I Did Not See That Coming

Sports can be really fun. And their unlimited ability to surprise us, makes them more fun.

Coming into the Super Bowl, I thought the Giants would beat the Patriots. Was it based on deep analysis or just fandom?  Maybe some of both. But from a larger perspective, the Giants December-January-February wins and turnaround from November were absolutely shocking.

The last Giants Super Bowl Champion which beat the Pats in 2008 was considered, not just one of the worst Super Bowl Champions, but one of the worst teams to ever play in the game. It does not make much sense, but I think this year’s team was both better and worse than that Giants team. Yeah, it was more physically talented overall, but the regular season results were even less impressive. This year’s version was a pass-first offense, while four years ago, the team was run-first unit. Both defenses were banged up, but again, I thought this one, with everyone healthy (which never happened), was better.

This year’s team became the first Super Bowl Champion to: 1. lose four straight games during the regular season, 2. give up 400 points in a season, 3. be outscored during the regular season and 4. win fewer than 10 games.

Make no mistake, the Giants earned this one. They beat Dallas twice to claim the NFC East sandwiched around a win over the Jets to claim New York.  They soundly beat the Falcons in the wild card round, then went on the road to beat up on the Packers. It took a few breaks to topple the 49ers on the road. The Giants, after their four-game losing streak, including the playoffs, won seven of their final eight, four by 15 points or more.

I did not see this coming. With the Giants, who had lost four straight games, down 12 to the Cowboys on December 11, when a loss would have essentially eliminated the team from the playoffs, I tweeted:

Oops.  This team, I felt, was too talented to miss the playoffs. In a league that rewards passing, Eli Manning was too good for this team to be on the outside looking in. There were plenty of weapons, from Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz on the outside, to Jake Ballard at tight end, and even Ahmad Bradshaw.

It’s too easy to point to the schedule for the Giants’ four-game losing streak from November 13 through December 4. Three of the games were decided by a touchdown or less. The team didn’t show up at all in their brutal 49-24 loss to the Saints in New Orleans. (How long ago does that game feel, by the way?) The Giants had the ball with a chance to tie in the first loss of that sequence in San Francisco as the game ended.  They put up a stinker at home against the Eagles. Losing to the Saints in the Superdome, where they were undefeated in 2011 is not bad, but getting blown out and looking awful is. Then the G-Men went out, on December 4, and played to that date, their best game of the regular season in losing to Green Bay 38-35.  Was that really a sign of things to come?

Eli matured, and made huge play after huge play. In his best season as a professional, he got even better in the playoffs. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, this became his team.

Now, the questions are about whether the Giants can build a dynasty, and where Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin rank all-time. Coughlin was coaching for his job a month and a half ago. What?

How weird was this Giants’ season?  They lost two games to the 5-11 Redskins by 13 and 14 points. Those two games were the ‘Skins largest margins of victory this year. Washington beat only three other teams the Cardinals (8-8), Rams (2-14) and Seahawks (7-9) three teams whose total record was a whopping 17-31 by a combined 14 points.

How weird was this Giants’ season?  They went from mediocre to Super Bowl Champions.

Sometimes sports doesn’t make any sense. Enjoy it.  I have.

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