The hierarchy of the Giants organization huddled at the end of practice Friday for a private conversation that ended in smiles. Co-owner John Mara, general manager Dave Gettleman, head coach Pat Shurmur, trainer Ronnie Barnes and VP of communications Pat Hanlon broke their huddle looking like five horsemen happy with what they’d discussed.
No doubt the news that wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. will miss his second straight game with a quad injury was a bummer. Still, from the front office to the locker room, the Giants are starting to gain a bit of much-needed swagger heading into Sunday’s game against the Titans at MetLife Stadium.
A 5-8 record after four wins in their past five games feels much better than their 1-7 start. While the brutal beginning likely cost the Giants a chance to reach the playoffs, hitting rock bottom early may have been the best thing to happen to Shurmur and the team.
Ben McAdoo enjoyed mostly success in his first season as the Giants’ head coach, leading his team to an 11-5 record and its first playoff berth in five years. But when adversity and controversy erupted during his second season in 2017, the coach didn’t handle it well, as player suspensions and the benching of Eli Manning created a mess that eventually cost McAdoo his job.
Shurmur already has endured his share of adversity. The Giants didn’t win their first game until Week 3 and then lost five straight. Beckham created controversy with an interview on ESPN in which he was critical of Manning and Shurmur; and backup quarterback Kyle Lauletta was arrested for reckless driving on his way to work.
On the field, everything seemed to go wrong, as the offensive line struggled, the defense couldn’t make a stop at critical moments and Manning was sacked 31 times over the first eight games.
Fast-forward to this weekend. Shurmur seems to have righted his ship before it capsized. A 40-16 triumph at Washington last week kept alive hopes for a .500 season and faint hopes of a playoff berth. A positive finish should provide a solid foundation heading into next year.
“You just stay the course,” Shurmur said of the Giants’ return from the abyss. “I think that’s the message to the players as well: Just keep going and try to make this Friday the best it can be, and then get your energy high, play with some enthusiasm and let it show on Sunday.”
It has been said you learn more about people in times of adversity than when times are good. So what did we learn about Shurmur and Gettleman? Enough to think Mara was correct when he said, “I think we’ve got the right people in the building.”
Gettleman released Ereck Flowers and traded Damon “Snacks” Harrison and Eli Apple for cap space and draft picks. Both were good moves. The GM also signed players like Bennie Fowler and guard Jamon Brown off waivers, and they have been productive.
Shurmur has done his part. He streamlined the offense after the bye, emphasizing what worked and throwing out what didn’t. He built more of the offense around the running game, and minimized the seven-step drops that require longer pass protection.
Shurmur spars with the media on occasion, but he has never looked like the job is too big for him. Most of all, he has the respect of his players.
“I give him a lot of credit,” Sterling Shepard said of Shurmur. “He’s just an even-keeled guy. He’s not going to get too high or too low when things are getting bad. Everybody follows his lead, and for the most part he’s been great.”
Bill Parcells nearly got fired after his first season as the Giants’ head coach, and Tom Coughlin was 6-10 during his first year. They each won two Super Bowls.
Maybe going through hell early will prove to be a good thing for Shurmur.