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Next up, baseball

Well, that sucked. Despite going 12-4 and having the best record in the NFC, the Giants fell flat in the Meadowlands today and are no longer the defending champions.

From this point on, I'll be happy as long as Philly doesn't win it all. Eagles' fans are almost as obnoxious as Red Sox fans ('almost' being operative).

This wasn't a game where one play or one call made the difference. It was a combination of poor play-calling, untimely defensive lapses, missed (easy) opportunities, and injuries that finally caught up.

The wind wreaked havoc on the passing game, yet Kevin Gilbride seemed to call pass after pass. In the first quarter, the Giants were going into the wind, and Eli Manning threw a duck into the arms of Asante Samuel, who returned it to the two-yard line.

When Domenik Hixon made a spectacular 34-yard catch in the third quarter, the Giants seemed capable of taking the lead and not looking back. It was a miracle the catch was even made (the longest of the day), what with the wind and all, and the Giants clear strength all year has been running the ball. Anyway, that would have been a perfect time to use Brandon Jacobs to run the ball down Philly's throats, but instead Kevin Gilbride called another pass and it was lucky to not be intercepted. A short run later and it was 3rd & long.

As for defensive lapses, you cannot let your opponent convert on 3rd & 20 in a close game. But the Giants did, just as they did all day.

The missed opportunities began right away, when Ahmad Bradshaw returned the opening kickoff to Philly's 35, but the Jints had to settle for a field goal.

The offense couldn't convert on two critical 4th downs in the fourth quarter. The first was literally two inches to go, and the second was about a yard and a half. Eli couldn't sneak for two inches, and Jacobs couldn't run for a yard and a half.

In addition, John Carney probably signed his own resignation (again), missing two field goals.

Despite all the mistakes, the Giants still should've won the game. They had more total yards, committed fewer penalties for fewer yards, and had the ball just as long. The difference was the Giants' inability to finish drives (0-3 in the Red Zone) and third down efficiency (3-13 for 23% vs. Philly's 7-14).

But perhaps the most devastating aspect was the absence of Plaxico Burress, who has torn up the Eagles in the past. Eli Manning threw for a semi-respectable 169 yards, but not when it truly mattered, like on third down or in the Red Zone.

Going into next season, the Giants have a few areas that need fixing. Fortunately, a couple of these problem areas will improve simply via the return of injured players. Kickoffs were a major problem. The Giants were among the worst in opponents' starting field position, directly attributable to John Carney's 44-year-old leg. The return of Lawrence Tynes this afternoon definitely made an positive impact on that area.

The pass rush was surprisingly ineffective for large stretches this season. The Giants finished sixth in sacks (compared to first in 2007), so normally I would say they could address this area, but the return of Osi Umenyiora will go a long way toward that.

Another problem area was the passing game after Plax shot himself in the leg (not just an expression anymore). Eli's passer rating was ~92 with Plaxico, but dropped to ~66 afterward (including today's match). It's not even that Plax was dominating before his gunshot wound (he had only four catches in his last three games), but his presence seemed to stretch the field and open up the running game and (specifically) the short passing game, which was the biggest problem after Plax's 'injury'.

As far as the draft goes, a speedy, athletic linebacker would complement the defense very well. Just as the Giants offense had trouble in the short passing game, the defense struggled against it. Antonio Pierce is certainly smart, but is now 30 and has never had great physical talent. Danny Clark was actually quite good this year, but is 31 and was cut by the Texans (which should tell you something). Chase Blackburn is really a middle linebacker who played outside due to injuries. The linebacking corps is the weakest link on the team. I'm almost never a proponent of drafting for need, but if two equal prospects are available, take the needed position. Hopefully someone like USC's Brian Cushing or Florida's Brandon Spikes is available where the Giants draft (and is also the best player available).

Another wrinkle is the likely need for a new defensive coordinator. Steve Spagnuolo will probably be hired as a head coach somewhere, so who will take his place? Assuming it's another aggressive/blitzing type DC, a young, athletic linebacker would assist the blitz packages immensely. How many times did it seem like the Giants sent 2-3 blitzers only to have them all blocked? (A lot to me.) Donovan McNabb wasn't sacked once in three games against us this season.

Anyway, the Giants kept me engaged throughout the fall and into the winter. Only about five weeks now until pitchers and catchers report to Tampa.

But back to the Giants: what do you think they need to address in the offseason?