At first glance, the New York Giants appear victims of the post-Super Bowl syndrome. But their slide from Super Bowl champs to borderline wild-card team has more to do with their transitional state than any creeping complacency.
To make changes at critical coaching positions, and then to change the quarterback on top of that, is to change the personality of a team.
And when the Giants went from Bill Parcells to Ray Handley at head coach, and from Phil Simms to Jeff Hostetler at quarterback, their personality changed. So far, it has not been for the better.
It's hard to imagine that Parcells would have allowed the Giants to fold in the second half of a 17-13 loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 9 after New York dominated in a 13-0 first half. It's hard to believe Parcells would have endured last Monday's abysmal 30-7 loss to the Eagles with the stoic calm of Handley, the rookie coach who won't be panicked.
Even after the Giants slipped to 4-5, Handley refused to reverse his decision of Hostetler, last year's winning Super Bowl quarterback, over Simms. Handley rationalized by saying the Giants' problems run deeper than Hostetler, and that is true.
But his offense is averaging little more than 15 points a game, with a season-high of 23. And even if Hostetler can move the ball down the field, he can't get it in the end zone. Not the way Simms used to, anyway.
But the bigger problem in the Meadowlands may be the Giants' defense. In the last two weeks the Giants have given up scoring drives of 8:55 and 7:43 to the Redskins, and 9:05 and 9:08 to the previously punchless Eagles.
When the Eagles' gimpy Jim McMahon dodged a blitzing Steve DeOssie and found Keith Jackson for a 73-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, the Giants collapsed. Later, Lawrence Taylor painted a picture of confusion and said the Giants' players and coaches quit en masse in that game. It is a charge that Handley has refused to answer.
The Giants obviously are in trouble. Their four victories have come against San Francisco, Cleveland, Phoenix and Pittsburgh, and none of those teams has a winning record. Starting with Sunday's game in Phoenix, the Giants appear to need to win six of their last seven to get a wild-card playoff spot.
A few weeks ago, Giants general manager George Young talked about a stack ofetters on his desk urging him to fire Handley. Having weathered a similar storm with a rookie coach in Parcells in 1983, Young isn't going to blink. But then, the Giants weren't coming off a Super Bowl season in 1983, either, and he could afford to stay with Parcells longer.
* LOOK WHAT YOU'VE MISSED: How bad are the Indianapolis Colts?
They haven't scored a touchdown in 53 possessions, 20 quarters, and six games, or since Rick Venturi took over as head coach for Ron Meyer.
They have scored 61 points, averaging 6.8 a game. That puts them in great position to break the NFL record for fewest points in a 16-game season (181, New England, 1990). They need to average 17.3 points in the final seven games to avoid the record.
And their best chance to avoid an 0-16 season will come against Green Bay (in Milwaukee) on Nov. 24 or at Tampa Bay on Dec. 22. But don't bet on it.
* DRY WELL: If the Houston Oilers lose the home-field advantage to Buffalo in the AFC playoffs on the strength of Sunday's 16-13 overtime loss to the Redskins, they have only themselves to blame, not Ian Howfield.
The Oilers elected not to protect an injured Tony Zendejas in Plan B free agency last winter, and Zendejas signed with the Los Angeles Rams. Sunday, Zendejas nailed his 16th consecutive field goal in a streak that began last season. At 10-for-10, he is the only kicker in the league this season who hasn't missed.
* RIPE FOR RYPIEN: When the Redskins made Mark Rypien a sixth-round pick in the 1986 draft (the 146th pick overall), they didn't exactly envision him leading them to the Super Bowl. Chosen ahead of Rypien in the Washington draft that year were Markus Koch and Walter Murray in the second round, Alvin Walton in the third, and Ravin Caldwell in the fifth. Koch, Walton and Caldwell all made the team out of that draft, along with eighth-rounder Kurt Gouveia.