The New York Giants were expected to contend for the Super Bowl but won't even make the playoffs. How can that happen? They are searching for answers and offering a few explanations as they prepare for the Vikings.
Almost every week during their disappointing 2009 season, members of the Giants have been asked to explain why a team that had made four consecutive playoff appearances, and was a heavy favorite to make another postseason appearance this year, could come up so small.
Despite offering several suggestions that made sense, the Giants weren't able to fix whatever ailed them. So with one regular-season game remaining, the Giants will head to Minnesota with nothing to play for other than pride and their jobs.
The "Giant" meltdown certainly isn't sitting well with coach Tom Coughlin. In addition to getting his team prepared each week, he has had the extra task of trying to figure out why the problems continue to occur and, more important, how to eradicate them.
"I spent some time with our leadership council," Coughlin said. "There were a couple references perhaps to confidence and playing from behind and that kind of thing, but really nothing that you could say was a great benefit that I could use, for example, in a planning way going forward."
That's likely because the primary culprits were not only unexpected but beyond anyone's control. Start with the injuries, especially on defense, that struck from the get-go. Those injuries undoubtedly affected the plans rookie defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan had in mind last spring when he accepted the job.
So bad have the injuries been that New York's constant shuffling of personnel in and out of the lineup has prevented the unit from establishing any type of continuity.
Another possible reason for the inconsistency could be the lack of leadership. Back in 2007, their Super Bowl season, the Giants had several veteran leaders who weren't afraid to stand up and be heard — Michael Strahan, Amani Toomer
, Sam Madison
and Antonio Pierce
immediately come to mind. This year, only Pierce remained from that group, and he was lost to the team for the final month of the season. That left the Giants without the type of fiery leader who could challenge his teammates to raise their level of play.
"It probably could be considered one of the reasons," Coughlin conceded.
"Certainly Eli (Manning) has tried to be a strong leader. Jeff Feagles
in his own way has tried. He doesn't have as much contact with as many players, obviously. But there isn't any doubt; there is a void there from not having Antonio Pierce around. Many people have had an opportunity to step up, but probably because of the lack of success, it hasn't happened."
Whatever the reasons might be — and Coughlin might never put a finger on it — how the Giants respond in their season finale will go a long way toward setting the tone for what's going to be a long and interesting offseason that's certain to bring many new faces to the locker room in 2010.
QB Eli Manning is winless against Minnesota, the Giants' opponent in their season finale. In three games played, Manning has thrown only two touchdowns against eight interceptions. He also threw a career-high four interceptions on two occasions against Minnesota (Nov. 13, 2005, and Nov. 25, 2007).
RB Ahmad Bradshaw has been running well of late despite having two sore ankles and a cracked bone in his foot. Bradshaw said since his foot injury was made public, he hasn't been any worse for wear and that he is still contemplating having offseason surgery to have a screw inserted to secure his cracked bone.
WR Steve Smith has seven receiving touchdowns, which makes him the team leader in total touchdowns scored. Smith continues to move toward 100 receptions for the season, needing just three more to crack the century mark. His 1,163 receiving yards are the sixth-highest total in team history.
WR Domenik Hixon, the Giants' kickoff and punt return specialist, added 112 kickoff return yards against the Panthers to increase his career total to 1,509. That moved him past Joe Scott (1,467 from 1848-53) and into seventh place on the franchise's career list.
TE Kevin Boss has five touchdown receptions this season, one fewer than he had in 2008. His 42 receptions for 567 yards (13.5 yards per catch) are career bests.
CB Corey Webster is not expected to practice fully this week, if he practices at all. Webster is said to have some unexplained swelling in his knee, which he sprained two weeks ago.
DE Osi Umenyiora has two multiple-sack games against the Vikings. In 2005, he sacked QB Brad Johnson twice. In 2007, he sacked QB Tavaris Jackson for a loss twice.
LB Bryan Kehl, who has played in the Giants' nickel package, recorded a season-high seven tackles (three solo) and one sack against Minnesota in last year's regular-season finale.
LG Rich Seubert (knee) is in danger of missing his second consecutive game. Seubert, who usually guts out injuries, still has medical issues according to coach Tom Coughlin and might not be cleared to practice when the team returns to work Wednesday.
RB Brandon Jacobs' knee problem, which was confirmed by coach Tom Coughlin earlier this week, apparently has been an issue for weeks. Jacobs, who has not been listed on the team's injury report, has been able to take his full load of work in practices, and he has not missed any games because of the injury.