Posted by: Mike Cornelius | December 20, 2015

For Giants Fans, One More Awful Ending

For the better part of three quarters Sunday afternoon at the Meadowlands the Carolina Panthers showed why they are the lone remaining undefeated team in the NFL. As the NFC South champions rolled to a record of 13-0 entering their matchup against the Giants, they haven’t been accorded all of the plaudits one might expect for their perfection. Perhaps that’s because Charlotte is something less than a major media market. Or perhaps it’s because Carolina is just one year removed from being the second NFL team to make the playoffs with a losing record; or that even factoring in their 2015 record the Panthers through their 20 year NFL history are a sub-.500 team. Carolina is not NFL royalty like New England or Green Bay, two teams that matched the Panthers win for win through much of the season and got much more attention while they did so.

But with the schedule winding down the Panthers are the only franchise with a chance to match the 1932 and 1942 Chicago Bears, 1972 Miami Dolphins, and 2007 Patriots by going unbeaten and untied through the regular season. The game’s very first series augured poorly for the home team, when a wide open Odell Beckham Jr. dropped a pass from Eli Manning that would have given the Giants an early lead. Instead Carolina was first on the board, when Cam Newton capped a 9-play, 88-yard drive with a short toss to wide receiver Ted Ginn with a little over five minutes to play in the first quarter. Manning and company responded with a scoring drive of their own as the first period drew to a close, but then the Panthers took over the game for most of the next thirty minutes.

In the second quarter Newton rolled right out of the pocket and flipped a short pass to tight end Greg Olson, who outran New York’s secondary for a 37-yard score. The 3-play drive was made possible when the Giants’ Rashad Jennings fumbled near midfield. After New York went three and out Carolina marched down the field for another score, this one coming on a 14-yard pass from Newton to rookie David Funchess.

Carolina’s 21-7 halftime lead soon ballooned some more, as Newton added a fourth and then a fifth touchdown toss. Meanwhile the Panthers’ defense was stuffing the Giants, who failed to record a first down in their first three possessions of the second half, as Carolina seemingly put the game out of reach.

But there is no NFL franchise that is quite as confounding as the Giants. While the entire NFC East seems made up of teams that don’t really want to win this year, no other franchise in the league seems as spooked by prosperity as New York. Just three weeks ago the Giants had a chance to seize control of the division in a road game against Washington, a team that had been embarrassed by Carolina one week earlier. But coming off their bye week the Giants were virtually comatose in the first half, eventually losing 20-14.

On the other hand, every time the season appears lost, New York finds a way to rally, thriving in the direst moments of adversity. In that sense Sunday’s game was a microcosm of the team’s entire season. It was as if trailing by four touchdowns with just over twenty minutes to play, the Giants had the Panthers right where they wanted them.

Mixing runs and short passes, and overcoming a pair of potentially costly penalties, Manning led New York down the field on a drive that ended with a short pass to Will Tye in the right flat, who managed to get his hand with the ball across the plane of the goal line even as he was being forced out of bounds. After forcing a Carolina punt, New York quickly added another score thanks to two long runs by Jennings, and with most of the final quarter still to play the lead had been cut in half.

The Panthers likely could have iced the game in their next possession, but a Graham Gano field goal try was blocked. Although the Giants quickly turned the ball back on a Manning interception, they just as quickly reclaimed it when Newton fumbled. New York then took advantage of the short field, driving in from the Carolina 14-yard line in just three plays.

After another Carolina punt the Giants took possession at their own 34-yard line with 4:17 remaining on the clock. On third down and three, Manning found Beckham just beyond the line of scrimmage. The Giants’ emerging star was harassed all day by cornerback Josh Norman, and Beckham had earlier responded with a helmet-to-helmet hit on the Carolina defender. On this play he gave a more professional answer, racing through the defense for a 40-yard gain to the Carolina nineteen. Then just after the two-minute warning and on fourth down, Manning lofted the ball to the left corner of the end zone where Beckham gathered it in for the touchdown that, with the subsequent extra point, completed a 28-point comeback against the NFL’s sole remaining undefeated team.

Except of course these are the New York Giants. Their fans packed into MetLife Stadium must have shuddered when they looked at the game clock, even as Beckham was celebrating in the end zone. The display showed 1:46 remaining. Just two weeks ago, after the Giants fell 23-20 in overtime to the Jets, their MetLife Stadium co-tenants, Bill Pennington noted in the New York Times that if all of this season’s Giants games had ended with 75 seconds on the clock, the team’s record at that point would be 9-3. If their games had been shortened by just 37 seconds the mark would be 8-4. Either one would have put them well atop their division, and been far superior to the 5-7 mark they held at that time.

So the New York faithful surely knew that 106 seconds was eons of time for Newton and Carolina; as indeed it proved to be. It was more than enough time for a decent kickoff return and for seven plays, a mixture of runs and short passes against a Giants defense that after being stout for most of the fourth quarter reverted to its earlier hapless self. By the time those plays were done the ball was on New York’s 25-yard line, and five seconds remained.

That in turn was more than enough time for Gano to kick a 43-yard field goal through the uprights as the clock went to zero. More than enough time for Carolina’s remarkable run to continue; and more than enough time for the Giants hopes of making the postseason to go on life support. With their final two games against woeful division opponents, the Panthers look likely to enter the playoffs chasing the 1972 Dolphins’ record of total perfection. To join Carolina in the postseason the Giants must now win a pair of tough games, and even then hope for some help. But then these are the 2015 New York Giants, so maybe that means they have the rest of the NFL right where they want them.

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