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‘Valentine’s Views:’ Embarrassing day pushes Giants closer to yet another offseason of major change

Losing, player frustration, fan apathy are all bad news for Pat Shurmur

NFL: Green Bay Packers at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — This is not what progress is supposed to look like. Nor is it the kind of birthday present co-owner John Mara hoped he might get Sunday at MetLife Stadium.

The New York Giants fell to the Green Bay Packers, 31-13, on Sunday. It was the Giants’ eighth straight loss, dropped them to 2-10, and typified both much of what we have seen all season from the Giants on the field and what we are likely to see in the stands during home games the rest of the way.

It wasn’t pretty. It certainly didn’t come close to resembling anything close to progress. The game featured:

  • A half-empty stadium with perhaps more Green Bay Packers fans in attendance than New York Giants ones.
  • Giants’ fans who did brave the elements and the mostly awful football heading for the exits long before the game ended, leaving Packers fans to celebrate their victory.
  • The embarrassment of hearing “Go Pack, Go!” chants throughout the game.
  • Confused, inept pass coverage.
  • A defense that gave up a trio of 70+ yard touchdown drives and gave up 17 points on the first three Green Bay possessions.
  • Questionable coaching decisions. Like trying to run a jet sweep with a player (Da’Mari Scott) who just came off the practice squad and has neither an NFL reception or rushing attempt rather than with Darius Slayton or Sterling Shepard. Like failing to help slot corners Corey Ballentine and Grant Haley while the Packers picked on them mercilessly.

Jackrabbit calls out James Bettcher

An irate Janoris Jenkins challenged the defensive scheme employed by coordinator James Bettcher on Sunday after Aaron Rodgers torched the Giants for four touchdown passes. None of those, two to Davante Adams and one each to Allen Lazard and Marcedes Lewis, came with Jenkins in coverage.

Jenkins also told reporters to “go ask him (Bettcher),” why he is not traveling all over the field with the top receiver on opposing teams.

No player in the Giants’ locker room speaks his mind as freely as Jenkins does. This might, though, be an indication that players are questioning the coaching staff. Remember, a couple of weeks ago Saquon Barkley — while not mentioning Giants coaches — did say he was tired of people trying to change his running style.

Progress? Really?

Shurmur keeps insisting progress is being made, and he didn’t back off that assessment on Sunday evening.

“I’m always concerned when we don’t win. This is another feelings question. I’ll feel better when we win games — a lot better when we win games,” Shurmur said. “This is a historically young team that’s going out there and competing against some really good football teams. We’ve got to do what we have to do to win games. I understand that, but they also are developing. At some point, we’ll be good enough to win.”

The more they lose, though, and the more they appear confused and continue to look as they are not making progress on the field, the harder it is becoming to imagine Shurmur returning for a third season as Giants’ head coach.

Shurmur is now 7-21 (.250 winning percentage) with the Giants and 17-44 in his career as a head coach. He said he is “well aware” of what comes with the territory of losing as a head coach.

“People will change what they think of us and me when we win games. I’m a realist when it comes to that. And I get it,” Shurmur said. “When you don’t win I expect what’s written and said and what people think. I expect fans to be upset. We are too. But we go about trying to fix it.”

Shurmur added that “I try not to consume” the criticism “but when you don’t win that’s what you expect.”

Where does Shurmur see that progress he keeps referring to?

“They fight and they are resilient. That game was in the balance. We had an opportunity within one score and it got away from us. That’s where I see it,” Shurmur said. “They fight and some of these young players are very talented and they are learning on the job here.”

To a point, he’s right. The Giants trailed by four points entering the fourth quarter. They do play hard, aside from a couple of players who have been guilty of failing to hustle or give max effort to make tackles in recent weeks. They are playing first- and second-year players a higher percentage of snaps than anyone else in the league.

Still, so many of the issues the Giants have had all season showed up again Sunday. Shurmur can argue about behind the scenes progress or getting experience for a historically young roster all he wants, but when the game day evidence doesn’t show the play of that young roster getting any better it’s fair to wonder if Shurmur and his coaching staff are the right people to develop this group.

What about those players?

We know Jenkins isn’t happy, and was willing to voice that unhappiness. No one else would go down that road. Players support the idea that they are practicing well but not bringing that to games.

“We practice like we’re 10-2. It’s all there,” said running back Saquon Barkley. “For some strange reason it’s just not translating to the game.”

“We have good practices. We put good practices together,” said linebacker Lorenzo Carter. “During the week we see everybody working hard, even on game day we’re working hard. There aren’t many guys out there that aren’t fighting, but the results just aren’t falling our way.”

Daniel Jones toed the “we’re making progress” company line.

“Obviously, it’s tough. It’s tough to lose. No one likes to lose. But through it, we’ve been able to stick together. We’ve been able to keep working together each week. We’ve put together good practices,” Jones said. “Going forward, we have to maintain that focus and stay together. Work toward each week, but continue to improve.

Veteran linebacker Alec Ogletree had a hard time pointing to any specific progress.

“I don’t really know if … I guess it’s because of how you look at it, like if we mess up something last week and we fix it this week, that’s progress, but I mean obviously we haven’t won the games that we think we should have won or whatever, but you know we’ve just got to keep going,” he said.

What’s the bottom line?

I have said over and over that I know the Giants don’t want to fire Shumur and have to start over in 2020 with a third head coach in what will be five seasons since they kicked Tom Coughlin to the curb.

It is, though, increasingly apparent that it will be an upset if Shurmur survives this with his job.

The product on the field is not getting better. Young players are not getting better, and in the case of many of the young defenders they don’t appear to be getting placed in positions to succeed. Veteran players who know what NFL football is supposed to look like know what the Giants are putting on the field doesn’t look right.

“You go in, week-in-and-week-out, you put the work in, you sit in the film room, you talk about what we’re supposed to do and then we come out on game day and it doesn’t get done, so it’s very frustrating,” said veteran safety Antoine Bethea. “Obviously, experience is your best teacher, so obviously the more the guys play, the more they will see, but at the end of the day, we’re all professionals and we all get paid to do our job and we can’t use youth as an excuse anymore.”

What’s happening in the stands is embarrassing for Giants’ ownership. Packers fans may well have outnumbered Giants fans in the stands, and they were in good voice throughout the game. At game’s end, MetLife Stadium had pretty much only Packers fans left and the raucous celebration made it seem like the game might as well have been played at Lambeau Field.

“They’ve got a great fan base. You heard it out there today,” defensive end Markus Golden said of the Packers. “I still heard some Giants fans chanting, but we’ve gotta get out there and give them a reason to cheer us on louder than the Packer fans.”

Safety Michael Thomas doesn’t want to see the Giants start over again.

“It’s those who allow those changes to mature and then you reap the benefits, but if there’s constant turnover, like you said in this league, you never see it,” Thomas said.

Unfortunately for the Giants, it seems more and more apparent that they have reached a place where change might be their best option.