EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A season in microcosm passed by the New York Giants yesterday, leaving behind its indelible stamp of futility.
From Super Bowl champions to NFC East also-rans, from the NFL penthouse to the Meadowlands swamplands. That's the road the Giants traveled in defense of their Super Bowl championship.
The road effectively ended here at Giants Stadium in a 19-14 loss to the streaking Philadelphia Eagles (9-5), who have won six in a row and three straight on the road. New York's loss, coupled with the Atlanta Falcons' 31-14 rout of the Los Angeles Rams, LTC means the Giants (7-7) will be home for Christmas -- and out of the playoffs.
It was not a good time to ask about holiday plans in the Giants' morgue-like locker room.
"Don't ask no questions about last year as compared to this year," warned David Meggett, the Giants' scatback out of Towson State. "None of you guys can get it back; I can't get it back."
The first two-touchdown game of Meggett's three-year NFL career was spent in a lost cause. He turned two third-down passes from Phil Simms into first-half touchdowns of 8 and 14 yards. But like the Giants themselves, Meggett disappeared in the second half. After gaining 104 yards of offense in the first half, the Giants got only 47 after intermission.
It was a game of missed field-goal tries, blown chances and heightened angst for the Giants, who lost to the Eagles for the seventh time in the past eight meetings. Before it ended, an angry crowd of 76,099 serenaded coach Ray Handley with a loud chorus of "Ray must go."
Handley had seen it all before, though, from the failed offense to the fourth-quarter defensive collapse. When Philadelphia's Roger Ruzek made three second-half field goals, it marked the fifth game this season the Giants lost after holding a fourth-quarter lead.
"Today's game was the epitome of the entire season," said Handley, who finishes out his rookie season at Washington on Sunday and against the Houston Oilers the next week.
"We couldn't take advantage of the opportunities we got," Handley said. "We couldn't execute in the red zone. We turned the ball over. We got penalties at the wrong time. We couldn't stop them in the fourth quarter and get the ball, and we gave up the big play.
"That's what it's been all year long. That's what it was again today."
The Giants couldn't win even after the Eagles lost their inspirational leader, quarterback Jim McMahon, in the second quarter. McMahon had taken a hard hit from blitzing defensive back Roger Brown (Cardinal Gibbons grad) early in the period. When he was leveled by nose tackle Lorenzo Freeman on an incompletion a few minutes later, McMahon was on his knees trying to catch his breath. He was also done for the day.
The diagnosis for the battered 10-year veteran was bruised ribs, and expectations are that he will miss at least next week's game against the Dallas Cowboys if not the regular-season finale as well.
The sixth quarterback the Eagles have used this season responded in smart fashion after having his first pass -- thrown on his first play -- intercepted. Jeff Kemp, an 11-year journeyman who was cut by the Seattle Seahawks earlier this year, completed 10 of 19 passes for 146 yards and one touchdown. Perhaps most damaging were his moves outside the Giants' containment. Kemp gained 45 yards on seven ad-lib runs.
His mobility was largely responsible for the Eagles' only touchdown of the game right before halftime. Chased out of the pocket by Freeman, he threw back across his body to a wide-open Calvin Williams (Dunbar High) for an 8-yard touchdown. Kemp ran 18 yards for a critical third-down conversion in the drive.
Ruzek finished with four field goals, including a season-long 51-yarder in the fourth quarter that put the Eagles ahead for the first time. He also hit from 46, 21 and 36 yards.
"That was as great a team win as we have had," said coach Rich Kotite. "We have a lot of character on this team. The more adversity we have, the tougher we play."
It was as tough a loss as the Giants have had. Place-kicker Matt Bahr, a hero in New York's Super Bowl drive last season, was yesterday's goat. He was wide left on field-goal tries from 44 and 32 yards.
"I'm so disappointed in myself," Bahr said. "There's a chance to beat those guys [and] I didn't do my job."
Two other plays, on consecutive series in the third quarter, also figure to linger from this loss.
The first saw Simms throw over the middle for Meggett on third down. Meggett was open at the Eagles' 35 and in position for a big gain. But umpire Ed Fiffick had moved into the pass pattern. Simms' toss bounced off Fiffick's shoulder and fell incomplete.
"He came up to defend the pass," Simms said of Fiffick. "That was a big play. That cost us some points. A lot of things would have changed after that."
The Giants lost a possible seven points on the next series when wide receiver Odessa Turner was ruled out of bounds on what appeared to be a 42-yard touchdown pass. Turner's right foot brushed against the inside of the orange pylon on the goal line. Whether his left foot came down inbounds was questionable. There was no replay review, and no satisfaction for the Giants.
"The thing I think about is how many games we lost like this this year," Simms said. "To get a lead, even have some breaks go our way, to get chances and make all the mistakes we made . . ."
MA Yesterday it was the lament of losers, not Super Bowl champs.