After the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears, the Giants' playoff hopes disappeared and they have to wait until next season after a 2nd straight disappointing season. Here is a list of the top 10 things or bottom 10 (however you want to look at it) of what went wrong this season.
10. Steve Smith suffers season-ending knee injury: I never like blaming injuries for a reason a team didn't make the playoffs, which is why this is at the bottom of the list, however you can argue that the Giants have the 2nd spot in the NFC with a healthy Steve Smith. It is not a coincidence that the Giants struggled more on 3rd downs this season than the previous two seasons. Steve Smith led the NFL in 3rd down receptions in both 2008 and 2009. He's not the biggest or fastest receiver out there, but it's tough to find one that runs better routes or one with his hands. Project his numbers over a full season and that's 940 yards with 5 TDs. You'll take that out of your 2nd wide receiver every single season.
9. Hakeem Nicks breaks his toe: You could argue, and you'd probably be right, that Nicks would've had the best season ever by a Giants receiver if he was healthy. When you miss 3 games and you still have over 1,000 yards receiving and 11 TDs, you know you're doing something special. Project his stats over a full season and you get 97 receptions with 1,295 yards and 13 TD. The receptions and receiving yards would each be 2nd on the all-time franchise list with the touchdowns being tied for first. It would be very difficult to argue that point.
8. The Giants play on the East Coast: Can you imagine if the Giants played in the NFC West? They wouldn't just win the division by 3 games, their record could easily be 12-4 or 13-3 when facing the the Rams, Seahwaks, Cardinals and 49ers each twice. If the Giants beat the Seahawks at Seattle 41-7 in week 9, I'd hate to see how ugly things would get if they were to face the 49ers and Cardinals at home.
7. The Eagles: I'm not just talking about the late-season collapse, I'm talking about as a whole. For some bizarre reason, Big Blue cannot beat the Eagles. They haven't won since their first meeting in 2008, which was a 36-31 victory in week 10. This is very surprising considering that the Giants are better at almost every single position except for QB and linebacker.
6. Week 3 against the Titans: This seemed like such a harmless game at the time. It's only week 3, but you have to beat the teams you're supposed to beat at any time in the season. How do you let a team beat you 29-10 when you outgain them by 200 yards? It's simple. When you have a turnover margin of -3 for a game, it really doesn't matter if you outgain them by 400, you're still probably not going to win. Of course, 11 penalties for 86 yards certainly didn't help their chances either. Unfortunately, this game set the tone for how the rest of the season.
5. Tipped Passes: This is probably the biggest reason why there were so many turnovers last year. During the season, there were at least 10 balls that bounced off wide receivers that resulted in interceptions. Too much blame always falls on Eli Manning, because he's the quarterback in New York, but there is blame all around for this one. I doubt that this trend will continue next season, and if the large amount of tipped passes does not continue, then we could see the best season ever by a Giants quarterback next season with the WRs he has at his disposal. If not, we'll see the same result: Just missing the playoffs.
4. Injuries to the offensive line: Tom Brady only threw 4 interceptions this year. In 2008, Eli Manning only threw 10 interceptions. Why? Both quarterbacks had enough time to check their email, call their girlfriends and make dinner reservations before they threw a pass. I don't care who you are, but if you lose a guy like All-Pro center Shaun O'Hara for an extended period of time, your offense is not going to nearly be as effective.
3. Punting: If you're reading this and you see punting being ranked 3rd as the thing that went wrong this season you either think I'm crazy, a student of the game or realize that I'm a Giants fan. I may not be crazy (some would argue that point), but I have been watching the Giants for awhile. Over the last few seasons, the Giants have gotten spoiled with the lost art of the directional punting of Jeff Feagles. No one did it better in the history of the game. No one had more punts within the 20 yard line than Feagles. Matt Dodge simply was awful this year at directional punting. I'm not going to lay all the blame on him, because the punt coverages were probably just as terrible, if not worse. I'm willing to give Dodge a pass, since it's his rookie season and he has a strong leg, but if this continues next season, Tom Coughlin will turn a color that no one has ever seen before.
2. Turnovers within your own territory: Turnovers will kill any team, but it will destroy a team even more when you are close to your own endzone. Take the first game against the Eagles for instance. Assante Samuel intercepts Eli Manning when the Giants are within their own 30 yard line. That gives Michael Vick a short field and easily scores a touchdown. The reason why this is not number one is because most of the time, the Giants defense has been good enough to hold the other team to a field goal, sack them out of field goal range or even force a fumble when this happens, but it will still kill a team and its momentum for the game and possibly for the season.
1. Turnovers within field goal range: Nothing will hurt a team more when you turn the ball over when you're well within striking range. Remember Bryan McCann's 101 yard interception returned for a touchdown? That one play is basically a 14-point turnaround. Take that play out and the Giants are victorious and they have the 2nd seed in the playoffs. How many times has Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled in the red zone this season? I'm too afraid to look, but I know it's at least 3. At the very least that's 9 points left for the taking, but realistically it's probably 17.
Simply put, the Giants need to cut their turnovers in half and keep their team relatively healthy in the 2011 season.