SAN DIEGO -- Inevitability doesn't mitigate heartbreak. So even though this day had been coming for months, the New York Giants were glum in the wake of their 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers. The loss, combined with victories by the Eagles and Cardinals elsewhere, officially eliminated the Giants from contention for this year's postseason. There was no improving their mood on this matter.
"Each year, this organization, this team expects to make the playoffs and be in contention for a championship," quarterback Eli Manning said. "And to know [we're eliminated] with three games to go is disappointing."
This game Sunday was disappointing to the Giants (5-8) for reasons that transcended its consequences. This was the first time since their winless September in which they looked completely outclassed, clearly the lesser team from the start, dominated by their opponent.
"We got beat up in all facets of the game," said defensive end Justin Tuck, who at least added two more sacks to his personal hot streak.
And nobody's suggesting that an all-facets beating could possibly feel good to the players who took it. But taking a step back and looking from the outside, maybe it's a good thing the Giants laid an egg out here Sunday. It had been a long time since their last real stinker, and they'd begun to feel good about themselves. That's fine for the players on the field, but a bad game like this one may be a good reminder to the front office of just how much work really needs to be done on this team in the offseason.
The Giants right now are championship-caliber in almost no area. They are set at quarterback with a two-time Super Bowl MVP who's had a rough year but should bounce back. And Victor Cruz is one of the top slot receivers in the game. But while they have some good players at other positions -- Prince Amukamara at cornerback, Will Hill at safety, Andre Brown at running back, etc. -- almost every area of the roster will face major questions once the offseason begins:
• Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul are good defensive ends, but the former is a free agent and the latter is hurt, and even if they are both back and healthy next year, the Giants lack the depth at that position that has defined their recent championship past.
• Defensive tackle has been a strength all year, or at least until the Chargers rolled up 144 rushing yards on 40 carries Sunday. But the Giants' best at that position, Linval Joseph, is a free agent and it's unclear whether they can re-sign him.
• Jon Beason has been a great find at linebacker, but he's also a free agent. Will the team break character and allocate resources to the linebacker position in order to keep him?
• In the secondary, they could use a shutdown-type corner to pair with Amukamara, or at least upgrade the spot opposite him. And it's hard to imagine how they carry safety Antrel Rolle at $9.25 million next year. If he won't take a pay cut, they likely lose one of their key defensive leaders.
• Regardless of Rueben Randle's development, they will need to add at wide receiver, especially if Nicks leaves (as seems likely) and even if he doesn't. They have no depth behind their starters at that position.
• And of course there is the offensive line, which is the most significant source of the Giants' 2013 woes. They desperately need to protect Manning better and could conceivably need to replace three starters, as David Baas is a likely cut, Chris Snee is a possible one and Kevin Boothe is a free agent.
A ton of work, in all areas. The Giants need to operate their offense as though they're a bad team in need of a major overhaul, because they are. It helps, no doubt, that they're set at coach and quarterback. That offers them a leg up on the other teams in their situation, and picking in the first half of the first round is nicer when you don't have to find a quarterback. But had they kept winning, kept themselves in the playoff hunt and even finished with a winning record, it might have been easy for the front office to convince itself it could get by with only mild offseason tweaks.
Now, none of those things are possible and it should be clear to everyone the extent of the issues and the need to work on them. The players and coaches will work hard and try as hard as they can to win these final three games. This is not a situation like last year's Eagles or this year's Redskins. The on-field product will continue to deliver honest effort, even if it might not be good enough to keep them in games against superior teams.
But when it's all over, the Giants are going to come out of this season looking like a team that needs a lot of help. And that's good, because that's what they are, and there's no sense in them kidding themselves about it.