The reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants lost any chance of a repeat performance when they were eliminated from playoff consideration despite closing the season with a 42-7 win over the visiting Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
The Giants (9-7) missed out on the postseason when the Chicago Bears (10-6) defeated the Detroit Lions (4-12) 26-24. New York had needed a win and three different teams to lose on Sunday in order to grab a wildcard berth.
New York, which squandered a 6-2 start to the regular season, had the inside track to a playoff berth before absorbing one-sided losses to playoff-bound Atlanta and Baltimore by a combined 67-14 in the previous two weeks.
Responding to coach Tom Coughlin's call to show their pride in the finale, quarterback Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes in the first half as the New Yorkers stormed to a 35-7 lead by intermission.
"I'm very proud of our team about the way we played today," Coughlin said, though there was no sugar-coating the bottom line.
"It goes without saying, the first thing is you don't ever rely on anyone else in this business. You have to take care of your own business," said the coach.
"We had it in our grasp. We knew exactly what we had to do but we weren't able to get that done. I'm sure that will be first and foremost on our minds throughout the off-season."
The lopsided loss may have signalled the end of a long run for Philadelphia Eagles (4-12) head coach Andy Reid, who was challenged by the team owner to post a winning mark this season. Reid has been at the helm of the Eagles for 14 seasons.
"I take blame for the year," Reid told reporters. "It's my responsibility to make sure we get there."
Five TD passes
Manning threw five touchdown passes in all for the first time in his career, connecting with rookie receiver Rueben Randle for two touchdowns and finding rookie running back David Wilson, fullback Henry Hynoski and Victor Cruz as well.
The quarterback, who was 13-for-21 for 208 yards, was happy to get back on track after two weak offensive showings but obviously disappointed in the season.
"Each year you want to make the playoffs. That's always the goal, to give yourself a chance to win a championship," said Manning, the most valuable player of last season's Super Bowl triumph.
"This year, we were in a position, but we didn't win the games we needed to. You've got to handle your business to get into the playoffs and win the important games."
Safety Antrel Rolle said the Giants had to decide what kind of team they were.
"It's definitely a bittersweet feeling today," said Rolle. "We were hoping things would fall in our favor, but we put ourselves in this position.
"It's definitely disappointing. I'm disappointed in our approach, especially knowing what was on the line in those two games. We got to close out better, we got to finish better, understand who we are as a team, what's going to be our identity."
Sunday's victory gave the Giants the same 9-7 record they carried into last season's playoffs for their Super Bowl run.
"We're certainly disappointed that we're not in the playoffs," said Coughlin. "Our goal was certainly to be there, our goal was to win the division.
"But we won nine games," said the coach. "We do have the nine wins, but it's not good enough." (Editing by Gene Cherry)