The Giants again looked bad Monday night in what may have been their final chance to get back into the playoff hunt, losing 19-13 to Tampa Bay at Raymond James Stadium.
Plagued again by the mistakes and missed opportunities that have been constants in a season that started with high expectations, New York fell four games back in the NFC East and has little hope of capturing a wild-card berth.
The Bucs forced four Kerry Collins turnovers and sacked the Giants quarterback three times as New York struggled badly on offense in losing for the sixth time in eight games.
“I’m fully confident they’ll come out and fight and play hard,” embattled Giants coach Jim Fassel said of his players. “We’ve just got to eliminate the things that are costing us the games.”
One of those is penalties, as New York committed nine for 71 yards against the Bucs.
“We’ll keep fighting. We’re not out of it yet,” said Giants running back Tiki Barber, who ran for just 55 yards on 13 carries. “We’re not the type of team, the type of players who will quit on a season. We’ll keep going forward.”
But with five games left in a season that began with the team talking about making a Super Bowl run, the Giants are playing now to save Fassel’s job. New York has lost three in a row, a skid that started with an ugly 27-7 home defeat to woeful Atlanta on Nov. 9.
Injuries have also played a major role in the Giants’ poor season, and New York hopes the return of tight end Jeremy Shockey this week will help spark the offense. Shockey, originally expected to miss the rest of the season after spraining his left knee against the Falcons, practiced last week and was close to returning for the Tampa Bay game.
The Bills are 2-7 since opening the season with impressive wins over New England and Jacksonville. Buffalo has dropped four straight, with the last three losses coming to Dallas, Houston and Indianapolis by a combined nine points.
The Bills fell 17-14 at home to the Colts last week, as Edgerrin James scored on a fourth-down plunge from inside the 1 with 1:38 remaining. The Colts overcame a 14-3 fourth-quarter deficit even though leading receiver Marvin Harrison—back in the lineup after missing one game—was limited by a hamstring injury.
“We came out and played great, but we didn’t play well enough to win,” Bills running back Travis Henry said. “This is a tough pill to swallow. The offense put up some points today, but not enough to win.”
Drew Bledsoe’s 1-yard TD plunge, with 2:07 left in the first half, was the Bills’ first touchdown since Henry’s 14-yarder in the fourth quarter of a 24-7 win over Washington on Oct. 19—a span of 218 minutes, 24 seconds of game time.
Buffalo has scored 35 points in the four straight losses.
“It was there for the taking. We just couldn’t grasp it,” linebacker Takeo Spikes said.
Henry led the Bills with 77 yards rushing despite playing with a hairline fracture above his right ankle. He is not listed on this week’s injury report.