The game started as well as any the Giants had played all season. The running game was productive. Eli Manning had time in the pocket and was completing his passes. The defense was overwhelming an out manned Jaguars offense. It meant a 21-0 Giants lead in the middle of the second quarter and a 21-3 lead at the half. Things looked bright in Jacksonville, where the game time temperature was a balmy 71 degrees, and the Giants looked to snap their six game losing streak.
But the worm turned as it has all season, in the form of injuries. Geoff Schwartz sprained an ankle, with ligament damage, per some reports. And his replacement, James Brewer, suffered a concussion. This forced offensive line coach Pat Flaherty to shift guard John Jerry out to right tackle and insert the last remaining backup lineman, Dallas Reynolds in at right guard. It also disrupted the Giants offense, as Manning had no time to pass, and there were no running lanes. Rashad Jennings, who had 91 yards rushing, mostly in the first half, suffered an ankle injury of his own, and the Giants offense stalled, managing only 3 points in the second half of the game.
The Giants offense was most generous to the Jaguars, however, fumbling three times, with two being returned for touchdowns, accounting for 13 of the 25 points the Jaguars scored on the day. The Giants did manage one second half drive worth mentioning, an 8 play, 54 yard drive that lead to the go ahead field goal. Manning completed four consecutive passes, two to Odell Beckham, and moved the Giants into the red zone for the only time in the latter half of the game. Give the surprising strong of the Giants defense in the game, it seemed like it might be enough.
On the ensuing drive, The Jaguars, who had surrendered 7 sacks on the day, relied on short passes and the ground game. Quarterback Blake Bortles, not known for his mobility, took advantage of the Giants greatest weakness this season, and ran read option plays that gained 31 of the 55 yards on the drive. It set up a 43 yard Josh Scobee field goal that provided the final points in the Jaguars 25-24 victory, their second of the season. The Giants third and final fumble came on their final desperation drive, with 30 seconds left in the game, and was, fittingly, on a strip sack.
Gone were the two Rashad Jennings rushing touchdowns, and the touchdown pass to Preston Parker. The bottom dropped out, as it has so often this season, as the Giants failed to finish yet another game, and dropped their seventh straight game. It was not for a lack of effort, this team played hard for 60 minutes, it was for lack of talent. Injuries and poor drafts have left the 2014 Giants with players barely NFL roster worthy. Many are calling for Tom Coughlin’s immediate dismissal after this embarrassing loss, or at least season’s end. Giants360 is not among them.
Coughlin had the team prepared and motivated to play a meaningless game one week after a heartbreaking loss to a bitter division rival and three days after formal elimination from the playoffs. They build a three touchdown lead until the latest round of injuries brought in an offensive line that couldn’t block the third leading sacking defensive line in the NFL. It probably won’t matter, as Coughlin will likely retire voluntarily at the end of this month. He looks tired, sounds thoroughly frustrated, and has the demeanor of a man who’s had enough.
If he wants to stick around another season and try to fix this mess, he’s earned it, but will need to do so with another defensive coordinator. Perry Fewell doesn’t make in game adjustments and allowing Bortles to rush for 68 yards is a clear sign that he can’t do what’s needed on the field. His game plans are usually sound, and this week he finally benched Jayron Hosley, improving coverage drastically, but then the opponent adapted, and Fewell once again did not, leaving the Giants vulnerable and exploited.
Although the roster is attributable to Jerry Reese, it does not appear that John Mara and Steve Tisch are prepared to make a change at General Manager after the season. There was a planned shift in the Giants drafting philosophy in 2013 and the team is committed to seeing it through. Prior to 2013, the Giants took a risk/reward approach and looked to hit home runs with picks, such as Ahmad Bradshaw, Marvin Austin, and Clint Sintim. Highly talented players with a seemingly correctable flaw or off the field issue. They missed more than they hit. The new team strategy is to take high character players who are a known quantity. Jonathan Hankins, Devon Kennard, and Weston Richburg have all been big contributors from the new philosophy batch of talent. Mara and Tisch will see it through for at least another season.
The rash of injuries is concerning and a chance in the training staff should be considered. In 2014, the Giants lead the league with 14 players on injured reserve and counting, as I suspect Schwartz is headed there this week. Something isn’t working and a new direction is needed to correct the problem.
The final question will be what to do about Manning. Entering the final year of his contract in 2015, there are some Giants fans that say it’s time to move on and that change in inevitable. To that, Giants360 responds with the following: Dave Brown, Danny Kannell, Kent Graham, Kerry Collins, Jesse Palmer. Those are the quarterbacks, along with a cup of coffee by Kurt Warner, that spanned the two decades between Phil Simms and Manning. If the Giants foolishly release or trade Manning, he will take another team to the Super Bowl if he’s given a strong offensive line, a running game, and receiving weapons. Meanwhile, Giants fans will be left to see why Ryan Nassib lasted until the fourth round of the draft.
Next up for the Giants are the Tennessee Titans, owners of a 2-10 record. Another team the Giants should beat. But then again, the proud member of the Titans media are looking at the mess that is the New York Giants and saying that Tennessee will earn their third win next Sunday afternoon. Keep an eye on the @giants360 twitter account for injury updates. Hopefully Justin Pugh or Schwartz will be available to play right tackle.