Tearing down and rebuilding an NFL roster is a painstaking ordeal fraught with challenges and setbacks … and criticism.
Dave Gettleman has taken plenty of shots during the process, including some directed from this space, and the Giants’ 68-year-old general manager is still a long way from constructing a championship-caliber roster. And in the end, he might fall short, as so many personnel executives do over time.
But for the embattled GM, Sunday’s thrilling 32-31 victory offered at least a few glimpses at the possibilities for his team. And maybe, just maybe, some hope that his vision will bear fruit and give the Giants a fighting chance in the years ahead.
Caution: It’s just one game, and there will be no sweeping proclamations about what lies ahead. Still …
Start with Daniel Jones, the most important person of all in Gettleman’s reclamation project.
There was near universal scorn at Gettleman’s decision to take the Duke quarterback with the sixth overall pick. The reaction was visceral, and the soft-spoken Jones had suddenly become this polarizing figure, caught in the vortex of criticism aimed squarely at Gettleman. Duke is no football factory, and its most famous quarterback, Dave Brown, had already bombed in New York as a first-round pick. The misgivings among Giants fans were off the charts, especially after Gettleman opted to go for a quarterback so early instead of a pass rusher; Kentucky’s Josh Allen would have been the choice had Gettleman not needed a quarterback.
Convinced there was at least one other team that would have taken Jones before the Giants’ 17th overall choice, Gettleman made the call on Jones and took the heat. Or, should we say, more heat. He’d already been blasted for trading away Odell Beckham Jr. less than a year after signing him to a $95 million contract extension.
But Giants fans saw on Sunday what Gettleman had felt such conviction about from the start. Just as George Young went against popular opinion in drafting Phil Simms in 1979 as the starting point in his reconstruction plan, Gettleman ignored popular sentiment and went with what his eyes and his gut told him: Jones was his guy.
It was a brilliant opening act for Jones, who threw for 336 yards and two touchdown passes, and ran for two touchdowns, including the game-winner late in the fourth quarter. He was poised throughout the game, even in the face of a heavy rush, and pulled off one of the most electrifying comebacks in franchise history. And he rallied from a 28-10 halftime deficit without Saquon Barkley, who suffered a sprained ankle in the second quarter and is now likely to miss several weeks.
Positively brilliant, even if the Giants needed a huge break at the end to win it, as Matt Gay missed a 34-yard field goal on the game’s final play.
Jones convinced at least one notable skeptic with his performance. Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, who had expressed misgivings about whether Jones had what it took to succeed at the NFL level, said on Twitter that it was “maybe more exciting after watching tape I thought his game was 1 of cleanest of ANY starting QB this year — in terms of making correct reads/throws … & IT WAS HIS 1ST START!”
And there was more to like from Gettleman’s 2019 draft class. Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, the 17th overall choice out of Clemson, got his first NFL sack, applied consistent pressure from the middle of the defense and blocked an extra point, a point that turned out to be a huge difference in the outcome.
Cornerback DeAndre Baker, the third of the Giants’ first-round picks this year, was much more reliable in coverage after looking lost the week before against the Bills. This time, it was veteran Janoris Jenkins who was routinely torched by the Buccaneers, especially Mike Evans, who had three first-half touchdowns.
Third-round pass rusher Oshane Ximines got his first full sack of the season and also applied good pressure when called upon.
Fifth-round rookie linebacker Ryan Connelly played nearly every snap and wound up taking the calls from defensive coordinator James Bettcher after Alec Ogletree went out with a hamstring injury. Connelly is a smart player and a sure tackler and has quickly adapted to Bettcher’s system.
And fifth-round receiver Darius Slayton played his first game after recovering from a hamstring injury. Slayton had three catches, including a 46-yarder in the third quarter that helped set up a touchdown that brought the Giants to within one score, 28-25.
There’s still a long way to go, with no guarantees. But for one very meaningful Sunday, there was hope.
For the Giants.
And for Gettleman.