A season that was lost before Halloween has not been found at Thanksgiving. It does not work that way. All prior sins cannot be absolved. The Giants are not very much alive, but that they are not quite buried as the holiday season kicks in is, well, better than nothing and more than they could have expected.
No one can inject the Giants into any sort of playoff chase, unless that chase is so expansive that it includes almost everyone. At 1-7 heading into their bye week, the buzz around the Giants was all negative, a swirl of talk about Eli Manning getting benched, players getting traded and projecting the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft.
A dip in the quality of the opponents on the schedule, the insertion of Jamon Brown into a jelling offensive line, an emphasis on pounding away on the ground with Saquon Barkley and the resulting Manning resurgence has the Giants thinking possibilities rather than predicaments. Beating the 49ers and Buccaneers — teams with a combined record of 5-15 — plus the increasing blandness of the NFC East puts the Giants at 3-7 and riding a two-game winning streak heading into Sunday’s game against the slip-sliding Eagles (4-6) at Lincoln Financial Field. The Giants are not in it, exactly, but also not out of it, entirely, and this is more than they could have hoped for when losing was all they knew.
“It’s not exactly where we want to be but it’s where we are,’’ Manning said Monday on his weekly WFAN spot. “We’re not dead. We still have a chance. That’s exciting.’’
No division in the NFL has a first-place team with as poor a record as the Redskins (6-4), and they just lost their starting quarterback for the remainder of the season.
“I embrace it because we’re playing this thing just the way you have to play it,” coach Pat Shurmur said Monday. “We own our poor record in the first half. But you keep playing. Keep improving. You never know what happens. You can never tell what’s gonna happen, and that’s why you keep playing, and that’s why it’s important for a locker room not to get ill.
“If you lose a game and you battle, you’ve got to find a way to come back, make the corrections and move onto the next one. You can’t let that game create an illness on your team. I think our guys have listened to that message. I think the leadership in our locker room is good, and we’re going to try to battle this thing all the way to the end because that’s what we do.”
This ride could be halted at any time, and the Giants could be thrown off as soon as this weekend — after all, they were thrashed by the Eagles 34-13 back on Oct. 11 at MetLife Stadium. Winning the rest of the way would put the Giants at 9-7 and might — might — be enough to win the division.
If it were to happen, it would be unprecedented. The Giants are 3-7. No team with such a poor record after 10 games has ever made it into the playoffs. The team with the worst record through 10 games to advance to the postseason, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, was the 2014 Panthers, who were 3-6-1. After 12 games, the Panthers were 3-8-1 and won their final four games to somehow capture the NFC South title with a record of 7-8-1.
“I mean, yeah, we know we still have a shot,” receiver Sterling Shepard said. “It gives you a little bit of hope, too.”
Analyzing the remaining schedules in the division is mostly a case of internal combustion. The Giants have three games left within the NFC East, the Eagles have four, the Redskins have four and the Cowboys have three. The toughest game left for the Giants is the Bears at home. At Indianapolis against the Colts and Andrew Luck now appears to be extremely difficult — did you see what Nate Mullens and Jameis Winston did to the Giants’ secondary?
The Giants will sit back on Thanksgiving Day and watch the Redskins (6-4) face the Cowboys (5-5) in Arlington, Texas. That the Redskins are 3¹/₂ games ahead of the Giants, with only six to play, is daunting but perhaps mitigated by the loss of quarterback Alex Smith to a gruesome fractured leg. Colt McCoy takes over a first-place team; can he keep the shaky Redskins ahead of the pack?
The Redskins play at Jacksonville against the reeling Jaguars and also at the sometimes-rugged Titans. The Cowboys might be in the best position to overtake the field, but they also have one of the most difficult assignments of all the NFC East teams: at home against the Saints. The Eagles have lost two straight, most recently a 48-7 humbling in New Orleans — the most lopsided loss ever for a defending Super Bowl champion. The Eagles have yet to face the Rams in Los Angeles and also must go against the surging Texans.
Odell Beckham Jr. sounded the rallying cry two weeks ago when he was not shy about stating the goal of winning out.
“I mean, that’s the mindset of everybody in the room,” Shepard said. “He just came out and said it.”
Saying it and doing it are two different things.