Adieu, 2008 New York Giants (or, Perspective: My Anti-Drug)

As a lifelong Giants fan, I’m not trying to say that this doesn’t suck; it certainly does.  (For a finely nuanced breakdown of how much it sucks, check out the estimable Big Blue 101’s take immediately following the game.)  But today, in the brisk air and all-restoring light of a January morning, I’m suggesting that my fellow Giants fans focus not on this:

Eli gets double-stuffed LIKE HIS RACING LEAGUE ROFLJEOMK (AP photo/Julie Jacobson)

Or on this:

(AP photo/Bill Kostroun)

REEEEEEACH (AP photo/Bill Kostroun)

Or even, douchetastic as it may have seemed, on this:

(AP photo/Bill Kostroun)

Actually funny, but I have to be mad by law. (AP photo/Bill Kostroun)

Instead, I’m suggesting that we spend today remembering this:

Tucks pick-six against the Rams. (Getty Images photo)

Tuck's pick-six against the Rams. (Getty Images photo)

And this:

Jacobs jumps toward the end zone in the Plax-week win against the Redskins in D.C. (AP photo/Nick Wass)

Jacobs jumps toward the end zone in the Plax-week win against the Redskins in D.C. (AP photo/Nick Wass)

And this:

Boss snags a TD against the title-game-bound Cardinals. (Reuters photo)

Boss snagging a TD against the Cardinals. (Reuters photo)

And, of course, most importantly, this:

This happened less than a year ago.

This happened less than a year ago. Think back on that.

Call me an apologist, an optimist, a fool, whatever, but I refuse to call this year’s incarnation of the Giants a disappointment.  While I’m obviously displeased with yesterday’s result, I can’t help but view this season as a net positive.

Despite losing their longtime leader (Michael Strahan) to retirement, their best defensive player (Osi Umenyiora) to injury before the start of the regular season and their most talented offensive player (duh) to an inexcusably poor decision (sweatpants in a club? f’real? oh, and the gun), the Giants won 12 games and a division title.  Not only that, but they did it in enjoyable fashion, slamming the ball down opponents’ throats with a vicious running game keyed by two 1,000-yard rushers (Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward) and a mauling offensive line.  Furthermore, they did it by playing careful football, limiting turnovers (just 13, tied with Miami for fewest in the league) and featuring a defense that was not only aggressive (42 sacks, third in the NFC) but also more opportunistic (17 picks, fourth-best in the NFC, and a +9 turnover differential, tops in the conference) than the Meadowlands had seen in recent years.

We saw the birth of stars on both sides of the ball with the emergence of Jacobs and Justin Tuck.  Despite the bad taste he left in our mouths with his outing yesterday, we saw our much-maligned quarterback take another step forward, carrying his steady performance from last year’s playoffs into the season and playing (for most of the year, at least) the quarterback position as well as it’s been played here since Phil Simms left.  (Granted, that says more about the state of the Giants’ QB position over the past two decades than about Eli’s aptitude, but still.)

We watched the continued development of a potentially fantastic young secondary, with Corey Webster and Aaron Ross proving to be legitimate starters at cornerback and the often promising troika of Michael Johnson, James Butler and Kenny Phillips at safety.  We saw underrated defensive tackles Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield get richly deserved recognition for their contributions (particularly Robbins, who leaped out of the gate before being slowed by injuries, and whose absence was sorely felt during the Giants’ late-season troubles).

And it all came the year after they made one of the most improbable championship runs in modern NFL history.  As I reminded folks following my live-tweet of the game on Twitter yesterday: “Remember that our boys won the whole fucking thing last year, then take a deep breath.” To have asked for any more would have been greedy.

That said: While Giants fans have a lot to feel good about (whether or not they can feel it just yet), there are major questions going forward.  Namely:

  • Whither Steve Spagnuolo? The Giants’ sterling defensive coordinator is again among the most sought-after options for teams looking to fill head coaching vacancies, and with New York out of the playoffs, GMs/presidents can now put on the full-court press to land him.  Defensive players rave about playing for him, and his pressure schemes have restored a swagger to the unit that has been largely responsible for the team’s resurgence over the past two seasons.  If he gets hit with the right offer, he’s gotta follow the John Fox path and skate; the question then becomes who gets the keys to the D, and can they keep it performing at the same high level that Spags did?
  • How does GM Jerry Reese resolve the contract situation at running back? Both Jacobs and Ward are up for free agency, and third-stringer Ahmad Bradshaw strict-up admitted that he wouldn’t be unhappy if neither came back next year. (Yes, he did so during a jokey FOX “interview” with Strahan, but dude definitely looked to be kidding on the square.)
  • What does the team do about Harris Smith, everyone’s favorite gunman on the fleecy knoll? He’s worn out his welcome like an acrid-farting mother-in-law, but the lack of respect that opposing defenses showed for the Giants’ suddenly pedestrian receiving corps in his absence hasn’t gone unnoticed.  Whether or not Reese and co. decide to bring him back, it’s apparent that the offense flourished when Manning had a big-play threat split wide that could beat tight coverage, made defenses pay for choosing to stack the box against the run and forced coordinators to commit additional resources to the passing game.  If Plax ain’t that anymore, then a reasonable facismile needs to be found in trade or free agency, because it’s not likely that the Giants are going to find that guy in the draft.
  • Can you count on Osi? Despite racking up 42 sacks on the season, the squad was often unable to get QB pressure at critical junctures.  O-lines focused on limiting Tuck and dared the remaining linemen to hit the quarterback; on days like yesterday, they too often couldn’t, allowing QBs to keep plays alive and stretch the young secondary past its breaking point, or leading Spagnuolo to bring heat from the back seven, creating dangerous one-on-one matchups in the passing game.  On the one hand, plugging an All-Pro defensive end like Umenyiora back into the starting lineup seems like the cure for what ailed the D-line; on the other, dude’s coming off a torn lateral meniscus, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be as explosive or effective.
  • Will they find a legit home run threat in the return game? With the exception of Bradshaw’s game-opening 65-yard burst yesterday, the Giants got virtually nothing out of their kick returners after the Plaxident bumped Domenik Hixon’s name up the WR depth chart and off of special teams.  The ability to change field position and put pressure on opposing coverage units can help non-explosive offensive teams step on the throats of opponents while taking some of the big-play onus off of the passing game, which might be just what the doctor ordered if Reese can’t find Plax’s replacement.

There are more issues to address — the need for an infusion of speed at linebacker, for one — but to continue would be to belabor a point that’s best made another day.  Last night was the Irish wake for the Giants’ 2008 season (I know I sure as shit drank); today’s the memorial service, where we mourn the passing of a good, solid and likable (for the fans, at least) team.  The destination definitely sucked, but I enjoyed the road trip to get there.  And today, that’s worth remembering.


10 responses to “Adieu, 2008 New York Giants (or, Perspective: My Anti-Drug)

  1. I am shocked by the depth and breadth of your knowledge about this football team, and by extrapolation, football in general. Well-played. I didn’t get to watch the game but was privately bummed they lost, and totally hope the f-ing CARDINALS rule their ‘oh word?’ way into the f-ing SUPER BOWL. PS – Brett Favre.

  2. Okay I can take down my status about Elisha and the boys breaking my heart. I feel much better about things right now. I have been wondering whats preventing Manningham from getting more reps and being a bigger factor in the offense. I was under the impression it was character issues that caused him to drop to the Giants. Is he not grasping the offense? Does he just suck? Is he having character issues again?

    • I don’t have any inside information or anything, Owen, but I’ve got to assume that Manningham’s biggest problem in year 1 was less character and more finding a way to crack the depth chart.

      Obviously, when Burress has healthy, he was your #1. Even though he’d lost a step, Toomer was a captain, one of Eli’s favorite targets (at least, once upon a time) and a professional receiver, far more reliable than a mid-round rookie. Hixon earned Plax’s spot by really impressing the coaching staff in the preseason and performing well when called upon early in the year, and Steve Smith has spent the last two seasons pretty firmly entrenching himself as a go-to slot/3rd down receiver.

      So Manningham found himself battling Sinorice Moss (a former second-round pick with stretch-the-field speed who showed some signs of life this season) for reps in four-receiver sets, which are not all that common in offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s scheme — not sure if the numbers have been crunched for this season yet, but New York used four-receiver sets only 3 percent of the time last season, according to the statistical geniuses at Football Outsiders. If they’re sending four into patterns, the fourth receiver is most likely going to be a back (hopefully Ward or Bradshaw in this offense, because Jacobs and Hedgecock have hands like feet) or a tight end.

      Now, there’s a ton up in the air this year — does Gilbride come back? does Plax come back? does Toomer come back? do they look to upgrade the WR corps via free agency/trade/draft? — but it does look like Manningham might have an opening to get some more reps. But it seems like “character” or keeping his head on straight is going to play less of a part than taking a page out of Hixon’s book and earning the snaps in preseason by demonstrating some of the physical gifts that made Manningham a force at Michigan.

  3. Inside? No. Insightful? Without a doubt. Im just looking at Manningham as way to upgrade without spending free agent dollars or starting from scratch in the draft. My memory of him at Michigan is a bit vague but I seem to remember thinking he could be a number one wideout in the NFL. I guess well see.

    • I’m sure GM Jerry Reese and Giants fans alike are also hopeful that Manningham can provide production on the cheap. A couple of caveats on expecting too much out of Manningham, though:

      Scouts did like his speed, quickness and penchant for making big plays coming out of college, but outside of his “character issues” — a couple of positive marijuana tests and an arrest (charges later dropped) while in Ann Arbor, and scoring a 6 out of 50 on the Wonderlic intellectual aptitude test (which isn’t necessarily a determinant of anything, but worried scouts and GMs) — there were a couple of on-the-field problems that gave teams pause: a relative lack of strength, which makes it difficult to get off press coverage, and a cavalier attitude about blocking in the run game.

      Neither would seem to fit well with the Giants, whose major post-Plaxident problem was getting relatively small receivers off of tight pressing corners and who expect receivers to work hard on run blocking. To be fair, I haven’t heard a peep about those particular problems this season — but Manningham’s inability to beat Sinorice Moss to get on the field might indicate that he wasn’t exactly wowing coaches with his strength and work ethic, either.

  4. I can only hope that Boldin demands to join the Big Blue Wrecking Crew. I have heard rumours he want out of Arizona. Besides they have way too many stud WR’s to keep them all happy. (Boldin, Fitzgerald, Breastgon, even Urban). Then again, I hope they pound the Eagles and McNabb breaks his neck.

    • First things first, Stras: I’m glad you’re here, but please don’t bring shit like “I hope this guy breaks his neck” to this site. I don’t like the Eagles or McNabb either, but comments like that make it easy for people to paint all Giants fans with the same douchebag brush.

      Now, to your point. Boldin would certainly be a great addition — he’s an All-Pro-caliber talent with size, strength, toughness, great hands and a propensity to make big plays. In short, he’s exactly what the Giants need if they let Plax go.

      That said, Arizona didn’t have any trouble keeping their three receivers happy this year — Warner threw the ball all over the field en route to an MVP-type season and three 1,000-yard campaigns. (By the way, if the Cardinals’ front office would let “This will allow us to feature Jerheme Urban more in the offense” become part of the logic for moving Boldin go, I’d encourage Arizona fans to do whatever they felt was necessary to bring the organization to its knees.)

      Boldin also has one year left on a four-year extension he signed with Arizona back in ’05. So for New York to get him, Reese would not only have to part with some prime draft picks — he’d also need to negotiate an extension that would keep Boldin in blue beyond the end of next season. Factor in the likelihood that Anquan’s probably going to want to be paid at least top-5 at his position (which means at least $12M per year in total salary, according to USA Today’s salary database) and possibly dollar-for-dollar with running-mate Larry Fitzgerald (who got a $15M signing bonus when he signed his 4-year, $40M extension with the Cards back in March), and Boldin would cost the Giants a fortune in total compensation.

      On top of that, he’ll turn 29 early in the ’09 season, meaning a long-term extension would devote a large chunk of your cap for several years to a 30+ wideout. On the plus side, Boldin’s game isn’t built on the kind of elite speed that tends to disappear on the wrong side of 30; on the minus side, guys over 30 don’t tend to get too much better or healthier, so expecting him to match or exceed his production history in two, three and four years is something of a gamble. It’d be interesting to see whether or not Reese would take the risk.

  5. As much as I love Boldins game Im just not sure id want to commit as much cash and whatever we have to give up to get him. Id rather build from within or jeez im not even sure I wanna say or if I even believe it maybe we should consider T.O. when the cowboys cut him. Noooooo forget i said that T.O. nonsense. I must still be drunk from last night. sorry.

  6. Id also like to add that i was the idiot who said that the Yankees shouldnt sign Santana because he would cost too much and we could do it with our own pitchers and we saw how that turned out. So not a ton of credibility here on my end.

  7. A note of clarification: I was wrong about Boldin’s contract status.

    After the end of this year, he has TWO years left on his four-year extension — according to’s Adam Schefter, Boldin’s under contract for $2.75 million next season and $3 million in 2010. I regret the error.

    That said, the scenario I presented still holds true — the Giants would have to give up some top-flight draft picks or talent to get Boldin, then would have to extend him for big dollars.

    And in the aftermath of his behavior during and following Arizona’s NFC championship game victory over the Eagles, you gotta ask: You want to replace a malcontent receiver with another malcontent receiver?

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