On Pro Football
By BILL PENNINGTON
The Giants this season were a young team that overachieved, a squad that quickly transformed a franchise stumbling and bewildered after three consecutive losing seasons into a surprising playoff contender. And when hope was restored with a postseason berth, it re-energized a flagging fan base.
Those are important accomplishments, and they came a year earlier than almost anyone within the Giants organization expected.
But at their core, the Giants remained raw and inexperienced and, as they proved in the last week, immature.
It began with the wide receivers’ now notorious trip to Miami, posing shirtless on a boat as, they said, they sought to let off steam after just defeating the Washington Redskins in their final regular-season game. The trip may have had no palpable impact on the Green Bay Packers’ 38-13 thrashing of the Giants on Sunday, except that many people will forever believe that it did.
People will come away with that impression because of what they saw with their own eyes in some of the most pivotal sequences of the game: Odell Beckham Jr. dropped an important third-down pass on the Giants’ first series, then let a touchdown pass slip through his hands shortly thereafter.
His colleague and co-traveler to Miami, the rookie Sterling Shepard, also dropped an early touchdown pass.
After the game, Beckham insisted the Miami sojourn had nothing to do with the game’s outcome. That may be true, but he also said, “It created a distraction for us.”
Beckham is 24 years old. Shepard is 22.
If the Giants return to the playoffs next season, neither player will probably be making any out-of-state trips in the week leading up to the playoffs.
The Giants’ naïveté showed itself in other ways during Sunday’s defeat. Six Giants defenders were in the end zone covering three Packers receivers on quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s desperation heave on the final play of the first half.
Green Bay’s Randall Cobb caught the football in the back of the end zone, where he was standing behind every Giants defender.
Later, Landon Collins, the Giants’ All-Pro safety, said that he did not think there was enough room for Cobb to make a catch in the back of the end zone. He was wrong. One sure way to know if there was room would have been to stand next to him, or almost on top of him, which is the job of a defensive back.
But Collins is 22 years old. If he returns to the playoffs, he will probably play a “Hail Mary” pass very differently.
At 29, the running back and kick returner Bobby Rainey is not a football youngster. But Sunday’s game was his first playoff game, and perhaps the moment overwhelmed him. Because with the Giants trailing, 21-13, late in the third quarter — only a touchdown and 2-point conversion away from tying the game — Rainey caught a kickoff that was probably about to go out of bounds at the Giants’ 3-yard line, then, off balance, stepped over the sideline.
That blunder, an unexplainable mental mistake, likely cost them 32 yards of field position. Four plays later, the Giants punted, and Green Bay took over at the Giants’ 37-yard line.
By then the Giants’ fearsome defense was overextended and fatigued. The Packers rattled off 17 consecutive points.
There was another obvious sign of the Giants’ immaturity in Sunday’s game, although it may be far harder to correct than simply waiting for some players to grow and mature. Left tackle Ereck Flowers, the first-round pick from 2015 whose deficiencies at a crucial position were exposed repeatedly this season, has become the most substantial hindrance to the efficacy of the offense. Moreover, quarterback Eli Manning turned 36 last week, and Flowers is putting him, the team’s most valuable asset, in danger on a weekly basis.
Flowers was the ninth overall pick just two drafts ago. But the Giants’ front office is going to have to acknowledge its mistake of drafting Flowers with a high pick and move him to right tackle, where he can do less harm. That will leave the Giants with a gaping hole at left tackle, but it seems apparent the Giants are going to have to spend a significant amount of off-season free-agent dollars on the offense regardless.
Still, in the end, it was a season to celebrate. It was a testament to Ben McAdoo, the first-year coach, and the many first-year Giants who breathed new life into a sagging team.
Watching the Giants dominate the Packers on the road for most of the first half on Sunday must have been an exhilarating and heartening experience for many a Giants fan.
The key for the team moving forward will be to learn from that experience and put the lessons gained to good use in the next Giants playoff game.
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