First Down

There's plenty of blame to go around for New York's disappointing 2003 campaign. If nothing else, this season proved once again how fine the line is between winning and losing in the NFL. <BR><BR>

When the Giants hit the middle of the season at 4-4, they could have easily had fashioned a much better or much worse mark. Single plays can change games, and seasons as well.

Let's take a look at the 10 plays – one from each game – that sealed the doom and gloom for the Giants this year. These aren't the most important or talked-about plays; they just turned out to be equally damaging.

Sept. 7 – Perhaps Big Blue's most complete game of the season came in Week 1. With all the off-season expectations and the easy win over the Rams, things looked to be just swell for the Giants. But a precursor of things for New York was exhibited against St. Louis – Big Blue's penchant for blowing leads. That's something that was never even discussed during John Fox's reign as defensive boss. Under Johnnie Lynn, it's become a major-league problem. After bolting out to a 23-6 third-quarter lead, the Giants allowed the Rams to march right back into the game, the key play coming when Big Blue surrendered a 15-yard Kurt Warner-to-Isaac Bruce pass to convert a third-and-six on the final play of the third period. That play obviously didn't hurt, as Big Blue held on for the win, but it started a pattern that has since spiraled out of control.

Sept. 15 – We all know that Matt Bryant's 'deep middle squib' kickoff went out of bounds, essentially costing New York the game against Dallas on Monday night. But after the Giants shockingly found themselves in overtime, the defense managed to keep the Cowboys, who got the ball to start the extra session, off the board and keep the game alive. After the Giants took over, a second-and-10 play was sabotaged because rookie David Diehl, who in all fairness was making only his second professional start, jumped offsides. Two incompletions followed, the Giants punted and never got the ball back.

Sept. 21 – Sure, Big Blue rebounded the following week and topped the Skins in OT, but the game never should have required an extra session. New York's 11-point lead was quickly whittled to three late in the fourth quarter compliments of another defensive breakdown. Facing a third-and-10 from the Giants 39 with only 3:42 to play, Washington QB Patrick Ramsey was allowed to connect with WR Laveranues Coles for a 22-yard gain. The moral of the story? Good teams don't blow big leads.

Oct. 5 – Trailing the Dolphins by six points in the final period, New York's defense once again stepped up and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. With 6:57 to play, Miami was facing a third-and-nine from the Giants 41. Jay Fiedler hit Randy McMichael for 24 yards, they scored six plays later and the game was over.

Oct. 12 – No, the entire season is not to be blamed on the defense, although they do get more than their fair share. The offense – literally and figuratively – has dropped the ball on several occasions as well. How about the game in New England when nine trips inside the Pats' 40 led to only six points? The Giants let this one get away early. Trailing 7-0 after Tiki Barber's fumble was returned for a TD, the Giants had a first-and-goal at the New England 3-yard line. Barber was thrown for a two-yard loss and New York eventually settled for a FG.

Oct. 19 – Everyone will always remember the get-wrenching punt return by Brian Westbrook as what doomed New York's first loss to Philly. Well, the Giants never would have been in that situation had they been able to score earlier in the fourth quarter. Clinging to a 10-7 lead, New York got all the way to the Eagles 5-yard line but came away empty when Kerry Collins lost a fumble on third down. Philly didn't score directly as a result of that, but a TD in that spot would have put the game away.

Oct. 26 – It's going to be tough to find a negative from New York's biggest win of the season, over the unbeaten Vikings…but we will. In the second quarter New York had a 7-3 lead and was going in for more. But they had to settle for three when on consecutive plays from the Vikings 2-yard line, Collins couldn't connect with Jeremy Shockey. The first pass was broken up, the second thrown behind the wide-open tight end.

Nov. 2 – Just like the Redskins game, Big Blue pulled out an overtime win that they really didn't deserve. With a seven-point lead and less than a minute to play, all the Giants defense had to do was make one play. It didn't happen. The Jets were able to convert a fourth-and-1 from New York's 24 with a 15-yard Santana Moss catch. They tied the score and sent the game into OT two plays later.

Nov. 9 – Early in the third quarter of a game the Giants should have already wrapped up, New York found itself tied with the lowly Falcons, 7-7. Not for long. The defense allowed Kurt Kittner to hit Peerless Price for a 16-yard gain to move the sticks on a third-and-six from the Atlanta 27. Within minutes the Falcons not only had the go-ahead score, but an insurance TD following a Collins INT.

Nov. 16 – On the road in a must-win game in Philly, New York blew a golden opportunity to make an early statement. After recovering Sean Morey's muff on the opening kickoff, the Giants were looking for a quick seven to jump out of gates. They never got close because Marcellus Rivers was flagged 15 yards on their first play from scrimmage for an illegal crackback. Instead of first-and-10 from the 22, it was first-and-25 from the 37. Can you say 'settle for a field goal?'

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