Giants Punter Matt Dodge Is the Bill Buckner of the Week

“All we had to do is make one play, and we didn’t make it,” New York Giants owner John Mara

said yesterday

, after the shock of the Philadelphia Eagles’ game-ending, game-winning punt return. Mara’s Giants had led 31-10 with nearly half of the fourth quarter gone by. Less than eight minutes of game time later, the Eagles’ DeSean Jackson was

jogging sideways along the goal line

, where no Giant could reach him, savoring the moment and making sure the clock was expired before he stepped across for the 38-31 victory.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin screamed at his rookie punter, Matt Dodge, who had kicked the ball straight to Jackson instead of sending it out of bounds. Peter King of Sports Illustrated named Dodge his

Goat of the Week

, author of the “dumbest play of a mind-bending loss.” Dodge “chose to not do what his coach told him,” King wrote.

The Wall Street Journal’s Nando Di Fino noted that these tantrums were

unfair to Dodge

, or at least to Dodge’s mental skills: the punter didn’t handle the ball cleanly; he “was rushed, still aimed at the right sidelines, but he went across his body and essentially shanked the kick”—that is, he shanked it straight downfield.

More to the point, the Giants had already blown their entire three-touchdown lead by the time Dodge launched the kick. It was 31-31. Just like the ‘86 Red Sox had

wild-pitched home the tying run

against the Mets before Mookie Wilson even put the ball in play. Bill Buckner’s error didn’t cost the Red Sox the World Series. It was merely the final contribution to a full team effort.

(Also, the Red Sox still had to finish the job by losing Game Seven—the way the 10 other members of the Giants’ punting team had to overrun their coverage on Jackson as he bobbled the ball, then fail to tackle him. Blaming the punter for a return TD is always a bit of childish lashing out; God never yet made a punt returner who is more likely to score than not to score, even if the ball goes straight to him.)

The Giants and the Eagles do

awful things

to each other. They

always have

. “We played a good 52 minutes and the other eight minutes we gave it to them,” Eli Manning said. That was pretty ungracious, coming from somebody whose own career transformation from underachieving bungler to crunch-time quarterbacking hero began with

two freak bounces and one spectacularly boneheaded personal-foul penalty

. Yesterday was the most hideously crushing football game of all time, until the next time the Giants meet Philadelphia. Maybe in the playoffs.