Meaningful games in December?
The Giants should first try playing a meaningful game in October.
Co-owner John Mara didn’t mandate a division title, a playoff berth or a .500 record when asked earlier this month how he would define improvement in 2020. He set forth loose criteria so there would be room to bend to patience.
And yet “playing meaningful games in December” – Mara’s words – feels like an impossible standard to reach after a 36-9 loss to the 49ers turned the Giants’ seventh 0-2 start in the last eight years into just their third 0-3 start since 1996. It seems the Giants once again have faded into irrelevance before the Yankees’ season is over.
“There’s no magic formula to this. There’s no magic wand,” coach Joe Judge said. “You don’t go out there and just solve every problem in a day. It’s a day-by-day process of putting things together.”
Judge has a lot of days left three games into his tenure, but Sunday was Gettleman’s 1,004th day as general manager.
The Giants are 9-26 in that span – only the Bengals have fewer wins – and are searching for answers in all-too-familiar positions: An offensive line recently declared “fixed” is playing a big part in the NFL’s worst rushing offense by an astounding margin of 26 yards per game. And special teamers forced into secondary roles is the same old story, whether it’s Antonio Hamilton in 2019 or Nate Ebner in 2020.
It’s easy to make a team younger: Gettleman turned over a roster that included fading stars with big contracts such as Eli Manning, Olivier Vernon, Jason Pierre-Paul, Damon Harrison and Janoris Jenkins and boosted his draft resources to 26 draft picks (21 remain) along the way.
It’s much more difficult to make a team better – and where are the Giants notably better than they were on Dec. 28, 2017 when the roster included Pro Bowlers Odell Beckham and Landon Collins? Especially if blue-chip draft picks Saquon Barkley (injury-prone) and Daniel Jones (turnover-prone) don’t shake their concerning labels.
The Giants are 12-39 in their last 51 games – a league-worst record during a span that includes an 0-16 record for the Browns. It’s déjà Blue with new names.
“We can’t come to work each and every day not feeling confident about ourselves and not coming in with a clear mind towards getting better,” tight end Evan Engram said. “There is no feeling sorry for ourselves.”
Alec Ogletree, Kareem Martin, Patrick Omameh, Jonathan Stewart, Antoine Bethea have come and gone as failed veteran answers. Blake Martinez and James Bradberry are paying early dividends, but the Giants’ talent gap was exposed by a 49ers team playing without eight starters.
Injuries to Barkley, Sterling Shepard and Jabrill Peppers highlight a devastating lack of depth. Barkley (2018), wide receiver Golden Tate (2014) and Leonard Williams (2016) are the only offensive or defensive players with a Pro Bowl selection to their name.
“We have players,” Judge said. “We have players in a position right now on our roster, on our team, that were on that field today that can help us win games.”
What else can he say without pointing a finger? Mara said plenty before the season.
“I want to feel like when we walk off the field after the last game that we play, whenever that is, that we’re moving in the right direction,” Mara said. “That we have the pieces in place to compete for a Super Bowl.”
Forget playing in February. Forget December. Focus on October.
More thoughts after the Giants’ loss to the 49ers
1. The Giants opened as a double-digit road underdog to the Rams in Week 4. So, the first win of the Judge Era will be …?
Week 6 or Week 9 against Washington (1-2), which beat the Eagles and had a fourth-quarter lead against the Browns?
Week 7 or Week 10 against the Eagles (0-2-1), who have won 11 of their last 12 meetings with the Giants?
Week 12 against the Bengals (0-2-1), whose point differential is just negative eight?
Nearly half of the first 300 fans respondents to a Twitter poll listing four options choose no wins until 2021, expressing the pessimism of a fan base fooled into believing it could steal a win against the decimated 49ers.
2. You might not find two less-contested touchdowns in Week 3 than those scored by Brandon Aiyuk on a 19-yard end-around and Justin Wilson on a 19-yard screen pass against the Giants.
Three blockers escorted Aiyuk. Two had no one to hit until inside the 7-yard line because the misdirection worked so well. Wilson wasn’t touched until the goal line as the Giants couldn’t shake downfield blocks.
“When we see it [on film], it’s just going to be a small, little fundamental thing,” Blake Martinez said when asked for a common thread. “Whether it’s being able to tell when you beat a block too cleanly on a screen play, having the forced presence, whatever it ends up being.”
3. Read-option plays for Daniel Jones were common in training camp, disappeared during the first two game plans, returned with success against the 49ers and need to become a playbook fixture. Jones rushed for 23, 19 and 16 yards on keepers, though the shortest was erased by penalty. Still, Jones was the Giants’ leading rusher (49 yards) in the game and for the season (92).
“There is a lot of stuff that you put in over the course of training camp that you like,” offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said during the week. “Maybe you don’t like certain things each week. Some of those ‘deceptives’ that you are referring to, when they fit into the plan, we’ll certainly use them going forward.”
4. It was the fourth game since 2014 that the Giants did not run an offensive play in the red zone and the second time with Jones at the helm. It also happened in a 35-14 loss to the Patriots last season.
“Comes down to execution,” Engram said. “Comes down to winning our situations.”
The Giants aren’t winning enough. Period.
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