Home for the Holidays?

The Giants have one last stab at the playoffs because almost everyone does in the NFC. They used to call it parity. Now it's just a calamity.

But the Giants have a shot, and that has them pretty excited. Their fans undoubtedly are quite excited as well because sports fans are the most forgiving people on Earth. Their memories are worse than some of the teams they root for.

So the Giants spent the week after Dallas talking breathlessly about opportunities and controlling their destiny and all the rest. Truth is, a lousy football conference has controlled their destiny more than anything else. It has given them false hope and a newfound belief. The Eagles and their fans are singing the same tired tune.

The Giants have become adept at ruining belief and hope the moment they step on the football field. See, that's where the Giants have no escape. That's where they are exposed as a perpetually mistake-prone club. That's where their lack of accountability shines like a Harvest moon.

The Cowboys game offered another 60-minute look inside the Giants' warped psyches. There was a tight end named Jason Witten running by Antonio Pierce and Will Demps for a 42-yard catch that led to the game-winning field goal from Martin Gramatica. And there was Pierce, whom we love in the media business, at his locker dismissing it as a great play by Witten and quarterback Tony Romo. Both true, but the play had no chance at fruition if Witten hadn't run by Pierce as if his legs were strapped to the Giants Stadium turf.

Then there was running back Brandon Jacobs, another media favorite, chewing out a reporter for asking about the fourth-down carry, which Jacobs had addressed several times earlier. It was just another sign of Jacobs' immaturity, a personality flaw consistent with that of many older teammates.

The Giants aren't any kind of champion team because of their approach. They play with a sense of entitlement despite having gone to one Super Bowl, and consequently been crushed, in six years. They are the anti-Patriots, overconfident and disrespectful of the weekly grind that goes into producing champions.

These are some of the reasons the Giants always exceed modest expectations and fail to meet greater expectations. They walk onto the field way too many times believing their mere presence will result in victory.

You know how far the Giants had fallen following the Titans loss? Big Blue actually drew a sense of satisfaction and energy from the Cowboys defeat. Never mind that they lost another one in the final seconds, that they left another batch of plays on the field, that they showed the discipline of a semi-pro team.

The Giants came away from a loss sounding like they were a game up on the Bears for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Some of their reaction was staged, of course, to keep from sounding like a beaten, tired team after another grueling loss. But within a day or two, the Giants were back to feeling chipper, almost cocky. They showed off just the right blend of optimism and confidence.

But I caution you about getting too excited about this team. The Giants are a great tease. Their fans are like Michael Corleone getting pulled back into the (playoff) fray after being close to watching from the sideline.

Don't let them pull you all the way in. Jim Fassel put all his chips in the middle of the table six years ago. I suggest you fold. Sit back and watch the rest of the hand with a sense of comfort and control. Don't misunderstand me: Cheer them like crazy, hope they win and go to the playoffs. But don't expect them to do anything that brings a smile to your face. If you do, than you are the sucker. You are the victim.

The Giants looked like they were headed to the playoffs by press time. They were coming up on a struggling Panthers team with a hurting quarterback. An 8-8 finish with tiebreaker edges in the NFC, the Nobody Fails Conference, looked like it could get the Giants into the big dance.

They aren't a worthy dance partner. They likely would have to make a Super Bowl run entirely from the road. They are not a great road team.

Fans face another dilemma concerning their team's late-season play. You must root for them because that's what you do. But making the playoffs can turn out to be the worst thing for the Giants. It would all but ensure a contract extension for coach Tom Coughlin, whose personality lately has taken more turns than a teen during his driver's test. Do you really want this guy coaching your team for another two, three years until the next lame-duck year approaches? I don't.

If I'm a Giants fan, the only extension I want for Coughlin is the extension of Fassel privileges. Finish the season and be gone. Coughlin and the Giants got about as far as they are going to get last season. The team needs a new face of leadership, a disciplined coach with a human touch. I know, I know: Eric Mangini is taken. But there are others like him out there.

The Giants roster is filled with potential. Guys such as Pierce and Osi Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka and Gibril Wilson and Corey Webster and rookie linebacker Gerris Wilkinson have the makings for a top-notch defense for several years. There are enough pieces on offense, assuming Eli Manning becomes a top 10 quarterback, to make a Super Bowl run or two in the coming years.

But this group with this coach is, in tribute to former Knick Tim Thomas once characterizing Kenyon Martin, a fugazi. A fake tough guy. Time to get this season over with so the Giants can become real again.

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