Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we digest that disturbing but dramatic fight-fest that took place in New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium Sunday afternoon...
• In the span of four wildly eventful quarters, in the most epic game of the NFL’s 2015 regular season, the Panthers and Giants both vividly showed why they occupy such divergent spots in the NFC’s pecking order this year. The resilient and resourceful Panthers, no matter the challenge or the particulars, find ways to win. Even if some of their obstacles were self-created, like that 28-point second-half lead they gave away.
The Giants, meanwhile, are the league’s reigning enigma. They can dazzle and disappoint in equal quantities, but ultimately they find a way to lose games at the very end. It’s their calling card to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and nobody has remotely mastered the art of the bitter loss that leads nowhere like Tom Coughlin’s maddening squad. With a defense that simply cannot be trusted, New York is as unpredictable as it gets in the NFL.
We hold these truths to be self-evident in the wake of Carolina 38, New York 35, a game that pushed the Panthers to an eye-popping 14–0 and dropped the Giants to 6–8 and the brink of playoff-race extinction:
— If the league doesn’t suspend Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for that nearly game-long meltdown he had in retaliation against Panthers cornerback Josh Norman, the NFL can save all the “We care about player safety” talk. It would ring beyond hollow. Beckham drew three personal fouls and basically targeted Norman for injury multiple times, including a helmet-to-helmet cheap shot that should have warranted him an instant ejection in the third quarter. Your move, Park Avenue.
— Beckham dropped an easy touchdown pass early in the game and then acted like that failure was everyone else’s fault. He comported himself like a spoiled brat for much of the game, and the Giants’ coaching staff deserves some serious blame for letting his out-of-control tirade continue. As do the game officials. And his late-game heroics in helping the Giants forge a 35–35 tie do not absolve any part of his behavior. He shouldn’t have even been on the field at that point. The game comes with highs and lows, and if Beckham can’t handle that reality, if he has to have a center stage starring role at all times, he’s never going to last long enough in the NFL to fulfill his potential for greatness.
— I don’t see how Panthers quarterback Cam Newton loses the MVP voting after that tour de force performance. With all due respect for the superb seasons turned in by Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Russell Wilson, Newton has been a unstoppable force of nature this year, and his 340 yards passing, five touchdowns and 100 yards rushing against New York represented the signature performance of his five-year NFL career. A man among boys does not pass for hyperbole this season with Newton. Put the game’s biggest piece of hardware in his column and leave it there.
— What Tom Coughlin accomplished in his 12-year tenure with the Giants is undeniable, and those two Super Bowl rings will always glitter. But Coughlin’s teams have been chronic underachievers for four seasons now, and Sunday’s display of key penalties, drops and lack of discipline is painfully familiar by now. I wrote this for the first time late in the 2013 season, but Coughlin’s work in New York is done and there’s no more telling example of that than Sunday’s excruciating loss. The Giants under Coughlin aren’t going to magically reinvent themselves at some point. They are who they are, and it’s not near good enough. And after Sunday’s display of temper by Beckham, the idea that Coughlin is an old-school, disciplinarian coach seemed laughable. Coughlin was just a bystander while his No. 1 receiver was coming unglued.
— I hope Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Shula doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of names bandied about as the NFL’s coaching hiring season opens soon. I don’t know for sure if Shula will be a success as a head coach in this league, but his work has been consistently creative and impressive this season, never more so than that superb third-and-one call on Newton’s 37-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen in the third quarter. The design and execution of that play was exquisite, and that has been the story all season long for the Panthers on offense.
— All in all, Carolina’s Jr. outdid New York’s Jr. The Panthers got six catches for 85 yards and two touchdown catches from Ted Ginn Jr., while Beckham Jr. produced six grabs for 76 yards and a single touchdown, the game-tying effort that preceded Graham Gano’s game-winning 43-yard field goal for Carolina at the final gun. And Ginn didn’t embarrass the organization in the process of building his statistical line for the day.
— At Atlanta and home against Tampa Bay is all that’s left in the Panthers’ quest for 16-0. With their karma, who can not like their chances now? Especially since Carolina just went to the Giants’ home ballpark and won 38–35, the exact score of that classic Week 17 matchup between New England and Coughlin’s team in 2007? Of course, it was New York that won the Super Bowl that season, not the 18–0 Patriots, so perhaps that’s not the best of omens.
• This is an example of how the NFL manages to give us the theatre of the absurd on an almost weekly basis: Brandon Weeden just quarterbacked the Texans into first place in the AFC South. A failure on the last-place Cowboys earlier this season, when he replaced injured starter Tony Romo in the lineup, it turns out Weeden was simply on the wrong Texas NFL team at the time.
Just when you think the league is at maximum capacity on the amazement front, along comes Weeden to do what no Texans quarterback before him has done: Win in Indianapolis, where Houston is now 1–13 in its franchise history. The Texans trailed 10–0 when Weeden entered but wound up winning 16–10.