WASHINGTON -- Could it be the critics were right all along?
Coach "Ray Must Go" Handley stepped up to the microphone yesterday and took "full responsibility" for the Giants' fall from grace, which was really more like a leap. Actually, it was just like bungee jumping when the line snaps.
But, no. It can't all be Ray Must Go's fault.
This is much too big for one man. For once, the conspiracy theory works. Everybody was in on this one.
"It's time for the players to start owning up to some of the mistakes and problems we have," said quarterback Phil Simms, the one that Ray Must Go refused to play for much of the season.
Center Bart Oates wanted a shot at blame-laying. It's all the Giants have left.
"How many tackles have we missed?" asked Oates, presumably rhetorically. "How many passes have we dropped? How many blocks have we missed?"
To which I'd like to add: How many a times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see?
You see, it is everyone's fault. I'm just surprised nobody blamed Ted Kennedy. The Giants are 7-8 and out of the playoffs while the Falcons are in. Nobody escapes.
The Giants came to play the Redskins yesterday. The game meant nothing, and the Giants played it that way.
No, that's not fair.
Even when the games mean something, the Giants play it the exact same way, or maybe you missed the little disaster in Cincinnati. Maybe you missed the whole darn season.
Your defending Super Bowl champeens manage to play with little heart and not much soul, which is equally bad for football teams and rock-and-roll bands. That's how they got to be 7-8. It's how they lost, 34-17, to the Redskins yesterday.
It's easy to blame Ray Must Go. It's like blaming John Sununu for the economy.
A season after the Giants win the Ultimate Game, coach Bill Parcells quits to be a TV star, and Ray Must Go Handley takes his place. Not only does he take his place, he benches Phil Simms for Jeff Hostetler, but, hey, no one's perfect. Simms played yesterday. He played the week before and the week before that -- all losses.
And yet, Ray Must Go wanted the blame.
"I'll take the responsibility for this loss and this season," he said. "Our discipline has gone all to hell. It's a matter of simple execution -- fumbled snaps from center, our third late hit in three weeks, and our tackling is abysmal. . . . It's just a culmination of a lack of fundamentals, and I take full responsibility for that."
That's a mouthful, and it's all Ray Must Go had to say before he left. (Note to reader: He will be back next season, anyway.)
So will Lawrence Taylor, who hasn't made a tackle in about a month but who passed a little blame around himself.
"He has the tools to be a fine head coach," LT said of RMG (Ray Must Go). "But the team is only as strong as the personality of the head man. Next year, this will totally be his team. He's got to coach and discipline it in his own way."
So maybe it is Ray Must Go's fault. But, gosh, a team that loses five games in the fourth quarter, can that just be the coach?
And yet, the Giants had 12 players on the field once yesterday, and 10 players once the week before. Of course, if you average. . . .
"We weren't focused this year," Simms would say. "We played like it. We proved it. The Redskins are a great team, but I don't know whether to give them the credit or get on us."
Hey, that's easy. Get on the Giants. The 14-1 Redskins get enough credit. By the way, the last two times the Redskins won the Super Bowl, the Giants missed the playoffs. Karma, huh?
The only problem the Redskins had yesterday came when Mark Rypien bent his fingernail on Leonard Marshall's helmet on the first play of the fourth quarter.
The Redskins called in their team manicurist, who completed a successful operation on Rypien, and thus a Redskins season was saved. Next week, though, he should bring an emery board.
In yesterday's game, he needed a stopwatch. The once-awesome Giants defense gave up touchdown drives that lasted 27 seconds; 1 minute, 53 seconds; 1 minute, 44 seconds; and 1 minute, 48 seconds. Joe Gibbs must have thought he was back on the racetrack.
And the Giants? Yeah, they were the guys with the tire tracks on their jerseys. It's what happens to teams after a Super Bowl season. The Redskins went 7-9 the year after they won their last one.
"Last year, we created our own opportunities," Simms explained. "This year, we created opportunities all right -- for the other guys."
And so an era ends in a league where eras generally last one season. Blame history. Somebody's got to take the fall.