Justin Tuck says he often can tell very early in a game when the Giants don't have "it." Fire, heart, intensity, whatever word you want to use to describe the way they played a week ago in beating the Cowboys.
Sunday's game against the Redskins? Tuck thought they had "it."
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An interception by Corey Webster on the first play of the game? It was hard to think they wouldn't cruise to a win over a dismal division rival and maintain their grip on first place in the NFC East.
But in the course of the first half, things slowly started slipping away. By the time they headed into the locker room trailing by 14 points, it was fairly clear that the Giants had lost "it."
"When we came out of the locker room, the first thing I told the guys to get them fired up was 'let's go out and start fast,' '' Tuck said after the Giants' 23-10 loss at MetLife Stadium. "We did that. Maybe what I should have said was: 'Let's start fast and finish faster.' "
They cannot clinch a playoff berth when they face the Jets on Saturday, but a loss there could make for a restless Christmas Eve as they wait to see if the Cowboys beat the Eagles later that afternoon. In that scenario, the Giants would be eliminated.
It was only last week that Tom Coughlin was in Texas telling his team in a postgame locker room that they had "taken the star down off the mountaintop and replaced it with the N.Y.G." Now the star is back on top.
Technically the Giants still control their own fate, as teams that see it slipping from their grips are wont to say at this time of year. In reality, they looked more unlike a playoff team Sunday than they have at any other point this season.
All three phases of their game -- offense, defense, special teams -- bungled away what should have been an easy win over an inferior opponent. And once again, the Giants were left scratching their heads about their lack of intensity.
"I can't tell you why the passion wasn't there," said Brandon Jacobs, who all but guaranteed that it would be earlier in the week. "Why we came out and played the way we did, I can't answer that."
Coughlin, who might pay the price with his job if the Giants cannot figure out how to mentally show up in the next two games, also was lost for answers.
"I am very disappointed in how we played," he said. "I told the players that I just expected to see more. I expected to see quality, quality execution and really, quite frankly, we didn't get much of that . . . I can't say it any more bluntly: I expected more."
How bad a day was it for the Giants? One of their last-gasp drives featured a play that was signaled a touchdown -- twice! -- but they wound up without any points.
With the Giants trailing 23-3, two plays after a 43-yard pass-interference penalty gave them the ball at the 3, Eli Manning threw a 4-yarder to D.J. Ware that initially was ruled a touchdown but was overturned after review. Then Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for an apparent 2-yard touchdown that was negated by a holding call against David Diehl. On fourth-and-goal from the 12 after that penalty, Manning was sacked for a loss of 13 and gave the ball to Washington on downs with 8:53 left.
One Giants possession earlier, they picked up a first down at the Redskins' 13. Manning threw a fade in the end zone for Mario Manningham, who ran another route, and Josh Wilson easily intercepted it in the back corner of the end zone. It was one of three interceptions by Manning, who had his worst game of the year.
The defense made Rex Grossman look serviceable. He completed 15 of 24 passes for only 185 yards, but that included a 20-yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss against the Giants' now-weekly installment of broken coverage in the end zone. This time it was rookie Prince Amukamara who was out of position. Amityville's Darrel Young also scored a touchdown, the first of his career, for the Redskins on a 6-yard run.
The Giants capped the second quarter with a field goal to move within 17-3 and received the third-quarter kickoff. But on the second snap, Manning tried to hit Nicks on a deep out and DeAngelo Hall intercepted the underthrown pass.
The Giants held the Redskins to a field goal, but after they drove to the Washington 18, Manning was sacked on third down and Lawrence Tynes missed a 44-yard field-goal attempt. The Redskins responded with a field goal to go ahead 23-3 with 14:57 remaining.
"It's football, man," Antrel Rolle said. "Need I say more? If you don't got it in the heart, I don't know. Washington, they're not a bad team at all. They always play us extremely tough. They played great football. But we're 10 times better than what we showed out there. I don't know, man. I don't know."