Latest NY Giants loss follows trend of late-season struggles under coach Tom Coughlin

Players shuffled away from their lockers, not eager to talk. Second- and third-year guys tried to wrap their heads around their first professional season without a postseason. Impending free agents started to field questions about whether they would be back next season.

The day after the Giants’ playoffs aspirations had been officially extinguished, this was the ambiance at their East Rutherford practice facility — not what anyone imagined it would be heading into Week 17, certainly not after opening with five straight wins.

“You get off to a great start, and things seem easy,” quarterback Eli Manning said. “You think everything is just going to happen naturally. We went through the stretch where we weren’t playing good football and regrouped and thought we could kind of get on a hot run late in the season. But we just didn’t play good football.”

The story of the 2009 Giants season is a bizarre tailspin that took the team from 5-0 to 8-7 in 10 weeks, culminating in the humiliating 41-9 loss to the Panthers Sunday that helped knock them out of the playoffs.