Big blue enigma: A blowout by the Falcons doesn’t say much about these Giants
It's a fitting distinction for the Giants, somehow, that their 34-0 Giants loss to the Falcons was the most lopsided ever suffered by a defending Super Bowl champion.
After all, the 2011 Giants were the worst championship team of all time by both record and point differential. That they won the Super Bowl after a 9-7 regular season in which they were cumulatively outscored by the opposition, and that the football world wasn't ultimately all that surprised by their accomplishment, illustrates the way they've careened between mediocrity and excellence throughout the Tom Coughlin era.
The 2007 Super Bowl team was another illustration: They were mediocre during the regular season and squeaked into the playoffs, then put together a stellar stretch of play once they got there.
By this point, we should be no more shocked when the Giants awake from mediocre seasons to win the Super Bowl than we are when they decide to take a cat nap. What’s puzzling is that this wild inconsistency comes from a team whose two front-men, Eli Manning and Coughlin, are stolid Giant-like emblems of workaday professionalism.
This year’s Giants share with the 2007 and 2011 champion versions the belief that Week 15 is a good time to show the worst version of themselves: In 2007, soon-to-be Super Bowl MVP Manning threw the most incomplete passes of any quarterback in four decades in a 22-10 loss to the Redskins. Last year, it was another dismal loss to the Redskins at home that convinced everyone that the Giants’ inspiring win against Dallas the week before had been a lucky aberration and not some springboard for a team of destiny. (The narrative subsequently reversed itself again.)
This is a team, in other words, that simply doesn't lend itself to point-in-time assessments: the coach everyone wants fired after one game is hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy several games later. To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, the test of a first-rate Giants fan is the ability to hold two opposed ideas about their team in mind and still retain the ability to function.
And while the week-to-week results might be constantly surprising, the bigger picture is not, at all: The Giants have weathered a difficult schedule to get to an 8-6 record, and control their playoff destiny for the wild card, though not for the division. Once there, we know they can beat anybody. We’ve been here before with the Giants. Did anyone expect anything different?
THERE'S NOT MUCH GOOD TO SAY ABOUT A 34-0 BLOWOUT that would have been 41-0 if not for some charitable Falcons kneel-downs. But it’s worth noting that this game wasn’t quite as brutal as the scoreboard indicated.
In the first half, the portion of the game that was earnestly contested, the Giants actually outgained the Falcons, 198 to 134.
This is somewhat misleading because of the short field the Falcons had for one touchdown, and the fact that the Giants had one more possession than them. Still, the yardage stats show that the first half wasn’t the case of one team simply dominating the other on a play-to-play basis. Rather, the game became a non-starter because every single high-leverage play went in the Falcons’ favor.
There were Eli Manning’s two interceptions in Giants’ territory; Manning missing Hakeem Nicks deep down field for a potential huge completion; Lawrence Tynes’ missed 30-yard chipshot (his third high-percentage miss in the past three games); Tony Gonzalez’s touchdown catch to put the Falcons up 14-0, which came on a low-percentage 3rd and 11 play; and the Giants’ two failed 4th and 1 attempts in the first half, followed by another in the second half when the score was already 24-0.
The last of these provided a haunting echo of the Giants’ playoff victory last season, whose misleadingly lopsided 24-2 score was greatly aided by two fourth-down stops.
These snowball-effect games tell us a lot about how the Giants played in a given week. Beyond that, in terms of figuring this team out, they're not much help.