Adversities and Adversaries
The Bears, the Giants, and the Pats hit the homestretch
Nearly 70 years ago, the New York Giants and Chicago Bears played for the National Football League championship in the Sneakers Game (with the aid of a five-foot tailor named Abe Cohen, the Giants won), while this year, three-quarters of the way through the season and as two of Tablet Magazine’s three teams, they find themselves in free-fall and competing against a few other teams, as well as each other, to make the playoffs.
The Bears have one of the most legitimate sob stories of the season, and it’s not just rookie offensive tackle Gabe Carimi’s season-ending injury. In October and November, they rattled off five straight wins, including against the division- and wild card-rival Detroit Lions. They seemed finally to have found their groove: in addition to the usual stout defense and stellar special teams, running back Matt Forte emerged as one of the league’s most dynamic players and quarterback Jay Cutler finally found a rapport with his not-great corps of pass-catchers and learned to deal with his below-average offensive line. And then Cutler went down with a thumb injury, putting him out for the rest of the season and, possibly, the playoffs; with back-up Caleb Hanie, they’ve gone 0-2, losing yesterday at home to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs. At 7-5, they’d likely need to go 3-1 through their last four to have much of a hope of securing that second wild-card spot.
The New York Giants’ excuse for having dropped their past four is a tough schedule: those four losses came at San Francisco, against the Philadelphia Eagles (who got up to play for that one game), at New Orleans, and, yesterday, in a heartbreaking (and amazingly exciting) 38-35 loss to the undefeated reigning champion Green Bay Packers. The good news is that they continue to look pretty good: QB Eli Manning is quietly putting together a career year; rookie wide receiver Victor Cruz has emerged as one of the league’s top threats; running back Ahmad Bradshaw is back from an injury; and the defensive front four, the Tom Coughlin-era Giants’ trademark, shows signs of being able to get to the passer again (assuming that passer isn’t the extremely mobile and totally unstoppable Packers’ Aaron Rodgers). At 6-6, their best bet for the playoffs is probably not the wild card spot but actually the NFC East crown, which would actually give them home-field advantage in their first playoff game: they are only one game behind the 7-5 Dallas Cowboys, and they play them twice in the final four weeks, including this coming Sunday night.
We felt so hopeful about the Giants when last we checked in because they had just beaten the New England Patriots. After that, the Pats became the beneficiaries of the easiest remaining schedule, and they have duly won their past four, most notably against the New York Jets. Particularly revelatory has been the play of second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is averaging more than a touchdown per game. The Pats are 9-3 and two games up in their division. So we’ll have at least one playoff team, and Myra Kraft‘s memorial patches will likely see mid-January’s chill in Foxboro.
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