Monday, December 20, 2010

The 5 Worst Football Games Ever Played By The New York Giants

What happened yesterday? Anything interesting? I can't recall. Doesn't seem like yesterday ever happened.

Oh, who am I kidding. I can't forget. The New York Giants were up 31-10 with 8 minutes left in the fourth quarter, at home, against their hated rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles, in a battle for division supremacy, a first round bye and home field playoff advantage... and they collapsed like the roof of the Minnesota Vikings' Metrodome.

I was at the game. You always want to be a part of history when you go a game at the stadium, so you can tell your friends you saw Osi Umenyora sack McNabb 6 times, or saw Tiki Barber ring up 276 yards from scrimmage in a close Giants win. You just don't want to witness the other team make history, like the Eagles scoring the most points in the fourth quarter that they ever have, ever.

To me, it was the worst Giants loss in franchise history. No, it wasn't a playoff game, but it made Philadelphia fans happy and rewarded a dog-murderer, at the expense of a possible first round bye and home field advantage. It got me to thinking about other terrible Giants' losses over the years...

5. The "Miracle" At The Meadowlands: This one was before my time, but every Giants fan knows about it. In 1978, the Giants were about to upset the Eagles 17-12, potentially knocking Philadelphia out of the playoffs. All the Giants had to do to win was run out the clock. As in, hike the ball, kneel down. The Eagles had no timeouts, the Giants were leading, and there were 31 seconds left. Kneel the ball, it's over. Instead, the Giants ran the ball. Or tried to. The handoff was botched, Herm Edwards (future Jets coach) picked the ball up and scooted to the game-winning touchdown. A heartbreaking loss, but only #5 on our list because the Giants back then were going nowhere.

4. The 1997 NFC Wild Card Game. In 1997, the Giants had the #1 defense and was riding a hot streak into the playoffs, not bad for a team that had gone 6-10 the previous season. Then they faced Minnesota in the first round.

The Giants took a 19-3 lead into the half. By 7:42 left, they were up 22-13, still a two-score game. With a minute and a half to go, Randall Cunningham, who had been unemployed earlier that season, completed a touchdown to bring the Vikings within 2. The Vikings kicked an onside kick... and recovered. Cunningham led the Vikings into field goal range and the winner sailed through the uprights with 10 seconds left.

3. The Trey Junkin Game: The Giants were up 38-14 with 18 minutes left in the NFC Wild Card game against the San Francisco 49ers. Then they forgot how to play football. They started fighting. They drew stupid penalty after stupid penalty. The Giants' long-snapper was injured, so they had recently signed 19-year veteran Trey Junkin for field goals and punts. On a 42-yard field goal that would have iced the game, he made a terrible snap, and Matt Bryant hooked it.

With 1:00 left, San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia gave the 49ers the lead on a 13-yard TD pass to Tai Streets. Even so, a personal foul penalty against the 49ers would have given the Giants excellent field position for the winning field goal. Instead, Shaun Williams decided to slug the guy back, and the penalties were offsetting.

Unfathomably, the Giants got into field goal range anyway. Bryant lined up for the kick. He never got the chance. The snap was laughably bad, and Giants' punter Matt Allen heaved a desperate pass into the end zone. The pass was incomplete, but a flag was down. Pass interference, on the 49ers. Giants ball at the 1 with no time. Except a Giants' lineman was illegally downfield. The refs said that penalty negated the pass interference, and the game was over.

2. Superbowl XXXV: The Giants were coming into Superbowl XXXV off a dominant performance (41-0) in the NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings. Baltimore had Trent Dilfer as their QB, and their best defensive played had just been investigated for his role in a fatal shooting.

The Giants fell behind early, due to their quarterback, Kerry Collins, throwing interception after interception. But then the Giants' Ron Dixon returned a kickoff 97 yards, cutting the Ravens lead to 17-7.

Immediately afterward, the Ravens' Jermaine Lewis returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards for a TD.

The rout was on. Kerry Collins threw 4 interceptions total. All 16 times the Giants had the ball, they either punted or turned it over. Final score, 34-7.

1. Eight Minutes Of Hell: That's what I'm dubbing this game. And it is the worst the Giants have ever played. No, this wasn't a playoff game, no this wasn't the Superbowl, but in only this loss did the entire Giants team screw up in ways big and small to throw away an important game. People can try to make punter Matt Dodge the scapegoat, but really, no one is blameless. I was there, and it truly was 8 minutes of hell.

Part of me must have known what the Giants were in for. I took this photo at the point in the game when I thought the Giants had put the nail in the coffin:

Giants 31, Eagles 10

It didn't take long for everything to go wrong.

Michael Vick, Eagles QB and former Bad Newz Kennels CEO, ran away from pressure for a monster gain. Then he connected on a 65-yard TD to TE Brent Celek. Then everyone in the stadium expected the Eagles to onside kick the ball.

Except for the Giants, who expected the Eagles to replace their starters and call it quits.

The Giants made no attempt to field the onside kick, and a few plays later, Vick ran it into the end zone to pull the Eagles within a TD.

Eli Manning and Co. couldn't do anything to run down the clock or put more points on the board. Their drive stalled with a horrific false-start penalty.

With 1:16, Vick hit Jeremey Maclin on a TD pass to cap one of the easiest drives the Eagles have ever had.

Game tied, Giants got the ball back with just over a minute. The Giants came out throwing. Manning threw his first pass about a mile from the closest Giant. His second pass was nearly intercepted. The Giants went 3 and out. Giants punter Matt Dodge headed onto the field.

At this point, I told my Dad, "Let's go."

"But Adam, the score's tied, don't you want to see overtime?"

"It's not going to overtime, Dad."

"What do you mean?"

"Let's go beat the crowd to the train."

"There's only 17 seconds left..."

"Dodge is going to shank the punt, it's going to take the Eagles one play to get into field goal range, and Akers will put it away. Let's go."

My Dad and I started shuffling down the aisle. We were almost out of our row when the snap almost went over Dodge's head. We were out of our row, onto the stairs as the punt hit Dodge's foot and made a beeline for DeShawn Jackson, the Eagles star punt returner. Jackson had crossed the 30 by the time we were two steps up the stairs to the exit. The last thing I saw, as we headed out of the stands and into the concourse, was DeShawn Jackson holding out the ball as he danced along the goal line, a few Giants halfheartedly chasing him. We missed the part where Jackson fired the ball into the stands and Giants Coach Tom Coughlin threw down his clipboard.

It was the worst loss in what is quickly becoming a frustrating season for the Giants. At one point, pundits said they were the best team in the NFL and a bonifide challenger for the Super Bowl. Now they look like they're lucky to still have a shot at the playoffs.

Matt Dodge should be let go. He's cost the Giants too much this year. But this game wasn't all his fault. How do you not prepare for an onside kick? How do you get a false start penalty with a chance to run out the game? How do you miss open receivers by so much on a pivotal drive?

I saw history. Maybe the moment when Tom Coughlin became history too.

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