EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – It is the ultimate irony, or frustration, or quintessential summation of the Giants' 2015 season.
Too often this year, it is the defense that has failed to make the plays necessary for the team to win, particularly at the end of games. Last night in Minnesota, that unit had some costly lapses, but overall played one of its most complete games of the year. But the offense, which had consistently been putting points on the board, didn't keep pace. So despite getting what could have been a winning effort from a defense ranked last in the NFL, the Giants lost to the Vikings, 49-17, in TCF Bank Stadium.
"I know our defense played well enough to be competitive," coach Tom Coughlin said on a conference call today. "Our offense did not."
That is a summation Coughlin has uttered rarely, if at all, this season.
The defense was far from perfect. The unit gave up 218 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per carry, though that's hardly surprising since Minnesota entered the game as the NFL's fifth-ranked rushing team. Adrian Peterson, widely considered the league's finest back, ran for 104 yards and a touchdown, and Jerick McKinnon escaped for a 68-yard touchdown run among his two scores.
But the Vikings failed on 10 of their 16 third-down conversion opportunities, and scored touchdowns on just two of their five trips inside the Giants' 20-yard line. Blair Walsh kicked five field goals, including two longer than 50 yards.
The offense couldn't capitalize. Eli Manning threw three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by safety Harrison Smith, and another Minnesota returned to the Giants' 4-yard line, essentially giving the Vikings another free touchdown. Manning completed 15 passes, just five to a wide receiver corps that did not have the services of the dynamic Odell Beckham Jr., who missed the game while serving an NFL suspension. The Giants also came up short on 10 third-down chances – but they had only 11.
"It wasn't a good day for us," said Manning, who didn't complete his first pass until the second quarter. "It's tough to get anything started, we didn't convert on third downs, we got into third and longs. We ran the ball pretty well to start with, but we couldn't get a completion early on in the game and never got into a great rhythm, and turned the ball over and got behind."
As he did after the game, Manning refused to use Beckham's absence as an excuse for the offensive struggles.
"(We) just didn't make any plays offensively," Manning said. "We ran the ball pretty well, just it was tough to find a completion. They got some pressure early, had turnovers, they made plays, I made bad throws, made bad decisions, and I wasn't on my game. But I don't think it was a matter of Odell or not; we had other guys that could make plays. I didn't do a good job getting them the ball."
The Giants learned Saturday night they had been eliminated from playoff contention by virtue of Washington's victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Coughlin said whatever disappointment emanated from that result did not diminish the Giants' desire on a frigid Minneapolis night – at least for two-thirds of the units.
"You've got to break it down again," Coughlin said. "Defensively, it was outstanding. I think special teams was fine. I thought the offense, if we had created some opportunities for ourselves rather than just backing up in pass protection and turning the ball over, that kind of sapped some of the energy from the guys. I think coming out of the locker room, we were fine with regard to that. Even among the players themselves talking about pride and respect and so on and so forth. I don't have any thoughts about them not being prepared or coming out and playing hard. I just think we sapped our own energy on one side of the ball, and we didn't create any real positive situations for our defensive team with the field position we presented them with."
With one game remaining, the Giants are 6-9. So are the Eagles, who visit MetLife Stadium for the season finale on Sunday. The winner will claim second place in the NFC East. That's not what the Giants expected to be competing for when the season began, or even when they were 5-4 after beating Tampa Bay on Nov. 8. Since that is the goal in front of them, the Giants will do their best to reach it.
Photo timeline from the Giants Week 16 matchup against Minnesota Vikings
The Giants lost on Oct. 19 in Philadelphia, 27-7.
"The only factor that is involved right now is we have one game left and we have to prepare ourselves to play a Philadelphia team in the division that they know us very well, we know them very well," Coughlin said. "We did not play well against them the first time around, and we need to play much better at home for our home fans in this return visit."
"What's on my mind," Manning said, "is finishing this season and trying to finish the season strong and getting a win versus Philadelphia and end on a high note."
*Beckham officially had his suspension lifted by the league and rejoined the team. To create a space on the roster for him, the Giants placed linebacker Devon Kennard on injured reserve with a foot injury. Kennard has missed the last four games, and six overall this season.
*Coughlin and Manning were each asked on their respective conference calls about the ongoing speculation about the coach's job security. It is a subject neither of them wanted to dwell on.
"It's not going to affect anything in terms of how I go about my business this week," Coughlin said. "I will tell the team not to be distracted by it. … I've tried very hard, and you know this for a fact, the situation is not about me. I'm hoping that the players, they're not going to get centered around that. We're going to conduct ourselves as we always have. We're going to work as hard as we possibly can. We're going to try to put ourselves and our players in the best position we can, and we'll let whatever happens happen. We're going to try to play the game to the best of our ability, and win a football game."
"He's done a good job not bringing it up and as a player, I think you stay focused on what the task is ahead of you," Manning said. "You get ready for the game plan, and going out there and doing your job. Obviously, I have great respect for him, I wanted to do my job and do my job well, and get into the playoffs and have a big season, so he could continue to be the head coach. I have such respect for him and he's the only coach I've had in the NFL, and in that sense, (I) feel disappointed that I wasn't able to play at a better level for him."