The New York Giants continue to run up offensive statistics, most of them clearly impressive, and then they fail to score the points normally associated with such achievements. The same thing happened Sunday, when they held a scant 10-7 lead over the equally hapless Philadelphia Eagles until they punted the ball with 76 seconds to play.
It was supposed to go out of bounds, and they had Jeff Feagles, the NFL's most precise positional punter, on their side. Failing to go out, the ball was supposed to climb and soar, achieving long hang-time and giving the coverage team the chance to surround the return man.
Neither happened, and Feagles took the blame on his shoulders. "It was a poor punt," he said. "When I am kicking from the 50 or so, my first goal is to put it out of bounds as close to the end zone as possible. I never kick down the middle of the field. But I gave him the chance to pick it up on the bounce and the rest was a nightmare."
The return man was Brian Westbrook, and he didn't stop running until he had traversed the 84 yards necessary to produce a touchdown and a stunning 14-10 defeat for the now 2-4 Giants. There is ample evidence to suspect that their gunner, rookie David Tyree, was clipped by Eagles reserve linebacker Ike Reese. But no flag was thrown, nor did Westbrook step on the sideline, which the officials in the booth chose to review.
So the Giants lost the game, another in a set of heartbreakers this season, and once again the onus fell on the special teams.
But that isn't exactly fair. How does a team gain 339 total net yards while limiting the opponent to 134 (and just 47 in the air) and still manage to lose? The Giants went eight quarters without a touchdown before Kerry Collins threw a one-yard pass to tight end Jeremy Shockey. They lost the week before to New England, 17-6, and the week before that to Miami, 23-10.
"We just aren't getting the ball over the goal line," said Collins, who fumbled once on the Eagles' 5-yard line in the fourth quarter to kill what had been an exciting drive and make possible the winning punt return TD. "We seem to be doing everything right until we have to score, and then something happens."
Lots happened, much of it correctable. Now the fans are wondering how long before coach Jim Fassel becomes former coach Jim Fassel, and before general manager Ernie Accorsi announces his resignation or retirement. Should the losing continue — and against the Vikings in Minnesota next Sunday nothing else might be expected — such sweeping changes might become official shortly after the season ends.
"All we can do is get out the shovels and start digging," defensive tackle Keith Hamilton said. "It's a tough situation. I can't sit up here and say it's going to be all right, because time is getting short. We have to keep fighting. I don't understand quit, or giving up, or anything like that. I don't think it's in this team."
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
"Richie has probably played as well as any lineman we have had for a couple of years and it hurts because we are thin at that position," coach Jim Fassel said. "As far as it being career ending or career threatening - I will know more about that after the surgery but what they tell me right now is - no. He should be able to come back, fine.
Seubert was replaced by free agent rookie tackle/guard Jeff Roehl, meaning the Giants' five O-line starters now include three rookies (Roehl, RG David Diehl, C Wayne Lucier).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When I saw Westbrook flying down the sideline, first I thought ‘where is the flag on the clip' and then I thought, ‘no way, no way'. I was sure somebody was going to get him but he took it and ran hard. I don't know what happened, but we are finding ways to lose at the end of games lately." — QB Kerry Collins as he watched Brian Westbrook race 84 yards with the game-winning TD on a punt return with 1:16 remaining in the game.