John Mara will watch from high above the MetLife Stadium field Sunday as his beloved team careens toward yet another losing season and further uncertainty shrouds the franchise that has been a part of his family for nearly a century.
This is eating away at the 63-year-old team president and co-owner. He has a 2-9 team that has lost seven games in a row and will host an 8-3 Packers team that is likely to not only beat the Giants but draw close to as many fans as the home team Sunday.
Mara was convinced that the Giants were headed in the right direction after hiring Dave Gettleman as general manager and then Pat Shurmur as coach less than two years ago. But Mara now presides over one of the league’s worst teams, with existential questions about their future yet to be answered.
With Daniel Jones showing signs that he can be the franchise-caliber quarterback the team needs after the Eli Manning era, the quarterback’s supporting cast has been woefully insufficient to give the team and its fledgling passer a fighting chance. It is a young team in transition, for sure, but many of Gettleman’s roster decisions have been questionable, and Shurmur’s coaching has been inadequate.
Perhaps even Vince Lombardi or Bill Walsh would have trouble coaxing much more out of this team as currently constituted. And maybe this team needs another year or two to mature before we get a true measure.
Does Mara have the patience to stick with the Gettleman-Shurmur alliance after a year of significant regression from the team’s 5-11 season in 2018? Or is the team’s ultimate decision-maker, who seethes with mounting frustration after every loss, ready for a dramatic overhaul to recalibrate his reeling franchise after a sustained run of frustration following the team’s 2011 Super Bowl run?
Mara isn’t tipping his hand publicly. He hasn’t spoken about the team since the start of the season, although he previously expressed optimism.
“It’s not my first dance,” Mara told Newsday at the NFL’s owners’ meetings in Key Biscayne, Florida, in May. “We’ve been through this before, but I do feel like we’re moving in the right direction . . . I understand that a lot of people in the media and our fans don’t necessarily agree, but time will tell.”
Time is not on Mara’s side.
He also refuted the idea that the Giants are mired in a yearslong slide akin to the lost years of the late 1960s and ’70s.
“It’s a complete different era,” he said, “and I do have confidence that we have the right people in the building. So no, I’m not going to think about those bad days.”
Mara had hoped that Manning could last one more season before giving way to Jones, but Shurmur was ready to pull the plug on the 38-year-old quarterback after two games. Jones was positively brilliant in his Week 3 debut against the Buccaneers, engineering a breathtaking 32-31 comeback win in Tampa. He helped squeeze out another win the following week to get the Giants to 2-2.
They have not won since.
Jones has shown remarkable accuracy with his passes, and his ledger of 17 touchdown passes and eight interceptions is more than respectable for a rookie quarterback. But those fumbles . . . he has a league-worst 14 of them, including at least one fumble in five straight games.
The Giants’ defense has been every bit as culpable as Jones’ ball security issues. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher hasn’t been able to coax any sort of consistency from his group, and a franchise known for its great defenses in the past is now one of the league’s most inept.
This is the time of year when promising teams sharpen their performance in the stretch run to the playoffs. It’s December football, which should be the most exhilarating time of the year for any NFL team. Mara has witnessed plenty of memorable games in Decembers past — and January and February, too. But December 2019 will be one of his most painful yet.
There is nothing left to play for this year, only his team playing out the string.
After that, Mara knows there are important decisions to be made. Decisions that will determine whether his team can pull out of this long tailspin.
Or continue to be consumed by it.