EAST RUTHERFORD — There is an obvious reason why the New York Giants went from a Super Bowl champion to a frustrated team that missed the playoffs.
It’s consistency. Tom Coughlin’s team lacked it in 2012 despite finishing with the same 9-7 record as a year ago when a late rush took them to their second title in five seasons.
This year there was no late rush. Just two bad games against Atlanta and Baltimore that cost the Giants control of their playoff destiny and ultimately left them cleaning out their lockers on Monday despite a season-ending win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
It was a far cry from a year ago when the Giants cleaned out their lockers and then boarded buses for a trip down the Canyon of Heroes in New York City.
“Emotionally it’s not an easy day under any circumstances,” said the 66-year-old Coughlin, who clearly is looking forward to returning next season. “To not be in the playoffs is not what we expected when the season began.”
It certainly wasn’t what the Giants expected after opening the first half of the year with a 6-2 record.
However, the second half was much different. New York started it by blowing a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead against Pittsburgh. They were embarrassed by Cincinnati the following week and later threw in consecutive no-show efforts in a 34-0 loss to Atlanta and a 33-14 debacle in Baltimore.
The team had two very different personalities.
When they played like a Super Bowl contender, the Giants were awesome. They beat San Francisco 26-3 and had wins over Green Bay 38-10, New Orleans 52-27 and Philadelphia 42-7 in the second half, too.
“The bar is set very high here,” general manager Jerry Reese said. “We didn’t get the job done. I wish I had something clever to give you guys but that’s the soup and nuts. We didn’t get the job done.”
The Giants have some work to do in the offseason. They have almost two dozen restricted or unrestricted free agents, including several starters on both sides of the ball — tackle Will Beatty, guard Kevin Boothe, tight end Martellus Bennett, receiver Victor Cruz (restricted), linebacker Chase Blackburn, safety Stevie Brown (restricted), safety Kenny Phillips and kicker Lawrence Tynes.
Players said the front office doesn’t need to tweak too much, especially with quarterback Eli Manning coming back. He is the lynchpin of an offense that scored 429 points, the second most in franchise history. The offensive line kept Manning clean much of the year and paved the way for Ahmad Bradshaw to have his second 1,000-yard rushing season. Cruz had another big year with 86 catches for 1,092 yards and 10 touchdowns
The defense seemingly needs more help after finishing near the bottom of the league in the regular season. The pass rush that carried New York last season wasn’t there all the time and the run defense was pathetic at times, allowing an average of 129.1 yards.
There are several players who could be on the bubble. Offensive tackle David Diehl could become a salary cap casualty and there is no guarantee that Bradshaw will be back after rookie David Wilson played so well late. New York also has to hope that receiver Hakeem Nicks finally gets over the foot and knee problems that limited him all season, taking away one of Manning’s favorite targets.
“Anytime we don’t win the Super Bowl it’s a disappointing year, so this is a disappointing year,” defensive captain Justin Tuck said. “So was the year before the Super Bowl. The thing I understand about the game is you play to win Super Bowls. You don’t play the game to get playoffs berths. Yes, we would love to be in the playoffs, don’t get me wrong but that’s not the end goal. I would rather not make the playoffs than make the Super Bowl final and lose it.”
Tuck, who said he had a bad year, insists the Giants aren’t in the same boat as teams that won two games this past season.
“We still have a quality football team, a team that I feel very confident that if we would have gotten in the playoffs, we would have made a run,” he said. “It seems to me, playing well against a division foe (the Eagles) yesterday, we started a little too late. Hopefully that will be something we can build on in this offseason.”
Manning looked upon the season as a wasted opportunity.
“We had a three-game lead at one point in the division, and down the stretch, we couldn’t hold onto it,” he said. “It was up to us. We had to win. We had to play our best football, and we couldn’t do it. There’s no one to blame, or no one to look at except ourselves. That’s disappointing.”
And that sums up the season.