Giants' Loss May Have Exposed Weakness

While arguably playing their best game in the "Saturday Night Live" event that was so much more than a game against the undefeated New England Patriots, the Giants allowed a 28-16 lead to evaporate in the final 19 minutes and lost, 38-35.

That drove their record down to 10-6, but didn't harm their fifth seed in the playoffs, which for them begins Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET in Tampa against the 9-7 Buccaneers, who are nevertheless the NFC South champions and therefore the home team.

Head coach Tom Coughlin played it to the hilt, refusing to rest regulars and/or older players for the chance to get them "even more ready" for the playoff game, and one could make a case for the fact that he "paid the price."

Four players left the game injured. One of them, rookie safety Craig Dahl, suffered an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury to his knee and will not return. Another, starting right cornerback Sam Madison, experienced what was described as an abdominal strain, although he later discounted it in the locker room, and he will probably play.

The other two, however, equally if not more important, will be looked after on a day-to-day basis. Both center Shaun O'Hara and weakside linebacker Kawika Mitchell suffered sprained knees.

"We'll know more in a day," said Coughlin. "Both said they felt better Monday, so we'll just have to see."

Someone asked the head coach if he felt it was a result of playing the regulars. "We're at that again?" he said. "You have to tell me what that means. I would again challenge you to tell me which starters to play and which ones to bench. I feel bad for young Dahl, and I am hopeful about the others. It was how we decided to approach the game, to prepare for it and to play it as we would any other game."

If O'Hara doesn't play, the center will be reserve guard/center Grey Ruegamer, who played well, according to Coughlin, in his emergency role. The weakside linebacker, similarly, became young Gerris Wilkinson, and he played exceptionally well when he came in for Mitchell.

Did Coughlin do the right thing? "There was no other way," he insisted. "The Patriots were undefeated and we owed it to our players and our fans to try to win the game. We didn't, but we played probably the best team in the league this year to a standstill for most of the night. Our guys can take solace in that. There were no negatives coming out of this game."

NOTES

--QB Eli Manning admitted that the offense "needed a good showing, it was overdue," and as has become his custom, shrugged off individual credit and dispensed it instead to the team: "The receivers made some great catches on tough balls, the line played very well and I thought we finally got a good game without the additional challenge of bad weather."

--Rookie SS Craig Dahl, an undrafted free agent, suffered a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the playoff season. "He got hurt on special teams," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "I feel badly for him. Craig played hard and made some major contributions." In fact, Dahl started for two games when James Butler, the starter, was injured.

--The last time a Giants team started its season 0-2 and made it to the playoffs was all the way back in 1934, when they overcame that 0-2 beginning and beat the Chicago Bears for the NFL championship.

--CB Aaron Ross, the team's first-round draft pick, was exploited by Patriots WR Wes Welker and his inexperience was highlighted. Welker caught 11 passes for 122 yards and had no TDs, but he did miss a tackle on RB Laurence Maroney at the Giants' 1-yard line when Maroney scored from the 6-yard line in the third quarter, narrowing the Giants' lead to 28-23.

--SLB Reggie Torbor, who replaced the injured Mathias Kiwanuka (injured reserve, fractured fibula) had another strong game with seven tackles, three QB hits and the Giants' only sack.

--WR Amani Toomer played in his 174th regular-season game, moving him past both LB Harry Carson and DT Keith Hamilton into seventh place on the team's all-time career list. Toomer also caught four passes for 41 yards. He just completed his 12th season, all with the Giants.

--RB Brandon Jacobs became only the seventh Giant in team history to surpass 1,000 yards in a season. He gained 67 yards vs. New England and finished the season with 1,009 -- despite missing five games and a half of a sixth. The previous 1,000-yard rushers were Ron Johnson, Joe Morris, Ottis Anderson, Rodney Hampton, Gary Brown and Tiki Barber.

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