Pierce's disappearing act seemed perfectly appropriate. He wasn't just hard to find in the locker room. It was almost as if he wasn't on the field for the Giants' final five games, either.
That stretch typified Pierce's deterioration this season, slippage so noticeable that the Giants should release him right along with Plaxico Burress. Pierce's role in Burress' absurd episode in the wee hours of Nov. 29 also can't be discarded when assessing Pierce's place within the organization. But Pierce's play simply isn't commensurate with his six-year, $26 million contract anymore.
Sure, he made plays this season that most middle linebackers should make. But how many game-changing plays did Pierce make this season? If you're having difficulty thinking of many, well, you're not at all alone.
Now, if we're talking outcome-changing plays that negatively affected the Giants, well, we might not have space for all those.
Forget all those times Pierce appears lost in space, a step too slow to keep up with running backs and tight ends as they catch short passes and turn those receptions into long gains at his expense. How about all of those ridiculous penalties Pierce draws? For a player constantly credited for the intelligence he displays as the quarterback of the Giants' defense, he sure makes some stupid decisions on the field.
Worse yet, Pierce's play certainly declined once he was implicated in Burress' mess. He played pretty well that Sunday against Washington, but he was as culpable as any Giant for their struggles thereafter.
- In their 20-14 loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 7 at home, Pierce's pass interference infraction on wide receiver Jason Avant cost the Giants 8 yards and allowed the Eagles to advance to the Giants' 26 just before halftime. Four plays prior to that penalty, Pierce's attempt to hold down running back Brian Westbrook by the legs, as time ticked away on the Eagles late in the second quarter, was so obvious it looked ridiculous. The 5-yard penalty, after Westbrook's 11-yard gain, moved the Eagles to the Giants' 42, eight plays before kicker David Akers attempted an ill-fated 32-yard field goal.
- In their 20-8 loss to Dallas on Dec. 14 in Irving, Texas, Pierce was late sliding over in coverage, which left fullback Deon Anderson wide open in the end zone. Anderson's 1-yard touchdown catch helped lift Dallas to 14-3 lead with 12:18 left in the game. Two plays earlier, Pierce allowed tight end Jason Witten to stiff-arm him just inside the Giants' 15 and gain 11 more yards on a 13-yard reception that moved Dallas to the Giants' 1.
- In their 34-28 victory over Carolina on Dec. 21 at home, Pierce's terrible tackling technique near the Giants' 20 allowed tailback DeAngelo Williams to run for his fourth TD, a 30-yard score that helped lift the Panthers to 28-20 lead with just 12:50 to play. Pierce couldn't shed the block of right guard Geoff Hangartner, which created the gaping hole up the middle Williams used to a score a 13-yard touchdown that helped place Carolina in front 7-3 at the 6:16 mark of the first quarter.
- And in their 23-11 playoff loss to Philadelphia on Jan. 11 at home, Pierce's illegal contact with tight end Brent Celek near the Giants' 10 accomplished nothing, other than getting Akers five yards closer at the end of the first half. Akers' 25-yard field goal gave Philadelphia a 10-8 edge entering halftime.
Anyone who dismisses this small mountain of evidence will likely tell you that Pierce simply had a rough stretch, that he still led the Giants in tackles.
To that we'd ask other than the tackle count, how else has Pierce led the Giants since their incredible Super Bowl XLII upset of New England last year?
Hanging out at the Latin Quarter in Manhattan five or six hours before you have to be at Giants Stadium for a walk-through isn't exactly the best example to set for your teammates, is it? We understand that the type of multi-millionaire athletes who possess enormous egos and even bigger bank accounts need to get their freak on.
No one is suggesting they shouldn't enjoy celebrity and all of its advantages. What we at The Giant Insider are saying, though, is that you should do that in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, when you have the next day off. Or throughout the offseason, when you really don't have to work all that much for five or six months.
And if you're married, with three children, maybe you just stay home whichever night of the week it might be.
As far as transporting Burress' firearm across state lines and thinking that this now-infamous incident was going to be covered up, man, where do we even begin with that? To Pierce's credit, he wasn't the one who entered a crowded club with a loaded firearm that he clearly couldn't operate properly. But he isn't just some innocent guy trying to help his friend, either.
It was just another example of irresponsible behavior by Pierce. Remember Super Bowl week, when two of his pit bulls escaped from an enclosed area in Pierce's yard? He was issued a summons because the Middlesex County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals determined that one of the dogs was underweight and suffering from a respiratory illness.
Pierce obviously was a busy man that week, but those dogs were/are his responsibility.
Of course, Pierce previously professed that anyone who would fight pit bulls is "a punk." Fair enough. We're not disputing whether he loves those dogs.
Or whether he loves playing for the Giants, for that matter. And this isn't personal. Pierce does a lot of commendable charity work and he is far from the worst guy to ever play for the Giants.
But the eight-year veteran looks like he is an old 30, and he has become more talk than walk in a bottom-line business. This master motivator will surely turn any hints at his release into the type of him-against-the world routine that has served him so well since the day he wasn't drafted in 2001. He shouldn't blame messengers, though.
He should remember that when you point the finger – and Pierce probably will want to use one finger in particular if he reads this – the rest of your fingers are pointing back at yourself. Now Tom Coughlin should use his index finger to send Pierce toward the door, out of the Giants locker room for good.
Here's how the Giants could survive the release of Antonio Pierce:
Move Chase Blackburn, who showed he was capable at weak side linebacker this season, to middle linebacker. Blackburn still has two seasons left on the four-year, $3.3 million extension he signed in 2007.
Move Danny Clark, who has one season remaining on his two-year, $4 million deal, back to the weak side, where they'll still have Gerris Wilkinson.
Move Mathias Kiwanuka back to the strong side, now that Osi Umenyiora is recovered from his knee injury.
Remember that they were just fine without Pierce late in the 2005 season, when Nick Greisen played very well while Pierce recovered from an ankle injury.