Devastating and likely season-ending injury to Saquon Barkley aside, the New York Giants’ 17-13 loss to the Chicago Bears on Sunday looked on the field and sounded in the post-game much like many of the losses the Giants suffered while going 9-23 the last two seasons under Pat Shurmur.
Aside from the sickened feeling over the Barkley injury, this is pretty much the same way I felt Monday night after the Giants lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Too many early mistakes digging them a hole against a team they should have been capable of beating. Lots of heart and grit coming back from a 17-0 halftime deficit, just not quite enough playmaking on offense or stops on defense to finish off a comeback. Lots of post-game talk about pride in their effort, being a “tough, resilient group,” (Joe Judge’s words) and just going back to work.
“I’m very proud of the way our team fought,” Judge said. “I’m very proud of the way they finished the game in the second half.”
We heard and saw all of this week after week from the Shurmur Giants for the past two years.
It’s why Shurmur got fired and Judge got hired. It’s why Judge was lauded for being tough on players, for coaching them hard, for all of the “attention to detail” everyone from players to co-owner John Mara pointed out over and over.
Yet, here we are. The Giants are 0-2. For the fourth straight year. History, and the injury to Barkley, tell you the playoffs are a pipe dream. Thinking about that possibility is pretty much over with the season having just begun.
To be fair, the COVID-19 pandemic that cost NFL teams spring practices, preseason games and forced a shortened training camp, made being fully prepared at the start of this season a Herculean task for Judge’s Giants.
Also to be fair, there were things to feel good about both Monday night and Sunday afternoon. Daniel Jones did a lot of good things. The offensive line looked better Sunday as the game moved along. The defense made some plays, and thanks to James Bradberry forced a couple of turnovers.
“We asked those guys, we said we were going to find out a lot about ourselves,” Judge said of his halftime talk with players. “We sid we were going to find out a lot about the team we are. You’re down 17-0. What kind of team you’re going to have. It’s never about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond to it. I like the way our guys responded.
“We’ve got the right guys, we’ve got the right kind of guys.”
Question is, where do the Giants go from here and when will those “right guys” start to win some games?
“We go back to work,” Judge said. “It’s a tough, resilient group, it really is. It’s a young team that’s learning a lot, but they’re learning a lot about what we have to do as a team to capitalize on our opportunities. We have to make sure we stop spotting opponents opportunities to take advantage of our mistakes.”
The Giants have to replace Barkley. Dion Lewis (10 carries, 20 yards, 4 receptions for 26 yards) will play. Wayne Gallman won’t be inactive again. Rod Smith might get promoted from the practice squad.
The Giants, though, can’t replace what Barkley was capable of.
The Giants, with four Daniel Jones turnovers in two weeks, are still waiting for Jones to play clean football. He does so many good things, but the few mistakes he makes are costly in a league where the margin between victory and defeat are razor thin.
They have to stop looking shellshocked in the early parts of games before fighting and clawing to give themselves a chance.
What I’m reminded of is Judge saying a few times during training camp that it’s not about where you are, it’s about where you’re going.
I am still optimistic about what GM Dave Gettleman called the “Fightin’ Joe Judges.” I think eventually Judge will get the Giants on the right track. Maybe they are there already, but the results of the first two weeks — when they still too closely resemble what they have looked like the past few seasons — haven’t shown it yet.
It is hard to have patience. And, in the wake of the Barkley injury even more difficult to look forward to the next 14 games.
Still, let’s remember that these Giants are at a beginning. It’s still about where they are going and not where they are.
These first two weeks serve to remind that progress is never easy.