Regrets, Giants have a few: A reflection on 2013 benchmarks
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It's been a largely forgettable season for the Giants, who will post their first losing record since 2004 and miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years. But those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, so in the interest of Giants fans everywhere, here are some of the 2013 season's biggest missed opportunities, failures, breakdowns and harbingers that can never be forgotten:
Rolle's bad series
Antrel Rolle had the best season of any player on the Giants' defense. He also had the worst four minutes. Rolle, who had been playing safety exclusively, had to move down and cover Dez Bryant in the slot on the final drive of the Nov. 24 game against the Cowboys. Tony Romo completed four passes to Bryant on that drive, which ended with a game-winning field goal and snapped the Giants' winning streak at four games, effectively eliminating them from playoff contention.
"Nine times out of 10, I come out on top," Rolle said this past week, reflecting on that drive. "One time this year I didn't come out on top, which is the Dallas game. It hurt me pretty bad. It was a hard pill to swallow, but as a man I swallowed it."
Rolle was unexpectedly thrust into a man-on-man coverage situation against Bryant because Trumaine McBride left with a groin injury. The Cowboys quickly spotted the advantage and went after Rolle.
The safety said he had not practiced that kind of coverage for several weeks and that his hand placement and foot positions were off against Bryant. But Rolle said he grew from that experience.
"Always work on your craft," he said. "I'm a nine-year vet and that's something I had to learn the hard way . . . That was a valuable lesson I had to learn."
Misery from McCluster
Half a yard. That's how close the Giants came to converting a third-and-17 against the Chiefs on Sept. 29 when Eli Manning hit Victor Cruz with a pass. In fact, they had converted the play until Kansas City coach Andy Reid challenged the spot and it was pushed back those 18 inches. That forced the Giants to punt from their 30, trailing 10-7 late in the third quarter.
Dexter McCluster wound up returning the kick 89 yards for a touchdown that made it 17-7, and the Chiefs tacked on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns for a 31-7 win that was a one-score game just before the start of the fourth quarter.
The decision to punt on fourth-and-less-than-a-yard upset Cruz, who wanted the struggling offense to go for it. Most agreed that the prudent play was to punt the ball away and try to pin the Chiefs deep in their own territory. That might have been the case, too, as McCluster fielded the ball at his 11. But gunner Damontre Moore overran McCluster and Mathias Kiwanuka, Zak DeOssie and Keith Rivers missed chances for the tackle.
It was the second of three punts returned for a touchdown against the Giants and one of nine miscellaneous touchdowns scored by opponents this season when the Giants' defense was not on the field.
The Bears game on Oct. 10 was when things started to turn around. After allowing opponents to score more than 30 points in each of the first five games, the defense finally buckled down and held Chicago to a second-half field goal.
After struggling to run the ball, Brandon Jacobs pulled a Ponce de Leon and rumbled for 106 yards and two touchdowns. The Giants even were able to withstand two of Manning's early interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and on their final drive late in the fourth quarter, they had a chance for a game-winning touchdown before another pick.
That Thursday night in Chicago was shaping up to be the kind of game the Giants have won in their championship years: Not perfect, just clutch.
The Giants got only as far as the Bears' 35, though, when Manning's second-down pass went through the hands of leaping tight end Brandon Myers and was intercepted by Tim Jennings with 1:54 left.
Myers came within inches of making a grab that would have brought the Giants to the 10 with the offense clicking.
Instead, the Giants fell to 0-6 for the first time since 1976, their low point of the season.
Takeaway that wasn't
Ryan Mundy had his hands open and his eyes on the ball and was ready to scoop it up.
The Giants had just scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Jacobs to close within a point of the Broncos, 17-16, with just over three minutes left in the third quarter of the Sept. 15 game in Week 2. Peyton Manning hit Demaryius Thomas on a quick pass and Prince Amukamara knocked it from his hands while making the tackle.
Mundy was in position to recover the ball at the Broncos' 45, setting up what should have been at least a go-ahead field goal and maybe even a touchdown.
But Mark Herzlich came streaking in front of Mundy, tried to gather the ball on the run and never got a handle on it. The fumble bounced away from Herzlich, away from Mundy, and was recovered by Denver running back Knowshon Moreno at the 37.
Moreno capped that drive with a 25-yard touchdown run as the Broncos outscored the Giants 24-7 the rest of the game.
It was the Giants' chance to topple one of the league's best teams, give Eli his first win against Peyton, and possibly set a different course through the first half of the season. Instead, it was a turnover that wasn't in a season that wasn't.
Start of a trend
Has a season ever opened with such an omen? On the very first snap of the season, Manning tried to hit David Wilson on a screen pass to his left, but the ball was intercepted by DeMarcus Ware. It was the first of three straight possessions that would end in turnovers for the Giants on Sept. 8, the first of six turnovers in the game and the first of what has become a team-record 26 interceptions by Manning this season (with a game still remaining!)
Of course, the Giants almost were able to overcome it. That's what made this season so frustrating. Manning threw for 450 yards in the game, Victor Cruz scored three touchdowns and the Giants trailed 30-24 at the two-minute warning.
That's when Manning tried to complete another screen pass, this one to Da'rel Scott, who replaced Wilson after two fumbles. Scott turned the wrong way for the ball, which bounced off his shoulder pads and into the hands of Brandon Carr, who returned it 49 yards for a touchdown.
It was only the first game of the season. Nobody knew it at the time, but the story line for 2013 already had been set.