EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — “It is November and December football. S—- gets real around this time.”
That was New York Giants edge defender Jihad Ward after Sunday’s disappointing 31-18 loss to the Detroit Lions. It was a game that the 7-3 Giants were favored to win, but one that turned into their poorest performance of what has been a surprisingly good 2022 season.
“Nothing looked good enough today,” said head coach Brian Daboll. “When you lose, it doesn’t matter about yards, stats, any of that stuff. The only thing that matters is executing the way you need to execute. It just wasn’t good enough today. Again, it’s hard to overcome three turnovers. (To) have a 3-0 differential, I know it’s boring, but that’s the truth.”
The Giants remain a playoff team as of now. We are now, though, at Thanksgiving. The week-to-week stakes are higher, and November, December and January football will separate contenders from pretenders.
Which are the 2022 Giants?
The Giants’ feel-good start certainly made it seem like they were headed to the playoffs. Maybe they still are, but they did not look like a playoff-caliber team on Sunday. They turned the ball over three times, without creating any takeaways. They committed eight penalties. They surrendered four rushing touchdowns. Saquon Barkley, the league’s leading rusher entering Week 11, could muster just 22 yards on 15 carries. After a first-quarter touchdown gave them a 6-3 lead, the Giants watched the 4-6 Lions completely outplay them the rest of the game, and outscore them 28-6.
“I think we got caught caught slipping,” Ward said. “They did what they had to do — helluva win for them.”
Giants quarterback Daniel Jones also credited the Lions.
“Credit to Detroit – they had a good plan and stopped us in some areas that we’ve had success,” Jones said. “I think credit to them, but we got to look at ourselves and see where we can execute better.”
“Really, the story of today is we didn’t execute how we needed to,” said safety Julian Love. “We had too many penalties. We didn’t win the turnover battle. Field position on special teams wasn’t the best. All around, it just wasn’t our day.”
No team is going to go through a 17-game season and put its best foot forward each week. There is bound to be a forgettable game or two somewhere along the way.
Is that what Sunday was for a Giants’ team that made a habit through the first nine games of playing solid fundamental football, controlling games with their running game and solid defense, then taking advantage of mistakes by opponents to win close games in the final minutes?
Or, was Sunday a harbinger of tough times ahead? The Giants have already accomplished more this season than many thought they could with a rookie head coach in Daboll, a rookie general manager in Joe Schoen, severe salary cap limitations, and a roster with question marks at several positions.
Not only do the games get more important, but the schedule gets tougher.
Over the final seven weeks, the only team the Giants play that currently sports a below .500 record is the 4-6-1 Indianapolis Colts. In the last two weeks, the Colts have beaten the Las Vegas Raiders and lost a one-point game to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Giants face the Cowboys on Thursday, the Eagles twice and the Minnesota Vikings. All three of those teams appear headed for the playoffs. Their other two games are against the 6-5 Washington Commanders, who have won five of their last six games.
Tankathon shows the Giants with the NFL’s hardest remaining schedule as their opponents have a combined .683 winning percentage. NFL Playoff Picture still shows the Giants with a 67 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, but that isn’t the 80 percent or higher probability that most had forecasted for the Giants before Week 11.
So, the rubber is about to meet the road. Are the Giants going to be up to the challenge, or will they get shoved aside like snow getting blasted off the road by a plow?
“I think we have a resilient team,” said left tackle Andrew Thomas. “Injuries definitely hurt, but we have to have a quick mindset. We’re on to another challenge, a division game so we can’t dwell on this one too much.”
The injuries the Giants suffered on Sunday won’t make things easier — against Dallas or anyone the rest of the way.
The Giants are already without starting safety Xavier McKinney, edge defender Azeez Ojulari, tight end Daniel Bellinger, right tackle Evan Neal, wide receiver Sterling Shepard, cornerback Aaron Robinson and several other players who were counted on to play big roles for them this season. Some of those players will be back. Many won’t.
Sunday they appeared to lose cornerback Adoree’ Jackson and wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson for extended periods of time, if not the remainder of the season. They also lost cornerback Fabian Moreau, safety Jason Pinnock, center Jon Feliciano and substitute starting right tackle Tyre Phillips.
Who will be available for Thursday’s game against Dallas? That is anybody’s guess.
“I’ll get with the trainers after this and talk about it and come up with a plan on a short week,” Daboll said. “It’s what it is; there’s no excuses.”
That is true. There is also no mercy in the NFL. The Giants have had a wonderful start to their season, and I think Schoen Daboll, the Giants players and the fan base would have all said “sign me up” if you told them before the season started that the team would be 7-3 heading into a Thanksgiving matchup with Dallas.
Things, though, don’t feel nearly as good for the Giants as they did a few weeks ago. Shoot, really as good as they did before Sunday’s kickoff against Detroit. It feels like the cracks in a fragile team with a narrow path to victory most weeks are beginning to be exposed, and that the more key players they lose to injury the harder it will be for Daboll and Co. to find workarounds.
Buckle up. Giants fans. The 2022 season has been a fun ride so far, but things might be about to get pretty bumpy over the final seven weeks,.