PHOENIX — Ben McAdoo said there were more than 100 things he could have done better last year. And that was before training camp even started.
The Giants’ coach kept a running tally of areas he could have improved on during last year’s offseason schedule, and the list reached triple digits within a matter of a few months.
“We kept a running list of things if we had to do them again we’d do better,” McAdoo said Tuesday during a break in the NFL owners meetings. “In the offseason alone, there were over 100 things. And we’re not talking scheme here, not talking offense, defense, special teams. We’re just talking as a program, things that can get better.”
How long was the list from what was considered a generally successful season, as the Giants reached the playoffs for the first time in four years before losing to the Packers in the wild-card round?
“We’re still going,” he said of the list. “We’re going to keep that one on the down-low.”
Ever the perfectionist, McAdoo understands the expectation level is even higher after such a promising season. Breaking a playoff drought that had lasted from the time the Giants last won a Super Bowl after the 2011 season, the second-year coach will always keep the ultimate goal in mind.
“There’s only one goal in this game,” he said. “It’s to put the (Vince Lombardi) trophy in the case, the ring on the finger, banner on the wall, picture on the team meeting room wall. I mean, that’s it. We want to win it. That’s why we’re in it. That’s it. There’s nothing else. That’s why we work the way we work.”
But the yolk of expectation will be heavier after a season filled with promise, even if the Giants were vanquished in the end by a superior Packers team at Lambeau Field.
“Our biggest challenge is going to be handling success,” he said, “and we’re going to find out a lot about ourselves.”
In the end, it still might come down to whether Eli Manning can recapture the form that made him one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks following a season in which he showed signs of regression. He’s 36 and he hasn’t missed a start since the middle of his rookie season in 2004, so there’s no guarantee he can summon the kind of performance from his earlier days. Again, no sure thing.
But the Giants have surrounded Manning with some important players, including former Jets receiver Brandon Marshall, tight end Rhett Ellison and offensive lineman D.J. Fluker. And with the draft coming up soon, there will likely be some additional offensive firepower added to the mix.
With a defense returning nearly all of its starters — unsigned free-agent tackle Johnathan Hankins is the only one not back, but he may still re-sign — there’s no reason to think the Giants can’t be considered among the handful of teams with a legitimate chance at making a championship run.
McAdoo knows it, and he doesn’t shy away from it. But he also knows that nothing is assured, and that there will likely be little to no carryover from last season.
“I think it’s important when we get everybody back together we talk about what drives us, and whether we’re playing for the man next to us, the man in the mirror, your legacy, playing for the ring, playing for the trophy,” he said.
But there is one memory of last year that McAdoo wants his team to keep close to the surface: that playoff loss to the Packers.
“That last game needs to drive us a little bit,” he said. “It can’t be everything, but it needs to be a big part of it. The more things you have to play for, the better you’re going to play. Hopefully that drives us.”
After that, it comes down to the little things.
“My biggest concern is that we can’t be too big to do the little things that are going to make a difference like we did last year leading up to the season,” he said. “The fundamentals. We need to go back to work there and take care of the little things.”
Take care of the little things, and the big things take care of themselves. There are no guarantees the Giants can follow up last year’s feel-good season with an even more meaningful run. But with an upgraded roster and a renewed focus, at least there’s a chance.