he tore both the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his right knee in a preseason clash with the Jets. With Sehorn and others— including Strahan, Robert Harris, Jessie Armstead, Tito Wooten, Sam Garnes, and Phillippi Sparks— hobbled with injuries at various points this season, the Giants defense hasn’t played its typical ball-hawking style, and has produced only 21 turnovers, compared to 44 in ’97.
“As a defense last year, we essentially gave the offense more opportunities to score and took opportunities away from our opponent’s offense,” said Sehorn, who led the Giants with six interceptions last season. “This year, we haven’t been able to do that because we have been battered with so many injuries.”
The offense, of course, has contributed to the Giants’ slide as well. And, as Sehorn says, “In reality, we can’t blame injuries entirely for our record.” The offense must take its fair share. Indeed, the Giants have slipped to 29th in overall offense this season, compared to an already-anemic 27th last year. While that drop isn’t terrible, the team’s dip in rushing offense (from seventh in the league last season to 15th) has led to a sizable disparity in average time of possession (from 29:27 last year to 27:23 in ’98). This, in turn, has forced the beat-up Giants defense to shoulder a larger burden.
Despite the obvious problems on the offensive side of the ball, Sehorn is careful not to openly criticize his teammates. “I have a lot of opinions [about the offense], but it’s not fair for me to judge somebody who’s playing right now. I’m just a disgruntled fan right now, but we need to change some things to put some points on the board.”
Sehorn did share his thoughts on one area of the offense, however— an area where he would like to see some stability: quarterback. Since the start of last season, the Giants have gone through three starters, beginning with Dave Brown, who is now a backup at Arizona. This year, Sehorn’s best friend and former roommate, Danny Kanell, began the season as the starter, signing a three-year, $9-million contract extension during the off-season. But after a 3-7 record as the starter, Kanell was replaced by veteran backup Kent Graham. Graham has improved steadily in each of his four games as a starter (against Denver, he completed 21 of 33 passes for 265 yards and threw for two touchdowns). But the QB merry-go-round has Sehorn concerned.
“I understand from the coaches’ point of view that if we’re losing we can’t keep going down the same path,” Sehorn said of the quarterback changes. “But if Danny’s the future you have to let him work through things. Look at Peyton Manning.”
As for that future, Sehorn had a few thoughts on improving the team for 1999. Not surprisingly, the 27-year-old California native said he would definitely look for offense first in next spring’s college draft, perhaps in the person of a feature running back. “But it depends on where we end up,” Sehorn said of the college prospects. “It looks like we’ll have a [mid-round] pick. That’s not really high enough to get the best players, but it’s too early to take someone who’ll take a while to develop. We need someone who will make an impact right away. We need to make some changes here and there to spark the team.”
No matter what changes the Giants’ brass decides to make in the off-season, Sehorn is confident that he will return to a winning team in ’99. Placed on the injured reserve immediately after his injury, the target date for his return to action was never in question. “All along, I have been taking the path that would have me back playing football in July. From the beginning, the Giants have wanted me to heal properly and get the best product they can back on the field in 1999,” he said. “To use the alphabet, if A was my surgery and Z is returning to the field for training camp in July, I would probably be at about H right now,” explained Sehorn, who ran drills without pain for the first time two weeks ago.
But as Sehorn spends most of his early mornings riding a stationary bike and walking the Giants Stadium steps, his teammates continue to work toward making the playoffs, a goal that seemed unlikely prior to Sunday’s stunning win.
“When you’re winning your sixth game in December, it’s tough,” said offensive tackle Roman Oben. “But when you’re a young team, you need a certain confidence boost. We can’t do anything now about not being able to pull out the games we should have won earlier in the season, but a game like this can make us feel better about our season. It’s definitely something we can build on, for this season and for next season. Whether or not it carries us into the playoffs this year remains to be seen.”