The Giants of 2018 are not experts on many things, but they do know plenty about losing, how it reverberates through a building, through a team and through a fan-base. And, make no mistake, they know how it hurts to come up short.
This is either the unpleasant residue of living through a growing process or nothing more than losing based on not being good enough, with no discernible pathway to success clearing through the fog.
Pat Shurmur inherited a team that went 3-13 last season and revamped most of it. Improvement is in the eye of the beholder, as the Giants sit at 5-10 and, as they were in 2017, firmly in last place in the NFC East.
No one said to Shurmur it would be easy, and it assuredly has not been.
“We’re batting through it and doing some things that put us in a position to win. We’ve won some games, but we haven’t won enough,’’ Shurmur said Monday. “That’s the growth that has to take place and for those of us that aren’t very patient, it’s a painful process until the point where we’re winning all of these games at the end. Not just a few of ’em, but all of ’em. We all know it comes down to a drive or two at the end or the critical plays at the end of a game. There’s things that we’re doing that are good enough but right is right, we got to do it throughout the game and we got to win ’em.”
The Giants have earned their way here, specializing in losing in close and agonizing fashion. They were beaten 33-31 in the last second by the Panthers on a 63-yard field goal. They were beaten by three points by the Falcons, lost by three points on a late field goal by the Eagles and, most recently, left Indianapolis on the wrong end of a 28-27 loss to the Colts after allowing a touchdown with 55 seconds remaining. That is four losses by a combined nine points. In three of the Giants’ road losses, the winning points were scored by the opponent in the final minute. Of the 10 losses, seven have been by seven or fewer points.
This is doing just enough to lose.
“We’re super close,’’ receiver Sterling Shepard said. “We’re there. We just got to find out what the little things are and correct them.’’
Is it little things holding the Giants back? Their defense engenders little or no confidence with the game on the line. Their offensive line, although improved, needs further remodeling. The running game, much better the second half of the season, is too reliant on waiting for Saquon Barkley to turn nothing into something big. It is fair to question Eli Manning’s ability to string together excellence game after game.
After going 1-7 in the first half of the season, the Giants are 4-3 after their bye week heading into their finale this Sunday against the Cowboys, who have already clinched the NFC East. Better, yes. But hardly good enough.
Shurmur confirmed Manning will start in Week 17, as expected. It could be his final game with the Giants, as his return for a 16th season is not guaranteed, despite having one year remaining on his contract. There are signs and hints and remarks that lead to the assumption the Giants will stick with their franchise icon, even if they take a quarterback high in the 2019 draft to groom for the A.M. (After Manning) era.
“I think Eli’s been playing, doing some really good things,’’ Shurmur said. “We as a team, and I think it’s fair to say about the quarterback, too, we’re real close and we got to find a way to take these wins at the end. I think he’s contributing in a really good way.’’
There has never been a hint of the players not giving effort or quitting after losing seven of the first eight games. It is not a question of attitude, which means it is all about talent and unfamiliarity. The roster was overhauled aggressively — the Giants underwent the most extensive makeover of any team in the league. Some of what Shurmur installed in his first year with the Giants has worked, but the foundation is not yet fully laid down. Barkley maintains someday soon, when winning kicks in, the Giants will look back at this losing and all the growing pains and laugh.
“I believe the future’s bright, but we got to start executing better,’’ Barkley said.
“You can see the second half of the season has been completely different than the first,’’ Shepard said. “When you really look at the season, we’ve only lost a couple of games, we only let one game get away from us. That shows you this team is fighting, we’re pretty close. We just got to figure out what it is to get over that hump.’’
Shurmur says he “would agree with their assessment” that his team is close.
“Yeah, I think we are,’’ he said. “I think as the team, as we start building, as the players get better, as we improve, as we understand situations and how to play each situation better then eventually this thing pushes over the top.’’
For now, though, there is pain associated with the pushing.