After the final dispiriting defeat of a lost season, Eli Manning was asked how he would sum it all up.
That was true on opening night in Dallas and was still the case in a season-ending 35-30 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in MetLife Stadium. The Giants had rallied from an early 14-3 deficit to take a 27-21 lead in the third quarter. They were driving for a touchdown or field goal that would have given them a two-score advantage. But Manning was hit from behind by linebacker Connor Barwin, the ball popped into the air and was grabbed by safety Walter Thurmond, who returned it 83 yards for a touchdown that put Philadelphia ahead for good, 28-27.
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It was a play that summarized a game that was a condensed version of the entire season. The Giants rolled up 502 yards, including a season-high 208 on the ground, and 30 first downs, but lost because of mistakes, an inability to capitalize on scoring chances, and a defense that struggled to slow down the opposition.
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The Giants finished 6-10 for the second year in a row, and in third place in the NFC East for the third consecutive season. Philadelphia claimed second place with a 7-9 record.
The media attending Coughlin’s postgame news conference were scarcely interested in the details of the game. They were more concerned with whether Coughlin plans to or believes he will return for a 13th season as the Giants head coach. Coughlin was unwilling or unable to provide a response.
“You’ve got your questions prepared for what direction I’m going in,” Coughlin said. “I’m not going to answer anything about that. The season just ended, there will be time for that. We will get into that discussion. … I’m going to give myself a little bit of
The Giants did many good things in the game. Manning, playing on his 35th birthday, completed 24 of 43 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns (nine yards to Will Tye, 45 yards to Rueben Randle). Rashad Jennings rushed for 170 yards, 63 more than the season-high he set two weeks ago against Carolina. Josh Brown made all three of his field goal attempts.
But time and again, the Eagles made a play seemingly every time they needed one. Sam Bradford completed 30 of 38 passes for 320 yards, two scores and one interception. Both touchdowns went to Jordan Matthews, for four and then three yards. Tight end Zach Ertz had nine receptions for 152 yards, including a 60-yarder. DeMarco Murray ran for a 54-yard touchdown, and Darren Sproles had a six-yard score. And Thurmond, who briefly played for the Giants in 2014, made the game-turning play.
The Eagles converted 10 of 13 third-down opportunities, a 77 percent success rate that was the highest against the Giants in 45 years.
“That third down was terrible for us today,” defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said. “We were getting decent play on first and second down, but when it came to getting off the field, we weren’t able to do it. They were able to extend drives and keep going and get points out of it.”
Despite all that went wrong and resembled so many other tough games, this one had a late twist that actually went the Giants’ way. After so many games in which the defense gave up points in the final seconds, the unit stopped the Eagles and forced a punt that gave the Giants the ball at their own 20 with 1:43 remaining. The Giants got as far as their own 42 with 44 seconds remaining. But after Manning spiked the ball to stop the clock, he threw three straight incompletions, the last one to Tye that was knocked down by Mychal Kendricks.
“Five games that ended up in the final 30 seconds either one way or the other, and this is probably the exact same circumstance,” Coughlin said. “Finishing has been very difficult for us, for this team and you see it here. They line up, they throw the ball when the game is on the line, they didn’t even go into a normal four-minute mode and run the ball. They made first downs getting the ball in the hands of the tight ends, etcetera, etcetera, and had we been able to stop them earlier, we would’ve had more time on the clock, even though my timeouts were going to be gone. But finishing the game has been an issue all year for us, and we’ve talked about it, we’ve worked on it, I switched the two-minute drills around in practice to try and make it more of an emphasis, and we’re still working on it.”
Frustration was evident in all corners of the locker room – because of the game, because of the season, and because the players don’t know if a coach they have tremendous respect and admiration for will return.
“It’s very frustrating not winning, especially trying to start off the New Year right with a win,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “It started down in Dallas with not finishing the fourth quarter. This was the same case.
“It’s kind of hard to not think about (Coughlin’s future). I would say everyone in this organization tried real hard to not talk about it. It’s funny, it was kind of like subliminal messages, like, ‘We know who we’re playing this game for, and let’s finish.’ And we didn’t finish. I’m sure everyone feels like they let that person down. To answer your question, I would say everyone tried real hard to not talk about it.”
Including that person.