MINNEAPOLIS — The Giants’ season ended on Saturday night.
On Sunday night, they played like it.
They produced their most listless effort of the season in a 49-17 loss to the Vikings, who clinched a playoff berth with the victory at TCF Bank Stadium. The Giants (6-9) had been eliminated from postseason consideration when Washington beat Philadelphia to clinch the NFC East crown earlier in the weekend.
With temperatures dipping toward the single digits, the only heat the Giants could generate was in the seat under Tom Coughlin and what now feels like the inevitability of regime change. The Giants have not made the playoffs for four straight years (six out of seven) and have posted three consecutive losing seasons.
The season has been defined by an agonizing series of last-second losses and heartbreaking finishes, but this one did not fit in that category. Instead, it was a lopsided affair in a game that two weeks ago was flexed into prime time because of the Giants’ perceived relevance in the division race.
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Football Night in America quickly turned into the Maul of America.
That the Giants lacked their best offensive playmaker in the game was obvious from the start, but the lack of anyone to pick up the slack was an indictment of the team’s depth and even more jarring. Without Odell Beckham Jr. to throw to — or at least draw coverages away from others — Eli Manning did not complete his first pass until 10:51 remained in the second quarter. He finished the first half having completed only 5 of 13 passes for 77 yards with two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. He also was sacked three times before halftime.
Fifty of the 77 first-half passing yards came on a screen pass to running back Rashad Jennings. Tight end Will Tye caught a pass, too. So the non-Odell wide receivers accounted for only three catches and 21 yards by halftime. And at that point, the game was out of reach.
The Vikings (10-5) opened the scoring with a field goal late in the first quarter and went ahead 10-0 when Teddy Bridgewater threw a 28-yard pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph, with safety Craig Dahl providing little resistance. That 50-yard screen pass to Jennings brought the Giants to the 13, but from there they had two dropped passes and a gain of 4 on another pass and had to settle for a field goal to make it 10-3.
Despite some success running the ball with Jennings, on third-and-1 in the second quarter, the Giants went to a passing formation. Manning tried to find Rueben Randle, but as has happened so often with that combination this season, the execution was askew. Harrison Smith intercepted Manning’s high pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown (a missed extra point left the score 16-3).
The Vikings kicked field goals late in the second quarter and early in the third. Then, when Manning tried to hit Ben Edwards — who was on the practice squad at the beginning of the week before being promoted to fill Beckham’s roster spot — he was picked off by Captain Munnerlyn. The interception was returned to the 3, and two plays later, Adrian Peterson ran in for a touchdown to make it 29-3. Another field goal late in the third quarter pushed the score to 32-3.
Manning hit Randle with a 72-yard touchdown pass with 1:02 left in the quarter to improve their numbers — and make their previous miscommunications all the more frustrating — but it hardly put a dent in the Vikings’ lead, which became 32-10. Then, when the Giants tried an onside kick, the Vikings returned the ball to the 18. Bridgewater made the defense look silly on a 9-yard scramble as he zig-zagged across the field to convert a third down, and two plays later, Jerick McKinnon scored on a 7-yard run to put the Vikings ahead 39-10.
Notes & quotes: Dahl left the game with a concussion in the second quarter. Right tackle Marshall Newhouse left the game in the third quarter, also with a concussion . . . Tight end Matt LaCosse, promoted from the practice squad this week, caught his first career pass in the third quarter . . . Linebacker J.T. Thomas was ejected in the fourth quarter for throwing a punch . . . Get your passports ready! The loser of next week’s Eagles-Giants game will finish in third place and play the Rams in London in 2016. The game will be played Oct. 23 at Twickenham Stadium, a rugby stadium that will host an NFL game for the first time.