NFL: Giants, Redskins meet tonight

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 29, 2006

By Joseph White

Associated Press

LANDOVER, Md. — The New York Giants seem intent on becoming the most dysfunctional team in NFL history to make the playoffs.

There’s so much riding on tonight’s game against Washington, starting with a playoff berth. Then there’s Tom Coughlin’s future as coach, Tiki Barber’s potential final game and Kevin Gilbride’s play-calling debut.

Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins seem intent on having the worst defense the league has ever seen — at least when it comes to taking the ball away.

In fact, it might be hard to tell which team is still in the postseason hunt when the Giants (7-8) play the Redskins (5-10) in a Saturday night game hardly worthy of prime time. Despite being out of it for several weeks, Washington has shown more spunk lately than the Men in Blue, who almost look ready to give up.

“It’s hard to say that we are a playoff team,” New York running back Brandon Jacobs said. “We have lost six of our last seven. Playoffs teams don’t do that.”

Playoff teams also don’t replace their offensive play-caller during the final days of the season, as Coughlin did this week when he stripped that important job from offensive coordinator John Hufnagel and gave it to quarterbacks coach Gilbride.

Playoff teams also don’t have fans calling for the head coach’s job, as happened at Giants Stadium during last week’s drubbing by New Orleans. Playoff teams don’t have a star player who makes a quote like this: “I am sitting in a meeting and instead of being solely focused on the Washington Redskins, I will be thinking about other things,” maybe the best piece of evidence yet that Barber has made the right decision to retire at the end of the season.

What else is wrong in New York? Well, defensive end Michael Strahan and kick returner Chad Morton are done for the year with injuries, tight end Jeremy Shockey’s status is in question because of a sore ankle, and quarterback Eli Manning’s slump has reached the point that he never took a snap past the 50 last week. A big-picture motivational speech would probably help right now, but Coughlin stated a goal that smacked of mediocrity:

“We’re focusing on the future, on being 8-8, and right now that’s what drives us and motivates us.”

As it is, 8-8 would likely get the Giants into the playoffs. Only an improbable array of results in Sunday’s games would knock them out under the NFL’s complex tiebreaker rules. They could get in even if they lose to Washington — Green Bay, Carolina, Atlanta and St. Louis would all have to lose on Sunday — which would make New York the first team with a losing record to make the postseason in a non-strike year.

Is it even possible this is the same Giants team that was 6-2 in early November?

“But, 8-8, with everything that has gone on for us this season, to go to the playoffs would be a great accomplishment,” linebacker Antonio Pierce said.