We now come to the juncture of the Giants’ schedule called Playing for Pride, and it is not a place they want to be.
It is the neighborhood reserved for teams residing in Nowheresville, a place where closing time arrives when the clock runs out on the regular season. The Giants entered Week 15 with the slimmest of shots to make it into the playoffs, and it is disingenuous to characterize what went on the past month as postseason contention. They were not eliminated, though, until their offense went dark and a 17-0 loss to the Titans turned the lights out.
The locker room emptied quickly after loss No. 9, but it was not a morose or devastated vibe. The Giants were 1-7 after eight games, and players realized the damage they had done to their season was most likely irreparable. When coach Pat Shurmur met with his team after the Giants were shut out at home for the first time in five years, he did not even mention the mathematical finality that is now reality.
“I don’t think the playoffs were involved in the message,” Saquon Barkley said.
The Giants, barring a tie game, will finish 5-11, 6-10 or 7-9, records that will get resigned to history and not very relevant, other than determining where they line up in the 2019 draft. They have clinched their fifth losing season in the past six years, which is not a trend. It is a state of a franchise.
The theme this week will be reminding everyone the season still has two games remaining, and this will be another test for Shurmur. Can he keep his team interested and motivated now that the glimmer is darkened?
“Even though we’re eliminated we got a job to do,” receiver Russell Shepard said. “We’re pros, professional athletes, we get paid a lot of money. There’s obviously a group of young guys coming in next year who want our jobs, so in order for you to stay in this league and win football games and have a great career you better come to work ready to win, regardless of the outcome the day before.”
These are the dog days, when the front office takes notice of who is all-in and who has checked out. There is a final road game in Indianapolis against Andrew Luck and the playoff-inspired Colts, a team coming off a 23-0 thrashing of the Cowboys, the team clinging to the NFC East lead. The Giants close out at home with the Cowboys, and you can be certain MetLife Stadium will be teeming with vocal fans of the Dallas franchise.
Tough times are here for the Giants.
“It sucks,” safety Michael Thomas said. “You never want to be in a situation where you still have football left and you’re not in contention. You want to be playing meaningful football in December. That’s the goal. We had our opportunities and we didn’t do what we needed to do. So we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and say, ‘OK, this is the reality.’ We’ve got two more opportunities this season to go out and put some good stuff on tape. I guarantee there won’t be anybody here laying down.”
More that came out of the Giants’ latest loss:
— This was said prior to the Giants getting shut out and Eli Manning laboring to a season-low passer rating of 54.1. And it is an opinion, not an inside slant on what the Giants are thinking. Still, Phil Simms knows something about quarterback moves, how the Giants operate and Eli Manning’s shelf life. And he believes the 37-year-old is not going anywhere.
“I think it’s an absolute guarantee that Eli Manning will be the starter for the Giants next year,” Simms said Sunday on CBS’ “The NFL Today” pregame show. “In the draft, they’re not going to get anybody. And I think he’ll be there not only next year. But I think he has a chance to start in 2020.”
Does this sound reasonable? Likely? Insane? Well, Manning is not under contract in 2020, so there would have to be an extension for him to return after the 2019 season.
— As it stands today, the Giants have the No. 8 overall pick in the 2018 draft. They share 5-9 records with the Falcons and Lions, so there is a legitimate chance the Giants, if they lose-out, can move up to the No. 6 spot. The Bills and Buccaneers are also 5-9, but behind them in the draft. The Cardinals and Raiders, both 3-11, seem locked into the 1-2 spots, in some order. Of the seven teams currently ahead of them in the first round, only one, the Jaguars at No. 5, unquestionably needs a quarterback.
— Nate Solder has never been here before. He is in his eighth NFL season, and this is the first time he has missed out on the playoffs. He spent his first seven years with the Patriots, who are annual participants in the postseason. In fact, Solder has never been ousted from the playoffs before the AFC title game. His first season with the Giants will end when the regular season expires. This is a rough introduction with his new team, but the gigantic left tackle said his priority when signing with the Giants was to help with an ascent.
“My main focus is my teammates and helping this team do whatever it takes to continue to have an upward trend,” Solder said.
Does he see any sort of upward trend with a team that is 5-9?
“There’s been improving signs, that’s for sure,” Solder said. “There’s been encouraging signs all season, I think.”
— It is not a hot take. It is a dumb take. The Giants on offense put up 33 points on the Redskins last week in Landover, Md., even though Odell Beckham Jr. was back home, out with a quad contusion. So, those who want to add two-plus-two and come up with five roll out the theory that the Giants are better without Beckham. Stop it. They are not. Anyone who insists they are, well, we cannot help you here.
“You always miss Odell,” Manning said. “He’s one of our key players and one of our best players. When he is in the game he makes plays and makes defenses play differently. You always miss your playmakers.”
— An NFL team is not supposed to be able to win a game completing 12 passes for 88 yards. That has not happened against the Giants in more than eight years. The last time the Giants gave up fewer passing yards in a game was Oct. 3, 2010, when they allowed 51 passing yards to the Bears. The Giants won that game 17-3.
— The Titans did something to Barkley that has only been accomplished twice in 14 games this season: They held the rookie under 100 yards from scrimmage. Barkley was limited to 66 yards from scrimmage. His previous low game was 94 yards from scrimmage against the Falcons.
— Derrick Henry’s 170 rushing yards was the most against the Giants in nearly eight years. The last running back to abuse the Giants worse than Henry? Jonathan Stewart, currently on injured reserve with the Giants. He ran for 206 yards for the Panthers on Dec. 27, 2009.