Flashback to two weeks ago. The Giants were sitting pretty at 11-1. They held the #1 spot in the NFL Power Rankings. And it seemed they were likely to make a run at a second straight Super Bowl title. Now take yourself back to today. Here's a recap of the last two weeks. First, the Giants' star wide receiver, Plaxico Burress, was placed on their reserve/ non-football injury list. In short, his season and quite possibly his term with the Giants, is over. After the Giants assured fans they would move on and play at the same level without Burress, they were dominated at home the next weekend versus the Eagles (20-14). Thanks to a Dallas loss though, the Giants clinched the NFC East and stayed confident the team would be fine. But the game against Philadelphia brought another problem, aside from the loss. To add insult to injury, Brandon Jacobs' questionable knee took more of a beating and now leaves him sidelined until further notice. Last night, with a crucial game next week against Carolina looming, the Giants rolled into Dallas, looking to bounce back. They had the opportunity to cripple the Cowboys playoff hopes and maintain some separation from the Panthers for home-field throughout the playoffs. However without Jacobs and Burress, the Giants offense made the Cowboys' defense look like the best in the NFL. The offensive line surrendered 8 sacks and suffered what Giants' fans can only hope to be a minor injury to offensive tackle, Kareem McKenzie. Eli barely completed 50% of his passes, throwing two interceptions in the process. And the NFL's leading rushing attack, with a Jacob-less backfield, was held to just 72 yards on the ground. It was ugly and well, pathetic. The Giants defense played strong, but with no help from its offense, it was only a matter of time before the Cowboys scored some timely TDs, en route to a victory (20-8). In summary, it has been a bad couple of weeks for the Giants. And by the looks of it, it might only get worse.
As I watched every aching moment of the game tonight, I could only find myself thinking of the potentially dismal future ahead. The Giants cannot use the excuse that it was simply one of those "let-down" games. In a rivalry game as big as the one versus Dallas, that's hardly an excuse. The worst part is, Dallas isn't that good. For most of the game, they had just trouble moving the ball as the Giants did, but I noticed a distinct difference. Dallas was up against a solid defensive unit that battered Romo; yet they stayed confident. The Giants, on the other hand, looked flat-out scared and lost. The offensive line was dominated, the wide receivers were pressed on the line, and Eli didn't know what to do. He sat in the pocket and took a beating, time, after time, after time. They were flustered the entire game and never had any type of rhythm on offense. They looked like a team with no confidence in themselves, wishing the reliant stars in absence were there.
Jacobs is the heart of this football team. He's a near unstoppable force in the backfield that actually puts fear into the linebackers attempting to hit him. There's no other running back in the game a person could say that about. He doesn't get hit...he hits people. Once the opposing defense is keyed in on stopping Jacobs, Ward's change of pace gives him an extra step on defenders. With 1/2 of the puzzle gone, the NFL's leading rushing attack isn't so effective (as was seen in Dallas).
Burress is a much bigger loss than people realize as well. Yes, his numbers were hardly impressive this year, but that's not what it all boils down to. Plaxico brings an element to the field that no other Giants' wideout can. He forces you to double cover him, and yet he can still make big plays in the process. At 6'5, 232, with speed, defenses cannot ignore him. This creates room for Toomer, Smith, Boss, and Hixon to get open from all angles. It also alleviates the pressure of making the big play, because they all know Plax can cover their slack if need be. With Burress gone, it puts the burden on the rest of the guys to carry their own load in more difficult coverages with more difficult matchups. With his receivers struggling to get open, Manning feels the pressure in the pocket much more, and his chances of getting a good throw off diminish. An unproductive Burress did a lot more for this Giants team than I think they realize.
For the Giants to have a shot at the Super Bowl they need at least a few things to happen. Jacobs and McKenzie need to get healthy and return to the lineup at full strength. Additionally, Gilbride needs to create a new look for his offense without Burress. And lastly, the Giants need to find that confidence they had in themselves last season. They cannot afford to let back-to-back losses set them back and strike their confidence. With a healthy lineup and a new scheme, the Giants can pull-off what they set to accomplish. However without Burress, it is going to take a lot more than they thought to do so. With the injuries that they have, and the absence of Burress, the Giants aren't the team they were just a few weeks ago. Unless things change, a repeat is unlikely.
Images taken from Yahoo! Sports