There may yet be a magical run in store for the New York Giants. Even with Thursday night’s unfortunate 24-19 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles it would take a catastrophic confluence of events to keep Giants out of the playoffs. FiveThirtyEight lists the Giants with a better than 99 percent chance of reaching the postseason, and TeamRankings goes one better, listing the Giants as a 100 percent playoff lock.
The thing about Thursday night’s loss isn’t that it delayed what seems like an almost-inevitable playoff-clinching for the Giants. It is really that it showed, in difficult circumstances, just how fragile this Giants team is.
As good as the defense is, it simply can’t be perfect. It wasn’t perfect Thursday night, surrendering a game-opening seven-play, 78-yard touchdown drive and a 40-yard second-quarter touchdown pass from a rookie quarterback to a rookie wide receiver who has had an awful season.
Now, if you are a playoff-worthy team that believes it has the ability to make a Super Bowl run you should absolutely be able to win games when your defense gives up only 17 points. Shoot, only the awful Los Angeles Rams and winless Cleveland Browns average less than 17 points per game.
The Giants are good enough to beat any team in the NFL — when the defense is dominant. They showed that the previous two weeks against the Dallas Cowboys and the Detroit Lions.
When the defense is not dominant, which it was not Thursday night or a few weeks ago in a 24-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Giants are vulnerable.
They have yet to show they can win games when they have to rely on the offense, and Thursday’s loss at the Linc was another example. They aren’t good enough on offense to consistently play mistake-free football. It is more of an aberration when that happens. And they aren’t good enough to overcome those mistakes when they do happen.
No one should really be surprised by what we saw from Eli Manning on Thursday. Basically, it is what we have seen for 13 years. Some good, maybe even great. Some bad, bordering on high school junior varsity level bad.
When everything around him functions smoothly, when he can set his feet, is fully confident in the players around him and in what he sees, he can be brilliant. When he is consistently pressured or isn’t fully confident in the rest of the offense he can and will force things and throw some mystifyingly awful passes.
Even with 15 catches between Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz on Thursday night, the Giants’ offense as currently constructed boils down to this. They need to be as close to error-free as possible, and they need one or two game-changing plays from Odell Beckham Jr. each week.
They, obviously, were not error-free Thursday night. Even with 11 catches and 150 yards, Beckham couldn’t supply the one “take it to the house” moment the Giants have come to rely on with the Eagles sitting back in a soft Cover-2 and surrounding him after he caught the ball.
Manning and Beckham could have erased all of it and put the Giants into the playoffs had they connected on Manning’s second-to-last throw Thursday, a pass to the back of the end zone that sailed a couple of steps beyond Beckham’s reach.
“I had him,” Manning said. “I had a shot. I had a little double move and I probably could have tried to throw it early and made sure that I had enough room with the end zone and kind of put it on the line, so that the safety couldn’t recover and I just missed him a little bit. That is not a route that we throw all of the time. It was kind of a desperation moment right there, but that was definitely one of those plays again where we didn’t make it, it was there and we didn’t make it and it would have been a winner.”
The normally placid Manning showed his disappointment after the play. Beckham said the misfire was on him.
“I just didn’t make the play,” Beckham said. “The ball wasn’t overthrown; it was put right where it needed to be. I just needed a little bit more gas in me to go and get it. When you get into a two-minute situation at the end of the game and you run a 30-yard route and come back, you run another 30-yard route and you come back and then you try to get it again, I just didn’t have enough gas to go and get it. It wasn’t really overthrown; I needed to do a better job. ... I just didn’t do it for some reason, I thought I would’ve been able to go and get to it and I wasn’t. That weighs heavy on me; I want to be able to make those plays for this team. We had our own destiny in our hands tonight and we just didn’t come up with it.”
That type of near miss has typified the Giants’ inability to function consistently on offense all season.
The Giants do have a winning formula — stiflingly good defense and just enough plays from Manning to Beckham to overcome the rest of their offensive deficiencies.
Thursday night, though, served as a reminder that the formula won’t always work. And that if the Giants can’t find other ways to win post-season magic is unlikely.