Dead men romping: The very end of the 2012 Giants

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EAST RUTHERFORD—The Giants’ 42-7 blowout of the Eagles was a desperate illustration of what they are capable of when they get it all together, which they didn't do quite often enough this season.

Yes, it’s easy to look good when you’re playing with a team with one foot out the door like the Eagles, who seemed to be playing without offensive and defensive lines, and yesterday’s feel-better win doesn’t change the fact that these Giants showed real flaws in the second half of the season. But the result did improve the picture somewhat.

Eli Manning’s five touchdown passes, the most by any Giant since Phil Simms, will make his final season statistics look prettier. With Eli, the stats have always lagged a little behind Giants’ fans confidence in him. A good, stat-padding game brings his numbers a bit closer to those of the league’s undisputedly "elite" passers.

David Wilson had occasion to showcase his speed-burst on several plays. It was a bumpy rookie season for Wilson, but all signs point toward a bright future.

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The exact same description applies to Rueben Randle, who hauled in two touchdown catches. With 101 yards in the season’s last two games, Randle was the Giants’ leading receiver in both contests.

And the defense, the subject of back-and-forth blame-placing between the players and coordinator Perry Fewell, rebounded from two straight dreadful performances with a pretty strong game. (It wasn’t unconditionally positive on defense: The Giants allowed 12 first downs and 217 yards in the first half, the portion of a game that was earnestly contested. Both are higher than league average.)

After two straight blowout losses, the win against the Eagles restored some perspective: The Giants aren't consistently good, but they're not the Eagles, either. It gets a lot worse in the N.F.L. than 9-7, especially considering the Giants had one of the league’s tougher schedules.

The Giants' point differential was 84, which was their third-best point differential of the Coughlin era, easily besting that of their two Super Bowl-winning teams. Point differential is more closely correlated with a team’s won-loss record the following year than its won-loss record itself. This means that going forward, the Giants should continue to be what they’ve been nearly every year of the Coughlin era: A pretty good team, with about an equal likelihood of being great as being average.

YESTERDAY'S GAME WAS OVER WHEN ELI MANNING hit Victor Cruz on a 24-yard streak four seconds before halftime. The play gave the Giants a 35-7 lead, while confirming they could do no wrong on this day and, just as importantly, that the Eagles could do no right.

At that point, the press box was overtaken by the sound of keyboard clicking: Game stories could be written right then and there. There was urgency to wrap those up so laptops could be freed for browser-refreshing on the Bears-Lions game in Detroit.

By the time the second half started, that Lions-Bears game had become the primary object of interest for most fans as well. Not once was the stadium louder than following a timeout break midway through the third quarter, when the scoreboard flashed that the Lions had scored to cut a their deficit to 20-17.

Moments later, Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora stuffed LeSean McCoy for a one-yard gain on the Eagles’ first play of their series. The crowd’s eruption was out of proportion to the inconsequentiality of the play. It reflected the shared desire of 80,000 to transfer positive energy and, just maybe, points, from Jersey to Detroit.

At the four-minute mark of the game, David Carr replaced Eli Manning as the Giants quarterback. This was my signal to abandon my seat at the press box and move to the cafeteria lounge, with its dozen big-screen Samsungs.

Already crowded around a table when I got there were some of the best-known commodities of New York football writing, the guys not obliged to sweat the last-minute details of a game story: The Record’s Vinny DiTrani, the Post’s Steve Serby, USA Today’s Mike Garafolo, ESPN’s Ian O’Connor, the Daily News’ Filip Bondy. When Matthew Stafford started Detroit’s drive by slinging one of his trademark sidearm incomplete passes, DiTrani exhaled in frustration, prompting Garafolo to mock-warn against further "grumbling from the press box.” 

The game action was halting in Detroit, but the Giants game was drawing to a quick close, thanks to a series of kneeldowns. After the last one, FOX cameras trained on Andy Reid, the Giants’ corpulent, doomed longtime adversary, wearing his signature all-black Eagles gear.

It was time to get down to the Giants’ locker room, in crowded elevators full of compulsively iPhone-refreshing reporters. We descended from the press box to the stadium’s bowels, then proceeded through the usual dozen or so of early twenty-somethings with glassy eyes and booze-stench being processed for disorderly conduct. Confirming the stereotype dear to the hearts of New York fans, these young hooligans were in Eagles gear, though, to be fair, the Eagles’ horrific season and the fact that these guys were in enemy territory contributed to the composition of the sample.

The procession of reporters continued until a television appeared. We stopped for a key 3rd-and-3 play and watched Jay Cutler take a bootleg 19 yards, which didn’t quite end the game but reduced the Giants’ odds of making the playoffs to the thousandths-of-a-percent-range.

The pack proceeded down the tunnel, passing the banners celebrating the Giants’ four Super Bowls: The last two seemed absurdly unlikely as well, providing a lesson that it ain’t over till it’s over. We settled outside the Giants’ locker room.

Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles owner, walked through us with a stricken expression. Everyone knew his next 24 hours wouldn’t be enjoyable. Then, L.L. Cool J, licking his lips in signature fashion, emerged from the Giants locker room. I sidled next to a teenage fan who seemed to have a better iPhone connection than anyone else.

“First down Bears,” he announced in response to Matt Forte’s 13-yard run. The Giants’ season was over.

CHASE BLACKBURN TOLD ME HE FIRST HEARD the news of Chicago’s victory in the shower, evoking the dismal image of a group of naked men becoming emotionally deflated all at once.

“We didn’t take care of our business the past two weeks the way we had an opportunity to, and when you rely on someone else, you’re not gonna get the result you want, usually,” Blackburn said.

Many Giants touched on this idea, often using the expression, “We have nobody to blame but ourselves.”

“Bittersweet” was another refrain, following the season-ending victory.

Ahmad Bradshaw, who finished his own roller-coaster season on a high note, waxed elegiac to reporters at first, saying, “We knew it was gonna be the last ride for a lot of guys to be Giants, and we just wanted to have fun with those guys with those guys. And, it could be me at the same token, so I just wanted to come out and leave it all on the field.”

But two minutes later, when a reporter followed up with him about his status for next year by referring to his previous statement, Bradshaw snapped, “You didn’t hear me say that,” and stormed off.

Jason Pierre-Paul and Stevie Brown weren’t even aware of the Bears result. Pierre-Paul said the Giants had “left it in Dallas’s hands."

As for Brown, when I asked him how he felt when he heard the Bears-Lions result, he responded by asking me, “What happened in that game?”

I told him.

“Yeah.” He paused, deadpan. “Damn.”

There seemed to have been none of the fans' fevered optimism about the four-team teaser the Giants needed to get into the playoffs. Maybe the players just had a better intuitive sense of the steep odds they faced.

As Martellus Bennett, the Giants’ philosophical tight end, put it, “It’s like five people juggling a baby: somebody’s gonna drop him.”

But that didn’t make it hurt any less when the curtain fell. Bennett watched the tail end of the Bears-Lions game in the locker room, he told us. I ask him how he felt when the game ended.

“I was like, ‘That’s fucked up.’ That was it. And I just walked out.”