INDIANAPOLIS — Look, we get it. As Pat Shurmur put it: “Right is right. You win or you lose and we didn’t win. That’s the reality. That’s the big-boy part of this.”
Which is another way of saying: Moral victories don’t count for spit.
That’s the rule in the NFL. Everyone gets paid. Everyone is a professional. There are no guarantee games, no designated homecoming opponents. You win or you lose. And the Giants didn’t win.
That’s the reality.
But you know something?
Maybe this time — maybe this one time — we can suspend that absolute theory. Maybe we can actually declare this Sunday in New York football, two days before Christmas, a moratorium on results. Maybe we can pretend Vince Lombardi never actually said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” (Easier to do since, you know, he never actually said that.)
Back home, the Jets lost the same kind of game, right down to blowing an early 14-0 lead. Yet you could feel the positive vibes from East Rutherford 712 miles to the west, here at Lucas Oil Stadium, because the quarterback played well and the draft slot was solidified.
The Colts were playing for everything. Their season was on the line. Lose and they were out of the playoffs (and, let’s face it, a loss would’ve made them 0-2 against New York’s football teams this year; that should be an automatic eliminator).
The Giants were playing for nothing. And no: Nobody ever gets extra credit for trying, not in professional sports. If you cash a paycheck then trying is the very least you can do, even in a season reduced to playing out the string. So the credit isn’t in the effort.
It’s in the execution. Or at least the execution across the first 56 minutes of the game. The Giants took that early 14-0 lead and the Colts tried to fritter it down, but the Giants kept coming back. Heck, they even made a gallant defensive stand in the fourth quarter with every one of the 61,738 inside the stadium shouting themselves hoarse, assuming Andrew Luck and friends were going to take care of business.
But they didn’t. The Giants held. The patrons were cowed.
“We were right with them every step of the way,” running back Saquon Barkley said.
“There were times,” Colts coach Frank Reich said, “when it was hard to tell who was the team fighting to make the playoffs.”
(And, well, you could understand it if the one person inside Lucas Oil Stadium who wasn’t fretting at 0-14 was Reich, who knows a thing or three about spotting an opponent a big lead in a do-or-die game.)
“Credit them,” Shurmur said. “They made the plays in the end.”
Yes, that’s the bottom line. Yes, 99 percent of the time in this space and elsewhere in this newspaper, the words of one of Shurmur’s professional predecessors will trump everything else that happens in a game: “No medals for trying.”
Yes, they finally did let Luck beat them, they finally absorbed another loss, a 28-27 gut-crusher, and the reaction from the players was as you would hope it would be.
“It sucks,” said Evan Engram, whose career day included 87 yards receiving and another 26 rushing.
“I won’t lie to you,” said Barkley, held to just 43 yards on 21 carries. “It sucks.”
Of course it does. Even on Moratorium Sunday, you want to win the game when you’re that close to winning the game. The Jets wanted to finish off the Packers. The Giants wanted to knock the Colts out of the playoffs. Neither happened. Sucks.
But this is also a reminder, at least for the Giants, that there are pieces in place here. Good for Shurmur for having his team ready to go right out of the gate, no small feat when there is little tangible reward at stake. Good for Eli Manning, forced to sling it old-school (309 yards and a touchdown) since the Colts were determined to keep Barkley from destroying them.
Good for all of them. Maybe you don’t want to hand out those medals for not lying down like dogs, and you’d be right to do that. But maybe this one time we can appreciate the fact that with nothing to play for, the Giants looked like the team with everything to play for.
“Someday, we’ll look back on this and laugh because we’ll learn from this and get better from this,” Barkley said.
Most Sundays, that would echo in empty ears. On Moratorium Sunday? We’ll take him at his word.