By Paul Tenorio
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 2, 2011; 9:29 PM
Just before 6 p.m. Sunday at FedEx Field, New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham dashed down the right sideline en route to a 92-yard touchdown that would give his team a 10-point lead.
Almost simultaneously in Wisconsin, Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman intercepted a Green Bay Packers pass and - for at least that moment - it felt like maybe things would fall into place for the Giants, who needed a win and a Packers loss to qualify for the playoffs.
Just more than one hour later, however, the Giants stood on the field a minute from a 17-14 victory at FedExField and watched their season-ending highlight, a Packers game-clinching interception, on the big screen as the crowd chanted what the players just learned: "Green Bay won."
After two crushing losses in the final three weeks and despite a 10-6 record, the Giants' season was over.
"It wasn't in our hands at that point," safety Antrel Rolle said. "We knew it could go one of two ways and it didn't go in our favor. That's fine, that's something we can live with. It was in our hands [earlier], and we didn't take advantage of it and it is what it is."
The mood in the winning locker room was somber, a bizarre feeling after a victory, players said. Defensive end Osi Umenyiora, who had two sacks and two forced fumbles, sat at his locker, one hand on his head, staring at the ground. Other players sat quietly at their stools.
Yet despite the sinking feeling as the reality of missing out on the playoffs set in across the locker room, players spoke about the pride of finishing the year strong and of reaching 10 wins.
"The best way I can compare it is to compare it to the way the season ended last year, and that was just leaving with a bitter taste in your mouth and just being disgusted and having a pretty unhappy offseason," Giants defensive lineman Barry Cofield said. "And I don't think it'll be like that this year. I think we'll be able to look at some things that we did well and understand we fell short of our goals, but at the same time there will be some pride and there will be some excitement going into next year."
Giants Coach Tom Coughlin, who said he did not learn of the final score - Packers 10, Bears 3 - until coming into the locker room after the game, acknowledged how proud he was that the team had bounced back after a loss to Philadelphia in which it allowed 28 points in the final eight minutes, then came up flat the next week in a must-win game in Green Bay.
"To me it was about the emotion and the passion," Coughlin said. "We had literally lost that. We had put so much into the Philadelphia game, to be honest with you, and then to lose it like we did. And we practiced well that [next] week but we didn't have the passion and emotion and that was what we were trying to get done today. And I would say it was a good level. It wasn't a great level but I would say it was a good level."
In the end, though, the moral victories were not enough to outweigh the disappointment of knowing there is no next week.
"It hurts," Coughlin said. "It hurts a lot. That's what you're trying to accomplish. We want to play, we want to be in the playoffs. That's what this thing is all about."