The Taste of Defeat: Panthers 41 - Giants 9

I. "The taste of defeat has a richness of experience all its own."
-Bill Bradley

It's really not so inappropriate that the Giants closed out the Meadowlands like they did. For all the attention being paid this year to the stadium's great moments, I would argue that the awful moments have been the most memorable. What's the single most famous memory of that stadium? The Miracle of the Meadowlands/Fumble, depending on your allegiance. Then in 1988, we closed out the season with a depressing loss to the Jets. The next year, our season ended on Flipper Anderson's Touchdown to the Tunnel. Then there was the late collapse in the 1997 playoffs against the Vikings (which was only outdone in its awfulness by the game it foreshadowed in the Fassel-era, the 2002 road loss to the 49ers.) Most recently, three of the past five seasons and two in a row have ended with ghastly home losses. In the Coughlin-era in particular, the Giants were more apt to lose a big game at the Meadowlands than win one. (On the road it's another story, of course.)

All of this is not to suggest that being a Giants fan is a bum deal. On the contrary, during my lifetime (b. 1980) they have won three times as many rings than their mathematical "fair share." Two of those titles ('90 and '07) were Hollywood-scripted-awesome, or as David Tyree would say, "Only God kinda stuff." The other one ('86) was immensely satisfying in it's... rightness. They have some other great moments in non-title years also: Gary Reasons's fourth down stop on Bobby Humphrey in the Denver snow, knocking off the Broncos in '98, 41-0 against the Vikings. (Think of Greg Comella crashing down on his ass in the end zone, pinning the ball and a surreal trip to the Super Bowl against his body.)

But these dismal afternoons in the Meadowlands, with the stadium half-empty, and the overhead TV shots of cars trying to get out of the swamp before the Sunday evening traffic... They're as big a part of being a Giants fan as anything else. And because of this, I feel a tug of nostalgia and an accompanying sense of loss. In some strange way, I'm actually going to miss these moments. They might be bad memories, but they're my memories of my Giants, dammit! Maybe I'm clinging to them like I cling to everything from my past, good or bad, no matter how painful. Or maybe it's because they're an inseparable part of a larger experience - being a football fan, being a Giants fan - that actually shields me from real pain.

II. What's to like/What's not to like

An incredibly obvious "nothing/everything" on this one. Although I will point out that Eli went 9 for his first 10 and looked very sharp until the shit hit the fan.

Other quick observations:
--Hold the phone on the Terrell-Thomas-is-actually-our-best-cornerback refrain.
--On the Stewart touchdown, Michael Boley bit on some sort of fake and was nowhere to be found, while Goff over-pursued and failed to play the cutback.
--Hakeem Nicks needs to sharpen up his game in the same way as - though to a lesser degree than - Mario Manningham. His fumble on the first drive on which he was ultimately ruled down was the result of carelessness. So was his drop two series later. Those two drops against the Eagles weren't good, nor was the weird way he was holding the ball in overtime against the Falcons, which could have caused a fumble under different circumstances. It was a promising year for Nicks, but there's lots of room for improvement.
--We knew Manningham's spaciness would cost us at some point. The sloppy fade patterns against the Eagles were one thing, but Sunday's fumble was of a different magnitude. Like Nicks, Manningham showed promise this year but also that he has a long way to go.
--Brandon Jacobs is unusable. More on that below.
--It's official: The offensive line has gone from elite to mediocre. The defensive line - and really the entire defense - has gone from very good to below average. I had hoped I would get to write "snapped out of a season-long funk" with regard to these units some time in the next few weeks, but that is not to be. The book is now closed.
--So much for John Fox returning as our defensive coordinator.

III. This is a non-exhaustive list, but get rid of Sheridan, Pierce, and Jacobs

Firing Sheridan is obvious. Sure there were the injuries, and sure the execution was worse than the schemes themselves. But we're talking about a worst-case scenario here. That means that anyone could have done just as good a job, and anyone will probably do better. I know it's not like the Giants to fire a guy after one year, but it's also not like the Giants to give up 40 points four times (and counting) in a season.

Pierce has one more year on his contract for $4.5 million. While it would be nice to keep him around for his "veteran leadership," there's no reason that he should be starting when we have guys like Goff, maybe even Kehl, and hopefully a draft pick to compete for that spot. He's making too much money to be a reserve, and he probably wouldn't accept that role anyway.

Jacobs has long been overrated. Now, he's the epitome of a washed-up running back and is virtually unusable. I've made this point before, but the Giants dominant run-blocking from 2005-2008 accentuated Jacobs's strengths while masking his weaknesses. His best quality was his ability to run through arm-tackles at the second level once he had accumulated a head of steam. But with the offensive line's steep decline this year - and considering their age, they're as likely to get worse as rebound - it's not as easy to get to the second level as it once was. This means the most important qualities for our running backs are to quickly recognize holes and then explode through them. For Jacobs, that's a problem. He never had much "short-area" quickness (to borrow a scout-speak phrase) to begin with, but however much he ever did have has vanished. His surprising open-field speed, which helped him break so many big runs in 2008, has diminished too. He'll be 29 next year and has accumulated three years of wear and tear on his large, lumbering body, so that speed is unlikely to return.

There are those out there that insist that Jacobs's main problem is his approach, that because he's 6-4, 265, he should just put his head down and barrel through tacklers. But despite his reputation, he's never been a great between-the-tackles guy. Contrary to conventional wisdom, being massive does not a good between-the-tackles runner make. (The same goes for goal line running, which Cris Collinsworth pointed out during the Eagles game when the Giants commendably used Bradshaw in goal line situations.) Instead, qualities like balance, explosiveness, and foot dexterity are more important than body mass when it comes to running in tight quarters. While Jacobs possesses these qualities for a guy who's 6-4, 265, he doesn't possess them relative to the rest of the running backs in the league. To the extent that he has had success between the tackles, it's been a function of his offensive line. And to the extent that he's been able to barrel through tacklers, those tacklers have usually been defensive backs and linebackers at the second level.

People are starting to come around to the notion that running backs have very short shelf lives. Whether you agree or not with the theory that Jacobs's peak was a mirage, it's hard to argue that he isn't now past it.