Giants resigned to missing playoffs again

Opinion-makers were so caught up in the Eli Manning craze they neglected something after his starting debut against Atlanta. Nothing major. Just a little something about the Giants steering out of the playoff race.

So the Giants have to win at four or five of their last six games to reach the postseason. But why concern ourselves with such trivial matters when a Manning has the ball?

That's how nutty things have gotten around the Giants. Manning not only has become bigger than the game.

He has become bigger than the season.

This isn't to say the Giants are mailing it in. This isn't to say coach Tom Coughlin has stopped gritting his teeth after losses, or stopped maniacally screaming up and down the sidelines on Sundays.

The point is that the Giants season has become a seven-game rating of the franchise quarterback. That is, and let's be clear on this, the future franchise quarterback. Playoffs? Fans, media, maybe even Coughlin and players, are resigned to the Giants not getting there.

In a league that thrives on parity, the Giants' final month is fairly predictable. They will win a couple games, finishing with no more than eight, and at season's end immediately start focusing on a run in 2005.

So what are we to make of the Giants season? It's almost three-quarters over and we really don't know a whole lot more than when it started.

We know there are holes in the offensive line. We know Kurt Warner will be gone at season's end. We know the coach usually, but not always, gets the most from his team. In other words, there really aren't many surprises.

Maybe the biggest surprise has been watching Tim Lewis coach the defense. Fans can feel good knowing their defense is in Lewis' hands. He has done a tremendous job with a lot of role players.

Back to the previous question. What are we to make of the Giants season? Anybody know? Maybe the Giants will clear things up for us in the final weeks. But they seem destined to leave a confusing knot in our psyches right through Christmas.

There's only one thing worse than feeling angry or sad about your football team. That is feeling utterly perplexed by it. Calculus is easier to figure out than a team that went from hopeful to hopelessness in a New York minute.

Fans must be torn. They get chills thinking of Manning someday running the offense the way another quarterback is running Indianapolis' offense. Then they look at the scoreboard, or in the standings, and see another season ending after the 16th game.

They see and read and hear glowing accounts of Manning's 17-of-37, 162-yard starting debut against the Falcons. All the positive energy led you to believe Manning had something resembling a quality game. He didn't. His quarterback rating was 45.1. Just for comparison, the guy he replaced has an 85.5 rating.

But it wasn't fair to expect much different from Manning. Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger set the bar at unreachable heights for rookie quarterbacks. Extraordinary talent surrounds Roethlisberger; Manning is surrounded by a smattering of talent.

We held out hope that things would be different when Manning handed Warner the clipboard. Then reality got in the way. Manning needs time to become a consistent NFL quarterback. That puts him in the 95 percentile of rookie quarterbacks.

Giants fans finally got to see the quarterback most everybody wanted. Now that Manning has the ball, do we rejoice? Even as he puts the finishing touches on a season sure to end at 16 games?

Worst officials in pro sports:
The roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Carlos Emmons helping seal the loss to Atlanta ranks as the latest atrocious call in pivotal situations by NFL referees. This time it was called by Jeff Triplette, who is best known for almost ending Orlando Brown's career by recklessly tossing a flag that hit him in the eye.

It's one thing to protect quarterbacks. But officials must stop babying them. Officials must stop calling roughing penalties every time the quarterback falls after throwing a pass. Most quarterbacks can handle an occasional fall, really they can.

The NFL has proven to have the worst officiating crew in major sports. And that's saying something given the incompetence of NBA refs. Instant replay, no instant replay - does it really matter? Every official seems to have a different interpretation of the rules. Tom White throws flags in his sleep. If you hear White's refereeing your team's game, plan on three-and-a-half hours of football and 20 or so penalties.

The league must do something about improving the quality of officials. Make them full-time; revamp the entire selection and training processes - something.

Because the problem is only getting worse. Just ask Coughlin, if you can catch up to him between periodic vein-popping, eye-bulging sprints onto the field.

Carter sorely missed:
The more we see the Giants' "downfield" passing game, the more apparent the void left by Tim Carter's season-ending injury way back in game five. The Giants haven't had a legitimate deep threat since Carter went down.

Maybe rookie Amani Toomer would catch an occasional long ball, but that hasn't been the case. Coughlin said he'd "like to have" downfield receptions from all his receivers, and running backs.

But that simply isn't realistic. Ike Hilliard is a possession receiver. Tight end Jeremy Shockey, when he's not blocking, runs intermediate routes. And running backs aren't exactly featured deep men.

That leaves Toomer - or nobody.

"Everybody can do more," Toomer said. "It's not like we are putting up 45 points a game. Any time there is some kind of change things are going to be different. I'm not going to say (not hooking up with Manning) is because of Eli. Mostly I'd say it's a timing thing instead of him having bad throws."

Scapegoat Warner:
Was I the only one who wondered if Warner could have eked out a win over Atlanta given the same protection afforded Manning?

I know, I know, it was time to give Eli a shot. But Warner didn't get that kind of protection his final two starts. Had he gotten it, he may still be leading the Giants.

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