Phil Simms is the first to admit he got it wrong about the Giants.
“The fact that I picked them to be one of the favorites to go to the Super Bowl? Well, that tells you what you need to know about my predictions,” the former Giants quarterback said during a telephone interview Thursday.
But even Simms couldn’t have imagined that things would spiral out of control this badly. The Giants are 1-7 after a 51-17 drubbing by the Rams at home and now are dealing with the fallout from anonymous quotes from two players suggesting that coach Ben McAdoo has lost the team.
“It truly is a distraction for the football team,” said Simms, the NFL analyst for CBS and Showtime. “We’re halfway through the season, and it’s too early to start talking about all this, but when you’re talking about the players going off the record like this, it’s a feeding frenzy. It’s been on every TV station. Has he lost the team? It’s this, it’s that. Every show is talking about it.”
Simms himself wouldn’t speculate on whether he thinks McAdoo has lost the team, but he can at least relate to the kind of controversy that has enveloped the team. Simms was on the Giants during Ray Handley’s ill-fated two-year run in 1991-92, a time when many players privately complained that Handley was in over his head after taking over for Bill Parcells.
“It never really got to where Ray Handley lost our team,” Simms said of the former coach, who was 8-8 in 1991 and went 6-10 the following year. “If Ray could have survived, we would have changed, and he could have turned us around. I liked Ray. I thought he had a lot of good thoughts. But when the groundswell goes against you, that’s a tough situation.”
The Giants’ big problem this year, the one that led to one of the biggest disappointments in franchise history, is a woefully underachieving defense.
“It’s hard to pinpoint one area, but when the strength of your team isn’t the strength of your team, you’re usually in trouble for the year,” he said. “For the Giants, I thought their defense was going to be one of the top two or three in the NFL, and it just got derailed. There are many reasons, but when that unit struggles, it magnifies everything.
“I heard somebody on TV today say, ‘Well, if the Giants would have gotten a left tackle, it would have changed the whole year,’ ” he said. “I’m like, are you crazy? That’s so stupid. But when the defense doesn’t play up to expectations, that’s going to affect your team. We don’t win games if Lawrence Taylor isn’t Lawrence Taylor.”
Defensive ineptitude also is a problem for the offense, particularly quarterback Eli Manning.
“I just thought they were going to be so good on defense that Eli was just going to have to play a role in how to manage the team,” Simms said. “But they’ve gotten into too many panic situations.”
Manning is in a difficult spot. At 36, he still has two years remaining on his contract, but with the Giants facing a rebuilding situation, his future no longer is as secure as it once appeared.
Simms played his entire career with the Giants (from 1979-93). He would have kept playing, but he was released after the 1993 season after undergoing elbow surgery and declined offers from other teams because of family concerns.
“I can’t imagine Eli is any different than I was or any other guy,” Simms said. “You never think it’s over. It’s hard to walk away. It’s just a great life. I’m sure Eli is saying, ‘We’ll win this week.’ It’s a world like that. Players always think they’re going to pull it out. I didn’t go into training camp one year thinking it wasn’t going to fall into place. You just think it’s going to work out for you. You just keep playing.”
At 1-7, there is virtually no hope of a playoff berth, even if McAdoo suggested Wednesday that the team is capable of going on a run. That’s just a desperate coach willing to say anything to get his team out of the mess that is threatening his job.
But Simms said there is meaning to the season, even if the playoffs are out of reach.
“This is what you grew up wanting to do. You play because this is what you love,” he said. “There’s nothing like being on a bad team that ruins a season for a great team. It’s great joy. In about four weeks, they have nothing to play for, and then they upset a playoff-bound team.”
Simms speaks from firsthand experience. In his second NFL season in 1980, the Giants were 1-8 heading into a game against the 7-2 Cowboys. Simms had one of the best games of his career in throwing for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 38-35 upset win at Giants Stadium.
“If we can’t win it, we’re going to ruin it for another team,” he said. “That’s a motivation in and of itself.”
Sadly for McAdoo’s Giants, that’s about all that’s left to a lost season.