While the Giants shrugged and shook their heads today, wondering where it all went so wrong, they came up with very few answers. More apologies than answers, in fact.

But when you look at their season, it’s pretty easy to pinpoint five places where, had they played just a little bit better, harder, more intelligently, they could still be alive for the playoffs.

I’ll list them in chronological order, although I've got to tell you that Nos. 2 and 4 are the main culprits in my thinking:

1. Nov. 1 at Philadelphia. The Eagles jump out to an early lead but it is far from insurmountable. In fact, the Giants start to show some life and cut the Eagles’ lead to 17-7 late in the second quarter when Eli Manning hits Kevin Boss for an 18-yard touchdown. But the Eagles return the kickoff to near midfield and a play later Donovan McNabb hits a wide open DeSean Jackson for a 54-yard touchdown with Corey Webster falling off coverage and C.C. Brown failing to shift over to pick him up.

2. Nov. 8 vs. Chargers. This is the game that exposed all of the Giants’ flaws. They lead 17-14 after a Manning-to-Boss touchdown pass in the fourth quarter and when Terrell Thomas intercepted Phillip Rivers deep in Giants territory they had a chance to put the game away. Instead a holding penalty against Chris Snee pushed the Giants back to the 14 and they never took a shot at the end zone (offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride insisted that one would have ended in disaster) and settled for a field goal that made it 20-14 with just over two minutes remaining. The Chargers, needing a touchdown to win, drove 80 yards in eight plays, never faced a third down, used a 21-yard pass to Darren Sproles to get close and scored the game-winning touchdown on an 18-yard pass to Vincent Jackson.

3. Nov. 26 at Denver. The Giants spent Thanksgiving in the Rocky Mountains but were outclassed by the Broncos in a humiliating 26-6 loss. Like Sunday’s game against the Panthers, it appeared that the team just did not show up to play. While the offense was unable to gain any traction – it managed just 38 net yards in the first half, 9 of those passing – the defense once again fell apart in coverage as Brandon Stokley was wide open on a 17-yard touchdown pass that broke the game open in the fourth quarter.

4. Dec. 13 vs. Philadelphia. So many plays and places to point to in this game, you could probably do a whole list of five just from this one contest. A fumble early on hands the Eagles a touchdown. A 72-yard punt return by DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles another touchdown. After the Giants take the lead in the third quarter on a 1-yard run by Brandon Jacobs, 31-20, McNabb once again hits Jackson on a long one-play scoring drive, this time a 61-yarder with Michael Johnson failing to recognize the dangerous weapon in two-deep coverage. The Eagles seal the win with a 91-yard, 12-play drive that eats up 7:24 of the fourth quarter and in which they, like the Chargers on their game-winner, never have to face a third down. But to me, the biggest play of that game – maybe of the season – was when Osi Umenyiora stripped McNabb on a sack, forcing a fumble, and the ball was just there on the ground while the Giants walked around it and ignored it. If someone picks it up, it’s a whole different ballgame. They didn’t, the Eagles scored to take a 30-17 halftime lead, and went on for a 45-38 victory.

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5. Dec. 27 vs. Carolina. Games don’t get much bigger than this one, with the Giants not only closing out their run at Giants Stadium but looking to keep pace with the two teams ahead of them in the wild card chase. Instead, they turn in an abysmal effort and lose 41-9 in the type of game whose stench can linger over a franchise for years.

(Newsday Photo: David Pokress)