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Saquon Barkley injury doesn’t change what 2020 season is about for New York Giants

It’s always been about building a foundation that will lead to a brighter future

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Yet another 0-2 start to a season, the fourth straight time that has happened. A devastating injury that will cost star running back Saquon Barkley the season. Another injury to Sterling Shepard that will likely knock him out of the New York Giants’ lineup for a while.

It is really easy if you are a Giants fan to be disillusioned. To be angry. To call for Dave Gettleman’s head. To question every decision the Giants have made. To write off the season, start looking ahead to the draft and begin shouting “Tank for Trevor.”

And yet ...

And yet, it is important to remember where the Giants are and what this season always was, and still is, about.

The Giants are at a beginning. It is frustrating for fans who don’t care about the process, they just want victories on Sundays. It is the third beginning in five seasons for the Giants, and that taxes everyone’s ability to let it play out.

Remember what co-owner John Mara said prior to the season:

“I want to feel like when we walk off the field after the last game that we play, whenever that is, that we’re moving in the right direction. That we have the pieces in place to compete for a Super Bowl, and that the combination of people that we have here is going to work going forward. That’s what Steve (Tisch) and I need to feel like. I think we give the same answer every year because that’s truly what it is. You can’t pin it to a certain win-loss total, but you just want to feel like this group that we have together right now is building something that’s going to compete for a championship.”

Gettleman has promised “better days ahead.” That never meant the Giants were going to start the season on fire and rip through the league. It meant they felt they begun to put the pieces in place to bring the Giants out of the malaise of recent seasons.

Rookie coach Joe Judge has consistently said it’s not about where the Giants are now, it’s about where they are going. Here is how Judge put it a couple of weeks ago:

“It’s not really about where anyone is right now, it’s about where they will be long term and that’s what we have to look for.”

Judge expanded on that thought back before the Giants constructed their initial 53-man roster:

“Ultimately, you have to see the upside of somebody and what you can develop them into. It’s important to not go ahead and build your entire roster based on where it is right now. It’s important to look long term. Where are they going to be Week 6, Week 8, Week 10? How is each individual going to progress and what do we think our unit is going to look like by the end of the year? Dealing with young players is something you always have to take into consideration.”

This season still remains about where the Giants are going. This season. Next season. The year after. Not about where they are two weeks into 2020.

Barkley’s injury clouds the short term. We don’t know what it means for the long term — we will see when Barkley gets back on the field in 2021. His absence will clearly make the Giants’ task more difficult. His health in 2021 and beyond is important for their future.

Nothing that has happened so far this season — including Barkley’s injury — has changed what this season is about for the Giants. Nor does it mean the Giants can’t come out of the season feeling like they have made strides in the right direction.

What this season is about, though, is unchanged. Lay the foundation for the future. Get better from beginning to end. As Mara said, hope to end the season with a feeling that the wheel-spinning of recent seasons has stopped and there is reason to believe the organization is moving forward again.

“We have to make sure we stay steady on our course of having daily improvement, which leads to weekly improvement, which ultimately will make us a better team by the end of the season,” Judge said. “That’s our goal, to improve every week as a team and keep everyone on the right track building this program.”

What does that mean for the next 14 games?

First, it means looking for few big mistakes from Daniel Jones. He has done a lot of outstanding things over the first two weeks of the season, but he also made costly mistakes in decision-making that led to critical turnovers in each of the Giants’ two season-opening losses.

What the Giants need to see by season’s end are fewer of those critical mistakes.

Jones’ teammates certainly have faith in him.

“The guy is growing each and every day, including during the week at practice. That’s what you want to see out of the leader of your offense and really the leader of the team. We’re all behind DJ,” Tate said. “DJ can’t do this by himself. We all have to do our part, from top to bottom, consistently. When we do that, it’s going to take pressure off of him, it’s going to take pressure off of the offensive line, it’s going to take pressure off of the receivers, running backs, tight ends. It’s going to make it I think a little bit easier.”

The Giants need to see development from an offensive line that has three new pieces, including a rookie left tackle and a young, first-time starter at center. After an awful season-opening effort vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers, Judge said Monday he “absolutely” saw some of that improvement against the Chicago Bears.

“I thought they did a better job of getting downhill in the running game, getting the run started, getting a hat on a hat. There’s obviously some continuity that’s forming with that unit. Andrew [Thomas] and Cam [Fleming], both these guys have seen the top pass rushers in the league the last couple of weeks. They are going to continue seeing them over the next couple of weeks,” Judge said. “You can definitely see improvement with those guys. They are rising to the challenge for us. We’re far from a finished product right now. We have to keep that in mind as a team. It’s about the daily improvement going forward. Yes, I definitely saw improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 with our offensive line.”

Gettleman said the Giants began the year with “pieces” on that line. By season’s end, we need to see growth toward being a cohesive, functioning line. If that happens, the Giants will have a chance to run the ball successfully without Barkley, and Jones will have a chance to grow as a quarterback without constantly having to prove his toughness.

The Giants played a pretty good defensive game against the Steelers, then blanked the Bears in the second half after a rough two quarters.

Cornerback James Bradberry said Sunday night that the Giants “feel like a dominant defense.”

Well, they aren’t that. They are a work in progress. There are holes in the secondary, and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham is still figuring the best way to utilize his players. Still, there are pieces to be excited about and others that could be developed. Let’s see how that unfolds.

These things are all independent of Barkley and his injury. The star running back, of course, remains a huge part of the Giants’ future. His absence, though, doesn’t change the idea that it is still possible to come away from the season feeling like the Giants have made strides in the right direction.