The New York Giants were the local team that was supposed to melt down in a late-season collapse. Tom Coughlin would be sent packing with a thank you note for the Super Bowl win four seasons ago. And Rex Ryan and his New York Jets would roar into the playoffs and have another battle with the New England Patriots for AFC supremacy. But the Giants pulled together to end the season winning three out of their last four games, while the Jets went out in a ball of self-imploding fire, with accusations of quitting, tears and finger-pointing, as they end their season in chaos and disarray.
Before the season began, not much was expected of the Giants. They lost Steve Smith, Kevin Boss, along with a few key members of their offensive line, and injuries piled up as far as the eye could see. First place was not prognosticated by anyone. Meanwhile, the coach of the Jets built his team up as a Super Bowl contender, despite losing a handful of crucial players, with their replacements being question marks. But even if Ryan was overestimating and embellishing their prospects, surely they would at least qualify for the playoffs and be more than a .500 team. But as the season wore on, the Giants jumped out to a 6-2 record, while the Jets were a mediocre 5-4. Expectations changed, but the Giants started to sink and the Jets rose. But in the last quarter of the season, things changed again, and the Giants snuck into the postseason, which was quite an accomplishment going back to what everyone thought they would be back in August, while the Jets fell apart.
What happened at the end? The Giants played like giants, but the Jets resembled the "Same old Jets" that Ryan has spent three years trying to make disappear. While Eli Manning was airing it out for 346 yards, went 24-for-33 and tossed three touchdowns with no interceptions in the most important game of the season, his Gang Green counterpart, Mark Sanchez, was a disaster, tossing three interceptions with a 65.5 passer rating. The Jet quarterback never gave up, though. Sanchez fought to the end, unlike Santonio Holmes, who was accused by his teammates of quitting (and long before the final game). Holmes had zero receptions on the day. The Giants' No. 1 receiver? Victor Cruz amazed yet again, with another houdini touchdown, this time a 74-yard catch-and-run, along with a few other crucial catches (six in all, for 178 yards). And Giants everywhere were pitching in -- Bear Pascoe, Michael Boley, Osi Umenyiora, Ahmad Bradshaw, Antrel Rolle, Mathias Kiwanuka and on down the line. The Jets, though, were squabbling in the huddle, making obscene gestures in the locker room and trying to make sense of all that went wrong this year.
The Giants get to play on (for all things Giants-Falcons, go here). Tom Coughlin (who is continually reminded that nobody wants to play for him) gets to coach another year. And Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum have to go back to the drawing board. Maybe Ryan shot his whole organization in the foot to start with by continually attempting to sell his team as a Super Bowl contender. And the swagger he famously brought to the Jets went horribly wrong this year. He ended his season with tears and lost control of his team, one of his captains quit on his teammates and Bart Scott bid everyone farewell by flipping off a photographer and scowling, "Take a picture of this. Get out of my [bleeping] face" (for which he was subsequently fined $10,000 by the team). Those are the final memories of Rex Ryan's 2011 Jets. But if Brian Schottenheimer is standing on the sidelines next to Santonio Holmes next September at MetLife Stadium, the ghosts of this year's disappointment may just be a constant reminder in 2012 that the 2011 season is still hanging around.
And now on to the other top stories of the week in the world of New York sports.
The Winter Classic: The New Year's Day (after) game lived up to the hype once again, with the New York Rangers pulling out a nail-biting, hard-fought 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, ruining Philly's feel-good day. Mike Rupp surprised everyone by scoring the Rangers' first two goals (off two nice passes from Brandon Prust), and after the first one, he kind of foolishly mocked Jaromir Jagr's goal-scoring salute (what did Jagr do to anyone?). The game was a showcase for the Ranger Way, though: They were resilient in overcoming a two-goal deficit, they out-hit the Flyers, 50 to 41, and they blocked 11 more shots than Philadelphia (19 to eight). Henrik Lundqvist stopped a penalty shot with 19 seconds left in the third period and was better than his counterpart, which was the difference in the game, and Brad Richards netted the clutch game-winning goal (which followed some hard work by Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky). The refs made things a little more difficult and interesting for the Rangers, as the end of the game slightly resembled one of those old Olympic contests when Russian refs would do everything in their power to see that their country wins. The always colorful John Tortorella apologized (and was fined $30,000) for his original take on the officiating ("I'm not sure if NBC got together with the refs to turn this into an overtime game. I thought the game was reffed horrible. I just thought tonight, in that third period, it was disgusting . . . I'm not sure if they have meetings in there or what."), and it was a real apology, not one of those "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" deals: "It was wrong with my sarcasm, with my frustration and I apologize to everyone involved. It was not my intention. I certainly handled it the wrong way, especially to the two refs." In other Ranger news this week, Sean Avery was waived, Marc Staal returned on Monday, the Blueshirts' alumni fell to the Flyers, 3-1, the Rangers beat the Panthers on Friday, 4-1, with Michael Del Zotto getting sucker punched by Tomas Kopecky at the end with Rupp then pummelling Kopecky (more Tortorella: "It's a sucker punch. That's what pisses me off about this game -- sometimes there's no honor"), and on Thursday the Rangers beat Florida again, 3-2, in overtime, which now gives them the most points in the NHL.
Ugly Fan Behavior Once Again: While there were no fights on the ice at Citizens Bank Park, after the game, at the famous cheesesteak haunt Geno's, a New Jersey policeman and Iraq war veteran wearing a Ryan Callahan jersey was jumped and beaten badly by three men wearing Flyers jerseys. Of course, not all Philly fans are boorish thugs, but this certainly doesn't help the city's reputation. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be a sports fan -- especially wearing the jersey of a visiting team. The police are searching for the three cowards. Let's hope they find them -- and lock them in a room for a few minutes with Mike Rupp and Brandon Prust.
No. 6: On Saturday, the New York Islanders inducted another player into their Hall of Fame, when defenseman Ken Morrow's name was added to the banner that hangs from the rafters. Morrow's claim to fame was joining the Isles right after he won the Olympic gold medal as part of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team and won a Stanley Cup just a few months later. He won three more Cups with the Islanders (and had two actors portray him in two different movies about the Herb Brooks-led Olympic team). Morrow was an Islander for all of his 10 NHL seasons (1980-'89), and was the consummate defensive defenseman. He scored 17 career goals, with 88 assists, for a total of 105 points, and was a plus-149. He did compile 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 19 games in the '83 playoffs, and sealed the Cup over the Oilers with an empty-net goal in the deciding game. Drifting back to the present, the Islanders beat the Oilers after Morrow was honored, 4-1, and they won their third consecutive game with a 4-3 shootout victory over the Hurricanes on Tuesday.
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: There were no outdoor games or inductions into the New Jersey Devils' Hall of Fame this week, just plain-old hockey. Things started out promising for New Jersey but gradually went downhill from there. On Saturday, they defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, but on Monday the two issues that have been plaguing them all season reared their ugly heads again -- a blown third-period lead and letting in another shorthanded goal -- as they lost to the Ottawa Senators, 3-2, in overtime. And the week ended in an ugly manner for the Devils, when they were bludgeoned by the Boston Bruins, 6-1.
Are We Sure Basketball Season Has Started? The New York Knicks blew out the Sacramento Kings on Saturday, and that's where the good news starts and ends for the local basketball teams. Looking like it's still the preseason, the Knicks lost to the Toronto Raptors on Monday and were booed off the Garden court in their 118-110 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, where their supposed new emphasis on defense was nowhere to be found. Things were even worse for the New Jersey Nets, who lost all four of their games this week, and could barely put a full team on the court by Wednesday, with Kris Humphries and Deron Williams sitting out. Rookies Iman Shumpert, Josh Harrellson (in Sacramento) and MarShon Brooks were just about the lone bright spots for the two teams this past week.
Baseball News & Notes: The New York Yankees couldn't come to an agreement with Hiroyuki Nakajima (they get their $2 million back, though) but they re-signed Andruw Jones to a one-year contract, and Scott Hairston re-upped with the New York Mets this week, also inking a one-year deal. And former Yankee and Met Joe Torre resigned as MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations as he joined a group that will attempt to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hey, what about buying the Mets? Or will he try to bring the Dodgers back to his home borough of Brooklyn?
The Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers defeated Iowa State at Yankee Stadium on Friday, 27-13. The keys to the win were three forced turnovers and a blocked kick. Mohamed Sanu (who declared for the NFL draft this week) broke the school receptions record, and Jawan Jamison was named the MVP of the game, after scoring two touchdowns and rushing for 131 yards. When Rutgers hoisted the George M. Steinbrenner III Trophy, the big surprise was that it wasn't shaped like a calzone.
R.I.P. Don Mueller: The former New York Giants right fielder passed away a week ago at the age of 84. He spent parts of 10 seasons with the Giants (1948 to '57), and his last two years he played for the White Sox. He formed an outfield with Willie Mays and Monte Irvin, and was part of the NL Champion 1951 and World Champion '54 Giants. Mueller singled in the momentous ninth inning a few batters before Bobby Thomson belted his Shot Heard Round the World, but he broke his ankle sliding into third and had to be carried off the field. In 1954, he led the NL in hits with 212 and batted .342. In the World Series sweep of the Cleveland Indians that year, he hit .389. Mueller was a career .296 hitter, with 65 home runs and 520 RBIs, and he played in two All-Star games.
And that's the New York week that was.