New York Giants can lose for winning

LANDOVER, Md. -- Reality finally set in with just over two minutes left in the game.

The New York Giants' defense walked onto the field to make one final stop against the Washington Redskins for a 10th win and a slim shot at making the playoffs.

The Giants lined up on the part of the field facing Dan Snyder's large video screen. Just before Rex Grossman would attempt one more final drive, the visitors received what must've felt like a kick to the midsection when the Redskins played video of Green Bay sealing a 10-3 victory over Chicago.

This is how the Giants' 2010 season officially died, to the highlight of a Jay Cutler interception on the video screen at FedEx Field in Landover.

It wasn't supposed to end like this.

Just two weeks earlier, the Giants had dominated the Philadelphia Eagles and were eight minutes away from the inside track to the NFC East title -- and potentially the second seed in the NFC playoffs. But they lost 38-31.

Now here they were on the road, chants from the D.C. crowd of "Green Bay won!" sending the Giants into a second straight offseason without any playoff football.

The Redskins opted not to show the score of the Packers-Bears game for most of their game against the Giants. That probably worked in the Giants' favor, although one player did admit he asked what the Bears score was at halftime in the locker room.

When it was indeed over, the Redskins made sure the Giants knew. But the Giants knew well before they saw that video that they had let their playoff destiny slip out of their fingers like one of their 17 stomach-churning fumbles this season.

"It is sad," defensive end Osi Umenyiora said of the Giants' final fate. "If you think about eight minutes to go in that Philadelphia game and where we are at right now, it is almost crazy to think about that.

"We made a series of blunders," he added. "If somebody would have made one play -- one play -- we wouldn't even be in this position right now, but nobody did and it [stinks]."

To their credit, the Giants still made a last stand and stopped the Redskins and won their regular-season finale, 17-14.

It was a bizarre scene in the locker room afterward as the Giants (10-6) looked and acted like a team that had lost.

"This is the most somber winning locker room you will ever see," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "It will take a little time to look back and be proud of the finish."

The Giants had spent their entire season talking about returning to the playoffs and redeeming themselves for last season's embarrassing 8-8 record after a 5-0 start.

They weathered a large amount of injuries -- they suffered another one on Sunday when they lost Rich Seubert to a dislocated kneecap early in the game -- and even survived Mother Nature's wrath by making it through two weather-delayed odysseys through the Midwest in December. They also saw history when Brett Favre's consecutive starts streak came to an end against them in a game played on a Monday night in Detroit due to the Metrodome roof collapsing.

But when the Giants look back at 2010, they'll likely remember Michael Vick zigzagging through Perry Fewell's defense as if he were Bo Jackson running circles around defenses in Nintendo's "Tecmo Bowl" video game.

Even on the day their season ended, the Giants still wanted to say they didn't suffer a hangover from the Philadelphia collapse. But Tom Coughlin did wonder if the team came out in Green Bay last week still reeling from the Eagles loss the week before.

"To me, it was about the emotions and the passion," said Coughlin, who did not learn of Sunday's Packers score until he returned to the locker room at the end. "We had literally lost that and we had put so much into the Philadelphia game, to be honest with you, and then to lose it like we did. We practiced well that next week but we didn't have that passion and the emotion and that was what we were trying to get done today."

What Vick and DeSean Jackson did to the Giants not only had a lingering effect the following week in Green Bay, it left a permanent mark on the Giants' season.

Sure, the Giants gave away a game to Tennessee with stupid penalties in Week 3 at home. And they should have beaten Dallas in Jason Garrett's debut and should've found a way to stop LeSean McCoy on that fourth-and-1 in Philadelphia in November. If the Giants had won any one of those games, they would be in the playoffs. But the Vick game hurt the most and ultimately defined the 2010 Giants.

They beat the Seattles and Detroits and Houstons easily. They dominated Chicago at home and were definitely good enough to beat Philadelphia, not once but twice. But they couldn't stop beating themselves in the clutch in their biggest games.

So now they become only the 19th team to win 10 games and not make the playoffs since 1978 (not including the strike-shortened season in 1982).

The Giants, though, kind of expected it to end this way after losing last week. Several players said they played as hard as they could to win the game but they knew deep down there was a slim chance of the Bears beating Green Bay in Lambeau with really nothing left for Lovie Smith's team to play for.

"Based on the way things bounced for us recently, it is what I expected," Cofield said. "I wholeheartedly wanted to win this game, but I wasn't counting on things to bounce our way in the other game and they didn't."

The Giants will now enter an offseason that likely will see some things change, but nothing too major after team president and CEO John Mara announced that Coughlin will be returning.

The Coughlin news was refreshing for defensive captain Justin Tuck, who was bruised and battered from football injuries, not to mention a minor car accident on New Year's Eve.

"The respect level we have for him is tremendous," Tuck said of Coughlin. "If you ask anybody else in that locker room it is the same thing. I don't see how you upgrade that position. Super Bowl, playoff berths -- since I have been here we haven't had a losing record. I'm really excited that he will be back this year."

All the Giants can do now is look toward next season -- again.

Ohm Youngmisuk covers the Giants for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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