There is a statistic that so perfectly describes the utter futility of the Giants’ 5-7 season that it’s almost impossible to believe. You almost have to read it over just to make sure it’s actually true.
Here goes: They have lost five games in the final two minutes by a combined 12 points. Think about how ridiculous that stat is, and how different their season would be if they’d won only two of them. Instead of teetering on the edge of playoff elimination, they’d be comfortably ahead in a division that has been awful.
Eli Manning is well aware of that stat, and he has made his share of contributions. The latest: His fourth-quarter interception on fourth-and-2 from the 4-yard line in Sunday’s 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets was a turning point, even if receiver Rueben Randle shares much, if not most, of the blame for cutting his route short.
Manning’s career has been defined largely by an uncanny ability to extricate himself and his team from treacherous situations, such as his Houdini-esque escape in Super Bowl XLII against the Patriots on his desperation throw to David Tyree. Manning was also at his best when it appeared the 2011 season was lost, winning the final two regular-season games before running the table in the postseason.
He’s hoping for another narrow escape, even though the Giants’ season is imperiled by three straight losses and more missed opportunities than he’d care to remember. It’s one thing if the losses were hideously one-sided. But the Giants have been blown out only once, a 27-7 loss in Philadelphia on Oct. 19. So the woulda-coulda-shoulda factor is off the charts.
But Manning looks at these things differently than most people. Where even the heartiest Giants fan sees doom and gloom down the stretch and a likely coaching change at season’s end, Manning sees opportunity. There is a defiant optimism that lurks beneath his cool, sometimes detached demeanor, and he’s hoping for one more improbable run.
Step 1 of what he hopes is a late-season miracle tour: next Monday night against the Dolphins in Miami.
“We’re still very much in it, but we’ve got to win some games and just got to start now,” said Manning, who tweaked his right ankle Sunday and had precautionary X-rays taken after the game. He’s expected to resume practice tomorrow. “We can’t get discouraged. We can’t have any quit in us. We’ve got to keep fighting, continue to have a great week of preparation, practice and then perform at a higher level on game day. Just get some energy back into the locker room, get some excitement and get that winning feeling back.”
They haven’t won since early November against the Bucs in Tampa in Jason Pierre-Paul’s emotional return after recovering from a July 4 fireworks accident. Close losses to the Patriots, Redskins and now the Jets leave them searching for answers and wondering whether this is the end for Tom Coughlin. But Manning and his coach are like-minded in situations like this one, which is a big reason they are the only coach-quarterback tandem in franchise history to win two Super Bowls. The two are on the same page once more.
“I think it brings energy, it brings determination that we’ve got to keep fighting,” Manning said. “It brings that mentality, that fighter mentality, and that’s what we need. We’ve got to have that kind of attitude that we’re not going to let this happen. We’ve got to make it work.”
After another agonizing loss, it certainly doesn’t feel like a turnaround is imminent, but Manning remains resolute.
“We’ve got to play better at some critical moments in the game,” he said. “It’s just kind of that final step, those last few yards and the difference between winning and losing games. We’re just not making that crucial play to get us the win.”
And thus that mind-numbing stat that defines their season. As the coach said yesterday: “We’ll win when we deserve to win.”
Five losses by 12 points? They don’t deserve it.