SAN DIEGO - With a trio of games left and no hope of making it into the playoffs, the Giants find themselves in a situation that seems to be a proper metaphor for their go-nowhere season.
Their 37-14 loss to the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium Sunday, coupled with the Eagles' win over the Lions earlier in the day, left the Giants three games behind first-place Philadelphia and mathematically unable to pass the Eagles in the NFC East standings. The 49ers' win over the Seahawks eliminated the Giants from wild-card contention.
For the fourth time in the last five years, the Giants (5-8) will be watching the playoffs from the outside. What's worse, someone else will be representing the NFC in the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium in -- as the Giants' now-infamous and now-irrelevant countdown calendar in their locker room will say -- 55 days. The Chargers (6-7) remain in the AFC wild-card hunt.
Not that the Giants' elimination should come as a surprise. Ever since they started 0-6, their chances of making the playoffs have been exceedingly slim. Only one team -- the 1992 Chargers -- has made the postseason after starting 0-4; losing six straight to open the season remains impossible to overcome.
The Giants did make it interesting by winning four straight, but they were virtually eliminated when they lost to the Cowboys two weeks ago. This loss simply formalized things.
In fact, safety Antrel Rolle said the Giants weren't even thinking about their fading chances when they took the field against the Chargers.
"This game was never about the playoffs,'' Rolle insisted. "This game was about going out there and taking care of San Diego. Obviously, we weren't successful in doing that.''
Even with Tom Coughlin talking to his team about maintaining "respectability'' all week, this was the Giants' most lifeless performance since they were shut out by the Panthers in Week 3. It conjured recollections of last year's stretch run in which they lost two of their last three games without showing much fight, and the skid to the finish line in 2009 when the Giants finished 8-8.
"With a game of this magnitude, and we're both fighting for whatever we're fighting for, to come out flat, it's a no-brainer,'' said Rolle, the Giants' vice president of inspiration. "You can't have it.''
Added linebacker Jon Beason, who sparked the team to win five of six at one point: "We couldn't get out of that funk.''
As has happened too often this season, the Giants were undone by turnovers. The first came with 9:11 left in the first quarter -- just one play after a 51-yard reception by Hakeem Nicks -- when Donald Butler intercepted a pass by Eli Manning. Three snaps later, Keenan Allen beat Terrell Thomas off the line of scrimmage and was wide open to catch a 43-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers.
The Chargers made it 10-0 early in the second quarter and went ahead 17-0 when Allen beat another Giants cornerback, Prince Amukamara, for a 4-yard TD reception. Andre Brown's fumble at the two-minute warning gave the Chargers the ball back, and Rivers threw his third touchdown pass of the half, a 6-yarder to Danny Woodhead, for a 24-0 lead.
"The first half was a major disappointment,'' Coughlin said.
The Giants finally got on the scoreboard thanks to a Chargers turnover. On the first snap of the second half, Justin Tuck stripped the ball from Rivers and Cullen Jenkins recovered it, giving the Giants the ball at the Chargers' 18. It took them seven plays to get into the end zone, and they finally did on a 1-yard run by Peyton Hillis. He initially was stopped short but rolled off the pile and across the goal line to make it 24-7.
But that was just a mirage of momentum, because the Chargers took the ensuing possession 80 yards for a touchdown and a 31-7 advantage. From that point, it was just a matter of what the final score would be and keeping an eye on the Seahawks-49ers game to call the time of death for the 2013 season.
"Each year this organization and this team expects to make the playoffs and be in contention for championships,'' Manning said. "Obviously, to know that [the Giants are eliminated] with three games to go is disappointing.''
That had been a foregone conclusion for a while. But for it to happen on the back of a listless effort is what will be remembered.