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A gigantic meltdown at the Meadowlands

New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs is tackled by Carolina Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers (90) and defensive tackle Damione Lewis (92) in the first quarter on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J. Jacobs was held to one yard of rushing in the Panthers’ 41-9 win.

AP photo

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Justin Tuck has been to the mountain with New York Giants, winning an NFL title. The defensive end and the rest of the Giants tumbled into a deep valley in their final game at Giants Stadium.

It was a complete embarrassment, and it went a long way in ending their playoff hopes.

Matt Moore and the Carolina Panthers (7-8) brought down the house, turning the Giants’ final game in the 34-year-old stadium into of their ugliest moments in franchise history with a 41-9 rout that left New York hoping for a miracle ending to make the playoffs.

“It’s tough,” Tuck said after the Giants (8-7) lost for the seventh time in 10 games. “Like you said, we had everything at stake playing a team that was only playing for pride, and I guess pride won today. We should have been playing with a little pride ourselves.”

The Giants, who started 5-0, knew what was at stake. They needed to win their final two games and hope that either Green Bay or Dallas lost one of their remaining two.

Coupled with Green Bay’s win over Seattle and Dallas’ victory over Washington on Sunday night, the loss eliminated the Giants (8-7) from playoff contention for the first time in five years, something totally unexpected after a 5-0 start.

“For us to play the way we did today, there is obviously no excuse for it,” coach Tom Coughlin said after his team turned over the ball four times and allowed the Panthers to score on six of their first seven possessions.

After a holding penalty nullified a touchdown pass and a later fumble cost them the ball on their opening possession, the Giants played like a team going through the motions and the Panthers dominated.

Moore threw three touchdown passes, Jonathan Stewart rushed for a franchise-best 206 yards and the Panthers shredded New York’s defense for 416 yards, including 247 rushing.

“We had to come out here and play tough and play to win, regardless of what they had on the line,” said Moore, who completed 15 of 20 passes for 171 in his seventh NFL start.

Coming off a 45-12 throttling of Washington, the Giants came up with another weak effort after a big win, their trademark this season.

“I told someone on the sideline that exact quote, that we have been part of the highest of highs,” Tuck said. “but as far as my vantage point, this is the lowest I have been in a Giants’ uniform.”

Stewart, who now has 1,008 yards rushing this season and joined teammate DeAngelo Williams (1,117) in the 1,000-yard club this season, ran for a 29-yard touchdown and set up another score by Brad Hoover with a 52-yard run.

Eli Manning threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Steve Smith and Lawrence Tynes kicked a 40-yard field goal for the Giants, who didn’t score until Carolina built a 31-0 lead early in the third quarter.

“It is shocking and it is disappointing,” said Manning, who finished 29 of 43 for 296 yards and two interceptions. “When you have a shot to get into the playoffs and everything is right in front of us, to come and have mistakes and turnovers and penalties, we did about everything we could just to try to lose that game.”

The victory was the third in four games for Panthers coach John Fox, whose future with the team remains cloudy.

The Giants only looked good on their opening drive. Manning methodically drove New York downfield and appeared to cap an 80-yard drive with a 26-yard touchdown pass to the Giants’ Steve Smith.

However, the play was called back by a holding penalty against fullback Madison Hedgecock and the drive eventually ended when Mario Manningham fumbled on third down at the Panthers 17.

Everything after that was all Carolina.

Moore led the Panthers on a 15-play drive before settling for a 38-yard field goal by John Kasay.

Carolina scored on drives of 63, 51 and 29 yards on its next three possessions, the last set up by Richard Marshall’s interception.

The sloppy Giants, who missed tackles all game, didn’t get a hand on Stewart on his cutback touchdown run that stretched the lead to 10-0.

“Even though we’ve had some ups and downs, the character of this team is showing as the season comes to an end,” said Stewart, who averaged 7.4 yards a carry.

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