All-Pro Reels, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For all the exhilaration that sport brings to its players and its fans, it can also be an intensely cruel activity to follow. Often the blame can be laid at the door of the team itself or even individual players and this is fair enough. But when it’s the actions of another team that put yours in a no-win position, that can be the hardest blow of all to take.

Unfortunately for Giants fans, this is exactly the position that they found themselves facing on Sunday January 3rd 2021 – hardly a very good start to the new year.

As has been widely reported and commented upon, it’s the Philadelphia Eagles who were the architects of the Giants downfall and who ensured that they would not feature in the playoffs, for this year at least.

For fans, it would have been easier to bear if it was a question of being beaten by the Eagles. But the fact that it came as a result of the Philadelphia team seeming to capitulate to Washington made it an especially bitter pill to swallow.

How things played out

All the Giants required to reach the playoffs was for the Eagles to win. Following their earlier 23-19 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the final league game of the season they were on the verge of making history. All that was needed was Washington to lose for the Giants to become the first ever team to make the playoffs after losing ten of their games in a season.

However, longtime rivals the Eagles made a number of questionable decisions that saw them lose 14-20, granting Washington the playoff place for the NFC East. The biggest, and most controversial of these decisions came in the fourth quarter with the game finely poised. The Eagles’ coach, Doug Pederson, took off star quarterback Jalen Hurts and replaced him with Nate Sudfeld. Only moments after coming on, Sudfeld lost a fumble and effectively handed the win to Washington.

Already, questions had been raised by Pederson’s choice of starting line-up with a number of key players left on the bench. No one knows exactly why he did this for such an important game and cynics have been quick to speculate. Could it be that, with no realistic chance of reaching the playoffs themselves, the Eagles are looking ahead to enjoying a better position for next season’s draft?

Whatever the motivations, the loss left Giants players and fans alike in a fury of indignation with Pederson explaining his actions by claiming that he felt it was time to give Sudfeld a chance to prove himself in a pressure situation.

The Giants’ Rollercoaster season

This all came at the end of what has been something of a rollercoaster ride of a season for the Giants’ head coach Joe Judge, his first in the role. There’s no doubt that the early signs weren’t encouraging with a five-game losing streak to get things under way. Ironically, it was a victory over Washington on October 18th that brought this to an end and started an upturn in the team’s fortunes.

Going into December, they had a 7-5 record but the wheels looked like they were about to come off again with three losses in a row to the Arizona Cardinals, the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens. So the final match of the standard season against the Cowboys was a must-win encounter.

And, if only things had gone their way, they would have found themselves with a shot at winning the Superbowl for the fifth time in their 95 year history. Admittedly, they would have been the underdogs. But surprises do happen in all sports – one only has to look back to 2007’s Super Bowl XLII when they defied the odds to beat the New England Patriots 17-14.

A similar run of good fortune would also have been very welcome news for fans with an eye on a Super Bowl betting line. However, as things have turned out, their dollars will have to be wagered on another team who will be at the Raymond James Stadium on February 7th.

Where did it all go wrong?

But, for Giants fans, it’s only those with a long memory that can remember the team when it was in its heyday. Some commentators on the sport look back to 2018 when the seeds for the current situation were sown.

This was the year when General Manager Dave Gettleman’s judgment on who to draft started to arouse suspicion. He may have felt that recruiting a player like Saquon Barkley was going to transform the team. But without a robust enough defense and offense to support him, this was unlikely to happen.

There are wider questions being asked about the quality of the squad in general and whether they really have what it takes to be true contenders. The leadership qualities of Gettleman have also been thrown into doubt with some questioning whether he, also, has gone well past his sell-by date. In the three seasons and over 40 games he’s been in charge of the Giants their record of 10-30 is the worst in the league. So perhaps his departure is just around the corner.

Whatever happens between now and next season, it will be of little consolation to the Giants and their fans. To have been so near, and yet so far, from a fairytale ending has hurt. And it will take some time for the pain to go away.