The New York Giants, the Super Bowl champions, picked a terrible time to play their worst football of the season, and now they are on the brink of missing the play-offs.
A 33-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday left the Giants in a desperate position heading into the final week of the season next weekend as they dropped to third in the NFC East standings behind the Washington Redskins and the Dallas Cowboys.
"The next game, if it's our last, whatever happens, we just want to leave with pride," said Ahmad Bradshaw, the running back.
It has come down to that for the Giants (8-7), who fell out of a tie at the top of the NFC East with their fifth loss in seven games.
Eli Manning, the Giants quarterback, said: "You saw the scoreboard. It wasn't real pretty, but that's what can happen in football."
The Giants gave up a whopping 533 yards and gained only 186.
Baltimore had the ball for 39 minutes, 21 seconds compared to 20:39 for New York.
"Obviously we have a bad formula going on right here," said Tom Coughlin, the Giants coach.
"We're having trouble stopping people and our offence doesn't hold the ball at all to give the defence a chance to catch their breath."
Joe Flacco threw for 309 yards and two touchdowns for the Ravens (10-5), who ended a three-game losing streak and secured their second successive division crown.
"It feels good," said Torrey Smith, the wide receiver, in the upbeat locker room. "I'm just glad we finally got it done."
The Ravens led 24-7 at half-time and cruised to the finish behind a short-handed defence that sacked Manning three times and limited him to 150 yards passing.
The victory assured the Ravens of a home play-off game in the first weekend of January.
"We know what's at stake - we want the AFC championship and it starts tonight," said James Ihedigbo, the Ravens safety.
"Play-offs started for us. We're not looking at regular season. Play-offs started for us and we're going to keep on playing."
The Giants will need a win over the Philadelphia Eagles next weekend and help from other teams to squeeze into the post-season.
"I feel badly for everyone in that locker room because they can't turn this thing around either," Coughlin said.
"What has happened over the course of the last couple of weeks is very difficult to explain. We just don't look like a well-oiled machine offensively at all."
Said Manning: "We knew we had to play our best football at the end of the season to get into the play-offs and we haven't done that. When you're not playing your best, teams can come out and embarrass you."
* Associated Press
BENGALS, SEAHAWKS AND COLTS EXTEND THEIR SEASONS
The Cincinnati Bengals, the Indianapolis Colts and the Seattle Seahawks all qualified for the NFL play-offs with victories on Sunday while the Minnesota Vikings' post-season hopes were boosted by an upset win against the Houston Texans.
Josh Brown's 43-yard field goal with four seconds remaining gave Cincinnati a 13-10 victory at Pittsburgh that clinched a play-off berth for the triumphant Bengals and ended the Steelers' chances.
The Bengals are in the play-offs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1981 and 1982.
"Huge team win," said Andy Dalton, the Bengals quarterback. "It's exactly what we needed. Our defence played great, giving us good field position. Obviously there are areas we can improve, but it feels good to get the win."
The Indianapolis rookie player Andrew Luck, this year's NFL Draft top pick, flipped a seven-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne with four minutes to play to give the Colts a 20-13 win over the Kansas City Chiefs to secure a play-off spot.
Seattle clinched at least a wild-card spot after beating the San Francisco 49ers 42-13 in their NFC West game.
Minnesota stayed in the hunt by beating Houston 23-6, a result that prevented the Texans from clinching a home-field edge throughout the American Conference play-offs.
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