If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Ben McAdoo is treating Thursday night’s game against the Eagles as the fourth preseason matchup and not a chance to make the kind of history he set out to accomplish when he became the Giants’ coach in January.
Someone asked McAdoo how it feels to be virtually assured of a playoff spot at 10-4, and he talked about how the team had “a good mental day” at practice on Monday and how the players had to “take care of our bodies” on Tuesday and the need for rest and a chance to sleep in on Wednesday.
Huh? Let’s try this again. With his team on the verge of a playoff berth in his first season, and with the chance to end a postseason drought dating to 2011, isn’t that at least noteworthy?
“Doesn’t have anything to do with the game on Thursday night,” he said. “It’s just something to talk about. It’s a distraction if you let it be.”
Forgive him for underplaying the notion of getting in position to compete for a Super Bowl, because he knows that’s precisely what it’s all about. What McAdoo is trying to do is make a point with his players about focusing exclusively on beating the Eagles and then — and only then — thinking about what it would mean to get back to the postseason for the first time in years.
Sorry, coach, but this is a big deal. A very big deal.
If the Giants beat the 5-9 Eagles, who have lost nine of their last 11 games, they’re in. But the Giants still would hold a major advantage in the wild-card chase if they lost. Thus, McAdoo’s singular focus on blocking and tackling — and blocking out the what-ifs of the playoff picture.
McAdoo says the idea of making the playoffs “doesn’t register at this point.” But check back with him if the Giants take care of business against the Eagles, because he might feel differently. You get into the tournament any year, no matter what the circumstances, it’s special. And McAdoo knows it, even if he’s unwilling to look beyond what happens at Lincoln Financial Field Thursday night.
Evidently, his message has gotten through to the players, because they’re not looking too far ahead — at least not publicly.
“It’s one game at a time,” star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. said. “It’s a good opportunity for us, but we really just have to lock in and focus. We need to come out and put our best foot forward.”
See? Even the team’s best player is reduced to clichés as he looks ahead to this game. And the chance at making the playoffs? Beckham is pretty low-key on that, too.
“If [making the playoffs] had a box by it, it would get a check, but it’s not the end-all, be-all,” he said. “Obviously, it goes way bigger than that. It’s a stepping stone.”
A stepping stone toward Super Bowl LI on Feb. 5 in Houston. But the Giants must get into the tournament first, and the most direct route is winning in a place that has been so unkind to them in recent years. The Eagles have won three of the last four matchups at The Linc, including a 27-0 drubbing two years ago, a game in which Victor Cruz suffered a grisly knee injury that nearly ended his career.
But Cruz and the Giants are in position to make a triumphant return to Philadelphia. To beat the Eagles on a national stage and reach the playoffs for the first time since that unforgettable 2011 Super Bowl season would be as big a statement as there is.
“It’s Philly. You don’t have to add anything to it,” linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “Playoff implications, all that. We’re going to be ready because it’s Philadelphia. Every time we play them, it’s going to be a hard-nosed, hard-fought game, no matter what the record is, no matter what time of the year we play, no matter what day we play.”
And about the playoffs?
“Playoffs, it’s a thought process, but we know if we handle our business, it’ll take care of itself,” Casillas said.
And if the Giants do that, then maybe the new coach will even crack a smile and acknowledge just how meaningful an outcome his team will have earned.
Distraction? Nah, this is what it’s all about.