In a column in Monday's Daily News, Tim Smith argues that the pathetic performance by the Giants against the Panthers on Sunday made it clear that their Super Bowl victory in 2008 was a fluke. He goes on to point the finger at Tom Coughlin, saying that the team's players are no longer listening to him nor are they playing hard for him.
Smith's point is well taken, but it's wrong. Any Super Bowl run is a bit flukey, but the nature of NFL football is that the years add up quickly. The names may be the same on many of the jerseys, but the players wearing them aren't the same as they were on that night in Arizona and it's high time to stop thinking of this as a "Super Bowl" team because of what happened almost two full years ago.
As for Coughlin, Smith's argument would have a lot more strength if he made it two or three weeks ago. It's too easy an allegation to level after the disgrace of Sunday afternoon. If it were simply a case of problems with Coughlin, the Giants would have been eliminated from the playoff chase many weeks ago. That doesn't mean Coughlin skates free, by any means. Next year will be crucial to his future with the Giants and his hire for the next defensive coordinator will have to be a home run, but it's the players who let the Giants down this season.
There are many players who will need to be evaluated heavily in the next weeks and months, but here's where the Giants need to start the process.
Brandon Jacobs: Is he hurt or is he just a guy who got his money and stopped working hard? Jacobs's performance this season was way below the level he established in recent years and it became downright embarrassing down the stretch. Ahmad Bradshaw is this team's feature back and it's hard to argue that they need to pay starter money for a bruiser complement on a team that's going to become increasingly reliant on the air attack in years to come. He doesn't necessarily need to leave, but the Giants need to figure out what happened to him because he hurt them a lot more than he helped this season.
The Offensive Line: Part of the reason why Jacobs could survive is that any even-handed evaluation of the running game this season will find major flaws in the guys doing the blocking. More than any other spot on the team, this group of veterans showed the wear and tear caused by years in the trenches and there's no way that the five starters -- David Diehl, Chris Snee, Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie -- can all return next season. McKenzie seems like a sure bet to leave and Seubert is probably at his expiration date, but the Giants have to examine everyone to make sure that this unit goes back to being a strength next year.
Osi Umenyiora: This will be the most difficult decision of the offseason. After Sunday's game, Umenyiora confirmed every bad feeling about him by focusing only on his loss of playing time after the game and not the fact that his team just spat on their entire fanbase. He can still rush the passer, but that's all Umenyiora can do and, based on his behavior this season, he won't be shy about going after the new defensive coordinator if the defense isn't built totally around him. He might do it anyway, since he wants a new contract and refuses to stop whining about it, and the Giants, deep as they still are at defensive end, might be better off moving in a different direction before next season.