Twirling confetti sprinkled down on quarterback Eli Manning’s head Feb. 5, 2012, after he and the New York Giants upset the mighty New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI. Manning smooched the silver Vince Lombardi championship trophy and was named the game’s MVP.
Less than two years after their Super Bowl victory, Manning and the Giants returned home after Sunday’s 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers and noticed something was gone.
At 5-8 after losing their first six games, members of the organization had removed the “Super Calendar” from just outside the Giants’ locker room because the loss to the Chargers officially eliminated the once-dominant Giants from playoff contention.
General manager Jerry Reese came up with the idea to put up the tear-away calendar before the season, hoping the Giants could play the Super Bowl on their home turf in MetLife Stadium.
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Instead, they are “playing for pride” with three games remaining in the season, making the Giants yet another team that was recently on top of the league but was swiftly kicked toward the bottom.
The NFL’s oppressive salary cap and back-to-front draft rules are set up to provide parity in the league. From roster building to Sundays, small moves make dramatic differences for teams. This volatility makes it possible — even likely — that whoever was on top of the league a year or two ago won’t be able to sustain their success.
“There is tremendous equity and anyone is capable of beating another team on any given weekend,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. “I really do and always have believed that. I do believe that the team that gets on the roll right at the end of the (season) — obviously a talented team — has the capability of winning out and winning the Super Bowl.”
Last season’s champions, the Baltimore Ravens, are experiencing problems similar to the Giants’. A three-game winning streak has finally vaulted them over .500, pushing them to 7-6.
Even before the season started, the Ravens lost six starters from their title team.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no Super Bowl winner has lost more than five starters from its team before the next season.
“It’s way more common than it isn’t,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the struggles of reigning champs. “It’s been difficult for teams to come back, respond and play well the next year. It’s different. There’s been issues with all the hype and the build-up and everybody patting you on the back. There’s attrition that always happens too. The Ravens had big attrition.”
Coughlin saw first-hand how a hot team can burn through the league to a title. The Giants were a wild-card entrant to the playoffs in 2011 before taking down the previously undefeated New England Patriots, one of the few teams that has remained near the top of the league annually.
He’s watching the flip side this season. Manning, his starting quarterback, is having one of his worst seasons. He’s on pace to throw more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his career.
“It doesn’t take much,” Manning said. “A few injuries here or there or you don’t catch some breaks, and things can definitely turn on you quickly in this league.
“You’ve got to be playing at a high level, just find ways to win those close games that you’re in. That can be the difference. Making plays at crucial times in games that can lead to victories, or if you don’t make them and you make the mistake, they can lead to losses. Some years, you find a way to make all the right plays at the right times and some years it kind of works against you.”
Which brings the Seahawks to mind. Plays like Earl Thomas’ forced fumble in Carolina or Richard Sherman’s interception in Houston or the goal-line stand in St. Louis have the Seahawks in a power position, wondering if a return trip to New Jersey will come in February.
Not making those plays has the Giants yanking props off the wall and already making plans for warmer offseason locales.