These Giants need to take long,hard look in mirror

Giants linebacker Carlos Emmons is discussing one of his least favorite topics: the season. He hates walking in the City now because he hates losing. He has no more answers to this mess than the rest of us, and he hates that too.

Then Emmons, signed from Philadelphia in the offseason, makes it clear he's accepting blame with the rest. "When you lose,'' he says, in front of his locker near the shower, "you are all losers.''

The easy scapegoats are rookie quarterback Eli Manning and the offensive line. We have made Manning the story for a while now, and the O-line has been a reliable sidebar. But sub-plots fill the locker room.

The Giants season includes more guilty parties than traffic court. The problems extend beyond Xs and Os. It's time we ask how deeply Emmons and his teammates care about winning.

All 53 players better take a hard look at every aspect of their job. The ones around here last year may want to look even harder.

Because the 2004 Giants officially are the 2003 Giants, in case anyone needs a reminder. They are making the same jayvee mistakes through a lack of confidence and focus. They are stealing money, a lot of them, the way they did during Jim Fassel's long good-bye.

Last year it was a season-ending eight-game losing streak. This season it threatened to become a nine-gamer as nine-irons seem to be out of the bags early.

The Giants better take a long hard look at what came of this season. Everyone – players, coaches, management, even Wellington Mara – better take a long, hard look.

Because one season makes an anomaly, two seasons a pattern.

Consecutive seasons like these severely narrow the range of culpability. The one constant in the 2003-04 Giants are a couple dozen players. Fassel to Tom Coughlin presented extreme changes in coaching philosophy. But half the players remain, and many of them have failed to produce two years running.

The Giants are at the point of ineptitude where a rookie quarterback and weak offensive line don't thoroughly explain Sunday swan dives. There is more. There has to be more.

The Carolina Panthers have lost about 100 players to injured reserve and look how they have fought back. The Washington Redskins ripped apart the Giants and would have beaten Philadelphia the next week if they had an offense.

There are other teams far removed from the playoff picture competing with urgency and pride.

What in the hell are the Giants doing?

"Why is it happening again?'' said cornerback Will Peterson, who spent the final 11 games of last season on injured reserve. "One thing that I think happens is, you keep compiling losses (while having) injuries, it has an effect on the team. When you are in a rut, losing four, five, six games in a row, you are not just beating the other team. You have to beat every negative thing happening."

Emmons, once a seventh-round draft pick out of Arkansas State, is asked about the mental state of the locker room. Do they all believe? Do they all care?

Emmons cares. His face creases hard with pain when describing the season. His voice rings with angry passion. Emmons' frustrations started before the opener as recovery from a broken leg late last season brought on a slow start. Just lately Emmons has played to his capabilities. He went into the Pittsburgh game second on the team with 75 tackles, 37 of them during the previous four games.

No team has total belief and commitment, Emmons says finally. Weakness is camouflage in every locker room.

Fair enough. Find me the company that has every employee completely devoted to the cause. But the danger is when bad apples start bringing down the entire organization. Then you have a culture of losing.

Then you have the Giants.

Step up, Kurt: Kurt Warner continues to show the character that makes him a special person. He hasn't wavered in his support of Manning, even insisting the Giants stick with the rookie through rocky times.

But don't you want Warner to be bold, just once, and demand the ball from Manning's grasp? Warner believes he was the victim of a poor decision by Coughlin. Why not make it clear he deserves another chance?

But that's not Warner, an eye-opener in the me-first era of professional sports.

"This is Eli's team,'' Warner said again. "He's going to go through some of these things and he's got to battle through them. The rest of this team has got to pick up their game and show him that they have confidence in him and make plays for him.''

Warner's blanket support of Manning seems in conflict with his unwavering competitiveness. Warner has been known to record video-game wins from cancer patients he's visiting. But Warner is the rare breed that chooses moral obligation over individual preference. Warner thinks Manning deserves the ball as the team's future torchbearer.

So does Coughlin. But it's fair to wonder if Coughlin's decision is based on evidence or ego? At this point, Coughlin can't possibly think Manning gives the Giants a better chance of winning than Warner.

So what was Coughlin's motive for starting Manning against Pittsburgh with the Giants mathematically alive in the playoff race, albeit an enormous longshot? This much we know: Benching Manning wouldn't exactly rubber-stamp Coughlin's initial decision to bench Warner.

Barber quiet voice: Tiki Barber says he deserves criticism for recent fumbles. But if there is one Giants player exempt from criticism this season, it's Barber.

The guy has had a Pro Bowl season despite the only occasional presence of a passing threat. Now Barber is enduring a numbers nose-dive as teams crowd the box because of Manning's struggles.

Barber's main limitation is being a vocal leader. Coughlin has tried to persuade Barber into taking a more vociferous role. Barber has tried. But people, whether they play football for a living or not, aren't easily transformed.

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