They had just bounced back from an embarrassing two-game slide to defeat Washington, 17-14. Yet there was not a celebration or a smile in sight. Because their season, which just two weeks ago seemed so filled with promise, had come to a painful end.
“This is the most somber winning locker room you’ll ever see,” defensive tackle Barry Cofield said as he sat at his locker, frowning. “Because we fell short of our goals.”
To have a chance at earning a wild-card spot in the playoffs, the Giants needed to beat the Redskins on Sunday. The problem was that the needed to win, too. And the Bears did not oblige.
In a game played at the same time, about 900 miles away, the Bears lost to the , 10-3. That game ended in the waning moments of the matchup here. The result left the Giants out of the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Describing how he felt when he learned of the Bears’ loss, Cofield said, “Just having a bitter taste in our mouth, just being disgusted.”
said he had warned his team not to look at the Jumbotron during the game.
He feared that the Giants would see the Bears-Packers score and that the score — whatever it was — would upset their focus. But some players, particularly at the end of the game, could not help sneaking a peek.
In the fourth quarter, Giants quarterback said he saw a replay of the late-game interception that clinched the victory for the Packers. His heart sank.
“We knew we needed some help from Chicago, and it didn’t happen, so we are pleased with the win tonight,” Manning said, saying his team did all it could to hold up its end, but that the victory on Sunday was too little, too late. “We felt we were a playoff-caliber team.”
The Giants had a second consecutive late-season collapse, but the Giants co-owner John Mara said after the game that Coughlin’s job was safe.
Before hearing that news, Coughlin said he was proud of his players for finishing so strongly, with such an impressive record. Yet he said he could not help feeling badly that the season had come to an end before it should have.
“It hurts. It hurts a lot,” he said, his face still ruddy from the chilly weather and wind. “I mean, that’s what you’re trying to accomplish. You want to be in the playoffs. That’s what this thing is all about.”
To right the team before the season’s end — and perhaps to better his chances at keeping his job — Coughlin said he had asked his players to perform with more passion and emotion. He said those qualities had disappeared during the Giants’ loss to the two weeks ago.
Before losing that game, the Giants could not imagine that they would be packing up their uniforms for the season right now. They had been poised to take sole possession of first place in the N.F.C. East. But consecutive losses — by 38-31 to Philadelphia and by 45-17 to Green Bay — kept a playoff berth tantalizingly out of reach.
“We proved that we are one of the best teams, but unfortunately we squandered our opportunities,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “When you’re in a position to close it out and you don’t do it, you have no one to blame but yourself. The Philadelphia Eagles game and the Green Bay games were must-win games and we didn’t close it out.”
On Sunday, with the pressure to win weighing on the Giants more than ever, there was passion and emotion on defense as they forced four turnovers. But the offense started out slowly, scoring just 3 points in the first quarter.
With 3 minutes 6 seconds left in the first half, the Giants finally looked fully energized, marching down the field to score on a 2-yard run by Brandon Jacobs. The Redskins, who finished last in the N.F.C. East for the third year in a row, also scored before the half, making the score 10-7.
Giants players said they were not told at halftime that the Packers were trailing, 3-0. Early in the third quarter, the Giants went ahead, 17-7, on a 92-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Mario Manningham.
But late in the third quarter in Green Bay, the Packers tied the score, then went ahead early in the fourth. And in Washington, the Giants finally saw hints that their victory might end up being moot. With several minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Jumbotron above the field began showing plays from the game in Green Bay. And there, larger than life, the Giants could see their playoff hopes fade.
At one point, the Giants players appeared to be dumbstruck as they stood midfield and watched the Packers celebrate on the big screen. Washington fans, whose team finished 6-10, rubbed it in by cheering. With about two minutes left, they began chanting, “Green Bay won!”
Some Giants said they heard it; others said they did not. All of them, though, ended up hearing the bad news from a team official as soon as they entered their locker room.
“It’s beyond disappointing, but it’s our fault that we left our fate in the hand of another team,” Giants safety Antrel Rolle said. “And now there’s nothing we can do about it.”