Commentary

Go 'fourth' and prosper? Just stop it

Living on edge is no way to play for Giants, whose fourth-quarter magic runs out

Updated: October 9, 2011, 10:34 PM ET
By Johnette Howard | ESPNNewYork.com

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He could've lapsed into coach-speak and pretended the glass was still half full and all that foolishness, but New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin didn't mince words after his team's grating loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, and the blunt talk tumbling from his mouth was the best thing anyone in a Giants uniform did all day.

Maybe another coach would've tried to soft-pedal how badly the Giants sabotaged themselves, and trumped up how resilient they were to even be in position to pull out a third straight win in the fourth quarter. But Coughlin didn't bother. Living dangerously doesn't particularly appeal to him. And this is why: Living dangerously is what finally caught up to the Giants on Sunday.

If any of the Giants thought it was kind of cool to have this budding identity as a club that can work a little magic and pull out fourth-quarter wins no matter how badly the first three quarters go, Coughlin shattered that conceit after the Seahawks beat the Giants 36-25, ruining their first home game at MetLife Stadium in three weeks.

[+] EnlargeTom Coughlin
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesAfter falling short of the playoffs last season, can Tom Coughlin's bunch avoid a post-bye letdown?

"This is about as miserable a feeling here as we've had in a long time," Coughlin said after the Giants dropped to 3-2 overall, but 1-1 at home after three straight wins, the last two of which came on the road.

Unlike other postgame sessions in his tenure, Coughlin was brutally analytical, not unapologetically impatient or irritable. As far as he was concerned, the Giants got what they deserved.

"We played poorly," Coughlin said. "When you don't deserve to win, you don't win."

Coughlin made it sound cut and dry but then, so much of this game was familiar. It featured a lot of the same problems that have been making the Giants so hard to accurately measure all year. Injuries have broadsided them, and they've admirably refused to claim that as an excuse. But still, how was it that they began Sunday 3-1 with a share of first place in the NFC East?

Once again, they couldn't run the ball well against the Seahawks, though a strong running game has historically been a signature of Coughlin's teams. And the Giants' defense couldn't stop Seattle's hurry-up offense from gashing it for big chunks of yardage, either, even though the Giants practiced for the no-huddle all week because Seattle used it out of desperation last week and nearly beat Atlanta.

"They said what they were going to do -- they publicized [they planned to use it again]," said Coughlin, who reads the newspapers and Internet as avidly as any coach looking for an edge.

"We just couldn't stop them," Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora sighed.

But that wasn't all that assured the Giants would drop to 1-1 at home this season.

The Giants also coughed up five turnovers and a safety. They couldn't stop Seahawks starting quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, and then couldn't stop his replacement, Charlie Whitehurst, when Jackson left with a chest injury. Yet, unbelievably, the Giants still had a chance to win, but twice committed penalties when they had the ball inside the Seahawks' 10 in the fourth quarter, and saw half of their defensive players stop -- just literally stop in their tracks -- after Umenyiora clearly jumped offsides with less than three minutes to play.

That allowed Whitehurst to hit Seattle's third-string wide receiver, Doug Baldwin, with what turned out to be the game-winning 27-yard touchdown pass with 2:37 left. Giants cornerback Aaron Ross and safety Antrel Rolle both said they heard a whistle after Umenyiora jumped. But, Ross added, a miscommunication between he and Rolle is what actually led both of them to stay with Seattle's underneath receiver, Ben Obomanu, while Baldwin ran free down the left hash.

Whitehurst found running him wide open to give the Seahawks a 29-25 lead.

"We both ended up standing there," Rolle said, "and the other guy ran free."

The Giants still weren't dead. That didn't happen until Eli Manning drove them back down the field on their ensuing possession. Then, facing first and goal from the Seattle 10, Manning tried to hit Victor Cruz on a quick 5-yard slant. But Cruz lost his footing as he cut and managed to get only his left hand on the ball. It caromed off fast-closing Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor and right to his teammate, cornerback Brandon Browner, who took it 94 yards for a touchdown to ice the game with 1:08 left.

So goodbye Giants' end-game magic, at least for now. And hit the pause button on Eli's budding reputation as the rising king of the fourth-quarter comeback. After causing an early-season firestorm by saying he counted himself among Tom Brady and the other elite quarterbacks in the league, Manning's quarterback rating coming into his game put him right up there with Brady and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. But Sunday, he finished with two fumbles (one lost) and three interceptions.

In a way, this loss might actually be good for the Giants. They can't operate under any illusions that they're far, far better than people thought they'd be. Seattle (2-3) hadn't won in 11 of its last 12 trips to the East Coast, and it hadn't won a road game against either the Giants or the Jets dating back to 1983. Even the Giants' resounding comeback win over the Eagles two weeks ago has lost a little luster now that Philadelphia dropped to 1-4 Sunday with a loss to Buffalo, whom the Giants face next.

The Giants aren't good enough to live on the edge week to week, digging holes for themselves and then relying on frantic finishes to save them.

That was message of this game.

Consider it heard, many of them said.

"We can't afford to be down and keep having to come back. ... That'll come back to bit you," Manning said.

And the Giants know what that means: Some biting words from Coughlin -- all of them justified -- probably come next.

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