Now, a win in the game will do little more than give one of the teams an outside chance of making the playoffs, while all but ending the hopes of the loser.
The Giants travel to Raymond James Stadium for a matchup of 4-6 clubs that are struggling and in turmoil.
The situation got considerably worse Tuesday in Tampa, as the Buccaneers took the stunning step of deactivating wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson for the remainder of the season. The move effectively ended the Tampa Bay career of Johnson, who the team felt had become a major disruption during what has been a very disappointing Super Bowl title defense.
Johnson was never a major part of coach Jon Gruden’s offense, and Gruden said he was disappointed that his relationship with Johnson didn’t work.
“It’s never a personal issue with me,” the coach said. “But when it affects the team, and it involves team policy, countless numbers of times, there’s only one way to do business and that’s what needs to be done today. … This is a move we had to make.”
Johnson is midway through an eight-year, $56 million contract that included a $13 million signing bonus, but he won’t be with the club next season.
“I’m sorry it ended this way, but I’ll move on,” Johnson said. “I’ve had a pretty good career, and I’ll continue to have a successful career and be a force in this league.”
The Buccaneers have been falling apart since beating Dallas on Oct. 26, dropping three straight. Last week’s 20-13 home loss to Green Bay was particularly disheartening, as Brett Favre shook off the pain of a broken right thumb to earn his first win in Tampa since 1997, despite throwing from just 92 yards.
Even Gruden conceded that the Super Bowl champions may be facing a near-impossible task of getting back to the playoffs.
“We expect every man to finish this season with authority. … Certainly we have our work cut out for us,” said Gruden, whose team has yielded game-winning drives in the fourth quarter in each of the last three weeks.
A once-promising season for the Giants is also on the verge of being a complete disappointment. New York thought it could make a Super Bowl run this season after a heartbreaking playoff defeat to San Francisco last year, but ugly losses to Philadelphia and Atlanta the last two weeks have left it with little chance to even return to the postseason.
The Giants showed little resiliency last week after being blown out 27-7 at home by the lowly Falcons the week before. The Eagles got three touchdowns from Brian Westbrook, and Donovan McNabb threw for 314 yards and two scores in a 28-10 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.
Trailing 14-3 in the second quarter, the Giants failed to score on four consecutive plays after they had a first-and-goal from the 1. The Eagles wrapped up Tiki Barber on an outside run on fourth down for a 2-yard loss.
Embattled Giants coach Jim Fassel endured chants of “Fire Fassel” during the loss to the Falcons. Known for engineering positive turnarounds during his seven years with the Giants, Fassel may have to pull off the most stunning one of his career to be around next season.
“We’re not playing well, and that’s my job,” Fassel said. “When things go wrong, it always finds its way back to me. You’re the head coach and that’s what I’m responsible for.”
Running back Tiki Barber of the Giants and cornerback Ronde Barber of the Bucs will be meeting for the third time in a game, but the first since the twins became starters after being drafted in 1997. This time, with Ronde one of the leaders of the Tampa Bay defense, and Tiki one of New York’s top offensive players, they are sure to meet in a few collisions.
While the twins are close and have discussed their frustrations this season, Ronde will try to keep his brother from solving his fumbling problems this week. The Giants running back’s propensity to lose the ball has been a major factor in New York’s two-game losing streak.
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