The rationalization inside the locker room goes something like this: Despite a 1-4 start, the Giants at least can take heart that no one in the NFC East has a winning record, so there’s no reason to think the season can’t turn around quickly.
In other words: We may stink right now, but at least everyone else in the division stinks, too.
Even Pat Shurmur, who prefers to live in the moment and not look ahead, offered some motivation to keep his team’s chin up after a dismal getaway.
“You never know. I think the last two times the Giants made the [playoffs], I think they were 9-7, so we’ve just got to keep playing,” said Shurmur, referencing the team’s 2011 regular-season record prior to winning Super Bowl XLVI. The team was 10-6 in 2007 on the road to winning Super Bowl XLII. “We’ve just got to keep playing.”
Several players parroted that line of thinking after Sunday’s 33-31 loss to the Panthers, a gut punch after the team had clawed back to take a 31-30 lead late in the fourth quarter.
“I think you pay attention to it,” quarterback Eli Manning said of the tight divisional race -- Washington at 2-2, followed by the 2-3 Cowboys and Eagles, then the Giants. “It’s still wide open. A lot of football to be played. A lot of division games to be played.”
But as a Super Bowl-winning Giants coach often said, “Talk is cheap. Play the game.”
Tom Coughlin’s words should resonate at a time like this, because as much as the Giants want to talk about still having plenty of hope, there will be no divisional race for them unless they get their own house in order.
Their optimistic talk was reminiscent of the many post-2011 seasons in the Coughlin era, when the team would go through these long stretches of futility and then frequently reference their 9-7 record in their Super Bowl season.
In 2012, they started 6-2, lost five of their next seven and finished with the identical record as the year before. This time, it wasn’t good enough to qualify for the playoffs. In 2013, they started 0-6, won five of their next six, but finished 7-9. A year later, they lost six straight after a 3-2 start and wound up 6-10. Along the way, they held out hope, only to see it vanish with each punishing loss.
Bottom line: If you don’t play well, stop looking at what others are doing and worry about what you are doing. Regardless of how the Redskins, Cowboys and Eagles are struggling, this has to be about the Giants fighting out of this early-season slump and truly making a race of it.
Yes, they looked better against the Panthers, finally cracking the 30-point barrier for the first time since the final game of the 2015 season. But there are no moral victories in this league, especially for a team built to win now.
That’s why Thursday’s prime-time game against the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles is so vitally important for the Giants. While there is still a long way to go in a season that features the usual assortment of twists and turns, a loss here would do more than put the Giants at 1-5 and farther behind in the division.
It would threaten the unraveling of the entire season.
While it’s not impossible to recover from such a dismal start to make the playoffs, the odds are overwhelmingly against it.
“There’s got to be some urgency,” Manning said. “We’ve got to get going, and we got to get hot and get on a streak.”
The only streak they need to think about at this point is a streak of one. As in one win over the Eagles. Without it, they’re that much closer to being done.
No matter how much they tell themselves there’s still hope.