This is why the New York Giants were saying all that stuff they were saying all offseason about why it needed to be different this time around. Why they couldn't count on all of the fourth-quarter comebacks or wait until the end of the year to turn it on. Yes, they won the Super Bowl last season, but they didn't want to cut it so close this year, if they could help it.
This is why that mattered. Sunday's 42-7 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles gave the Giants a 9-7 record for this regular season. That's the same record they had last season, as you may recall. This time, however, it won't be good enough to put them in position to win the Super Bowl. Moments after the Giants' game went final, the Chicago Bears beat the Detroit Lions and officially eliminated the Giants from this year's playoff race. There will be a new Super Bowl champion this season, and the Giants won't get a say in deciding who it is.
You can pick it all apart, and I'm sure we will. Eli Manning and the offense didn't have what it took in every single big spot this time around. Justin Tuck and the pass rush disappeared. Corey Webster turned into a pumpkin. Tom Coughlin couldn't find the right button to push. But the inescapable fact is that this season's Giants team won just as many regular-season games as last season's Super Bowl champions did, and this time it wasn't good enough even to get them into the playoff field.
The lesson is about the perils of life as a consistent contender rather than a dominant powerhouse. The Giants believed they had what it took to elevate themselves from the former to the latter. They stood at 6-2 at the midpoint with a stunningly impressive victory over the 49ers in San Francisco and believed they were ready to make the jump. But they limped home 3-5, including blowout losses in Atlanta and Baltimore in critical Week 15 and 16 games, and in the end no point total they could pile on the lifeless Eagles on Sunday afternoon was going to matter. They needed help, and they didn't get it.
What has to change with the Giants? I'm not sure it's anything drastic. This is the team the Giants are. They don't win 12, 13 games a season like the Patriots do. They win 8 or 9 or 10, and sometimes that gets them into the playoffs, and sometimes when it does they can get on a roll and beat those 12-win, 13-win teams in playoff games or the Patriots in the Super Bowl. It's really not a bad way to live, and it's better than most. But the risk you take is that some years won't break your way -- that nine wins won't be enough to get you in every time. The Giants' win totals the last four years are 8, 10, 9 and 9, and they've missed the playoffs in three of those seasons. Including the one in which they won 10.
That's why the failure of this year's Giants was their inability to make that jump of which they talked all offseason -- to a consistent winner that didn't have to wait around for other teams' help. They knew the danger that awaited if they didn't, and it just smacked them in the face Sunday the same way it did on the final day of the 2010 season. The Giants live on the edge, and sometimes that works out for them. But unless and until they can elevate themselves into the league's consistently elite echelon, there are going to be seasons -- like this one -- in which it just doesn't work out.