Every team in the NFC East lost the game before its bye week this year, and there's no surer way to ratchet fan angst to the highest possible level than to force your fans to sit on the same loss for two weeks. It is now the New York Giants' turn. Their worst loss of this season -- and their second in a row -- led into their current bye week. It gave the rest of an inept-looking division field fresh hope. And it renewed fears about the Giants once again turning a 6-2 start into a white-knuckle second-half free-fall.
Yes, Giants fans have seen this before. Almost every year, in fact. Tom Coughlin has gone 6-2 or better in seven of his nine seasons as Giants head coach. But only twice has he posted a winning record in the second half of the regular season. The Giants were 6-2 last year, then lost five of their next six before righting the ship (barely) in time to win the division and start the run that led them to their Super Bowl title.
What have you seen from the Giants the past two weeks, in losses to the Steelers and Bengals, that should make you believe this same second-half mess isn't happening again? Nothing. Based on the empirical on-field evidence, there is absolutely no way for me or Coughlin or anyone else to convince you you're not in for another 3-5 second half. It's already 0-2, after all, and the Giants still have to play the Packers, Saints, Falcons, Ravens, Redskins and Eagles. They could win any or even all of those games, but not a single one of them will be easy, and that little word right there is the one that seems to elude the Giants. Why, their fans wail, can they never make anything easy?
So without any concrete reason to feel this isn't the same old mess, what do Giants fans have? The answer is faith. And trust. If you're a Giants fan right now, what you cling to is the belief that this group of players and coaches will find a way to make this right before it's too late, and the reason is because you've seen them do it before. The memory of last year is fresh and brilliant, the characters almost all the same. That team sat at 7-7 with two games to go and somehow managed to win the Super Bowl behind the leadership of Coughlin and Eli Manning. That fact is what should sustain Giants fans through this bye week and into the six-game gauntlet that looms on the other side.
Now, of course, this ephemeral stuff can only take you so far. The fact that Coughlin and Manning and the rest of the Giants leaders know how to pull out of a nosedive before a crash doesn't automatically mean they will. Watching Manning over the past few weeks, you can see something is wrong and needs correcting. No amount of track record or past success will help the Giants unless they can somehow apply it in a way that helps them actually play football better. But as far as anyone knows, Manning is healthy. And so, for the most part, are the offensive pieces with which he's surrounded. The Giants played not well but extremely well in September and early October. Their Week 6 victory over the 49ers in San Francisco still stands as one of the most impressive single-game performances by any NFL team so far this year.
So there is evidence to back up faith, if faith is the option you choose. The way they played early in the year, the fact that they know how to recover from adversity and the fact that no other team in the division has yet won as many 2012 games as it has lost -- these are all available tonics for Giants fans determined not to be miserable for the next two weeks.
Those who favor pessimism obviously have their own evidence. Coughlin's Giants have certainly had more than their share of second-half slides from which they did not recover. The memory of 2011 ameliorated the memories of 2009 and 2010, but it did not erase them. What happened last season was special -- an all-time run. Just because you do that once (or even twice) doesn't mean you have the right to expect to do it every year. The margins for error are razor-thin in this NFL, and maybe the one or two big breaks that propel one year's Super Bowl run go the other way the following year. The Giants wouldn't be the first team to which that happened. Heck, this wouldn't be the first Giants team to which that happened.
But in the Giants' locker room, surely the focus is on the other side of the coin -- the side that says they've survived this before and are as qualified as any team in the league to survive it again. Undoubtedly, this year's Giants are thinking about 2011, the ways in which they pulled out of the nosedive just prior to the crash and the glory that resulted when they did. For Giants fans looking for reasons to feel good about their team over the next two weeks, this is the recommended option. But it's your choice.