To some, even when the Giants win, as they did Sunday with their 41-35 overtime triumph to sweep Washington in the regular-season series for the first time since 2014, they lose.
Those are the people who will lament the fact that the Giants, who entered their Week 16 game against Washington in a prime position to nail down a chance at being able to draft Ohio State edge rusher Chase Young are no longer in that position.
There are even those who will wonder if the fact that the Giants have now won two consecutive games for the first time since Weeks 13 and 14 of last season, and who this week against a hapless Washington team put up a season-high 552 yards of total offense might have done enough to save head coach Pat Shurmur’s job.
All of that shouldn’t matter right now as in one week, that will all get sorted out.
What does matter is that the Giants, a team that for the longest time seemed to forget what winning football looked like, have now had two weeks in a row in which it’s hopefully clicked that if they do the basics, good things will happen.
“I think each other games there’s a lot to learn and a lot to build on, I don’t think this game is an exception to that,” said quarterback Daniel Jones, who threw five touchdown passes, becoming the fourth rookie since 1950 to accomplish that feat.
“I think this win will help us in the future,” added running back Saquon Barkley, who also had a career day with 189 rushing yards on 22 carries. “Four or five weeks ago, we probably would have lost this game. We found a way to win this game, which is big.”
While many will look at this game as meaningless or the one that cost the Giants a top-3 spot in the draft, this game was anything but and, in fact, provided some perspective on a lost Giants season.
The Giants are building confidence.
For a team to learn how to win, they have to win a few games. And while the most negative of Nellies out there will say, “So what? Miami stinks!” and “Washington stinks!” these were two teams that the Giants absolutely, positively had to beat to take those first baby steps forward following the massive roster overhaul and infusion of youth conducted by general manager Dave Gettleman.
It goes back to the basics of before one can run, they have to walk; and before one can walk, they have to crawl.
This Giants team has been learning to crawl this season. For anyone who expected them to be able to stand toe-to-toe with the Patriots of the NFL scene, well, that wasn’t a realistic expectation. What is realistic is expecting (and seeing) the Giants beat teams they’re supposed to beat, which unfortunately this year they haven’t done enough of.
Daniel Jones is the real deal.
If anyone is still upset about the decision to draft Daniel Jones No. 6 overall, then I don’t know what else to tell you.
Jones’ gutsy performance against Washington—the five touchdowns among the season-high 552 yards of total offense and ZERO turnovers on top of it all—should put to rest any questions about the Giants having screwed up that pick.
Is Jones a finished product? Not even close, and he might not be for a couple of years yet.
But the progress this young man has made since first walking in the doors of the Quest Diagnostics Training Center has been amazing to watch unfold.
“Lightyears,” head coach Pat Shurmur said when asked about Jones’ progress. “He’s going to have a moment in the middle of February somewhere, maybe back home, sitting on his couch. He’ll be like, ‘Holy smokes what happened to me?’ I think he’s only going to get better because he’s a very, very talented guy that works hard. He had a good performance today.”
Feed the beast and celebrate.
Jones’s play wasn’t the only promising development. The Giants got a look at what happens when they feed the best—running back Saquon Barkley, a steady dose of carries in the run game.
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New York is 4-1 when Barkley carries the rock at least 20 times, and the one game they lost was a one-point differential.
But record aside, this shouldn’t have been difficult for the coaching staff to realize. When you have a rookie quarterback who’s trying to get his feet on solid footing, it can help if you take some of the onus off him by putting the ball in the hands of a top-notch running back.
So how about those young ones?
Be honest. If someone had told you that Kaden Smith, Darius Slayton, and Nick Gates would emerge as major contributors on offense, would you have believed them? Probably not. Yet thanks to injuries to the guys ahead of them on the depth chart, those three players continue to make a robust case for a chance to compete for a starting job next season.
Smith, the tight end San Francisco didn’t want, should be able to replace the overpriced Rhett Ellison, who will likely end the season inactive as he has the last five weeks.
Slayton could make moving on from Golden Tate a little easier to stomach if they so choose to go in that direction. In Gates, who is going through his first year as a pro after missing all of last season on injured reserve, they might have found a starting offensive lineman who, depending on where they put him, can either solve one of the issues at tackle or who might be able to give the team some flexibility along the interior.
But what about that defense?
A mixed bag for sure, but let’s start with the positives. The run defense held Washington to just 80 yards on the ground, and of those 80 yards, 36 were by the great Adrian Peterson.
The pass rush? Lorenzo Carter had his best game as a pro, recording 1.5 sacks, four tackles, and four quarterback hits. Markus Golden continued strengthening his argument for a second contract with this team when he registered a half-sack. And for the most part, the linebackers, missing the ailing Alec Ogletree, were a little bit more disciplined in coverage.
The defensive secondary? It was a rough afternoon for the youngsters, mainly the corners who committed “oy vey” penalties like Corey Ballentine’s ill-advised shove of a receiver in the end zone after the defense had stopped Washington. But the talent is there, and with different coaching and a few more additions to that side of the ball, the unit should be a lot better next year.
Does all this mean Pat Shurmur is safe?
Not necessarily, though I don’t believe a final decision has been made by team ownership.
Indeed, when Shurmur goes before John Mara, Steve Tisch, and Dave Gettleman, he might have a few more arrows in his quiver to help justify his return for a third season, especially if this team somehow finds a way to spoil the Eagles playoff chances next week.
But it all goes back to what John Mara, who said he needed to see progress made, defines as progress. Does a 2-2 record over the final four games of the year constitute progress? Was there a set number of wins necessary, and if so, did those wins have to come against a specific level of competition?
Or maybe it was about not seeing the same mistakes over and over, which still happens in some areas of the team, specifically on defense?
What the Giants do with their coaching staff will go a long way toward clarifying some of these season-long questions.
And what about Chase Young?
This is meant as no disrespect to Young, who is a tremendous talent. Still, it’s rather interesting that some were screaming about the Giants not trading down last year now want the Giants if they somehow finish with the No. 2 overall pick, to drat Chase Young.
The argument by the naysayers in 2018 was that the Giants could have traded down and acquired more draft capital to restock the cupboard. Unless you genuinely believe the Giants are one pass rusher away from being a Super Bowl contender (hint: they are not), ask yourselves if having multiple picks might be better.
Will having a premier pass rusher matter if the defensive secondary, which is still very young, can’t hold its coverage? Probably not. But if the Giants can trade down and acquire more picks to spend on positions that sorely need upgrades—inside linebacker, offensive tackle, center, and another receiver all come to mind—wouldn’t that make more sense?